My relationship with the Grammys is similar to the one with the Oscars.
I want a quick and painless divorce.
But I’m willing to put it on hold every time an Australian act wins the award. And especially when that act is Rüfüs Du Sol.
This week, I’m breaking my usual independent Aussie music biz news cycle again to bring you a different type of discussion. One that is super commercial and involves one of the biggest electronic exports from Down Under. I’ve got a pretty good excuse to do it, though.
You see, dance/electronic music is not my “natural habitat”. Yet, I’ve found myself drawn to it more and more in recent years. Many Aussie acts are responsible for that shift in my genre preference. And RÜFÜS DU SOL are definitely somewhere in the top three of that “to blame” list.
It wasn’t “love at first listen” for me, though.
The Sydney band create what I call “little electronic music operas” – you need to immerse yourself fully in that world to embrace it. Their songs are fairly long, way above the 4-minute mark. Hence, the “smash the first 30 seconds to get my attention” rule doesn’t necessarily apply in this case.
Rüfüs are all about that slow build-up when all the elements and layers beautifully come together in a perfect sonic union. Today, I think it’s pure catharsis. But I won’t lie to you – it took me a while to get into that headspace and catch the “Rüfüs vibe” at first.
On the flip side, I reckon it makes me all the more appreciative of their craft. That gradual journey of careful music reconnaissance has allowed me to connect with their sound on a more profound level.
Once I did become a Rüfüs fan, however, the dance element got to me pretty quickly. So I can no longer sit still listening to their recordings. And it doesn’t help when you want to write something exceptionally eloquent and fairly objective about any music act, which is my case at this very moment 😉
The Sydney band’s music resonates with me for another reason. Aside from the mystique yet very melodic ambience they conjure up both in the studio and at their gigs, it’s very existential and melancholic in the lyrical layer. Thankfully, hope always prevails in the end, even in their darkest and most intimate songs.
One thing needs to be said, though – the stories and emotions they convey are not rocket science. Nevertheless, every time I listen to a new track, I’m like, “darn it, that’s exactly how I feel”.
I know everybody is crazy about “Innerbloom”, but my fave Rüfüs song is “Treat You Better”. To the point that I reckon I count for a fair percentage of the over 60 million streams it has racked up on Spotify alone.
Let me quote the lyrics to give you a taste of what I mean:
“Every night / I take myself to where the skies are blue / To where we swam when I met you / Stay here / I spent the best days of my life with you / Watching clouds form in the distance / I watched the sunset on the beach with you / It’s not over.”
It’s, obviously, a love song. But how simple and beautiful, right?
And it’s surely because of that lyricism that the group have stayed relevant in the music industry since they emerged in 2010.
Rüfüs prove it every time they release new material. It is also the case with their most recent album, Surrender. Written largely in the pandemic, it’s a wide spectrum of the feelings we’ve all been juggling in those weird months, set to their signature synth beats.
“Alive”, the first single from the record, was described by Music Feeds as “dark and brooding, with broken beat percussion and haunting synths foregrounding intensely personal lyrics inspired by the highs and lows of a year in lockdown. It’s underscored, however, by an energy and euphoria that seems destined to uplift dance floors when the trio return to them”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
The rest of the album is equally relatable and reminiscent of the challenging “Rona times” we seem to be slowly emerging from. It will be a great memoir of the global state of mind for future generations one day.
But it’s exactly “Alive” that has been making waves since its release in July 2021. After all, it was the first new Rüfüs track in three years. Plus, it won the band ARIAs (the Australian music business awards) for both Best Dance Release and Best Group that year.
Coincidentally, it’s also the song that scored the band the Grammy for Best Electronic/Dance Recording just a few days ago. Prior to that, they’d been nominated twice in 2020 for Best Dance Recording with “Underwater” and Best Electronic/Dance Album with Solace. So not a bad Grammy-winning statistic, overall. They managed to crack the system on the second try only.
Funnily, I’ve completely lost interest in the Grammys in the last few years. If it wasn’t for the Rüfüs win, I’d have been completely oblivious to the fact that the ceremony took place this year at all. Here’s why.
Remember that time Kendrick Lamar lost Best Rap Album to Macklemore in 2014? Or when Bruno Mars beat Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Childish Gambino, and Lorde to Album of the Year in 2018? Or when The Weeknd wasn’t even nominated in any category despite boasting the biggest song on the planet in 2020, “Blinding Lights”?
So you see why I no longer care so much about the Grammys. With all due respect to all the nominees and winners over the years, I’m not questioning the quality of their craft or judging the level of their musicianship. It clearly resonates with their peers who are a part of the nominations process, too. That’s not the point here.
