Time Out Sydney

"We’ve both always felt that there was this seediness to Sydney"

Coming up through Sydney's club scene before exploding in 2008 with the dark and dystopic airwave-saturating anthem 'My People', the Presets became the biggest thing Australian electronica had seen. Four years on, with a baby each and new album Pacifica in tow, Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes tell Sam Egan they're ready to party again.

Julian, Kim, it’s been four years since Apocalypso [2008]. Why keep us waiting so long?! 
Julian: We never really stopped for that long. Apocalypso came out and then we toured for a couple of years, then we had kids, we became dads, we went on a break, had holidays, had a little bit of time off – but we pretty much got back into it after that. 

Congratulations on the new additions. Has that changed your approach to making music at all?
Kim: It makes you think a little differently about what you’re making and how you’re perceived. It’s pretty enjoyable actually.
Julian: Anyone – a plumber, an electrician or a journalist – becomes a dad or a mum and it changes their lives. Just with day-to-day time issues, lack of sleep and all that stuff. But when people become parents they become slightly different people, too. I wouldn’t say we suddenly wanted to make music like the Wiggles – we wanted to make the music we’ve always made  – but it does make your life richer and you view everything you do through a whole new prism. I haven’t really exactly thought how, but having kids changes everything.
In a way your music is not very kid-friendly.
Julian: Kids made us rich, man! [Laughs]
Touche! And those kids are excited about the new album, Pacifica. Why call it that?
Julian: We were bouncing a whole bunch of names around and that was one that stuck. I guess personally I thought it would be nice to have an album title that felt like a state of mind. And Apocalypsowas very dark and scary – still a party, but a party at the end of civilisation. Whereas I wanted this one personally to feel as though it was open to possibilities, more free, fresh and light.
The singles, ‘Youth in Trouble’ and ‘Ghosts’, do seem a bit freer, lighter and more relaxed. Was that the aim?
Julian: I don’t think we ever go for “a sound”. We just try to finish each song the best that it can be. Kim might disagree, but you just sort of do what feels good on the day and try to make it as god as it can be.
Kim: I do disagree [laughs]. There was a definite direction that I wanted to aim for in terms of bringing a cohesiveness to the record and telling a story about who we were form a very basic level, from a sound-choices level all the way up to a lyrical level. Every song was a personal experience.
One of the most striking tracks, ‘Adults Only’, was inspired by John Birmingham’s dark history of Sydney, Leviathan. What were you trying to say about our city with that song?
Julian: We both love Sydney. We were born here and we live here and we miss it terribly when we’re away. It’s a beautiful place. We see so many images on the telly of what Sydney is and how beautiful it is, and it spends so much time looking at it its own reflection in the harbour that you can’t really see what’s going on beneath the surface. There are so many stories in the newspaper or whatever and you think, how can anything so dark happen in a place that’s so beautiful? That’s happened since white man first settled here, really.
Kim: We’ve both always felt that there was this seediness to Sydney, something that’s built on fear… and convicts and all that sort of shit – it’s a part of the foundation. On the surface, it’s beautiful. It shouldn’t be fearful and dark, but it just is.
When you guys were coming up in the early and mid-2000s, you were celebrating that dark side in a way, playing some very fun shows on very late nights.
Julian: It was a pretty hedonistic time for us and for Sydney in general. It was a real bubbling-up of something that was quite natural and happening in the city. 

You guys were responsible for a lot of that hedonism. A lot of revellers in their twenties now probably used their first drugs to your music.
Julian: We hear that more often than you might think! 
 
The talk about Sydney’s nightlife today is focused on violence. Do you think it’s a violent scene in general, especially in the Cross?
Kim: Yeah, probably. But Melbourne’s just as bad. A cab driver won’t even take you in Melbourne without you paying him first because he gets people running out the door all the time. But I remember when I was at the Conservatorium High and me and my friend went to the Opera House and we were walking home and some guys just came up to us and beat him up. There is violence around men drinking and trying to prove themselves.
Julian: But it’s nothing that we haven’t seen in Glasgow or Vancouver… It’s not a Sydney thing. It’s a men and alcohol thing.
 
You were pretty big in the gay scene when you were coming up. Did you hold onto that audience as you became more mainstream?
Kim: I think that audience still like what we do. But it’s hard to tell – we will have to wait until we get an offer to play at some sort of S&M festival to know if we’re still popular with the gays.
Julian: It’s true though, that scene has always been really early adopters of cool, weird shit. Some of our earliest gigs in Sydney were our gay friends putting on nights. It always seems to be the gays who get it first.
You went from gay favourite to a tune the NRL played after tries were scored.
Julian: That’s the gayest thing!
On ‘Ghosts’ you sing: “Oh we had a merry old time, but merry old times don’t count for nothing”. Sounds like you might be renouncing some of those old party days…
Julian: Absolutely not! It’s not as though I’ll go out and do as much as I used to but there’s nothing wrong with going out and having a good time. The song is more about growing up and not letting your past define your tomorrows.
Kim, have you slowed down a bit?
Kim: For sure. I have gone out and had a couple of big nights, then woke to have my son slapping me in the face at seven o’clock in the morning and it’s not fun.
What do you prefer these days: a coffee or a beer?
Kim: I’d prefer a coffee, but I’d like a beer too.
Julian: They go hand in hand, don’t they? Just because we’re getting a bit older and don’t party as much we’re certainly not renouncing going out.
What’s the best Sydney gig you’ve ever been to?
Julian: Probably the first time I took ecstasy – at Bjork’s Post tour. That was a pretty magic night.
Kim: That was a good night – it was my second time. 
Worst gig?
Julian: Probably one of ours.

Try your luck in our Presets comp to win yourself a Presets deluxe pack!
The Presets headline Parklife, Sun Sep 30. 

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First published on . Updated on .

By Sam Egan   |   Photos by Daniel Boude

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