Before 29-year-olds Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes were The Presets, they were studying piano and percussion, respectively, at Sydney's Conservatorium of Music. And, like most arty kids rebelling against the system (in this case a hard-core regimen of music composition and theory), the pair also had an experimental band in the works. "Prop was instrumental music with vibraphones and marimbas and keyboards," explains Hamilton. "It was a bit like Tortoise. You know, music for the soul, instrumental, film-scorey, 'meaningful' music."
When not leaning towards the leftfield, Hamilton and Moyes were also clubbing like mad, immersing themselves in Australia's nascent big beat and breaks scenes. Not surprisingly, the dancing and hedonism eventually became more meaningful than "meaningful music." "We wanted to do music that was stupid and easy and immediate and didn't require too much brains–something that was more for the hips and less for the head," explains Hamilton. "There was something more immediate and guttural that really needed to spew out of us. So we didn't even really decide to do The Presets. I mean, you don't decide to throw up or have diarrhea, you just do it."
Thankfully, their album Beams (Modular) sounds little like throw-up or diarrhea. On the contrary, it's constructed with the thoughtfulness of pop, pairing catchy keyboard melodies with clever percussive turns and Hamilton's quasi-glam vocals. Driving album-openers like the snaking, sexually pulsating "Steamworks," the demanding "Are You The One," and the prancing "Down Down Down" are quickly becoming what The Presets are known for, but Beams' strengths are its surprises: "Girl and the Sea" could be a lost OMD song, while the title track is a quiet, orchestral soundtrack for rainy Sundays.
Beams' unpredictability makes it a perfect fit for the Modular label, which is quickly defining Australia's eclectic music scene with acts as diverse as Ben Lee, Cut Copy, and Wolfmother. And although The Presets deny there's much about themselves that's quintessentially Australian, it's hard to ignore their sunny dispositions, massive amounts of regional slang, and, of course, those accents.
When pressed, Hamilton admits he does have a fondness for clichés about Australia (the surf, the 'roos, the Sydney opera house), and for the country's unofficial patron saint, bush ranger Ned Kelly, who ran things in the country in the late 1800s. "He was like a cowboy or an outlaw, and he wore a big metal garbage bin with the eyes cut out, and he made his own armor," he explains. "He got in a lot of gunfights in the outback. He was just a wild guy on the run for a long time." Sounds like someone's got a new role model.