The Presets, Dragonette

The Presets



Wed, May 8, 2013

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Terminal 5

New York, NY

$30 advance / $35 day of show

This event is all ages

The Presets
The Presets
When was the last time you really looked forward to a new album, to the point where the packaging, liner notes and first fifteen listens all felt like the missing pieces of a much larger puzzle? Not just a puzzle – an event, like a Summer time sequel or season finale that’s actually worth the wait, and doesn’t just expand upon the story, so much as set its sails to new shores.

If it has been a while, then prepare yourself for The Presets’ latest delivery of carefully cultivated, synth-laced, prismatic pop songs: Pacifica.

Pacifica is the Sydney duo’s long-awaited return to the spotlight after vocalist/keyboardist Julian Hamilton and drummer/keyboardist Kim Moyes chased a seven-year touring/recording cycle with children—first-time fatherhood for both of them—and some much-needed time off.

The classically-trained producers/performers weren’t about to sit still for too long, however. Shortly after, the band was back to making beats and sketching new songs from a bevy of boundless equipment. All without the added pressure of deadlines and tour dates, leaving them with enough time to flesh ideas out with freeform jams or something as simple as a spare piano piece. As Julian plainly puts it, “I remember doing that stuff when I was 20, but I haven’t really had a chance to since.”

One of the main reasons for the pair’s packed schedule was the Presets’ award-winning breakthrough Apocalypso, a rare example of a catchy yet complex record that resonated with club kids and commercial radio. That connection is clearest in “My People”, which applies The Presets’ signature sound—snake-like synths, deviant kick drums, a beastly bassline—to a heat-seeking hook that works both as an arena-ready anthem, and as a sign of solidarity for immigrants summarily held in Australian detention centers. Its killer chorus (“I’m here with all of my people!”) seemed to captivate the entire country of Australia at one point, going double platinum and spending more than 75 weeks on ARIA’s Top 100 chart. “This Boy’s in Love,” “Talk Like That,” “Yippiyo-Ay” and “If I Know You” also left quite a mark.

The singles were paired with YouTube-clogging videos, the retina-singeing counterpart to melodies and music that Julian says were meant to be “romantic lyrically and stylistically—lush, grand and colourful, with an icy, crisp beat beneath it all.” And then there was Apocalypso’s osmotic artwork—a walk on the moon or a waking nightmare?

The artwork for Pacifica sees the guys cast away on a lake, surrounded by infinite space, yet shackled together with a pair of golden handcuffs. In some ways could it represent both the sense of freedom and containment, the extremes and the many divergent interests that come from more than a decade of working together?

“Youth In Trouble” opens the album and spills over a never-ending, undulating rise of “face-melting techno”. “The media tries to scare the shit out of parents – drugs, sex, the Internet. Adults are taught to be scared OF youth, and scared FOR youth,” says Julian. “This song was really inspired by the panic, madness and fear that, rightly or wrongly, is so often associated with today’s young people.”

While the likes of “Promises” is definitely pop with a diabetic shock directive, it also reflects themes of that carry over most of Pacifica, a simultaneous sense of joy and melancholy both musically and lyrically.

Take “Ghosts”, where the peaks and valleys are grafted onto minor-keyed merengue grooves, topped with rollicking first fleet melodies.

“When Julian played me his initial sketch of this song it utterly blew my mind, “ explains Kim. “Taking a classic folk style, sea shanty and adding it to an up tempo techno groove was just genius to my ears. The lyrical content to me is so potent and compelling, which adds to the evolution of the sea shanty, drinking song style. There is something very Australian about it too. It inspired me to sketch up the idea for “A.O.””

“A.O.” (shorthand for “Adults Only” – which is an old broadcast ratings guide for television in Australia) is downright sinister, setting the bright lights of an unnamed urbane city against a dark, foreboding history; musically matched by powder keg progression of electroshock therapy and terrifying acid techno.

“I’d been reading a warts and all history of Sydney called Leviathan by John Birmingham,” explains Julian. “Kim is also a big fan of the book, and it really inspired the song. We always wanted to write a song about our hometown, because we love this place—especially after seeing so much of the rest of the world. But Sydney does have such a dark history, and there are sections of the city, old parts, where you do feel like you’re walking over people’s bones.”

“The development of civilisation and the quest for power is ultimately not without its cost.” adds Kim. “Our history lessons here are very one-sided and have a long way to go before everyone feels as though they are included.”

