The Presets are a two piece act from Australia who refuse, by their own admission, to be pigeon holed into any one genre. Is it rock? Is it dance? Does it really matter? They're playing at V Festivals and Creamfields, so you'll soon be able to make up your own minds. We caught up with Julian Hamilton (drums, programming) and had a jolly old chinwag.
VF: So, you’re in the UK promoting your debut album with a series of live shows…how is that going?
Julian: "It’s been really good. This is our third time over here as The Presets and the crowds are getting better and all the little magazines are saying the right things, so it’s been great. Global Gathering was interesting; we were on quite a small little stage and there were maybe 2-300 people at our stage when we played so I don’t think it was up there with the big trance tents or anything like that. But it was really good fun, I was actually sick as a dog that day so I was really pleased to get through it and get back to the hotel and get back to bed."
VF: What acts are you looking forward to seeing at any of the UK festivals you’re playing?
Julian: "Well I think Radiohead and Morrisey are playing at the V festivals, they’ll be good to check out. But to be honest, it’s terrible, but I’m not even that aware of who’s playing at which one. I generally check out the line up when we’re on the way to the show, and then it’s like: “Oh sweet, Rufus Wainright’s playing at this one” or “Daft Punk are playing at this festival". It’s always a bit of a surprise for us because we’re doing hundreds of shows over the next four months and it’s just hard to get a grip on all of them."
VF: What festival has been the most fun so far? And what festival are you looking forward to the most?
Julian: "To be honest we’re looking forward to all of them, we’re doing the V festivals and Creamfields as well and I don’t know what to expect from any of these festivals as we only vaguely know about them in Australia, as we’ve got our own festivals. I guess we try and treat every festival, and every show for that matter, as a new thing and just look forward to them all. It’s funny because sometimes you go to these massive festivals and they end up being not quite what you expected but then you do these crummy little shows in Copenhagen or London or wherever and you expect nothing from them but they end up being these massive, awesome parties, so we just treat each show as it comes."
VF: You list as influences bands or artists like Lou Reed, the Smiths and Joy Division amongst others, yet follow the dance music blueprint of producing music as a two piece, with synths and programmed beats etc. Do you think the boundary between rock and dance music has become blurred of late?
Julian: "Well and truly, it definitely has and I think that’s a good thing, I think it’s a great thing. Over the past 10 years I guess people who have traditionally stood behind computers and looked geeky, have learnt to rock a bit more and have a bit more fun. By the same token, rock bands and bands with guitars have suddenly rediscovered disco beats and learnt to dance again, you know? So it’s a fun time to be making music and I’m just very happy to be sitting somewhere between those two genres."
VF: Speaking of diversity you both met while studying in a music conservatorium so are thus classically trained musicians. Does that training have any influence on your music now?
Julian: "It definitely does, but none of our music really sounds like anything we were studying at school. Obviously we were learning classical piano and classical percussion at the conservatorium but now we’re making music with drum machines and synthesizers, you know? But I guess a lot of the skills and the techniques and disciplines we learnt at uni really help us in thinking about how to produce music and on that level it does have an influence even though it doesn’t sound anything like it. Some of our favorite composers who we studied were the 1960s and 1970s minimalist composers, people from New York like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, and they made this music that was based more on rhythms and drumming patterns and really minimal sounds, sort of very similar in the rhythm and feeling as techno music. I think a lot of classical ideas and a lot of dance music ideas have a lot in common."
VF: Is your sound typical of the Australian underground dance music scene?
Julian: "I don’t know if it’s really Australian at all…yeah we’re from Australia but I don’t think there’s anyone else there who sounds like us. There’s lots of bands around the world that we really like but I’m not sure if there’s any of them that we necessarily sound like. Bands like Hot Chip, The Juan McClean, acts like that, we really love those acts but I think our music is kind of weird. We have a hard time trying to define it ourselves sometimes. There’s lots of really cool acts in Australia, but we don’t really sound like any of them, which is pretty cool."
VF: Excluding artists like Danni Minogue and Midnight Oil, why is Australian music, particularly dance music, generally so different when compared to British/European stuff? Australian dance music always seems a bit more edgy and experimental…
Julian: "That’s something we often think about. I think that the UK and the US have such a long history of pop music, a rich history of pop music, whereas in Australia we’re a bit isolated. We always look over to the UK and the US as a grand place, this amazing place full of music, the history of pop music in Australia is a lot younger and I guess we’re musical bastards in a way. We haven’t really got any heritage to look up to in our musical history and in that way we can be a little bit irreverent or disrespectful, I guess. We don’t really consider ourselves part of any history, maybe that’s why there are a lot of really fresh bands coming from Australia at the moment. Not just dance acts but rock bands as well, and all sorts of pop acts. It’s pretty laid back down there and we just want to have fun. Not to be disrespectful to any of the bands from the UK but you can see their lineage to the Stones and the Beatles so clearly when you’re coming from another country. But I think Australia is a strange and a wonderful place, we have no real history, and we’ve got some great bands like AC/DC and Midnight Oil, of course, but we’re a pretty disrespectful bunch down there really."
VF: Speaking of Australian acts, you were part of another critically acclaimed band called Prop and started The Presets as a side project. Is this still the case or are The Presets full time now?
Julian: "The Presets are well and truly full time now. We really loved Prop and we really love the music we wrote with that band but it’s just impossible to do two things at once. Especially at our level. I think people like Chris Martin or Madonna, they can afford to do side projects, but I think at our stage in the game we just haven’t really got the time to do lots of different things as much as we try. The Presets are well and truly the main breadwinner at the moment."
VF: Who would win in a fight between Erasure and The Presets?
Julian: "Erasure? I sort of remember them from the 90’s. [After some umming and aahing we replace Erasure with the Pet Shop Boys]. We would never want to fight the Pet Shop Boys, that would be like us fighting our God. We would never dream of it, I think we would let them win if we had to fight them."
VF: On the front of the album 'Beams' you both have your faces obscured by masks, are you shy or do you value your anonymity?
Julian: "I think it’s neither. Once upon a time, a few years ago, we found these damn masks at this fancy dress store while we were waiting for our girlfriends at the airport and we decided to buy them because they looked so silly and scary and weird. And we wore them that night when we were DJ-ing and we had so much fun because we had these silly masks on we could afford to be these different characters on stage and jump and be foolish and jump around be like idiots you know? We realised that while you’re wearing these masks you can do things that maybe you’d normally be a bit more reserved about and I guess we try to apply that to our music too. When we write music, and when people listen to our music, we want them to feel that they can let loose and be silly and have fun and not be so serious and I guess the masks are just a visual representation of that."
VF: Do you enjoy playing live shows or is that part and parcel of promoting your new album?
Julian: "It definitely is part and parcel of promoting a new album, but luckily for us we really do enjoy playing live. I think our music should be live, it doesn’t really make sense to me when I listen to it on a CD but when it’s in a dark room with 300 sweaty kids jumping around that’s when it really makes sense."
VF: Finally, what should be expected from The Presets live?
Julian: "Just a mad time, imagine putting on a mask and acting like an idiot for an hour and jumping around. That kind of thing."