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For Sofi Tukker, the music doesn't stop.
When strict social distancing measures in place to slow the global coronavirus pandemic forced the popular global dance duo to stay put at their shared home in Miami for much of the foreseeable future, it meant that tour dates would have to be postponed and fans would have to wait some time until it would be deemed safe for live music to resume. But just because the Grammy-nominated hit makers couldn't perform bops like "Drinkee," "Best Friend" and "Purple Hat" out on the road didn't mean they had any intention of going silent.
Instead, Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern have taken their show to Instagram, Facebook and Twitch where the two have performed daily DJ sets for a growing community of fans looking for an escape during these troubling times. On Saturday, June 20, they'll hit their 100th livestream.
And while their daily sets have become something of a staple for an ever-growing audience, the duo told E! News exclusively that the IG Live performances organically grew out of something much smaller and less intentional.
"I was working out and Tuck was DJing at the same time and we actually were about to go on tour with our content creator/photographer/videographer. She ended up getting quarantined here with us," Hawley-Weld explained. "And so she walked into the room and started live streaming this situation."
Halpern added, "I don't think we ever used the live stream before. She [the videographer] was like, 'This is cool, Sophie is working out and you're outside here DJing'...and she just started live streaming and people really liked it. And then we said 'Hey, we'll do it again tomorrow.' People really liked it again. And then we said, 'You know what? We'll do this every day.' And I think, literally, it was like the second day when we said we'll do this every day—just casually—and I'm not sure we had any real understanding [what] we were committing to, but I'm glad we did."
That's not to say turning their audience into a virtual one, represented only by a number count and steady stream of comments on the screen rather than physical bodies, didn't come without a major adjustment. "At first, we were like, 'This is weird. It's definitely not as fun for us. We don't get that connection,'" Halpern admitted. "And that was one of the things that we really always felt, the connection with the crowd. We always talked to the crowd."
Hawley-Weld added that, though the usual and immediate reaction from fans isn't there, the duo has discovered an intimacy with their audience that only revealed itself over time. "Because it's so consistent and daily, there's a sense of community—and in a totally different way because people are returning. And we're getting to know them," she said. "Maybe it's not immediate, where we can see their reactions, but then we'll spend some time after the set, going through comments and stories and people's videos of dancing on the other side of the screen, and we get to know these people, and repost those people or talk to them, and then see them the next day. So it's actually extremely intimate because of consistency."
While performing every day to a consistent audience brings with it its own set of challenges—"We basically just like to dig through our USB sticks and go way back and play songs that I haven't listened to in five years," Halpern said of keeping things fresh. "I mean, we just try not to repeat too much."—the chance to have something that's "anchoring" them through this time has been "a mental health savior for us as well," Halpern said.
Finding the energy necessary to put on a show each and every day hasn't exactly been easy, though. While their community of fans and the music itself is often the source of them, Hawley-Weld admitted that some days are tough.
"The truth is, and we were just talking about this, not every day are we super energetic," she told E! News. "We have to find new pockets of where that comes from all the time. We are kind of constantly figuring out ways to creatively evolve and energetically evolve. How do we respond to this moment in time, when we feel pretty hopeless and sad and angry and then we are about to go on camera and spread joy and positivity? What does that look like?"
That's a question they've been asking themselves a lot as the protests against racial inequality and police brutality began to rise up across the globe in recent weeks. While they did sit out a show on Tuesday, June 2 to show solidarity with the music industry's #TheShowMustBePaused blackout campaign—"We really wanted to give space to Black Lives Matter and not to take up space on that day. We just had a black screen up," Hawley-Weld explained—they've kept performing through the protests. It's a decision they don't take lightly.
As Helpern admitted, "We have been keeping them going, and we have had so many conversations if we should or not. And I think what made us continue doing them throughout all this was that people kept writing in, 'This is when we need it the most. It means so much to us that you're still doing this.' It was such a heavy—and it is still—but it was such a heavy week after George Floyd, and even 10 days after George Floyd. We're trying not to minimize it. There are so many of our friends and people in our community that are out protesting every day, and we wanted to be able to give them a little bit of time to self-care, and release and crack a smile, because we know it is so important. We knew what we were doing is not as important as what is happening in the world outside...It felt minuscule in comparison to what was happening, but we felt it was important to a lot of people and we sort of kept going."
Hawley-Weld added, "To make this sustainable, and to make this a fight we have to take on for our whole lives, and to make sure this is something that we are able to incorporate into our collective daily lives. This is so important, and hopefully we are helping by making it a little more sustainable by doing a little dance relief every day."
While isolating together throughout social distancing hasn't felt much different from life on the road—"Honestly we are either on a tour bus or an airplane which is even more compact," Hawley-Weld said of their pre-COVID-19 lives—they have found themselves experiencing a creativity boon.
"I mean, we don't have to spend our days traveling, which actually frees up a lot of energy for us," Hawley-Weld said. "So, you know, we've been doing the live stream and putting some creativity into that for sure, but then we have created a Google doc because I was overwhelmed with how many tracks we're working on. Upwards of like 60 or 70,000. We're doing a lot of collaborations. We're doing some more experimental things like dance music. We wrote some songs but we're going in a different direction. Lots of different kinds of creativity."
Already, they've released "House Arrest," a collaboration with English production duo Gorgon City, that's become a staple of the live streams. And it sounds like there is more where that came from. As Halpern teased, "We have a lot of songs that are ready and we've been discussing the release plans and the lineup. You know, those release plans and the lineup, everything got changed when all this happened. We've been trying to figure out the order we'd like to come out and win, but we're really, really, really, excited about so many of them."
With no certainty on when live music can return to business as usual, Hawley-Weld told E! News that she's choosing to remain focused on the now rather when asked what she's most looking forward to when she's back in front of a crowd. "I don't think I'm letting my brain go there because I don't know when that's going to happen," she said. "So I'm focused on what we can do now, and how we can make this experience more fun, and more meaningful. And I don't know, when we will return, how things will have changed...so I don't want to have an expectation."
Halpern, on the other hand, is hopefully he'll get back what was once there. "I really miss being surrounded by people, and being able to read the crowd and really just like be on the same wavelength with everyone and just, you know, having a great time and a wild party," he said. "I missed that so much, but hopefully we'll get that back."
For now, they'll have to lean into this new way of interacting with fans for however long it takes. "All the messages we've gotten really [are] just incredible. It makes us really feel like we are making a difference in a lot of people's lives when they tell us how much it means to them," Halpern said. "When you look at it like that, I think it's our kind of job. We take it seriously, we don't take it for granted. And we know we're lucky to be doing what we're doing."
For more from the two, be sure to check out the video above.
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