Elsewhere, haunted, spareful piano house parts travel through linear bass driven tracks, to both menacing and emotive effect (“Fast Seconds” and “It’s Cool” respectively). Atari-seasoned smart bombs track a litany to accelerated, fifteen-seconds-of-fame culture and the media who celebrate it (“Surrender”). There’s a floor-crashing celebration of love that was inspired by a cutting line (“two soft bodies…all the way to hell”) from Jeanette Winterson’s bleak but beautiful memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Not to mention a glistening, northern lights power ballad that shows traces of pessimism among abject beauty (“Fail Epic”).

“As artists and fans, we understand the importance of light and shade, both in energy and emotion,” says Kim. “While it’s great to write huge party anthems or face-melting techno, it’s also important for us to express a gentle, emotional side. It comes down to the kind of people we are; we can be very confident, sometimes to the point of arrogance, but at the same time, incredibly sensitive and unsure.”

Some of that confidence comes from the simple fact that the Presets’ roots were firmly planted at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where Kim and Julian met in the mid ‘90s. Not only that; they sharpened their skills in another band first, the trance-inducing instrumental project Prop, which Julian describes as “one-part post rock, one-part techno and one-part NY classical minimalism.” Sure enough, this classical training never left their side, whether it meant borrowing harmonic chords from Mozart and Shostakovich or treating synth parts like a particularly healthy orchestra pit.

“I still think of big synth pads as string sections, stabbing synths as horns, and thinner arpeggios as woodwinds,” explains Julian. “My percussion teacher taught me the importance of finding your individual creative voice early on,” adds Kim, “Since finishing music school, Julian and I have ventured down our own path of discovery instead by teaching ourselves how to write pop songs, produce electronic music, and record and engineer. It’s a far cry from sitting in the back of an orchestra, counting hundreds of bars and waiting for that one moment to hit the triangle.”

As are the many headlining gigs and mounting commitments ahead, although the Presets insist they have a clear head going into it all.

“The only pressure we’ve felt was put on ourselves,” says Julian, “and that was to continue to make music that excites us, rather than falling into the trap of doing the same things again because they worked last time.”

He continues, “We never tried to write a chart topping album with Apocalypso; our only goal with that record was to make music that we always wanted to hear ourselves. Thankfully other people wanted to hear it too! And that’s exactly what we’ve done this time around.”
So a folk singer and a electro-bassist walked into a bar at a Halifax guitar rock festival, and what happened next? They got drunk, danced, fell in love, formed a band, got married, danced some more, abducted a drummer named Joel, ran away to London, England, and never looked back. Okay, so as bar jokes go it’s a little flat. But as a life story, it’s been a pretty thrilling ride for Dragonette, a parallel musical universe in which pop stars knit woolen hamburgers, electropop grows a heart, jetsetters can be homebodies and jet lag is an abstract affliction for those who stay in one time zone long enough actually feel the next.

With the release of the first single from their 3rd album, Dragonette prove once and for all what die hard fans have known since 2005 – that together they are so much more than the sum of their separate (and very shapely!) parts: Dan Kurtz and Martina Sorbara are marrieds, songwriters, business partners, best-frenemies, co-conspirators, hometown sweethearts and a mass of cultural contradictions all rolled into a single tasty, tangy pop package – who glow with a combined energy that’s both forward-looking and nostalgic, homely and cutting-edge. They are not so much couple as a place where friends, family and fans come to rock out – throwers of dinner parties, performers of concerts, joke-tellers and lyric-inventors they are, above all else, people who live to give the people around them maximum pleasure. Drummer Joel Stouffer fits into, and adds to, this energy perfectly.

As for the new album, long time followers of their music will recognize all the hallmarks of a sound which, in the past couple of years, has taken Dragonette around the world and platinum: Layers of addictive supporting ethereal melodies and that voice – Sorbara’s psychosexual purr, like Ricky Lee Jones trapped in Lady Gaga’s erotic dream.

