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Empire Of The Sun (band)

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Empire Of The Sun (band)

This article is about the band. For other uses, see Empire of the Sun (disambiguation).

Empire of the Sun
East Perth, Australia on 27 September 2009
Background information
Origin Sydney, Australia
Genres Electronic, synthpop,[1] electronic rock, new wave, dance
Years active 2007–present
Labels Capitol, Virgin, Astralwerks
Associated acts The Sleepy Jackson, Pnau, Teenager, WZRD, Daniel Johns
Members Luke Steele
Nick Littlemore

Empire of the Sun are an Australian electronic music duo from Sydney, formed in 2008.[2] The duo consists of longtime collaborators Luke Steele of alternative rock act The Sleepy Jackson, and Nick Littlemore of electronic dance outfit Pnau.[3][4]

Their award-winning, 2008 debut album Walking on a Dream shot the duo to international success and to date has been certified double platinum in Australia and gold in United States.[5] The album has sparked a number of internationally charting singles including "Walking on a Dream" which peaked at number ten on the Australian ARIA Singles Chart and reached number sixty four on the UK Singles Chart, and "We Are the People", which peaked at number fourteen on the UK Singles Chart.[6]

The duo's second album Ice on the Dune was released on 14 June 2013 in Australia,[7] and was preceded by lead single "Alive" on 16 April.[8] They are currently signed to EMI Australia and Virgin UK.[9]



Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore met in 2000 after being introduced by Steele's A&R executive, Simon Moor,[10] in a bar in Sydney.[11] Both were at the time signed to EMI and had already been working on their own independent projects.[2] Although they did not initially capitalize on their instant creative chemistry, the two consistently collaborated over the years. Littlemore helped write the song "Tell the Girls That I'm Not Hangin' Out",[12] which appeared on The Sleepy Jackson's 2003 debut album, Lovers,[10] and Steele had artistic input in Littlemore's 2006 art-rock project Teenager.[13]

The two officially reunited together for two songs on Pnau's self-titled album Pnau in 2007—"Freedom" and the opener "With You Forever". Littlemore commented "when [Peter Mayes and I] wrote 'With You Forever', I knew straight away I had to send it to Luke. A day later, he called me up and sang the whole thing over the phone to me." Luke Steele's contribution to the track was so influential to Nick and Pete that they scrapped over 200 songs worth of material for the album, and began to craft a work more vocally-centered than they ever had before.[14] A track-by-track analysis of the album Pnau by Nick and Pete reveals that writing "With You Forever" with Luke Steele was such an exciting experience that it directly inspired the two to begin work on another project together.[15] Littlemore said, "We fell in love with music again with [With You Forever]; I think this is [Pnau's] first great song." The release of Pnau unexpectedly brought acclaim from music icon Elton John,[16][17][18] who, after befriending Littlemore, became involved in some of the early planning of Nick and Luke's new project.[19]

"Anything is inspiration. The vision of this band, it's built on imagination, so it comes from studying the samurais in art school to digital graphics, to topography, to filming under the ocean, to oil paintings, anything really."

— Steele on the duo's inspirations in 2013[20]

The new project began to develop into what would later become Empire of the Sun (under the working title of Steelemore).[21] As Steele was living in Perth at the time and Littlemore was in Sydney for the next few months the pair independently continued to write songs for the project and organized meetings in Sydney where they decided on the album's musical direction and style.[11] Eventually the pair went into the studio with Peter Mayes to record the final material, all of which was entirely produced by themselves.[2]

Although the name of the project has been attributed to the 1984 novel of the same name by J. G. Ballard,[5] Littlemore denies this and offers an explanation, saying, "the name comes more from the idea of (and you'll see this in the ongoing videos) the fact that we're traveling around the world going to all the places of empires of the civilization where the sun has been a theme of worship. It's not based on the Ballard novel nor the Spielberg film of the same name."[11]

2008–11: Walking on a Dream

After several months of consulting on the material for the album, Littlemore and Steele went into the studio to record their debut album. Titled Walking on a Dream, the album was released on 3 October 2008. Prior to its release six tracks were put up on the social networking site Myspace for fans to listen to.[22]

The album debuted at number eight on the ARIA Albums Charts and eventually peaked at number six.[23] The album's lead single, "Walking on a Dream", was released digitally on 30 August 2008.[24] The single received airtime from many Australian radio stations and has since reached number ten on the Australian ARIA Singles Chart.[25] The second single released from the album, titled "We Are the People", peaked at number twenty-four in Australia.[25] In September 2009 this song was used in an American advertising campaign for Vizio televisions. The third single, "Standing on the Shore" was released on iTunes on 12 June and for general release on 23 June. The video was filmed in Lancelin in April 2009.[26] "Without You" was released as the album's fourth single.

