18 months ago Peking Duk had an 80,000 person strong crowd at Sydney’s ANZ stadium eating out the palm of their hand.
Performing a prime-time slot at bushfire relief concert Fire Fight Australia, with millions watching on live TV, it was the latest milestone for the duo, who in the first decade of their career had gone from SoundCloud party boys to headline material for festivals and arenas both in Australia and around the world.
Of course, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic saw their seemingly unstoppable train grind to a sudden jarring halt. Now, nearly 18-months on, members Reuben Styles and Adam Hyde are under no illusions of their fortunate position, given how high their star has risen.
“We realised that we were lucky as fuck… it was a really important time for us to reflect on how rough situations are for so many people,” says Adam, sitting down with Rolling Stone on a blustery winters’ morning in Sydney.
“There were obviously so many artists that were on much more exciting trajectories career wise than us,” adds Reuben. “Take (dream pop act) Vlossom for example, they crushed their Lansdowne residency at the start of last year, so who knows where they might have gone in 2020 if they had played enough festivals […] things were exponential for them.
“We know that we’ll be totally fine, we want to make sure we’re doing our best to support other artists in the amazing Aussie community.”
While the pandemic certainly altered plans for the pair, there was no let-up from their relentless creative schedule, bolstered by years of constant writing, collaborating and producing.
Even a change of cities for Adam (who recently moved to Los Angeles) was never going to get in the way of the group churning out the party-anthems, each seemingly tailor-made for huge festival sing-alongs.
“It was good (moving to LA) because I put a lot of the groundwork in for meeting people, networking…” recalls Adam, “doing the thing, establishing some relationships – I had that time to really get some stuff going before everything went to shit.
“There’s always been a very clear line of communication about the project – it’s never been an issue for us with other projects or living elsewhere.”
“We’d been in the same city our whole lives until 2018,” adds Reuben, “then Adam moved to Melbourne and we got used to how to make the most of our time together but also how to work separately – now when we’re together it makes things extra fun – distance makes the heart grow fonder.
“When we’re in the same city though, regardless of what we’re doing- that’s when it’s Duk time!”
Geographical distance certainly hasn’t altered the quality of the bands’ output, with the recently released new single Chemicals slotting right in alongside their biggest hits. It was a tune that was penned in a matter of hours, indicative of a more unconstrained writing process for the pair.
“It took us about eight hours to draft that song,” says Adam, “but then we flipped the beat, changed up the vocals and it made it come to life. Sometimes if you change too much of a song it can lose its core, but this time it worked amazingly.”
Peking Duk entered the studio with Sarah Aarons (LDRU, Childish Gambino, Ruel), who Peking Duk credit as “an incredibly talented woman who comes up with genius ideas on the spot”.
“Every time we have sessions with her she has these incredible ideas that come out so quickly,” says Adam.
Reuben jumps in, “With other writers it can take a few hours locking in melodies, a few hours locking in lyrics, it’s a long process. With her though, it’s done in about sixty minutes.”
Having racked up hundreds of millions of streams online and scoring multiple tracks in the upper echelons of triple j’s Hottest 100 (most notably a #2 spot with High in 2015), it’s no surprise to hear the air of confidence the duo have when it comes to putting pen to paper. However it wasn’t always the case, with the two having processed their fair share of pressure from an industry desperate to capitalise on their success.
“We felt that in 2015 / 2016… when we signed with a big global label, we were like, ‘We gotta fulfil our newly assigned destiny!’,” laughs Reuben. “We used to be totally focused on the result – and that is the worst way of entering a writing session. Recently though, we’ve gone back to being a couple of dudes enjoying making music, and I feel like we’ve finally arrived back at that point.”
“We really just let it flow now,” adds Adam, “which has been far more productive and healthy. There’s no formula to it at all – the most important thing is ‘Do we fuck with it?’ That’s what it always comes down to, every single time.”
With a self-assuredness about their own process, coupled with the gradual return of live events, the stage is set for a huge second decade for the duo, who are chomping at the bit to build on their worldwide success.
“The next ten years are going to be more outrageous, more sweaty – just ‘more’, it’ll be maximal as fuck,” says Adam with a glint in his eye. “We’re never going to take ourselves super seriously onstage – the more we lean into the fun side of stuff, the better things always are.
“People pay money to come and see you play, put on a show and make it damn good. That’s the bottom line.”
One question on some fans’ lips is, ‘How’s the debut album coming along?’ It’s an apposite query given Peking Duk’s storied 11-year career without one.
“We love the trickly effect of releasing singles,” says Reuben. “People love that consumerism side of music – they don’t seem to want as much as they used to – like a full LP to reminisce on for three years at a time isn’t the order of the day any more.
“We do love the idea of an album though – and we probably will do one soon,” he adds with a laugh.
“Right now we are sitting on more finished music than we ever have before, so we’ll just have to wait and see,” says Adam.
Regardless of the format – expect a hell of a lot more Peking Duk to arrive at the table in the next 12 months.