“Does anyone know if Whitney Houston did a Christmas song?” – An interview with Peking Duk and Icona Pop

If you’re looking for video shoots where people set themselves on fire, these party specialists won’t ‘Let You Down.’

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Originally published in The Edge

Coming five years and 10 platinum certifications since they first hit their native charts, the London debut of Sydney-based electronic duo Peking Duk feels long overdue. However, when speaking to The Edge on an open-top Original Tour bus on a crisp December lunchtime between sold-out nights at The Garage and KOKO, Adam Hyde and Reuben Styles already feel right at home. “We went to the West Ham vs. Arsenal game last night – had the time of my life,” Styles says. “It was a 0-0 boring game but there were a lot of loose eastenders out and it was fucking hilarious. It was sick.”

‘Let You Down,’ their fizzy, self-deprecating new release, marks another first, with Hyde debuting his own vocals alongside those of Icona Pop’s Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo. His move comes as the logical next step from the band launching their full Weeknd-inspired live act over the summer at Splendour In The Grass, which one of their crew describes to me as Australia’s equivalent Glastonbury. The result was evidently successful – tastemaking radio station Triple J described the performance as “stepping things up to 11 without sacrificing the simple pleasures of a Peking Duk throwdown” – and, to feature on spring’s impending debut album, it made perfect sense to rekindle a friendship that began with some spilt orange juice in the air years prior. “We met on an aeroplane from Miami to LA,” Hjelt recalls. “We were like, ‘We saw some Australian dudes play last night,’ and you were like, ‘It was actually, kind of, us.’ That was the first meeting, and then we met in Sweden at the Northbound studios [in Stockholm].”

It is London, however, that brought ‘Let You Down’ to life. One week later, Hyde and Styles found themselves out on the River Thames, inspired by a night out in “some really messed-up” Elephant & Castle nightclub. (“We were fucked when we wrote ‘Let You Down,” exclaims Hyde. “Mad in the head!”) Their home for the day happened to be Grand Cru, a barge converted to a full recording studio by Pete Townshend of The Who, and they quickly embraced its quirks. “We heard you could rent it out as a studio, so we were like, ‘Oh fuck, of course we have to do this,’” Styles notes. “As soon as you walked onto the boat the first door we opened [made] like a wretched fucking squeak… Straight away [we] recorded it and then started jamming chords while that was on loop, trying to warm up that squeak.” It remains in the song to this day.

Courtesy of further collaboration with Swedish talents like Tove Lo and Elliphant – the latter on 2016’s ‘Stranger,’ which picked up Song of the Year at November’s prestigious ARIA ceremony – Hyde and Styles are no strangers to Scandinavian ways of thinking. In fact, although over 15,000 kilometres may separate their respective hometowns of Canberra and Stockholm, all four agree the cultural divide pales in comparison. “Icona Pop and Peking Duk as acts, I guess, both have very similar crowds,” Hyde says on their “lit” Tuesday evening set. “It was natural when everyone fucking lost their shit when they came out on stage.” Somewhat related, Jawo explains a traditional rite of passage for young graduating Swedes: “When you turn 18 you go to Australia, meet an Australian guy who surfs and skates, then dump him and come back to Sweden. Or the other way round.”

In some ways, the relationship depicted in the ‘Let You Down’ video is far more fruitful, following a man attempting to propose to his girlfriend in increasingly elaborate fashions. However, amplifying the it’s-not-you-it’s-me tone of the track itself, her character attempts to flee by whatever means necessary, including hurtling directly into the path of a car for a scene that passenger Styles highlights the filming of as the craziest experience of his life. Hyde completes the story: “I was there. I was standing right next to the girl who set herself on fire and it was scary. Everybody that was standing there went completely quiet. There were maybe 40 people on the set and I was dressed up like a fucking waiter… [The stunt performer] was standing there about to get lit on fire just breathing deeply. Then they fucking set her on fire and she sprinted and it was intense.”

None of the four can quite match the shoot with their own escape tales: Styles’ finest offering is a sojourn into the woods being chased by a taxi driver, meanwhile Hjelt’s teary attempt at the same thing ended up in drunken slow-motion running à la Homer Simpson, and Jawo’s morbid childhood flashback to someone removing a blueberry-hued helmet shortly before getting struck by a car renders everyone momentarily speechless enough to notice Akon’s greatest hits ringing around the capital from the top deck.

To restore the jovial mood, attention swiftly turns towards a festive singalong. Amidst a travelling press corps daubed in Christmas-themed jumpers and headgear, Hyde’s suggestion of DMX’s ‘Rudolph The Rednose Reindeer’ and inconclusive Whitney Houston admiration (“Does anyone know if Whitney Houston did a Christmas song? If Whitney Houston’s done a Christmas song I’m going to say that’s my favourite.”) are no match for Hjelt and Jawo’s spontaneous harmonics on their favourites: Wham! and *NSYNC. Ultimately, with the Duk and Pop brands set to become more closely knit with more touring in the pipeline, consummating the supergroup with something original is the only fitting conclusion to our conversation.

Author: Xavier Voigt-Hill

I write words.