Empire of the Sun
Exotic, gaudy and lavish, Empire Of The Sun brings together two unlikely collaborators from Australian pop. Luke Steele, the enigmatic wunderkind behind The Sleepy Jackson, first met Pnau’s Nick Littlemore via a mundane hook-up instigated by the latter’s record company.
Thus began a friendship which Luke describes as “this fireball of electricity”, and which eventually resulted in Walking On A Dream – a bold, visionary and quite brilliant album, which manages to sound exhilaratingly contemporary, audaciously forward-looking, yet also curiously archaic all at once. From Nick and Luke’s collective unconscious arose a rare marriage of rock and electronica, immediacy and depth, futurism and tradition, hi-tech production and creative spontaneity, pop melody and the cinematic.
“We met in Darlinghurst, Sydney,” Nick remembers of the duo’s first encounter circa 2000. “Luke was quite striking. He was carrying a suitcase, and I wasn’t sure exactly what was in it. Every time I saw him from then on, he would have the suitcase, but he’d have a different object inside of it, which was thrilling. The next day, we went straight up to my folks’ place where I had a studio, and wrote a song.”
Not long afterwards, Luke sang on Pnau’s single, ‘With You Forever’. Luke then garnered global acclaim with his two guitar-based albums as The Sleepy Jackson (2003’s Lovers and 2006’s Personality: One Was A Spider, One Was A Bird), while Pnau became one of the brightest exports from Australia’s burgeoning dance scene, most recently working with multi- platinum indie-rockers, The Killers. Somehow, despite all the madness of their separate trajectories, Luke and Nick’s relationship grew deeper, and more creative.
“As an artist,” says Luke, “you look for a connection, and there isn’t really that many musicians that you have lightning connection with. It was kind of one in a million for us to meet, and strike. The really great duos – the Steely Dans, the Daft Punks, Air – there’s only a few of them around.”
Thus, in 2007, they eventually got around to recording together, in the paltry spare time in their respective schedules. The brief, intense sessions would be driven by Nick and Luke, with Peter Mayes, Nick’s partner in Pnau, taking on a recording/engineering role at their studio in Sydney.
Thus, the album which eventually emerged from their collaboration, ‘Walking On A Dream’, was inextricably filmic in its conception. Just as its synthesized pop sound harks back in some measure to the early 1980’s New Romanticism of Gary Numan and Duran Duran, so Empire Of The Sun harbours a similar ambition to transcend the mundanity of pop in the MP3 age. Though their music is packed with catchy hooks, which grab you right off the bat, it also has conceptual coherence.
Luke: “It has lot going on beneath the surface. Nick wrote half of the lyrics. Some of them are like, if you had that last minute to live, they’re what you’d say to that girl whose heart you broke. It’s a project that’s gone from strength to strength without even having to do any work. It’s got God’s hand in it. It’s how music is meant to be.”
Perhaps the most positive sign that Empire Of The Sun are onto something good, is that they’re hard to pin down with easy reference points. For a fleeting moment, you might hear an echo of Chic’s hi-tech disco, or Fleetwood Mac’s sheeny pop, or even the dream-like phantasmagoria of Mercury Rev…but then it’s gone, and other sound and images coalesce in its place.