Critical response to the album was generally positive, generating a score of 60 on the review aggregator Metacritic.[27] Martin Robinson in his review for NME described their debut as "silly but their songs demand to be taken seriously, just like Prince, Ultravox and Bowie. And yes, they're like MGMT – in that they're great."[28] Under the Radar also rated it favourably describing it as "a highly visual experience".[29] Rolling Stone Australia awarded the album a positive 3.5 out of 5, describing it as "gorgeously plaintive electro-pop", but noted "the gold is harder to find in the record's hazy second half".[30]

Critics with mixed reactions largely expressed their discontent with the album's second half, particularly marked by the unsettling introduction of the fifth track, "Delta Bay". Mike Orme of Pitchfork Media claimed that "few buzzes die so abruptly as in the transition of the complex, ethereal melodies of 'We Are the People' into the following cut 'Delta Bay', which sounds like 'Thriller' sung by cats."[31] PopMatters made a similar comment that "We Are the People" "proves the duo's talent for making great music... it's just unfortunate the song bleeds into 'Delta Bay'... why would you want to do that?"[32] Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian rated Walking on a Dream 3 out of 5 stars, explaining "the slick, pastel-wardrobed MOR of the title track and We Are the People demonstrate melodic agility and sun-dazzled charm" but that the album as a whole is "a ripe cheese, best not consumed whole."[33]

2013–onwards: Ice on the Dune

On 11 March 2013, Empire of the Sun revealed the debut trailer for their upcoming second album Ice on the Dune—the trailer was produced by Kelvin Optical, Inc., a production division of Bad Robot, and was directed by J.D. Dillard. The album's release date was revealed as June 2013.[34] The newly launched website for the album featured placeholder links for upcoming content, with dates allocated for 15 March, 22 March, 29 March, and 8 April.[35]

The lead single "Alive" was released on 16 April[8] and on the same day, the album was made available for pre-order on iTunes. The music video for "Alive", also produced by Kelvin Optical, Inc., was directed by Charles Scott and Alex Theurer. On 18 April 2013, the Farrelly brothers announced that the band will score Dumb and Dumber To.[36]

Ice on the Dune was released on 14 June 2013 in Australia[7] and New Zealand.[7] Following the release of the second album, Littlemore revealed details about a potential film in a June 2013 interview:

We've written a treatment for [a film] but I guess we're just waiting for that person with a sackful of money to come along and pay for it. We hope there'll be a film somewhere down the road and a Vegas-style show. We want to do it properly with animals and everything. We've always wanted elephants and tigers.[37]

Steele received global media attention following an interview he completed with music publication NME in August 2013 at the Sziget Festival in Budapest. During the interview, Steele compared Ice on the Dune with Daft Punk's 2013 album release Random Access Memories, stating: "They had a great marketing campaign, but we’ve got better songs.”[38]


On 22 July 2009, Empire of the Sun made a special broadcast in conjunction with the solar eclipse that occurred on that day, which included a sneak preview of their forthcoming performance at the Parklife Festival in Australia. Luke Steele performed "Breakdown" and "Swordfish Hotkiss Night".[39]

Contrary to previous suggestions that they would remain a studio band, Empire of the Sun performed live, alongside Lady Sovereign and La Roux, at Australia's Parklife Festival during September/October 2009.[40]

In September 2009 Luke Steele revealed that his Empire of the Sun bandmate Nick Littlemore had been missing for five months and that he would also be performing a series of upcoming shows in the duo's native Australia solo. Asked whether Littlemore was still a member of the band, Steele said: "I really don't know, hey, he's just left me with the baby."[10] However on 26 November 2010, Littlemore, in an interview with internet music site The Music Network, said, "I talked to Luke (Steele) the other day; we're doing a new record. We've already written a couple of tunes. You know when it's right I guess."[41]

In July 2011, Littlemore announced that Empire of the Sun had gone into the studio at the end of June to begin working on a second Empire of the Sun album. In an interview with Confidential, he explained that he and Steele had not, as reported, fallen out, but that Littlemore had been heavily involved in writing music for Cirque du Soleil and was therefore unable to tour. However, while playing a track from the new album to the interviewer, Littlemore confirmed he would "come on board this time, actually come together and tour."[42]

Media appearances

In the UK, they gained fourth position on the BBC News website's Sound of 2009 poll.[43]

Empire of the Sun appeared for the first time in a Triple J Hottest 100 with two entries in the 2008 countdown: "We Are the People" at number sixty-eight and "Walking on a Dream" at number four.[44]

"Walking on a Dream" had been nominated as Song of the Year at the 2009 Australian Performing Rights Association awards.

Empire of the Sun were nominated for six awards at the 2009 ARIA Awards. They were nominated for Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Best Group, Best Pop Release, Best Selling Single and Best Selling Album, winning all but the Best Selling awards. Luke Steele also performed "Walking on a Dream" at the event. Empire of the Sun also received an additional 5 nominations (for Producer of the Year, Engineer of the Year, Best Video and Best Cover Art) as part of the Artisan Awards section of the 2009 ARIA Awards, the winners of which were announced on 10 November, prior to the official ceremony. They won all but 2 of these awards, one nomination of which (for "We Are the People") was in the same category (Best Video) they won in for "Walking on a Dream".

