Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore of Empire of the Sun, who are at Pier 26.
What’s up with the fashion sense of Empire of the Sun?
The duo outfit themselves in pastel muumuus, sparkling headdresses and smeary face-paints, making them look like either intergalactic figure skaters or Aztec cousins to Siegfried and Roy. Not since A Flock of Seagulls has a pop group presented a look this flat-out ridiculous.
The good news? They meant it that way.
“We want our artists to look ridiculous,” says the duo’s Nick Littlemore. “We like flamboyance. We looked around at all these indie artists wearing boring clothes and staring at their shoes and we thought, ‘Where are our Eltons? Where are our Bowies?’”
Not that Empire of the Sun sound like either one of them. They offer a plush and pillowy take on ’80s synth-pop. Think Gary Numan or Human League, but with the sound muffled and the synths gone glassy.
It’s a style that has attracted millions of fans around the world, and enough in the States to make two albums go gold. On Thursday, Empire of the Sun bring their polyester sound and tacky style to Pier 26 in the Hudson River Park, by N. Moore St. in Tribeca.
The pair — Littlemore and singer Luke Steele — formed five years ago in their native Sydney, Australia. Previously, they’d worked in two other acts. Steele was in the alterna-rock band the Sleepy Jackson, and Littlemore with the electro-club outfit Pnau.
Each guested on albums by the other one’s band until they hit on the notion of doing a project together. Littlemore says they didn’t take their moniker from the like-named J.G. Ballard novel, or from Steven Spielberg’s movie version, though he loves both.
“It was a name that just sounded big and outdoorsy,” he says. “And I like sun-worshiping cults more than religions. Religion has done awful things to the planet. And while the sun can be bad if you spend too much time in it, it brings you warmth.”
That’s what the duo intend to do with their music. It’s a fully rounded sound, with no sharp or cold edges.
“It goes back to when I was 14 and going to raves and dropping acid,” Littlemore says. “The warmth and togetherness of having all those people around you feeling the same thing.”
Empire don’t have the abstraction, or druggy allure, of the more arch E.D.M. acts. They make terse pop songs that seem to float.
Small wonder Littlemore aspires to soundtrack work. He cites as his ultimate role model the seminal Wendy Carlos synth score for Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” In his spare time, Littlemore has worked with Cirque Du Soleil, fashioning a sound for their most recent show at Radio City Music Hall.