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Photograph: Supplied | Ruel

We spoke with Ruel ahead of his intimate Sydney show

The 21-year-old Sydneysider shares his thoughts on writing music, rowdy gigs and his favourite spots in Sydney

Winnie Stubbs
Written by
Winnie Stubbs

It wouldn’t be outrageous to call Ruel Vincent van Dijk the industry's new golden boy of Aussie music. Standing at six-foot-five and crowned with a surf-washed, sandy blonde mullet, it would be easy to dismiss the 'Painkiller' singer-songwriter as just the latest Aussie pop poster boy on the scene. But then there’s the actual cred of his career, which to date has seen him collaborate with artists from across the world, win the ARIA for Breakthrough Artist in 2018, and take home the crown as MTV’s Best Australian Artist in 2019 (all before ageing out of his teens). So when we heard that Ruel would be playing an intimate free show by a campfire in Sydney (and running a ping pong tournament before his set), we had to learn more.

We spoke with the 21-year-old musician days after he attended the Grammys – an event he described, in perfect Sydney dialect, as “hectic”. And though his self-effacing Instagram caption from the night – which read “where am i what am i doing how did i get here” – suggests he’s flummoxed by the fame, he actually came of age in the industry.

When he made his radio debut on Triple J’s Like a Version at age 14, he was the segment’s youngest-ever featured performer. At just 15, he released the song 'Don't Tell Me', which was publicly praised by one of the most influential people in the music industry (the world?) Elton John. Though he’s currently spending a lot of time in LA, where he says he “gets the most done”, the English-born singer-songwriter credits Australia (he moved here when he was four or five, he can't remember) with his creative ambition.

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“I think there’s something about growing up in Australia," said Ruel. "I don’t know what it was, I don’t know if maybe I’m lucky with the friends I have and my family, but I’ve always felt very free to express myself here, creatively. Maybe in some places you’re a smaller fish in a bigger pond. If I grew up in America, I feel like I might have given up, because there are so many millions of people trying to make it. Australia is a bit smaller, and I think that gave me more confidence to give it a red hot go.”

When he told us what a perfect day in Sydney would look like to him, we resonated hard: a swim at Shelly Beach, a bacon and egg roll from Showbox, a day spent in the ocean with friends, then dinner at Jimmy’s Falafel and drinks at Old Mate’s Place. His ideal day didn’t feature a show, but if he had to choose a favourite Sydney venue, it would be the Metro: “Every time I play at the Metro I feel very at home. It’s where I played my first headline show, and my first support gig in Sydney.”

If you’re heading to Launceston music festival Party In The Paddock this weekend (Feb 8-11), you’ll catch Ruel on stage alongside other mainstays of the Triple J hitlist. He describes the last show he played in Tasmania as: “By far the most rowdy show I’ve ever played in Australia. It was hectic, it was one of my first tours, in a uni pub filled with people under 18. It seemed like everyone was extremely hammered. I think everyone there was about 14, but it was such a fun vibe – a lot of energy.”

His next Sydney show is taking place in front of around 50 people at an intimate venue in Paddington alongside local darlings like Peach PRC and G Flip as part of the Spotify *hits different* Camp – a pop-up event inspired by the *hits different* playlist, in which Ruel’s cinematic melodies about the confusion of love and life loom large. The lucky few who manage to snag tickets to the free event this weekend (Feb 10-11will probably witness a show that’s far less rowdy than Ruel’s Tassie uni pub performance, but the teen energy will still be very much present. The *hits different* playlist is designed to speak to the love-struck, pining teenager within all of us – and there’s nothing like a fireside performance to hammer those feelings home. 

If you’re keen to catch Ruel by the campfire*, you can register for tickets to Spotify *hits different* Camp over here – you'll want to act fast(*For safety reasons, there won’t actually be a campfire – but we’re happy to anticipate campfire-esque energy, and lean into the summer camp concept.)


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Looking for more fun this weekend? Here’s whats on

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