Behind The Bassline :: RÜFÜS
November 19th 2013
Ableton Liveschool’s INPUT events allow independent electronic musicians to gain insight into music production from some of the country’s leading artists and industry figureheads. Sandro Dallarmi attended the spring INPUT session for 2013 and took in all the details from Jon George and James Hunt of RÜFÜS as they gave their presentation.
In a few years, RÜFÜS have risen from their bedrooms to the top of the ARIA charts while always putting the music first.
There was a moment about a month ago that spoke to that point in a remarkable way. The boys from Rufus walked through FBi’s front door so that they could be interviewed on Sunsets, but to get to the studio they had to confront a huge crowd of chattering young people. The crowd was actually present for reasons unrelated to Rufus (group interviews for people applying for presenter training were taking place), but interestingly, the band was able to slip through this large group of enthusiastic music lovers while remaining completely unnoticed. It’s not very often that artists of Rufus’ stature are in that sort of position, but it’s entirely complimentary in an artistic sense. Unlike most musicians whose albums debut at the top of the charts, Rufus are a band that don’t need to sell their faces in order to sell their music.
The band’s origins lie in quite disparate musical worlds. Synth man Jon George found himself in nightclubs a lot of the time. “I was DJing but then I decided that I wanted to write my own tunes too” says George. “I remember that process very vividly. I studied audio engineering and spent years working out how to make music that sounded okay”. On the other end of the performative spectrum is drummer James Hunt. He played in a band and wrote music for a while, but it wouldn’t be long before Hunt’s school friend Tyrone Lindqvist started writing with George and eventually asked Hunt to join. The three pulled their influences together to form the live/electronic hybrid band that’s hopping all over festival stages right now, and everyone seems to be pretty happy about it.
“We chose to hold back certain moments on the album so that we could push them further live”
This intersection of live and electronic musical elements has always been a focus point for Rufus. In the studio, it streamlines the songwriting process. “We write parts into Ableton rather than recording them live straight away” says George. “No one has predefined roles when writing either. You know how you just become more mature with different parts of life? It happened the same way with music. We’re very aware of what we all want to get out of it now”.
Taking away those predefined roles also breaks down the barriers between people and musical instruments. It’s an interesting concept – not everyone can operate a synthesizer keyboard, but almost everyone knows what to do with a computer keyboard. That’s all flipped on its head when Rufus take their music into the live sphere though.
The band performs on stage with live vocals, synthesisers and drums, which makes the music seem very much alive. However it’s impossible to transform a predominantly electronic composition into a totally live show. “I guess these days that’s done a lot” Hunt mused “but still, there’s not a lot of ground covered that we could take reference from. So the way the live show has grown has been a lot of trial and error.”
Now though, they’ve got it all worked out. “Once we’d finished the album, we had about a month, maybe six weeks to evolve the live show to where it is now. There’s a lot of automation involved. It actually helps the ‘liveness’ of the show. Ableton manages menial tasks like running filters over certain sounds for 129 bars so we can focus on the important things. Plus it allows us to loop things and jam, re-working the track live.”
Drums anchor the live show. “They’re doubled” explains George. “It’s a backing track enforced by live drumming. Some Ableton stems get sent to the front-of-house engineer, and the kick drum is always one of those stems. It’s so important to have it mixed right with the type of music we make”. That sense of rhythm is so vital in dance music that George and Hunt both have in-ear monitors running click tracks throughout the show. “The click is specifically groove-based for each track” they say.
Luckily, someone else is whispering in their ear every show to break up the relentless clicks – Nina Las Vegas. The Triple J presenter, former FBi volunteer, and general lynchpin of Australia’s dance music scene recorded some “sultry intros” for the band so that they know which track they have to start playing next. Hunt immediately calls out his bandmate as soon as the topic is brought up; “Jon’s been having dreams about her. Actually I’ve been avoiding her as well. It’s pretty insidious really.”
Thanks to all this hard-work and attention to detail, Rufus have landed themselves a deal with Columbia Records. Hunt is pumped up on it. “It’s really exciting that we’ve been able to hook up with such a huge, iconic, gigantic, monolithic being that’s just ever-present in music. We’ve signed with the same conditions that we’ve always signed deals with. It’s about our tastes and our music. So we’re going to have the accessible nature of such a giant label to be able to do things, but we’re going to be able to keep doing those things our way. We’re able to explore international territories now. That’s a dream of ours and it’s becoming a reality”
There certainly are big international adventures in the works. George marvels that “there are so many people planning different parts of our lives. The second album won’t come out until May 2015, so we’re planning pretty far ahead. It’s such a juggernaut. We’re doing Big Day Out, then the UK, then a European tour. Then we’ll write the second album in Berlin in the second half of next year.”
When pressed about Berlin, the boys explained: “locations are important to us. I guess music is about locations as well – transporting people somewhere. So to be going overseas is just progressing that concept for us. It is exciting though, knowing that we’re gonna be in an inspiring location. It’s infinite party over there, they don’t stop.” Despite having written Atlas in country New South Wales by the ocean, they don’t think the dark character of Berlin will affect their music too much. “I think we’re always gonna have a balance between that tropical sound, and sinister, darker undertones” says George.
With ARIA Award nominations, a move to Berlin, and a major label record deal all locked in, it would be easy for RÜFÜS to get ahead of themselves. Luckily for fans of their music, they remember back to that nervous and excited feeling they had before their first interview on FBi, and it’s memories like that that bring them back to that raw passion for music. They’ll always have ambitious ideas in the works, but their passion ensures that creative music and a tight, explorative live show is at the core of it.
You can sign up to the INPUT mailing list here so you’ll be notified when the summer INPUT event is going to be held. Alternatively, check out Ableton Liveschool’s Produce Music course.
RELATED :: RÜFÜS DREW US A DOODLE, YOU COULD OWN IT!