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The Presets’ Julian Hamilton Talks ‘Raka’, The Legacy Of ‘My People’ & Pushing The Boundaries With Their Sound

When Music Feeds interviewed The Presets earlier this year, Julian Hamilton teased that ‘newish’ and ‘different’ things could well be on their way. “We’re working on a few different things,” he shared, “and hopefully you will hear some new music before Christmas.” True to his word that music has now arrived. The song is ‘Paradise’ and it’s the first single from Raka, an extended-player created with help from Sydney producer Golden Features.

While The Presets have entertained more than a few talented guest vocalists in past, Raka is something different. This latest EP is, Jules believes, their first truly collaborative effort. A sign perhaps that, more than ever, The Presets are looking to shake things up and push their sound further than something which is straight-up dance music. Hamilton is happy to talk about the new record but already he’s thinking about what comes next. In the new music department, Julian assures, there’s definitely more to come.

Music Feeds: There are a lot of ‘Best 200 Albums of the Decade’ and ‘Best 100 Songs of the Decade’ lists coming out right now. Would you like to name any personal favourites of your own?  

Julian Hamilton: My gosh. Wow. Goddamn! So many things. The first part of the decade was mostly – we’d just had a baby at home – Yo Gabba Gabba! and Dora the Explorer. So that still sits in the back of my head. Now that I’m getting old, I just listen to weird German techno, crazy electronic music. [Laughs] Ten years is a long time! I’ll probably think of 20 albums when I get off the
phone but I’m not very good at ‘Best Of’ lists.

MF: In this time The Presets have put out two records of their own. Do you have standout songs or moments from the making of Hi Viz and Pacifica that have stuck with you?

JH: We have indeed! That’s what we’ve been up to, we’ve put out two records! Golly gosh, it’s funny, isn’t it? Let me put it this way, just before I had my headphones on and I was listening to some really heavy Richie Hawton techno stuff because I’m trying to find some direction for a thing I’m working on. And then the phone rang, and I was like, “Oh that’s right, I’ve got to do this interview now!” So I’ve had to step out of this crazy rave world to speak to a human. It’s a little bit of a shock to 10 minutes later be thinking, “Oh, yeah I made a song like that on Pacifica!” It’s all too much for this old brain to handle. When you make a song, you’re really proud of it. Then you finish a whole album and it’s hard to choose a favourite. And now we’re at a point in our career which it’s difficult to find a favourite album or even a favourite moment.

The whole thing has been pretty great. I mean there have been ups and downs and [steps] sideways, you know? Really easy fun times and quite difficult times. The whole thing is just one big ball of experience and I’m continually rolling down this hill collecting more and more good shit and bad shit. It’s really impossible to stop that ball and pick one little bit out of it… And all you wanted me to say was ‘Youth In Trouble’!

MF: Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to work with Sydney producer Golden Features?

JH: Golden Features is an act from Sydney, this fellow called Tom [Stell]. He’s been making music for what’s coming close to ten years now. We first heard his music when he remixed a song of ours, a track called ‘No Fun’. We really loved his remix and we really liked what he does. Kim [Moyes] got in touch with him and it turns out he’s a fan of what we do as well so we decided to get together and try some things. To try and see if we could crack some new ideas open. We were trying to find a new way of working. We’d never really collaborated with an artist before on a whole project. So yeah, we started to hit him up.

MF: I think that’s interesting because when I first heard ‘Paradise’, I assumed it would have been something like your last album, Hi Viz where you worked with a number of guest vocalists… 

JH: It’s been much more collaborative. Previously we were making all the music. We got singers in to do the vocal parts but we were making all the music, all the beats. And doing all that sort of stuff ourselves. But we wanted to collaborate with Tom because he’s a really great producer. He was able to do a lot of heavy lifting with the beats and sounds. [He] hit that kind of wall with stuff that we really like. This is the first time that we’ve properly collaborated on a whole project where someone else is helping make the music as well, which is brand new for us.