After years of frenetic touring Dragonette fled the wet chills of London in November 2011 for the humid thrills of Rio, where they holed up in a family flat (Kurtz is half Brazilian) to ignore the delights of the world’s sexiest city in favour of isolation and songwriting. The two months that ensued were, according to Kurtz, one of the most surreal periods in a remarkably varied life. “A small civil war broke out between the ‘trafficantes’ [drug gangs] and the police while we were there and the military rolled in. Rio was on lockdown for a few days/weeks. It was crazy to watch the helicopters circling the battle zones while we sat out, drinking wine and playing cards on the terrace.” In the midst of all this chaos, Kurtz and Sorbara wrote two of the album’s most accomplished songs – Lay Low and Let It Go. Perhaps due to self-imposed isolation, there’s not a tropical Latin beat to be heard in these two tracks. Instead what we get is a mad energy and (dare we say it?) emotional honesty pushed forward by the driving beat that has made Dragonette a dancefloor standard from Ibiza to Idaho. The tracks were then wired to Toronto to be sprinkled with Stouffer’s characteristic groovy dust and voila!—a new album was in the works. After the success of 2008’s album Fixin to Thrill, and wild international popularity of their 2010 single Hello (with French DJ Martin Solveig), Dragonette have graduated to more complex, sophisticated sound, one that has all the trademark hooks of their earlier electropop hits combined with a new depth of feeling – the peripatetic touring musicians’ search for home. “Apart from Rio, most of the writing was done at our house in London in our tiny green studio with our two cats sleeping through the noise in the window,” says Kurtz. Sorbara laughs. “We spend our life on planes to crazy nightclubs, but really our favourite place to be is home,” she says, “It’s our dirty little secret.” “Don’t tell anyone,” says Kurtz. Sorbara puts her finger to her lips. Shhhh.
Music comes naturally to L.A. duo Classixx, childhood friends who began recording together in 2007, united by their mutual appreciation for shimmering melody, punk rock, disco and French house. When Classixx DJ, they do so with exceptional comprehension, a clear affinity for the music they play. There’s a kinship between the songs they select and their own original works, at once beaming, breezy and wistful, descendent from similarly pop-minded melancholics like Fleetwood Mac, Prince, and Alan Braxe.

Now one of the world’s most universally respected DJ duos, Classixx have headlined everywhere from the famed Paris Social Club to New York’s Webster Hall, touring constantly since releasing their exuberant 2009 single “I’ll Get You,” which featured Lady Gaga songwriter Jeppe. Following their breakout single with acclaimed remixes for Phoenix, Holy Ghost, Mayer Hawthorne, Groove Armada, Yacht, Major Lazer, Gossip and others, for the last two years Classixx have been intent on their debut Hanging Gardens, whittling the LP down from hundreds of sessions to a svelte 12 songs.

Their musical background is substantial. Michael David fronted a major label-signed rock band in high school, and he and one-time Berklee School of Music student Tyler Blake play a wide array of instruments on Hanging Gardens.

“It’s a very gear-heavy record. We pretty much played everything in here on it,” Tyler says, surveying their Venice beach studio, a cottage which houses six or seven guitars, a piano, various analog synths and a drum kit. One of their favorites is an indigenous Central American drum with a fuzzy hot pink mallet, which was used frequently throughout the album.

“We used a lot of Prophet ‘08, Voyager, Juno-106, a lot of [Yamaha] DX-7, the Vermona drum synth, we have a LinnDrum, a [Yamaha] CP70, which is a famous stage piano,” Mike adds. “Tyler’s dad has an old American Fender Telecaster that was played a lot, and then my old man, that’s his Ibanez Stratocaster.”

The album begins with nostalgic title track “Hanging Gardens,” a reference to the Seven Wonders of the World, one of which was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The opening song’s reverie continues on haunting collaborations with Active Child on “Long Lost,” Superhumanoids singer Sarah Chernoff on the ethereal “A Stranger Love,” and the coastal, dreamy “A Fax From the Beach.” Hanging Gardens concludes poetically with “Valley Vacation,” a reference to their late-night escape from their old studio, nestled in the seedy heart of L.A.’s porn industry, to their current Venice beach sanctuary.

If the quieter moments of the album are inspired by the beach, then the upbeat tracks are clearly primed for the dance floor, from churning slapper “Relight My Fire” and gleefully catchy Nancy Whang-featuring “All You’re Waiting For,” to the French Touch-inspired anthem “Holding On” sublime chords of “Dominoes” and grooving bass and live drums of “Supernature.”

Classixx excel at cutting impossibly sunny grooves, blithe melodies bred by the coast, coaxed out by the surf, expertly crafted for road trips, pool parties and dance clubs.

“I really think this is a product of the Los Angeles experience,” Mike says. “Which is also part of the reason we called it Hanging Gardens. For some reason that image just reminds me of Los Angeles.” “I feel like most people would agree that it sounds like California,” Tyler concurs. “When we’re working on a song and I look out the window it just seems like the soundtrack of this city. This beach.”
Venue Information:
Terminal 5
610 W 56th St
New York, NY, 10019