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One of Australia’s most pioneering and celebrated electronic acts, Pnau incorporated house, funk, jungle, rave, and pop into their music over the years, snagging ARIA awards and a U.K. number one for an Elton John remix album along the way. Their relationship with John came to a global peak in the early 2020s with the multi-platinum, chart-topping international smash hit, “Cold Heart (Pnau remix)” featuring Dua Lipa.
Formed in the mid-’90s by school friends Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes, Pnau debuted with a mix of acid house and trance that distinguished them from the rock acts Australia was known for at the time. The combination of deep house, funk, hip-hop, Latin, and jazz on the duo’s 1999 debut album, Sambanova, earned Pnau an ARIA Music Award for Best Dance Release. However, that version of Sambanova was pulled from release because of copyright issues with some of the samples used to make the album. It was re-released with a slightly different track list in 2001. Pnau released their second album, Again, in 2003, but despite the success of singles such as “We Love the Fresh Kills,” it didn’t do as well as their debut, and Mayes and Littlemore took time off from Pnau to work with other artists.
They regrouped in 2007 and collaborated with the Sleepy Jackson’s Luke Steele on the track “With You Forever,” which inspired the duo to write more songs featuring vocals. Featuring contributions from Feadz and Ladyhawke as well as Steele, Pnau’s self-titled third album appeared in 2007. The album earned wide acclaim and inspired Littlemore and Steele to work together as Empire of the Sun, whose 2008 single “Walking on a Dream” and album of the same name achieved worldwide success. Pnau won a fan in Elton John, who collaborated with the group on their fourth album, 2011′s Soft Universe. Inspired by the breakup of Littlemore’s relationship, the album featured songs co-written by Martin Craft and producer Mark Saunders and had a more straightforward sound. Pnau worked with John again on 2012′s Good Morning to the Night, which found the duo reworking eight of the singer/songwriter’s songs. The album topped the U.K. Album Charts upon its June release.
Littlemore returned to his Empire of the Sun duties for a few years, and when Pnau resurfaced in 2016, they added Littlemore’s brother Sam as an official member. The group’s first album as a trio, 2017′s Changa, saw them return to the more festive, dance-oriented sound of earlier albums. That year, the album’s lead single, “Chameleon,” won an ARIA award for Best Dance Release.
In May 2019, Pnau returned with the disco-inspired single “Solid Gold,” featuring Kira Divine and Marques Toliver; the track went platinum and scored the group another ARIA nomination. In 2021, the trio were thrust into the global mainstream with their contribution to John’s The Lockdown Sessions album, the Dua Lipa-featuring “Cold Heart (Pnau remix).” The track was certified multiplatinum and rose to number one across Europe, North America, and Australasia, becoming one of the defining chart smashes of the year. ~ Heather Phares