The first track [of the EP] is probably the most chill. I guess you could call it a ballad. The rest are a bit more up-tempo and tougher. Perhaps a bit more what people think The Presets are. I always have to say that because I’ve got an idea in my head of what I think the band is but it’s often quite different to what other people think it is you know?

MF: I’m interested to know what you think other people think The Presets sound like…

JH: The more you think about it the more you can kind of go crazy.

MF: People just want to hear ‘My People’ 20 times over or something like that?

JH: Well ‘My People’ was our biggest hit. That was the song that fired our career. And really our career is still based on the momentum started by that song. When I think about that era and footage of us on stage and me screaming into a mic and jumping around, that I think is: Brand Presets, party time! And that’s really cool. I really like that but there are times when Kim and I are in the studio and we might be making something a little bit weird and abstract with no beat, weird colourful and atmospheric music you know? And that for us also feels like The Presets but that might really confuse people if we released it.

With our music, there’s been lots of different styles, moods and thematic ideas we’ve explored. It’s pretty wide stylistically, it’s a wide spectrum. And then later in life, I’ve met younger people who first heard us with songs like ‘Ghosts’ off Pacifica. So I don’t know, I guess we exist in a lot of different ways for a lot of different people. And then, still, Kim and I often can’t really agree on what we are or what we do or what we’re supposed to do. I have ideas in my head about what I’d like to do next and Kim has his own. Often they can be quite different. Then you meet somewhere in the middle and it becomes this weird hybrid. But neither of us were expecting that it can only be this unique thing that happens when the band is doing its thing. It’s a lot bigger than any one person’s ideas really.

MF: Where’s somewhere that you would like to go with your music that you haven’t?

JH: It’s a funny thing. Many, many years ago, before we even got really big, we were renting this apartment in Berlin. This sounds so cliché and lame, sorry! We were renting this apartment and touring around Europe, playing small festivals and going to clubs over there. And I remember one day we played a show on this stage in Berlin. Then after us, this Detroit DJ Kevin Saunderson was playing. And I remember saying to Kim, “Kim, man. I love this DJ, I love this music. This is what I want us to sound like!” And then meanwhile in the studio, Kim was trying to slow down all of the faster things and put on a bit more of a rock edge. He was always searching for something a little bit more original than just straight dance music. He was looking for something a bit more of a kind of hybrid, a sort of AC/DC meets techno kind thing. Somewhere in between, the music spat out as rock meets electronic music. And we’ve had a really wonderful career as a result of that.

But I’ve certainly still got a purist heavy techno itch that I really want to scratch. Some things are – I don’t know how to put it – they are relatively easy. They come out relatively easy. Songs like ‘Martini’, those kinds of boppy dance things. That stuff is fun to make, it comes naturally. Whereas I’m searching for something heavier now. Not so catchy if that makes sense. I want to try and mix punk with deep, hard techno. Something like that. But I don’t know. If we end up making what I want to make, it might be terrible and entirely kill our careers. So we’ll see what happens.

MF: Who’s someone that you haven’t worked with that you would like to work with from both the techno and rock side of things?

JH: In the techno world [there’s] so many people I love. I mean guys like Richie Hawtin and Chris Liebing. There’s another artist called MATRiXXMAN that I’d love to do stuff with. There’s a bunch of harder-edged techno [acts]. I’d love to work with those guys. From the rock world? I don’t know, not so much.

MF: No collaborations with Midnight Oils’ Peter Garrett then? 

JH: You know who I’d love to write with? I’ve been listening to some Australian Crawl recently. I love James Reyne’s lyrics. He wrote such great lyrics. I think that’d be fun. But I guess I’ve got enough of my own lyrics and vocals in my head. I’m more interested in trying to find some weird, tough dance material.

MF: Is there anything else you’d like to throw out there to Presets fans and our readers?

JH: We’re in the very early stages of making new music so we’re just floating around in a sea of ideas and inspiration. It’s like we’re in the ocean just trying to catch little bits floating around us. We haven’t even begun to put anything together or really seen anything yet but we’re still swimming around. There will be new music though, don’t worry. There will definitely be new music.

The Presets will headline Castaway Festival next February. Head here for details.

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