Empire of the Sun (band)

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This article is about the band. For other uses, see Empire of the Sun (disambiguation).
Empire of the Sun
Empire of the Sun 2013-05-31.jpg
Empire of the Sun front-man Luke Steele performing at the Vivid Festival at Sydney Opera House in 2013.
Background information
Origin Sydney, Australia
Years active 2007–present
Associated acts
Website empireofthesun.com

Empire of the Sun is an Australian electronic music duo from Sydney, formed in 2007.[2] The band is a collaboration between Luke Steele of alternative rock act The Sleepy Jackson, and Nick Littlemore of electronic dance outfit Pnau.[3][4] Their 2008 debut album Walking on a Dream brought the duo international success and has been certified double platinum in Australia and gold in the United Kingdom (UK).[5][6] The album provided 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.[7]

The duo's second album Ice on the Dune was released in June 2013[8] preceded by lead single "Alive" on 16 April.[9] The band are signed to EMI/Virgin.[10] A live-band, fronted by Steele, has performed internationally and is known for its flamboyant appearance and elaborate stage-sets.[11][12] The duo have won a number of Australian music awards.[13][14]


2007–08: Formation[edit]

Luke Steele (left) and Nick Littlemore (right), the members of Empire of the Sun

Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore met in 2000 after being introduced by Steele's A&R executive, Simon Moor,[15] in a bar in Sydney.[16] Both were at the time signed to EMI and had already been working on different projects.[2] Over the years that followed, the two collaborated on a number of occasions. Littlemore helped write the song "Tell the Girls That I'm Not Hangin' Out",[17] which appeared on The Sleepy Jackson's 2003 debut album, Lovers,[15] and Steele had some artistic input in Littlemore's 2006 art-rock project Teenager.[18] After a falling out over the song on Lovers the co-operation ceased for a while, with Littlemore commenting "I’m a very intense person and I take things to heart".[19]

The two reconvened in 2006 to work on two songs for the Pnau album that was released in late 2007. They collaborated on the tracks "Freedom" and the opener "With You Forever" where Steele supplied the vocal. This prompted a change in direction for the band who began to craft a work more vocally-centered album featuring guest performances.[20] A track-by-track analysis of the album Pnau revealed that writing of "With You Forever" with Luke Steele inspired Littlemore's band to begin work on a collaborative project.[21] 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 brought an interest from Elton John, who signed Littlemore to his management company.[22]

"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[23]

The new project began to develop under the working title of "Steelemore" as a collaboration between Steele and Littlemore,[19] with Pnau partner Peter Mayes listed as a producer and occasional co-writer.[24] As Steele was living in Perth and Littlemore was in Sydney the two spent time writing songs separately while meetings occasionally in Sydney to decide on the musical direction and style.[16] When they had accumulated enough material Mayes and duo began to record the album throughout 2007 with the assistance of Jonathan Sloan.[2][25]

2008: Walking on a Dream[edit]

Empire of the Sun performing at Wellington Square in 2009.

While the record had been largely recorded and mixed, the self-titled Pnau album took precedence for Littlemore and Mayes in the first half of 2008. The duo put out the title-track "Walking on a Dream" in anticipation of the album's release. It appeared in digital format on 30 August 2008,[26] and received airtime on Australian radio and reached number ten on the Australian ARIA Singles Chart.[27] A second single, titled "We Are the People", was released on the 30 September and peaked at number twenty-four in Australia.[27] The album Walking on a Dream appeared on 3 October 2008 and debuted at number eight on the ARIA Albums Charts, peaking at number six.[28] The duo embarked on an international promotional tour in support of the album that was released in Europe in February/March 2009 followed by a North American release in April of the same year. While the project had initially been conceived as studio-only, the growing success brought "an audience [to which] we felt a duty to be good to them".[29] Upon their return to Australia Steele began to prepare for a live debut of the band at the Parklife Festival in September/October 2009.[30] The headlined three shows, described as a visual "overload [where] giant graphics swam and spun over the stage as costumed dancers writhed to the beat and Steele on a pedestal onstage, [wearing] a gigantic metallic headpiece and his usual ‘Ming The Merciless' robe".[31] A third single, "Standing on the Shore" was released in June 2009[32] while a remixed version "Without You" was released as the album's fourth single the following September.[33]

Littlemore decided to opt out of performing with the band live, citing 'I’ve always felt that once you make a record it’s not yours anymore'.[29] Steele gave the impression that his partner left the band in September 2009, however, Littlemore resurfaced in the following month, citing his production work and a project with Cirque du Soleil as the reason for the lack of communication.[34] He divided his time between the UK and Montreal while working on other creative commitments.[35] Steele continued to perform live with the band at a number of Australian outdoor events.[36][37] Towards the end of 2009 the band received a number of ARIA Awards for Walking on a Dream, including Best Album of the Year.[38]

The band performed as a co-headliner at the touring Future Music Festival around Australia in February/March 2010.[39] The band made their international debut at the Vivo Latino Festival in Mexico City in April of that same year.[40] They moved to Europe for the summer festival season where they performed at among others Glastonbury and Rock Werchter.[41][42] The band made their American debut at the Lollapalooza festival.[43] 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.[44][45] In November 2010, Littlemore indicated that he had "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".[35] In July 2011, Littlemore announced that the band had gone into the studio at the end of June to begin working on a second Empire of the Sun album while he confirmed would "come on board this time, actually come together and tour".[46] As recording continued, Littlemore continued to have Pnau related commitments, releasing the album Soft Universe in 2011 and the Elton John remix album Good Morning to the Night in 2012.[47][48]

