Coming full circle with The Presets
There is no denying that dance duo THE PRESETS are Australian music icons. Comprised of JULIAN HAMILTON and KIM MOYES, they’ve been making music together for two decades, and with two EPs and four commercially and critically successful albums, they’ve cemented their name as two of the most innovative artists in Australian music. Known not only for the big hits like ‘Are You The One?’, ‘This Boy’s In Love’, ‘Youth In Trouble’, and of course the generation-defining anthem that is ‘My People’, but also their consistently innovative and eclectic music that never stays in the same place for too long, The Presets made fans everywhere very happy at the end of 2017 with the release of their first single in five years. Making a statement, it was the immediately impactful ‘Do What You Want’, infusing pub-rock influences and seemingly unlikely collaborators like DZ Deathrays‘ Shane Parsons on guitar, and quickly after this came the news that a new album was indeed on the way.
What would follow this was a steady, drip-feed of #content including outstanding music videos and two more singles, the enormous ’14U+14ME’ and the infectiously joyous ‘Downtown Shutdown’, both with their own incredible video clips as well – the latter of which actually delayed the album’s release date, as such was the need to get it absolutely right. Then, finally, we received HI VIZ. With a focus on creating the soundtrack to the ultimate house party, The Presets‘ past five years of hard work was finally out in the world. Harking back to the early days, The Presets returned to their aggressive, high-energy sounds that sound so damn good, and because of this, they delivered a genuine, authentic record that was full of immersive escapism, begging you to just close your eyes and feel it either through your headphones or in a live setting – either would be perfectly suitable.
Following the album’s release, the duo embarked on their first national headline tour, bringing HI VIZ in all its glory across the country. With just a few dates left to go, we caught Kim Moyes to talk all about how the pair had to reassess what they offer the world, how important their huge tunes are to where they are now, and what advice he’d give to an emerging artist coming through the ranks in 2018.
How’s everything been going given the album was released not even a month ago?
It’s been going really well actually. It’s such a relief to have it out after making it for so many years and then finishing it around Christmas time last year and sitting on it for six months. It’s been quite a rollercoaster to finally have it out in the public but it’s a good thing. It’s kind of cathartic and it’s been received really well and the shows have been really amazing. We’re just on the final run of our Australian tour now, heading to Queensland today. All the shows have been killer and I think any kind of trepidation or nervousness was put to rest when we finished the first show over in Fremantle so, all in all, it’s been really great. I consider it a success!
This album tour you’re on now is the first run of headline shows in quite a while, how has it been bringing HI VIZ to the masses?
It’s been amazing. When we started working on HI VIZ, we had a very simple plan to just get back to basics and start having a bit more fun again. Secretly, we were trying to blow ‘Apocalypso’ out of the water which has always been a bit of an albatross around our neck. We had this plan we’ve been sitting with for many years now, at least five years. We finished the album last year and then we started figuring out how to put it together in the live show. All of sudden you’ve got four albums and two EPs worth of material that you can potentially make a live show out of, so it was a little bit of a challenge to get that happening. We put in a lot of leg work early on and we built a set that was really high energy, and then we set about remixing some of the older stuff so it sounded as good as the new stuff. We also have all these custom-designed visuals made by all these artists so putting the show together was probably the most involved we’ve ever been and it was really hands on from our perspective. In the past, we just let the lighting design go for it and do their own thing, but this time around we were really determined to be involved every step of the way. There was a lot hinging on it in terms of the success of the experience but once we got off the stage in Fremantle, we just really felt like, “Oh my god, it actually worked!”
What a relief!
Yeah, totally! To actually think this seedling of a plan that we hatched five years ago actually blossomed into something that was tangible… I think a lot of the time, people pin their successes on chart positions and sales and that’s all well and good and it is meaningful, but at the end of the day what is our job is getting up there, playing a show and having people join in the experience, singing along to our songs and getting lost in the lights and music. You could just tell from the very first show that it had hit that nerve above and beyond what we expected. Every show since then has just been killer after killer and it’s feeling really great! I think it’s feeling the best its ever felt. When we first started out, we just kind of did what we did purely on instinct and there was no real plan so it was interesting to come around full circle and think, “Alright, how do we really do what we do?” and break it down to harness that energy again but with a little more thought into it.
It feels like with this album, you went back to the escapism of Beams and Apocalypso where you really focus on the “experience” of listening, and you’ve obviously included that in your set as well. The world has changed a lot and I think people really need that therapy of losing yourself in music can deliver – is that what you were trying to achieve? Giving people a momentary reprieve for an hour and a half?
