We’re the Statler and Waldorf of the Australian dance community.
There’s an air of the outsider that surrounds The Presets, presumably because they’re often labelled in simple terms – makers of dance music, or multiple ARIA Award winners, or Australian music veterans. But none of these labels quite aptly describe who they really are.
When I sit down with the duo, Kim Moyes and Julian Hamilton, Hamilton eschews compliments before I have the chance to offer any. “We’re the Statler and Waldorf of the Australian dance community.”
I counter that The Presets are outsiders, and veterans at it. Arguably their most seminal hit is ‘My People’ which was an aggressive ode to the plight of refugees. As the interview comes to an end, and the three of us are joking around, Hamilton brings up the aged muppets Statler and Waldorf one more time.
There is an idea in the spiritual practice that you begin something the same way you started it. It’s an energetic seal. I am a superstitious person; spirituality was part of my upbringing. I like how Hamilton tops and tails the conversation in that way.
“I like the term veteran,” Moyes concedes.
“I’m okay with it now,” Hamilton sighs, “But if we’re talking ten years okay… God I don’t care. It makes me feel like we’ve fought in a war. We survived!” he laughs. “We survived electroclash. We survived indie dance nu rave. We survived dubstep. We survived EDM.”
Australian dance music is awash with more than the aforementioned genres. The Presets have been frontrunners of the scene since the early 2000s. They released their debut album Beams in 2005 and have seen the scene populate and follow them, then explode and genre-bend. Some sounds were Australian, some were fast follows from overseas.
“EDM sort of came out of the blue to us and we’re completely unrelated to it,” Moyes says. “Musically, we always tried to forge our own lane, and it’s not like we’re jumping onto trends. We’re pushing our own thing. We’ve never felt aligned with any of the genres we’ve been pigeonholed into.”
Talking to The Presets, I notice an ease that flows between them. They are a yin and yang pair: Hamilton is leant back in his chair, deflecting implications of greatness that are probably coming from me. Moyes is eager and energetic, his spirit is youthful. There is no question that Moyes doesn’t spring to action towards, especially when it comes to talk about music making, artist collaboration or production.
Musically, we always tried to forge our own lane, and it’s not like we’re jumping onto trends.
They are, however different, in sync. They don’t interrupt each other; they don’t disagree. They tell me about the album, taking turns. I start to get an idea from both their words, which build and intersect, like a venn diagram. Outsiders, together.
“We’re musicians and we’re comfortable with that. With being artists,” Hamtilton says. “The music business is another beast. It’s always weird when we have to interact with it.”
“I don’t think we ever felt comfortable. I think we always felt like outsiders,” says Moyes, reflecting on their earlier years. “Even when we signed to Modular [in 2003] that was a label that was entirely made up of outsiders. I feel like it’s a badge of honour to say that I don’t feel comfortable.”
This connectivity is something I have not oft encountered in duos, where ego battles are often present. That has come from, well, I don’t know what. I would hazard a guess that the feeling that flows between them is one of synchronicity borne of years of multifarious experience.
They make vague references to hazardous touring; pain and suffering behind microphones and mixing desks; time together at strange rockstar parties; ‘it girls’ and famous video clip directors. All of this they refer to as noise, uninteresting, distracting. Something they withstood and survived.
HI VIZ is the 2018 release from The Presets, and it is not the album fans might be expecting. It is wild, contemporary, cathartic and fearless. Hamilton tells me it is very similar to their first EP Blow Up – that they tried to hark back to that.
“We definitely wanted to try and tap into an energy and an excitement that we had when we first started. If anything, we tried to make a record that sounded like our very first EP.”
I have been told by countless people that The Presets are really nice guys, but I honestly paid very little attention to this. ‘Nice guys’ is a meaningless phrase. But Hamilton and Moyes are strange, kind, intelligent, enthusiastic, weird, and very warm. And, I would assume, very good friends.
The songs on HI VIZ are, as Hamilton describes them, “like a mixtape; like you’re at a friend’s house and you’re spinning tracks.” ‘Beethoven’ is a heart thumping dark house track, packed with sultry lyrics, and a nasty beat, where you’re dancing in the dark with beads of sweat on every part of your body. ‘Tools Down’ is deep techno, another moment, fearless confetti spluttering gay anthems. On ‘Out Of Your Mind’ Alison Wonderland is screaming like a punk about cassette tapes – it’s aggressive, nasal and devoid of aspiration. There’s smooth and uplifting modes. ‘Feel Alone’ is longing, loving and millennial – it makes me sentimentally think of Avicii.
We definitely wanted to try and tap into an energy and an excitement that we had when we first started.
There are love songs, and dark songs. ‘Martini’, my personal favourite, is what Hamilton describes as being enthralled by a trans woman called Martini. “It’s a love song, It’s our run at a cyber croon.”
This is the kind of album that comes from the absence of fear; of fucks given. It’s a youthful and energetic release. Sometimes these things come as debuts, from desperate youngsters who have no stake in society and endless hunger. Sometimes it comes from years of experience and experiences.
“As a band we think about those first shows, that rocking energy, crowds partying,” says Hamilton when I talk to him later, after spending a few days listening to the eclectic album. “I have an energy in my head of what that sounded like, and we wanted to make a record in my head of what that sounded like.”
A house party it is. HI VIZ features a reel of guesting musicians, including Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters, Shane Parsons from DZ Deathrays, Alison Wonderland, Touch Sensitive, Kirin J. Callinan and The St Paul’s Lutheran Church Choir. On the face of it there seems no real rhyme or reason to this set of collaborators, but I suggest to Hamilton and Moyes that all these individual music makers fit the mould of also being outsiders.
“Totally,” says Moyes, excited to be talking about other musicians. “They’re uncompromising and doing their own thing just like us. I admire any artists doing their thing in this industry. It’s hard work, you know? Whether it’s a straight up and down pop artist, or guys like DZ [Deathrays]. I feel like we’re kindred spirits, you know? A big part of the HI VIZ thing was trying to harness this inclusiveness, this sense of party. This sense of you know, togetherness.”
Hamilton and Moyes are humble about their veteran status, their careers, their leadership in a community that has not always been welcoming of their political engagement. “We’ve had times in our career where we’re made a post about Australia Day, The Bali Nine, people getting executed,” says Hamilton, when I ask him if it’s okay for a band to be apolitical in the current climate. “I don’t know what the right answer is for that.”
“I guess you’ve just got to roll with your own conscience,” says Moyes. “On marriage equality, it’s a no brainer, you know? And I guess that’s where we see we have a responsibility to make that idea have a bit more resonance for everybody.”
Hamilton continues. “When something does come along that we feel strongly about, like Australia Day, we want to be on the right side of history and on the right team.”
And just as it gets deep, Julian circles back again. “We’re the Statler and Waldorf of the Australian Music Community.”
“Laughing at everybody’s outfits,” Kim adds.