For IRL couple Piri and Tommy Villiers, lockdown has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise. After (virtually) meeting via Instagram DMs earlier this year, the pair – who bonded over a mutual love of generational dance artists like Disclosure and Kaytranada – decided to bubble up in a student house together and make music as a duo.
Although spending most of her time with Tommy instead of focusing on uni might have initially been risky (vocalist Piri – real name Sophie McBurnie – was studying Chemistry before meeting her producer boyfriend, who is also in the indie-pop band Porij), things have certainly paid off since. The Manchester duo’s colourful brand of drum ‘n’ bass with a Gen Z touch has made them the latest TikTok success story.
The pair’s breakbeats-inspired single ‘Soft Spot’ started blowing up seemingly out of nowhere on the social media platform throughout the summer, standing out thanks to its singalong chorus and racing beats. A few months later, it received a major label re-release due to its sudden viral success. Now, the track has clocked up more than seven million streams on Spotify, and the couple now count PinkPantheress and Charli XCX among their fans.
Here, they tell NME about what it’s like to be at the forefront of a DIY dance scene explosion and why – with an album’s worth of bangers ready to go – this is just the start for them.
Hi Piri and Tommy Villiers! How are things?
Piri: “To be honest, life is pretty chaotic for us right now! We don’t have our own place, so we’re travelling around a lot and staying between our parents’ houses, but feeling very blessed overall by our careers.”
How did you both meet?
Piri: “Basically, I saw a picture of Tommy’s other band on Twitter and thought he was handsome. I then found [the band’s] Instagram and soon slid into his DMs!”
Tommy: “We met for a date in Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester and it was the best first date ever… so then we had another one… and another one…”
Piri: “It probably only took us a couple of weeks before we started making music together, and because of the lockdown, we had so much time to be creative and work on tunes.”
What’s your creative process like?
Tommy: “I’ve been making beats in my free time since I was about 17. Either we’ll set a vibe and I’ll make a fresh 8 bars, or we decide we like one of the old beats from my hard drive and I will send it to Sophie, and then she comes back with a song.”
Piri: “I always loved writing songs but I was felt limited by my mediocre guitar playing – I could never have imagined making an actual record! Once I met Tommy, I finally had the opportunity to write over really good beats. We just ended up being a great team.”
Why do you think that ‘Soft Spot’ has connected with so many people?
Piri: “I think all of our music pretty much involves me singing about Tommy. ‘Soft Spot’ is about falling for someone and being unsure if they feel the same, but still having no way to stop yourself – but with optimism that it will all work out.”
Tommy: “I think because it’s got such a hook-y chorus and lyrics that can stay in your head, people have really latched onto it. It’s easy to sing along to as well, which helps.”
Did you expect it to blow up in the way that it has?
Piri: “When I wrote it, I did think it had the right kind of vibe to do well on TikTok, but [viral success] still felt like a very distant dream. When we first self-released ‘Soft Spot’, I paid three TikTok creators to use the song – and then it just snowballed from there!”
Does it feel surreal to hear your song played on the radio?
Piri: “Yeah, especially when it’s a morning show. We love hearing Radio 1 blasting drum ‘n’ bass in the morning!”
Tommy: “Something weird that happened recently was when ‘Soft Spot’ was played on Sunday Brunch on Channel 4. It’s so jokes to imagine the chefs bopping along to our drum ‘n’ bass.”
Why do you think that there’s been a resurgence of old-school dance sounds?
Tommy: “A lot of people have nostalgia for the rave-y, mid-90s sounds, and a lot of people are just hearing [these sounds] for the first time, so I think its all connecting with a huge audience right now.”
Piri: “Especially with Planet Rave on Spotify, that’s a whole playlist dedicated just to this kind of sound. It’s introducing a whole generation of kids to dance genres that they may not have known before.”
‘Soft Spot’ has been remixed by UK garage legend MJ Cole. Was that a dream come true for you both?
Tommy: “Oh my god, yes! It was mind blowing; we sent over a massive list of artists – big and small – to the label [for the remix]. We thought we were being cheeky with the bigger artists like MJ Cole, and didn’t expect anything to come of it. When we found out he was up for it we completely lost it, he’s someone we really look up to – especially me, being a producer.”
Charli XCX and PinkPantheress have said that they are fans of yours. That must feel pretty cool, right?
Piri: “Yeah! PinkPantheress DM’d us actually to say that she loved ‘Soft Spot’ and she thinks the beat goes stupid! That was so cool for us because she really broke through with this new pop-style, girly dance music and showed that people really want and need this style of music. And she did it without the aim of blowing up too – it was so organic.
Tommy: “Charli XCX played ‘Soft Spot’ on Radio 1, which was mad! She said it was one of her favourite songs and that she runs to it when she goes to the gym. She’s an artist that we both love and really look up to.”
Are you feeling any pressure to prove that you’ve got more than one big hit in you?
Piri: “Yeah for sure, we’re so confident in our music but ‘Soft Spot’ is definitely a big act to follow. Even though we love our unreleased music, we just really hope it does as well – especially on TikTok. I would love to see people using our music for their videos again.”
Tommy: “We definitely can’t wait to release more music though, and people are already asking for it!”
You’ve just started performing live. How have the shows been?
Tommy: “The crowds have been great so far! Our first two headline shows were sold out and the audience was shouting back every word of ‘Soft Spot’, which was such an unreal experience for our first couple of gigs.”
Piri: “We have a drummer onstage with us too, which really helps to increase the energy and the level of hype. I’ve been super lucky to have Tommy with me, too, since he’s so experienced and confident on-stage from performing with his other bands. It’s very comforting to have him there.”
Have you got plenty of tunes ready to go, then?
Tommy: “Yeah, for sure! We made so much music over lockdown we’ve probably got enough for a proper project already. We’re pretty sure we’re gonna skip the EP stage and go straight in with an album.”
Piri: “But there’ll be disco, house, drum ‘n’ bass, speed garage… we love so many genres of dance music that we just want to make it all. We don’t want to be known for one particular sound.”
‘Soft Spot’ is out now via EMI/Universal