In October 2010, "We Are the People" was used as the soundtrack for a Vodafone TV commercial in Germany and subsequently topped the German Singles Chart.[45]

"We Are the People" is included on the soundtrack for the 2011 film The Roommate and "Walking on a Dream" is included on the soundtrack for the 2011 film Hall Pass.

"Alive" was used in the introduction video for Google I/O 2013. It was also played within the introduction video of the new Yahoo! logo on 5th September 2013.

"Alive" was also a featured song on the soundtrack of EA Sport's FIFA 14.


Studio albums

Title Album details Peak chart positions Certifications

Walking on a Dream 6 22 27 60 31 17 70 37 15 19
Ice on the Dune
  • Released: 14 June 2013
  • Label: Capitol
  • Formats: CD, digital download
3 37 40 26 34 26 53 16 7 24


Title Year Peak chart positions Certifications Album

"Walking on a Dream" 2008 10 8 82 55 8 16 29 14 21 64
  • ARIA: 2× Platinum[58]
Walking on a Dream
"We Are the People" 24 20 1 23 19 20 14
"Standing on the Shore" 2009 63
"Without You"
"Half Mast (Slight Return)" 2010
"Alive" 2013 22 63 32 39 39 9 94 25 83 Ice on the Dune
"DNA" 76
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Music videos

Title Year Notes
"Walking on a Dream" 2008 Filmed in Shanghai, China. Directed by Josh Logue
"We Are the People" Filmed at Mina, Nuevo León, and Xilitla, San Luis Potosí in Mexico. Directed by Josh Logue
"Standing on the Shore" 2009 Filmed at Lancelin, north of Perth, Australia.[2] Directed by Josh Logue
"Without You" Filmed at FOX Studios, Sydney, Australia. Directed by Josh Logue
"Half Mast (Slight Return)" 2010 Filmed in New York City, US. Directed by Nash Edgerton.
"Alive" 2013 Filmed at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, US. Directed by Charles Scott and Alex Theurer.
"DNA" Filmed in San Fernando Valley, California, US. Directed by Emmett Malloy.[62]


Title Year Notes A-side
"The Art of Driving" 2009 Cover of the song originally performed by Black Box Recorder, for use in advertising for the BMW Z4. Released in June 2009.[63] "Standing on the Shore"

Other releases

Title Year Notes
"Romance to Me" 2009 Available as a free download for members of the official Empire of the Sun forum.[64]
"Breakdown" Available on iTunes Australia as an exclusive bonus album track.[65]
"Etude" Available on Nokia Music Australia as an exclusive bonus album track.
"Girl" Available on the deluxe 2-disc edition of Walking on a Dream, released on 20 November 2009.

Awards and nominations

ARIA Awards

The ARIA Music Awards of 2009 nominations were announced on 8 October 2009.[66] Empire of the Sun received the most nominations of any artist,[67] with a total of eleven. The winners were announced on 26 November 2009 with Empire of the Sun winning in seven categories.

The nominations for the ARIA Music Awards of 2010 were announced on 28 September 2010 and the winners were announced on 7 November 2010.[68] The final nominees for the ARIA Music Awards of 2013 were announced on 14 October, as well as the nominees and winners for the Fine Arts Awards and Artisan Awards.[69]

Year Recipient Award Result
2009 Walking on a Dream Album of the Year Won
Highest Selling Album Nominated
"Walking on a Dream" Single of the Year Won
Highest Selling Single Nominated
Best Video (directed by Josh Logue for Mathematics Won
"We Are the People" Nominated
Empire of the Sun Best Group Won
Best Pop Release Won
Empire of the Sun and Donnie Sloan with Peter Mayes Producer of the Year Won
Aaron Hayward and David Homer from Debaser Best Cover Art Won
Peter Mayes Engineer of the Year Nominated
2010 "Half Mast" Best Pop Release Nominated
Walking on a Dream Most Popular Australian Album (Fan-Voted) Nominated
Accidents Happen soundtrack – Luke Steele, Empire of the Sun and The Middle East Best Original Soundtrack/Cast/Show Album (Fine Arts Award) Nominated
2013 Empire of the Sun – Ice on the Dune Best Group Pending
Best Pop Release Pending
Aaron Hayward and David Homer (Debaser) Best Cover Art Won
Peter Mayes Engineer of the Year Nominated
Luke Steele, Nick Littlemore, Peter Mayes and Jonathan Sloan Producer of the Year Nominated

APRA Awards

The APRA Awards are presented annually from 1982 by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA).[70]

Year Recipient Award Result
2010 "We Are the People" Song of the Year[71] Nominated
Luke Steele, Jonathon Sloan, Nick Littlemore – Empire of the Sun Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year[72] Won
"Walking on a Dream" Dance Work of the Year[72] Won

Live performance band members

  • Luke Steele – lead vocals, guitar, keyboards
  • Nick Littlemore – synthesizer
  • Surahn Sidhu – guitar, backing vocals, percussion
  • Tony Mitolo – drums


External links

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