Lots of people call electronic and dance music stupid. To those people Australian dance-punk duo The Presets would like to say, “Thank you.” That’s exactly what they were going for.
Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes met while attending the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Moyes had started the percussion trio Prop, which Hamilton joined after finding an old synthesizer under the bed at his father’s house.
It wasn’t long before the pair was moving in a different direction than the rest of the band.
“Kim and I decided we wanted to explore something a bit more explosive and aggressive – a bit more fun,” Hamilton told Pollstar. “The music in Prop was very soulful and beautiful and learned and considered. We wanted to do something a bit more stupid. So we started The Presets.”
Moyes told Pollstar the move was a natural evolution.
“We were starting to write music that was a little bit dumber than the musicians in the band. It didn’t feel right when we started playing it with the other guys, but it still felt fun to Julian and myself. Plus the life of Prop was kind of fading away. It was the perfect opportunity to move on to something else.”
Hamilton said after the duo released their first EP, 2003’s Blow Up, they discovered they’d kind of backed themselves into a corner.
“It was all very computer-based. So we had to think about how we were going to play it live.”
“Even up until now, we do all of the writing, recording and producing at the same time,” Moyes added. “A conventional band would walk in with the songs written, the band would rehearse them and then go and record them. We sort of do it in this reverse, muddled-up way.
“So once the songs are written and produced in this crazy, electronic format, we have to strip them back and figure out how the hell we’re going to play them live. It can be a little bit challenging sometimes.”
After a few tries at the perfect lineup – early versions of the live band included a bass player and a drummer – Hamilton and Moyes settled on a duo and now find translating their music for the stage a lot easier.
“We’d spent a lot of time up until [2005’s] Beams figuring out the best way to work, so once we went in to do [2008’s] Apocalypso, we had a clearer idea of how we were as a band live and as a band in the studio,” Moyes explained. “It helped us make decisions a little bit easier.”
Whatever challenges they might have faced in the early days, it’s clear The Presets have no problem performing live these days. The worldwide trek in support of Beams lasted three years and they’ve been on the road behind Apocalypso for more than a year.
The band’s popularity at home has shocked even them; The only Australian band that sold more records there than The Presets last year was AC/DC. Apocalypso also earned Hamilton and Moyes a slew of accolades, including an ARIA award for album of the year, making them the first electronic act to ever take that prize.
Kim Moyes & Julian Hamilton
One person who isn’t surprised by the duo’s success is their manager, Will Larnach-Jones, who credits much of it to touring.
“It’s something they recognize as the way forward and a way to consolidate a strong fan base,” Larnach-Jones told Pollstar. “A very significant part of their success in the States and elsewhere is down to the fact that they’ve toured their asses off with these albums. And it helps that the guys have put a lot of thought into it. They put on a fantastic live show.”
Larnach-Jones said it also doesn’t hurt that the band’s show works in just about every setting.
“Irrespective of the size of the club or the size of the festival, they give it the same energy every time,” he said. “But it’s never a given which shows will be the most rewarding.
“They recently did the Sound Relief show in aid of the bushfires where there were 60,000 people and it was amazing. But then the other night in Boston at the Paradise Rock Club the crowd just went apeshit. So it’s completely adaptable.”
The Windish Agency’s Amy Davidman concurs, but says there are a few limitations.
“I think they enjoy having the production they’ve gotten used to and enjoy having their lights,” Davidman told Pollstar. “It’s actually not about size, but more about the quality of the room. They can’t really sustain the show that they want to sustain in clubs that don’t have some sense of production. I think a lot of electronic acts may feel that way.”
The Presets are wrapping up a North American run that includes a prime spot at Coachella. Then it’s back to Australia, where the band has sold more than 50,000 tickets for just over a dozen dates and has been forced to move several shows to bigger venues to meet demand.
Hamilton and Moyes will head back into the studio later this summer to begin working on their next album, but first they have a mission to entertain.
“We’d see a lot of our favorite techno acts come to Australia and we’d end up spending the night standing there watching a guy behind a laptop, which is all good,” Hamilton explained. “But we don’t want to do it that way. We want to do something big and explosive and fun.”