Absolutely! God, I think both Julian and I have spent our lives really benefitting from that therapy of escapism whether it’s movies or music, and it’s one of the things that really attracted us to music and made us want to figure out, “How is that being done?” How can we use sound and chords and rhythms and textures to create an experience where you are in a bit of a fantasy. Working on this record for four or five years, a lot has happened and a lot of changes were going on in the world and personally and professionally for us, so at some point the question was asked like, “What is our purpose? What do we actually deliver to people? Why bother getting up on stage? Why bother turning up in the studio?” It was a question that we never really asked ourselves and at some point we realised that we do offer some kind of fantasy escapism, whether it be in an album format or in an experience of coming to a show or in a song. I think that’s what all good music does. Not all of it does, but I think that’s what it’s about; being swept away on a different sensory level. I think you can look around at the world today, it was probably like this at any given time in history, but there’s always something you can try to forget for an hour and a half. It just seems more prevalent now than ever.
Over the past few years, particularly the last five years or so, there’s been some certain cookie cutter ways of making dance music and I think when something like that is made, it loses it’s authenticity in a way and it doesn’t connect with people, but that’s something you have managed to avoid and I think it’s because you and Julian always make music that you both first and foremost enjoy. Do you think that helps keep that authenticity in your music and that’s why people are able to connect in such a deep way?
I hope so. We’re never quite sure. Since we’ve been interested in electronic music or dance music, we’ve seen that cookie cutter thing throughout every style, whether it’s gabber or drum’n’bass or techno, or the most recent styles like trap and dubstep. What that music is someone develops a formula and a million artists can just go out there and copy it. That’s all good and it’s kind of cool, in some instances it can be almost tribal. You can get pockets of artists in the UK with areas that specialise in a certain style of music that they’re just creating for each other, so it’s cool and I do get it, but at the end of the day, for us, what is king is the song. If you can’t take all the trimmings and frills of what we do and just come back down to play the song on the piano and sing it, then it kind of isn’t really that interesting to us. I think that’s what gives it its longevity and its individuality because at the end of the day, it really just comes down to what these two people are creating together regardless of the sound issues.
I’ve been a fan of The Presets for a long time, ‘I Go Hard, I Go Home’ used to be my MySpace song [Laughs]
[Laughs] Old school!
It was really exciting with this album because I can hear how you did take that step back to reassess and then build upon what you know you’re good at and what you deliver, and it’s because of that you’re able to continue that longevity and include those older songs into the mix. How important has it been for you to bring the older material into this current, new life for The Presets and this new chapter you’re in?
Super important. A lot of the older stuff was a real touchstone for what we were doing on this record and we kept going back to it. Especially in the process of making new material, trying to see if the new stuff can cut it as good as the old stuff, if not better than the old stuff. It was challenging. The fact is those tunes have led us to where we are today so for us to get out on stage and forget about ‘Are You The One?’ or ‘I Go Hard…’ or heaven forbid, ‘My People’, I guess we’d be really disappointing a lot of people. I think it’s really important that you keep giving people what they want, but the challenging thing is as you get further through your career is trying to squeeze more stuff in there that they might like as well, and hopefully it attaches itself and you can take them through the experience and it can become a part of their repertoire of what they like about you.
You must’ve seen a lot of acts come and go over the years and you’ve both worked with artists in your own rights, so I wanted to ask what your advice might be for an emerging artist coming through the ranks now?
Just stay in ya lane mate! Keep away from me! [Laughs] No, what I was kind of saying before. I was talking to the Kult Kyss guys about this the other day backstage after one of the shows. They were saying they felt intimated by watching our show because there was so many big tunes and I guess we take that for granted. I would say focus on the song, focus on the songwriting and don’t be so hung up on sounds. It’s all so important and it’s such a funny craft and you have to be really so super passionate and devoted to what you want to do and what you want to achieve and crazy ambitious as well. I don’t really know, I guess all that other stuff like “stay true to yourself,” and all that cliche shit too.
HI VIZ is out now via EMI, purchase here.
HI VIZ JUNE TOUR 2018
With special guest Roland Tings
THE TIVOLI, BRISBANE (GA/18+) – WEDNESDAY JUNE 27
NIGHTQUARTER, GOLD COAST (GA/18+) – FRIDAY JUNE 29
Interview by Emma Jones