The illusive messages behind The Presets music
For almost two decades, The Presets have made music that sounds like they’re up to no good. It’s hard, noisy, and fits right into the soundtrack for a seriously good night. That youthfulness stuck itself to the centre of their musical identity and never left. In 17 years as a duo, they’ve evolved their music through changing times, learnt how to navigate their social responsibility as artists, and grappled with the mental pressure of creative life.
In the second episode of the Stoney Roads podcast, we found out how Australia’s brightest electronic music success has stayed this evergreen.
One Wednesday in 1995, Kim Moyes and Julian Hamilton were just two uni mates from Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music. They’d headed out to Goodbar on Oxford Street, but after a while in the club, they got a bit restless.
So, naturally, they decided to try and climb the half-constructed Anzac Bridge.
“We got chased out by a security guard, you know, nearly died, thought we were going to go to jail. And we actually got away, we were jumping fences like gazelles and just took on all these superhuman powers. That’s probably where The Presets began,” Julian told Stoney Roads.
From that night, their intentions were set. At the top of the bridge, Kim says he thought, “One day this town will be ours.” He was right.
Since forming in 2003, The Presets have laid the groundwork for Australian dance music’s trajectory in the years to come. They took a high energy, electro-driven approach to their sound when most music was in the middle of a moody-rock moment. That could be why word spread to the legendary Modular Records so quickly after their first few EP’s.
Through Modular, The Presets released their game-changing second album, Apocalypso, in 2008. Featuring tracks like “My People” and “Talk Like That”, it went straight to number one, and eventually snagged them 6 ARIA awards. It’s these early wins that shot them onto a decade-long whirlwind of success.
On how The Presets actually began, they tell the tale as follows. It was after a band rehearsal at the Erskineville home Kim was about to get evicted from. Kim and Julian were in a band called Prop, a mish-mash of semi-professional musicians from university. “It was quite an extravagant band to be in. We had vibraphones and marimbas and it was really hard to tour. It sounded like elevator music. It was kind of post-rock meets space-jazz,” he says.
After Prop wrapped up their rehearsals, Jules and Kim would stick around to experiment on the synths and drums. “Julian and I would make this really fun and immediate kind of music that was sort of electro-inspired. There was something about it that was the opposite of Prop.” Ultimately, Kim and Jules split from the band and started The Presets.
Even in the early days, The Presets gave off a strong sense of professionalism and musicianship. It inspired the other artists they encountered, and they left each audience with the impression that they just witnessed something huge.
Gus Da Hoodrat from Bang Gang DJ’s spoke to us about the first time he booked them at his legendary club night.
“I remember being like, “God, they’re serious”. They were very serious about the performances. They would always lock themselves in their change room for an hour before, and you couldn’t disturb them,” Gus said.
“It’s almost like they went to school and learnt how to be in a band, like how to not just be two people who are having to creatively see the same way. There’s a relationship there that a lot of bands fail to get right.”
With their passion and talent clear those around them, The Presets talked about how those high standards eventually warped into self-doubt. After their 2012 LP, Pacifica, Kim and Julian put the project on hold for six years. They lived life with their families, pursued personal projects, and whipped the next album into shape.
In this slower time, they seemed to develop a bit of imposter syndrome towards their own work. With the mindboggling success of their last releases, they didn’t feel they could live up to the standard they’d set.
“We have a legacy and a shared idea of what we are. We know what people generally want from us. We’re older guys who produce the music ourselves, we’re the musical directors, no one’s writing the songs for us. We carry the albums in our head, and often we can carry them for two and three years. It’s a lot of intellectual weight.”
The duo also reflected on how they’ve used their music to speak their minds. Particularly, things in the news that were pissing them off. Namely, My People was actually loosely written from the perspective of an asylum seeker in the late 2000’s.
“I thought it would be cool if we could just go on record as a band saying, “Hey, we’re from Australia, and there are some shitty policies, but we don’t agree with it”. So we literally made a record saying that. And it ended up being a bit of a smash hit song.” says Julian.
When you listen to My People, the production hits so hard that you’re not hearing the political lyrics. Clearly expressing a point of view through music is something every artist aims for, and The Presets have finessed how to do it without outshining the tune.