I’m referring to the frequently bizarre decisions made by the Recording Academy. I can’t help but think that the Grammys have recently become yet another self-indulgent event for a very small clique of creatives in the very big and complex music industry.
Plus, there’s always some drama happening at the ceremony (like Olivia Rodrigo breaking one of her accolades accidentally this year). But watching the 2020 event replay, it felt slightly uneventful and, well, mundane.
For me, the Grammys have slightly lost their touch with what’s really happening in the music world and what resonates with audiences. Their importance, relevance and expertise are questionable these days, to say the least. After the numerous mishaps in recent years, I’m not sure if many industry people take them seriously at this stage, either. So a reboot of the whole formula feels rather urgent.
Let’s not forget that they are also the American music industry awards. And yes, if you’ve made it in the States, then you’ve made it in the music biz. Period. But that also means the focus is on American acts, with the occasional appearance by the biggest UK artists or the European DJs with a very strong presence in the States. The latter particularly in the dance category.
So it is a whole different story when an underdog from outside the US/Europe circle of trust takes the gong.
Now, to be clear, Rüfüs are not newcomers in the States. They’ve been playing at sold-out events, appearing at the most iconic festivals (Coachella or Lollapalooza), and been featured on popular TV talk shows (i.e. “The Late Late Show with James Corden”) for years. So they’ve already put their foot firmly in the door, which is an achievement in itself.
There’s a fun fact related to their American adventure as well. Until 2018, they were known as only Rüfüs internationally, while already having performed as Rüfüs Du Sol in the US for some time. To avoid confusion with the funk band Rufus, they officially changed their name to the American version. How’s that for wanting to be accepted?
This year, they were not the only act from Down Under to have been nominated, either. AC/DC, The Kid LAROI, Hiatus Kaiyote, FnZ (Kanye West’s Donda producers), and Nick Cave (in the collab with Warren Ellis) were also in the running in their respective genres. So the Aussie representation was quite strong.
That’s why we should put the RÜFÜS win in a different context. In their Best Dance/Electronic Recording category, they were up against some pretty serious contenders who happen to be established, international artists.
Afrojack & David Guetta were nominated for “Hero”. Bonobo appeared on the list twice: as the main act with “Heartbreak” and featuring on Ólafur Arnalds’ track “Loom”. Then, there was Tiësto with “The Business” and Caribou with “You Can Do It”. James Blake also made the cut with the pandemic anthem “Before”.
All of them are recognisable names in the business with a solid following in the electronic/DJ genre, would you not agree?
So yeah, despite my dislike for the Grammys, it is a big deal for Rüfüs.
Not only for the band, actually – for the whole Australian scene and its local electronic music community as well. From what I noticed when I was living in Oz, Rüfüs are one of the beloved Aussie acts that both the industry and fans are super proud of. I’m stoked for the boys for this acknowledgement, too. Imagine what it must mean to them.
After the somewhat unexpected win, they were interviewed by the Grammys. One of the questions they received was whether they’d dreamed of one day receiving the award. To which Tyrone replied, very honestly: “(When you’re) from Australia, it’s so far away, it’s so far removed from the US and the Grammys, it just seems unattainable”.
Another thing from that interview that struck a chord with me is the part where James points out, “It’s very validating to even be nominated. But first and foremost, when we write music, we are writing for ourselves”.
Yet, here we are. And no words of mine can possibly describe what it feels like for the artists themselves. So it’s best you hear it directly from them. I’m loving how genuinely shocked they seem to be.
Evidently, “Alive” is a deeply personal song for the band, particularly in its lyrical content. Although they’d started crafting it before the fatal year that was 2020, its message was, naturally, amplified in those trying times. To release and perform it for packed arenas feels even more special, for obvious reasons. Apparently, they just didn’t expect it to connect with so many people.
I’m not surprised at all that it did, though.
Do you still recall those days of total desperation in the pandemic when we all thought we would never be able to leave the confines of our homes again?
I’m pretty sure Rüfüs speak for everyone when they sing, “At least, I’m alive” and “I’m coming back again / I wanna live tonight”. Because “Alive” is a song about gratitude, coming out on the other end, becoming stronger, and appreciating what you have.
All the more reasons to receive a Grammy for the hopeful message the song carries. So thanks heaps, Rüfüs Du Sol, for everything you do for Australian music. And also for making the Grammys worthwhile, this year at least.
Stream the full Rüfüs du Sol album Surrender here:
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