Sydney’s soulful deep housers Set Mo could yet be as massive as Flight Facilities. But DJ/producers Nick Drabble and Stuart “Stu” Turner aren’t actively chasing crossover success. Indeed, while media-types E.N.D.L.E.S.S.L.Y. probe Peking Duk about their mythic debut album, Set Mo are taking a stealthier route. In February, the blog raves launched their #SetMoTAM (or #TrackAMonth) scheme – dropping a tune on the first Friday of every month through 2018. And they’ve embarked on a 24-date Australasian tour. Tonight, Set Mo will be special guests at Claptone’s Masquerade in Sydney. They’re also planning a trip to the States.
Set Mo – who cannily branded extended DJ slots with the Stamina Session parties – have ensured that their latest expedition isn’t overly stressful. “It’s great,” begins Nick, the clean-cut half of the monochromatically-attired duo. “It’s kinda crazy, actually, but it’s been super-fun. I think the fact that we can come back to Sydney each week and spend four or five days at home and reset and then go away again each weekend has really helped.” The biggest disappointment occurred when Set Mo encountered Cyclone Marcus in Darwin, necessitating that they postpone gigs. “It was wild,” Stu tells. “We went outside to check out the storm and it’s heavy rain and strong wind… We walked outside and were like, ‘Ah, yeah, there’s a few trees over.’ Then we just walked around this corner and got blown down the street. We’re like, ‘Okay, this is unsafe – it’s time to go back inside.'”
Emerging from the electro-house era in 2012, Nick and Stu formed a DJ tag-team. “Stu and I just met because we were both pretty much full-time DJs,” Nick relates. “We’d both been DJing for a few years and, as we got more serious, quit whatever other jobs we had – we both had bar jobs and were studying and then were both doing full-time DJ work. We just played a lot of the same venues around Sydney, so week after week we’d run into each other and one of us would take over from one another. Then we just realised we’ve got similar taste in music and started hanging out. It was also at the same time when we were just starting to dabble in production and making music.”
The pair have divergent influences – with Nick a hip-hop head into Kanye West and Stu drawn to punk and screamo. But, Stu explains, both grew up on ’90s dance music, sharing a mutual appreciation for Groove Armada. Mind, even then, Stu dug The Prodigy – “so maybe the noisier side of things.” “Coming through present day, I think that’s still similar, where Nick likes a lot of the midtempo kind of poolside house and I err towards a little more of the late-night stuff – the 4am kind of club stuff. It’s good because we always meet in the middle – it pulls us back right in the middle of Set Mo.”
From the get-go, Set Mo were equated with deep, soulful vocal house – circulating tracks like ‘Still Waters’. In 2015, the now Etcetc signings blew up with the sublimely Balearic ‘White Dress’, featuring the mysterious avant-soulster Deutsch Duke – otherwise known as Dennis Dowlut of the R&B Kaylan, funk Disco Montego, and neo-soul Electric Empire. Impressively, ‘White Dress’ was remixed by Wookie. Nick recalls buying the UK garage pioneer’s self-titled album of 2000. “Wookie is actually one of the very first dance albums I ever bought. I remember I was living in New Zealand and I think I was barely a teenager – I was maybe 12 or 13-years-old. I literally just heard a Wookie album on a listening stand in a Sanity, or whatever the equivalent was in NZ. I said to Dad, ‘Can I buy this CD?’ He was like, ‘Sure.’ So I had a Wookie CD when I was about 12-years-old and loved it. And then we’d done a remix for Wookie a couple of years prior [‘The Hype’ with Eliza Doolittle]. He’d kinda liked it and we kept in contact. Then, when it came around to ‘White Dress’ and getting some remixes, we just went straight to him and were like, ‘Would you be interested in remixing this track?’ I think he liked it and he said ‘yes’ and it happened. We got a sick remix.”
In 2017 Set Mo released ‘I Belong Here’ (with Northern Queenslander Woodes) on their fledgling Set Mo Records. However, this year they’ve upped the ante. In January, Set Mo aired their most prestigious remix – of Fatboy Slim’s big beat banger ‘Weapon Of Choice’ (for the Fatboy Slim VS Australia EP). The two subsequently introduced the novel #SetMoTAM concept as a means to roll out the music they’d accumulated over 18 months of writing sessions across Australia and Europe. “We’ve been on such an adventure, such a journey, kind of bouncing around to all these different places, working with all these different people and writing all these different types of songs – for us, anyway,” Stu reflects. “We really broke our mould and let ourselves write any style, any tempo – whatever came to us. We wanted to take people on a similar musical journey to the physical one we’d been on writing that music.”
Much has been written about the demise of the electronic dance album – although that hasn’t thwarted Calvin Harris from issuing them. While not “anti-album”, Set Mo determined that their trove of songs wouldn’t work as an LP. “We were a little worried [that] if we dropped it in a conventional album format, straight-up, it would just confuse people – or some of the tracks that are our favourites, [and] that are quite different to the singles people have heard up until now, would kind of get ignored for things that felt a little more comfortable,” Stu divulges.
So far the #SetMoTAM songs have surprised. With the first, ‘Nightmares’ (featuring Northern English soulster Scott Quinn), Set Mo “wanted to make a little bit of a statement,” Nick says. It’s a shadowy broken beat anthem that thematises anxiety. Set Mo followed with the breakbeat-riddled instrumental ‘Unity’ – which, though inspired by The Prodigy, sounds like the liquid funk High Contrast recasting piano house. “The second one we put out we were actually quite apprehensive about because, for us, it’s probably the furtherest from anything we’ve ever done,” Nick continues. “We were just worried that maybe some of our core fans might not like it, or might think that we’ve moved away from making the music we’d made.” Instead, Set Mo were “overwhelmed” by support on social media. “A lot of people were acknowledging it’s very different, but being like, ‘I love it!'” Latterly, Set Mo unveiled ‘Near’, cut with Tasmanian electro-popster Asta – perhaps their poppiest moment. As for May’s offering? It’s a bassline track entitled ‘Communicate’. “It’s one for the club again,” Stu teases. “We definitely did some YouTube trawling, did a little bit of sampling on it again, which is always good fun, but it’s back to our house roots. It’s four-to-the-floor.”
Set Mo’s singles are playlisted on triple j – and they’ve DJed at Splendour In The Grass. Yet, inexplicably, they’re still considered underground. It’s not that Set Mo are purist. (Asked who their dream collaborator is and they suggest Pharrell Williams or Kylie Minogue.) Do they aspire to pop stardom themselves? “What we do – and what we 100 per cent stick to – is we’re just writing music that we love and we connect to,” Stu states. “We want as many people to embrace that and enjoy it as possible. But when we have commercial success, or [whether] it puts you into a pop realm or not, that’s not up to us to decide. We’re just gonna do music that we love, we feel really proud of and passionate about – and then I guess it’s up to everyone else to define that genre. We just wanna do the stuff that feels right to us.”
Nick concurs, “We never really sit in the studio and go, ‘We gotta make this more pop’ or ‘We need to make this more underground.’ We just make what we think feels the best and what really resonates with us – yeah, exactly like Stu said.”
Set Mo’s latest single ‘Communicate’ is out today. They wrap up the final two dates of their national tour this month. Head here for remaining dates.