Julian Hamilton (vocals) and Kim Moyes (keyboards), aka Australian electro group The Presets, both have the gentle, unassuming air of two people who don’t realise they’re famous. But they really are. We recently spoke to them about their music.
I hear you guys being compared to the Pet Shop Boys a lot. But, Julian, I think your voice has the same cut-through-glass poignancy as Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode. When I saw him singing Enjoy The Silence a few years ago in London, it made my hair stand on end. Certain songs of yours have the same effect on me.
Julian: Wow, that’s so good to hear. We grew up listening to both the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode. That’s kind of what we modelled ourselves on. So I love hearing that!
So, how would you categorise your style: people often label you as pop plus electro plus rock plus techno?
Kim: We’d probably lean more towards pop plus electro.
Julian: Yeah, somewhere between the Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx – a party style but more aggressive! Believe it or not, we actually both have a background in classical music, but when we discovered techno, it was like alien music, and we just had to know more about it. That’s it, really.
So are you old-school? Do you prefer analog, or are you fans of all-things digital?
Kim: To be honest, now we’ve been together for ten years, we use a combination of software and hardware to create our sound. We’re not really sticklers to any one tradition or style.
Julian: Definitely not. We’ll try whatever works.
This evening, you’re promoting your new Mash-Up track for J&B. How did that collaboration come about?
Kim: Not entirely sure, to be honest. They asked us, and it sounded cool, so we said yes. It’s essentially a mash-up of our favourite hits, with a few Uh-Oh’s added in over the top
Which of your four albums is your favourite?
Julian: Mate, we can’t choose. That would be like selecting a favourite child! As far as we’re concerned, it’s for us to make them and for the fans to decide which ones they love best.
MY SECRET PLAYLIST: an exclusive Lost At E Minor playlist compiled by The Presets
John Cage / Mysterious Adventure for Prepared Piano
At the beginning of the score, Cage wrote a table of specific ‘preparations’ that had to be employed on the piano before performing the piece. These included jamming nuts and bolts, and pieces of rubber and wood of different sizes, between the strings of the piano. Then, when you play the piece, the piano doesn’t sound like a piano at all, more like an Indonesian Gamelan or metal junk orchestra, or something. It’s really wild. I performed this piece as part of my final recital at university. I really enjoyed studying it, and I still love listening to it. (Julian)
Stereolab / Super Falling Star
Stereolab are one of my favourite bands. I love this song especially, it’s so washy and dreamy. Our old band Prop opened for them a few times when they toured Australia years ago. This song is from the album Peng!, which is a great record. (Julian)
Public Enemy / Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
This song is one of many I could have chosen from their album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. I loved rap music when I was growing up, but this is one of the few rap records from that era that I can still listen to. Most of the other albums I loved by bands like NWA and The Geto Boys seem like cultural relics now. Nation of Millions was revolutionary at the time, and still sounds so current today. The Bomb Squad’s production is tough, and Chuck D’s lyrics are really political charged, and provoking. I can’t believe this album is twenty years old. (Julian)
Charles Mingus / I’m Getting Sentimental Over You
Mingus was an American jazz bass player and composer. This is from his album, Mingus Plays Piano, which was released in 1963. Some of the tracks are just him improvising, and some are him performing his own works. When I’m at home, I spend most of my time sitting at my piano just noodling around, sketching new ideas for songs. Playing piano is one of the things I miss the most when I’m touring, so if I’m ever on the bus feeling homesick, I just put this album on and it cheers me up. (Julian)
Sparks / Beat the Clock
This song is from the Sparks album, No. 1 Song in Heaven. Produced by Giorgio Moroder, it’s a perfect blend of quirky pop and electronic disco.These guys have such a unique musical style that ranges from glam rock to disco. And the visual element is always off-beat and interesting. I feel a strange connection between The Presets and Sparks. Almost as if they were a great uncle or a grand father. (Kim)
Toto / Georgy Porgy
I am such a sucker for 70s and 80s MOR and Yacht Rock, and I think that Toto are one of the greatest bands of the genre. They are the pinnacle of performance and musicianship and the songs are always so solid and catchy. I love dancing around the lounge room to Georgy Porgy. It just makes me feel like a kid again when this played on my mum’s stereo. (Kim)
The Aztec Mystic-DJ Rolando / Knights Of The Jaguar
This song killed Techno for me for quite a few years after it came out. I had always loved the futuristic element of Techno, which for the most part seemed distinctly separate from traditional melody and harmony as I had known it. But this Techno song had it all: blissful harmony and melody, driving South American rhythms, Detroit Techno production, and the most insane Latino string arrangement I had ever heard on a dance floor. This song was so huge in 1999 that Detroit Techno royalty Juan Atkins had to play it four times the night he DJ’d in Sydney just to keep everyone satisfied. (Kim)
Jim O’Rourke / Something Big
Jim O’Rourke is a producer and musician who is very well respected in the avant garde and improvisation world. He played bass for Sonic Youth from 2000-05, produced albums for Wilco, and most recently worked on Joanna Newsom’s albums. In 1999, he released an album of his own songs called Eureka. Many of the songs had a very old-school and grand mini-orchestral feel to them, while others show off Jim’s unique blend of pop and avant garde. This song Something Big has a real cocktail jazz feel about it. It’s a Bosa Nova and would not be out of place on a Burt Bacharach or Henry Mancini album. It’s so happy, uplifting and comical that I can’t help but smile and giggle when I’m listening to it. (Kim)