Getting Cozy with The Presets
Photos by Nina Barry.
Stepping into The Presets‘ tour bus felt like walking into a cave, the blinds drawn tight to keep out the late afternoon sunlight, pupils widening to adjust to the sudden dearth of brightness. In that moment, with cool air wafting from hidden vents as the engine quietly idled, the setting felt appropriate for a band whose music is so frequently characterized by its iciness and a dark, foreboding undercurrent. However, as Julian Hamilton (who sings and plays keyboards as half of the Sydney duo) was quick to note about the ominous environs, “it’s like that for The Wiggles, too.”
That sense of humor, coupled with a relaxed intellectuality and a casual confidence, goes a long way toward defining the band’s offstage persona. Kim Moyes, known in dance music circles for productions under his K.I.M. alias, plays drums and synthesizers for The Presets and has an almost bashful charm. Unlike the sinister tones behind some of their compositions, the pair are welcoming and easy to talk to, especially when it comes to their most passionate subject: music. Hopping from violinist André Rieu to Brit-pop godfather Morrissey in a few short breaths, their love of the art form in its varied manifestations is easily apparent.
While many critics have pointed to the recent success of acts like The Presets and friends such as Cut Copy and the Midnight Juggernauts as proof of an Australian indie dance music Renaissance, Julian and Kim are quick to place the so-called phenomenon in its proper perspective.
“It’s not bigger than the bands that are coming out of Paris or anywhere else,” notes Julian. Kim adds, “I guess the more important thing that is happening in Australia is the culture rising around that dance scene. It’s like a mainstream culture now where there is fashion associated with the musical style. It’s really noticeable, you see a ton of kids at a festival all looking the same, you know? It’s really only three or four bands and we happen to be thrown into that culture. You don’t notice it as much in the States; here it’s more of an underground thing.”
Which, as Julian points out, is a welcome shift for a country whose musical legacy has been typified by rock music acts such as AC/DC and Jet. Indeed, Apocalypso made its debut as the number one record in Oz and was still number four when we spoke six weeks later, a level of success he describes as “not something we expected three years ago” when their premiere long-player Beams hit stores. “There has always been great dance music in Australia,” says Kim, “but it’s never been in the top 10 or anything like that.”
Now Kim can’t throw down a DJ set in Sydney without being mobbed by fans of The Presets, but that’s fine by him. Both men are a little wary of the current fad whereby electronic acts become commoditized into various packages: the band, the remix artistes, the afterparty DJ act, the mixtape curators. (They were polite enough not to anybody out specifically, but I’m looking at you, Ladytron.) That explains in part why the band stopped doing remixes for other artists a while back. As Julian describes it, “we’re better at writing our own material. If we’re going to spend a day doing a remix, we’d rather spend it just doing our own stuff.” Kim agrees, adding that “if there’s going to be any downtime during touring to work on music, I’d rather it be our music.”
That renewed focus on their music has paid big dividends on Apocalpyso, which is tighter and more muscular than its predecessor, and in their live shows which are renowned for their intensity, especially for an electronic band. The classical music realm in which their talents were nurtured “is such a performance-based world,” explains Julian. “It’s not about the recording, it’s about what happens in front of your face that night and the drama that is involved with that.”
“When we were young in Sydney you’d wait and wait for your favorite band to play in Australia and then it would be some guy standing behind a laptop and you’d think, ‘I didn’t really need to see this.’ Some acts, like a Justice DJ set, put on a really great show. The importance of that performance was really drilled into us.” Or, as Kim jokingly puts it, on stage “our laptops are behind us.” He laughs it off, but as we discover later that night, the detail is a telling one.
Faced with the question of which they prefer more, recording or performing, it’s clear their allegiances are divided between the cerebral satisfaction of the former and the visceral thrills of the latter. “There are definitely pluses for making music in your bedroom at home,” notes Kim. “For one, you’re at home and you can stay in your pajamas. Touring is great as well because it’s such immediate satisfaction and you feel like you’ve worked for an hour.”
“The one and a half hours you’re on stage is so much fun when you’re connecting with the audience and it’s really physical and emotional, too,” continues Julian. “It’s just a shame there’s that other twenty-two and a half hours that just gets wasted when you’re at airports or checking into hotels. What ends up being thirty shows takes three months out of your life. That sucks.”
Having sussed it out verbally, he concludes that they are “never happier than when we’re sitting in front of a computer tying pieces of music together and writing words. That’s really what we are.”
Listen to “This Boy’s in Love (LifeLike Remix)” from The Presets’ new record, Apocalpyso, below:
[audio:http://godonnybrook.com/v3/wp-content/themes/mimbo2.2/images/This-Boys-In-Love-LifeLike-Remix1.mp3|titles=This Boy's In Love (LifeLike Remix)]