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Talking Music with Julian Hamilton from The Presets

Updated: May 28

2003, a time when MySpace was a veritable goldmine for discovering new music, Electro house was a sound that filled club dance floors. An offshoot of that was Blog house which took elements from Indie bands and combined them with the Electro house sound. This was a special time in Australian Electronic Music and Sydney’s Kings Cross played an integral part in what was to come.

Friday night at Club 77 was where the infamous party spear headed by the Bang Gang DJ's. This night became a breeding ground for a new wave of artists coming into the scene, including the likes of Cut Copy, Riot In Belgium and also a couple of Sydney-siders named Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes better known as The Presets.

Since then The Presets have gone on to release four albums taking out a number of awards as well as racking up plenty of nominations. They have collaborated with some of the biggest names in the industry and have performed at some of the world's biggest festivals, including Glastonbury and Creamfields in the UK, Exit Festival in Serbia and Coachella in the USA to name a few.

Twenty years on and The Presets are still going strong, selling out shows across Australia for their 20 year anniversary tour. Julian Hamilton caught up with EMA for a chat about how it all started out for the The Presets, the Aussie scene at present and what's to come.

How do you think the scene has changed since you started out to today?

It's evolved into something different. There's so many Australian acts now doing much bigger and better things, well, maybe not necessarily better, but certainly much bigger things. Look at Flume, Rufüs and Flight Facilities, these bands are doing such great things, and they're really doing big things overseas. The scene is really going strong, but that world that we came up in, I guess has disappeared a bit. Some of the little clubs that we used to play in, the areas we have played in have all sort of gentrified a bit, especially in Sydney. Sydney's changed so much in 20 years. That whole area where we sort of came up, it's not really the same anymore. It's lovely to see that bands like Cut Copy are still going strong, still playing big shows overseas and putting out fabulous music. So it's nice that some of the guys that came along with us and who came up with us are still kicking goals.

You mentioned the gentrification of those areas in Sydney, do you think there's a way that arts and music culture can reclaim these precincts, or can we create new ones? How do you see that landscape changing?

I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to these sorts of things. The artists generally find the space and build the spaces and build the scene. Once the scene is cool and established, then, the yuppies move in and buy them out and push them out and all the things that made the area cool get pushed out. Then the artists move into new spots 5 kilometres further out of the city. Then establish those areas and make those areas cool. Then, the people move in and kick them out of there.

Artists, producers, musicians and DJ, they find a way. You always find a way.

Abstract image of The Presets faces
The Presets. Image: Facebook

I remember in Sydney when the death of the music scene has always been predicted, time and time again. The State Government allowed a lot more pokie machines in the pubs in Sydney, back in the late 90's and everyone thought it would be the end of music because all the band rooms suddenly got filled up with the pokies instead and the musicians couldn't find rooms to play in anymore. But then musicians found a way and found new venues and eventually the pokies got moved out and they bought band rooms back again because the band rooms are cool. Then of course there's the lockout laws in Sydney, which kind of threatened to kill this thing again. But musicians are just good at seeing that, so they kind of find a way to keep growing even in the face of gentrification, as well as the pubs and clubs getting shut down. So they'll always find a way. There's always gonna be a way to find a new space to go and see or perform music, but I don't know, maybe it's getting harder and harder.

There's been quite a lot of remakes coming through lately. Do you think this what the people who are consuming music want to hear, or is it the scene sort of telling people what to listen to? Do you feel like this scene or the artists are the ones driving the culture or do you think that there's user demand for certain types of music?

It's due to demand I think, because people always loved covers when we were growing up and a lot of the hits in the 80's and 90's, where it just covered songs from the 50's. Then a lot of rave music and techno used samples of old songs by Kate Bush or samples of a vocal that's familiar or vocal pop samples, especially in these kinds of happy hardcore tracks or breakbeat tracks, so there's all that element where the punters want to hear something familiar. But now it's been supercharged.

It's just like, a lot of artists could just struggle to make a beat and a track that's really cool and that is their own and spend months making something. Or they could just go and take a song by Grandmaster Flash, and then they just Rap over it and the punters are gonna really like it. So I think it's got to do also with streaming and the model with which artists get paid and how songwriters get paid now. I think now it's easier for musicians like Dua Lipa to put out an album where every single song is just a lift of some classic 80's hit or some variation of it. You see, she can do it that way, and then she's gonna go make a sh*t ton touring. So it's easier to do that way, than to actually risk writing new music. It is what it is I guess, I've got no interest in making a classic song from the 80's with me singing over it. That's not interesting to me.

I like to make stuff out of thin air, you know, with instruments.