2013–present: Ice on the Dune[edit]

For much of 2012 the duo and their collaborators spent time recording material while Steele and the band retired from touring. On 11 March 2013, the band revealed a trailer for their second album entitled Ice on the Dune directed by J.D. Dillard and confirmed the release date as June 2013.[49][50] The lead single "Alive" was released on 16 April and on the same day, the album was made available for pre-order on iTunes.[9] The single has moderate success in Australia and Europe.[27][51] On 18 April 2013, the Farrelly brothers announced that the band would score Dumb and Dumber To.[52] Ice on the Dune was released on 14 June 2013 in Australia[53] and New Zealand.[11][54]

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."[55] In 2014 the band performed at the Coachella Festival, headlining the Sahara Tent.[12]

"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 5 September 2013, played over the end credits of the 2013 film Paranoia, and featured in the movie Dumb and Dumber To. "Alive" was also a featured song on the soundtrack of EA Sport's FIFA 14.[citation needed]

In December 2014, Empire of the Sun released two songs, "Tonight" and "Wandering Star", which were written for the Farrelly brothers film, Dumb and Dumber To.[56]

On March 21, 2015, the band performed at the 2015 Cumbre Tajín in Veracruz, Mexico.

In January 2016, the band's 2008 album title-track "Walking on a Dream" was featured in a national commercial titled "The Dreamer" in the United States for the Japanese automaker Honda to promote the 2016 Honda Civic.[57]


Although the name of the project has been attributed to the 1984 novel of the same name by J. G. Ballard,[58] Littlemore denied 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".[16]


The band employs elaborate stage sets and headdress, which reflects the duo's background in visual art. Littlemore explained that "we did see Alejandro Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain and it influenced the way we could think about visualization". However, he emphasised that the inspiration came from various sources.[59]

Awards and accolades[edit]

In the UK, they gained fourth position on the BBC News website's Sound of 2009 poll.[60]

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.[61]

"Walking on a Dream" was 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. Steele also performed "Walking on a Dream" at the event. Empire of the Sun also received an additional five nominations—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, and won all but two of these awards.[citation needed]


Studio albums[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions Certifications

Walking on a Dream 6 22 27 60 31 17 70 37 15 19 97
Ice on the Dune
  • Released: 14 June 2013
  • Label: Capitol
  • Formats: CD, digital download
3 37 40 26 34 26 53 16 7 24 20


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[73]
  • BPI: Silver[6]
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.


Title Year Notes A-side
"Breakdown" 2008 Available on iTunes Australia as an exclusive bonus album track.[78] N/A
"Etude" 2009 Available on Nokia Music Australia as an exclusive bonus album track.
"Romance to Me" Available as a free download for members of the official Empire of the Sun forum.[79] "We Are the People"
"Girl" Available on the deluxe 2-disc edition of Walking on a Dream, released on 20 November 2009. "Without You"

Other appearances[edit]

Title Year Album
"The Dream Time Machine" (WZRD featuring Empire of the Sun) 2012 WZRD


Title Year Artist
"Applause" 2013 Lady Gaga
"The Thrill" Wiz Khalifa

Music videos[edit]

Title Year Director(s) Notes
"Walking on a Dream" 2008 Josh Logue Filmed in Shanghai, China.
"We Are the People" Filmed at Mina, Nuevo León, and Xilitla, San Luis Potosí in Mexico.
"Standing on the Shore" 2009 Filmed at Lancelin, north of Perth, Australia.[2]
"Without You" Filmed at FOX Studios, Sydney, Australia.
"Half Mast (Slight Return)" 2010 Nash Edgerton Filmed in New York City, United States.
"Alive" 2013 Charles Scott and Alex Theurer Filmed at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, United States.
"DNA" Emmett Malloy Filmed in San Fernando Valley, California, United States.[80]
"Celebrate" 2015 Empire of the Sun Filmed at Noryangjin Marketplace and Jongno Gwangjang Marketplace, Seoul, South Korea

Awards and nominations[edit]

ARIA Awards[edit]

The ARIA Music Awards of 2009 nominations were announced on 8 October 2009.[38] Empire of the Sun received the most nominations of any artist,[81] 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.[82] 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.[13]

Year Recipient/Nominated work 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 www.xy-1.com) 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 Nominated
Best Pop Release Nominated
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[edit]

The APRA Awards are presented annually from 1982 by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA).[14]

Year Recipient/Nominated work Award Result
2010 "We Are the People" Song of the Year[83] Nominated
Luke Steele, Jonathon Sloan, Nick Littlemore – Empire of the Sun Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year[84] Won
"Walking on a Dream" Dance Work of the Year[84] Won

Live performance band members[edit]

  • Luke Steele – lead vocals, guitars, keyboards
  • Ian Ball – guitar
  • Olly Peacock – drums
  • Tony Mitolo – drums (2008–2015)
  • Surahn Sidhu – guitar, bass, vocals (2008–2015)


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External links[edit]