But that's fine if that's how the people want to do it. That's totally cool and it obviously works. My kids, they love ice spice, they love all these new hits that are just kind of reworked hits from the 90's. So you know, you can't argue with it, but certainly people have always wanted some kind of familiarity or some kind of throwback. They respond to that, but I think with the streaming era, those things have been supercharged and it's just become a new sort of formula to make songs.

The Presets live in 2009

Speaking of nostalgia, what do you think about the rave revival?

It's awesome, it's so sick. The techno scene is massive now and clubbing has become so huge and even post pandemic it seems to have exploded even more. It's fabulous. I love that music. Anywhere people are out dancing, it’s a good time. That's a good vibe.

The Prodigy 'Experience' album was like, life changing for me. That album was huge! 'Out of Space'. Big tune. But that goes back to the sample thing, that was a sample out of some reggae song. The ‘Out of Space’ vocal line was one of my favourites and I responded to that more than a lot of other dance music tracks because it had like this kind of throwback pop element in it. That really kind of spoke to me. That album's huge. I love it! That's totally different to what I was talking about before. But the way they did that and it's like 90's hip hop and stuff. The way they took little snippets from weird things like a Pixie guitar blast or a jazz solo from a record or something, and the way they put these things together in an interesting way, they're real geniuses, like really amazing.

And the BPMS have gone up!

I know just everything you think was never gonna come back always ends up coming back. I think maybe it's like a 30 year cycle or something.

Do you see electronic bands making a big comeback?

Yeah. I think everything is back. I think that's the thing. I'm noticing more and more if you scratch the surface on any scene, and you'll find 100 bands or 100 DJ's you've never heard of. There's so much happening out there .So it wouldn't surprise me that there's a bunch of electronic acts that are doing the live thing again, we're just not really hearing about them. I like to think, yeah, there's probably room for everything. I do remember when we first started people did respond well to us. The one line we did hear a lot from, especially from old in-house engineers at pubs and clubs that we're working at, they would say “ohh God, I hate dance music, but I love you guys”. There was something that people did tend to respond to us playing this electronic music live. Who knows, maybe it will all come back. I think, when you look at bands like Rufus and other Aussie guys doing it, they do try to incorporate a lot of live elements in what they're doing. So maybe it's already happening .

You've performed on lots of lineups with lots of massive acts. Has there been someone that's been a standout, whether it's because of something awesome or funny or something else...?

You know, we really loved touring with SoulWax, the Belgian duo. They took us on a tour really early in our careers that we supported them around the UK on their English tour and they were so cool and they still are cool. There's probably one of our favourite producer duos. Maybe they're not as big as they were back in the day, but they're still making amazing music and producing amazing music and doing the best remixes but they were so sweet. They're really kind to us. I remember they bought us a really nice bottle of champagne on the last night of the tour. They really showed us how to treat support acts. You know how to be really cool, respectful hosts, and hopefully we've been able to be the same with a lot of acts that have supported us over the years. They were really lovely guys and also just watching what they do live and watching how they set up their gear and what kind of instruments they use. Watching how they did everything. It was a massive influence on us early on just how we how we how we tour the world and set up the electronic gear with drums and make it sound good and they were a huge influence on us. So yeah, that would definitely be a stand out.

The Presets silhouettes with lasers and crowd
The Presets are playing multiple shows throughout the country. Image: Facebook

This question is for our friend Mark, he would love to hear about your collaboration from 2015 with Steve Angelo (Remember)...

Alright, yeah, I remember that! Well, they were out here touring with Swedish House Mafia and were like the biggest bloody electronic thing in the world at the time. I think those guys were just keen to work with everyone, they wanted to meet whoever is in town, and get together to write some songs. So they just looked me up and said “Yeah, Julian from The Presets. Let's go hang out with him and write something”. So it was just Steve and he came over to my house and we just hung out in my little garage studio and I played him some tracks and then we started working on a song together. Then I think they ended up breaking up and the song never really did anything! Steve ended up contacting me out of the blue one day and said I think I wanna finish that song. So we kept working on it and he put it out as a solo thing. It was nice, and I was happy to work with him on it. That's a thing in this world, a lot of these are people who you start working on ideas with, and the ideas - they slide around for years on hard drives and not really finding at home. Then someone sort of dusts it off and tries to do something with it. I mean, all of us electronic producers have computers filled with so many unfinished projects and unrealised ideas, it's crazy.

The Presets DJ Tour- 20 Years, 20 Nights is in full swing. Tickets and more information here.

Connect with The Presets: Facebook | Instagram | Soundcloud | Twitter


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About the Author

Damo Cox is an Australian DJ, Producer, Audio Engineer, Founder of the Record Label Sorta Kinda Music and Host of the 'Sorta Kinda Radio' show on 105.7 Radio Metro. He has recently joined the Electronic Music Australia team as a guest writer.


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