It was poetic that an album called Apocalypso created a whirlwind of chaos for The Presets.
After the increase in popularity that followed their 2005 debut Beams, a showbag of thumping club hits and ‘80s sheen, the Sydney duo dived head first into the creation of their sophomore record.
They shacked up on a farm in Byron Bay for two weeks and cooked ideas, then relocated to Berlin while touring in Europe.
The result, 2008’s Apocalypso, was a game changer – not only for the classically trained pair, but for Australian dance music.
Single My People, a sympathetic anthem about refugees, brought them international acclaim.
Apocalypso debuted at number one on the Australian charts and in 2008 it was the first dance record to win the ARIA Award for Album of the Year.
“When we made Apocalypso we’d been running a hundred miles an hour – we’d been touring so much and we’d built a bit of a name for ourselves – we worked really fast to try and make that record,” singer Julian Hamilton says.
“We had the fire – we were hungry and young.”
The Presets had earned a break and a chance to pause and reflect.
Therefore the making of their 2012 record, Pacifica, was “the complete opposite” to its predecessor.
Having both become fathers for the first time, Hamilton and partner in crime Kim Moyes had the perfect excuse to not rush into their third album cycle.
“We had more time up our sleeve and could afford to have a bit of time off the road,” Hamilton says.
“We’d been touring for six or seven years non-stop.”
Pacifica builds on the tongue-in-cheek hedonism and dark drones of the duo’s previous work, but broadens its sonic horizons.
From the futuristic throb of Youth In Trouble, to the primal sea shanty Ghosts and the radiant, effervescent pop of Promises, Pacifica suggests the duo are assured in the creative value of their experimental ideas.
For Apocalypso the duo wrote exactly what they needed – ten songs for an album.
This time they pieced together a wealth of material from which to shape Pacifica.
“We had about 30 or 40 ideas, so we just kept experimenting until we picked 12 or 13 songs,” Hamilton recalls.
“It was a lot more chilled out and relaxed – I wouldn’t say it was easier, necessarily – but we certainly had more time to go back into the studio and experiment and not rush things.”
Despite having a larger number of ideas to whittle down, Hamilton says the songs that made it on to Pacifica were easy to spot.
“Songs like Ghosts or Promises do stick out – you think ‘they’re really fresh, we like that’ – choosing the ones we liked was easy,” Hamilton says.
“But certainly there’s a whole bunch of offcuts floating around that you might hear in different guises in the future.”
While the duo had no specific musical vision for Pacifica, they did want to record the album more organically.
Both Hamilton and Moyes met at Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music in the mid-’90s but for The Presets have mostly composed using machines.
On stage Moyes plays live drums and Hamilton synths, alongside numerous electronic samples.
However, on Pacifica we can hear Moyes behind his kit and Hamilton at a piano.
“When we play live, Kim is beating those drums and it’s a different atmosphere,” Hamilton says.
“We wanted to get that live drum feel on the songs.
“I’ve played the piano since I was five years old, but this was the first time I’d ever had a piano in my studio – which is crazy.
“I was able to write and record a lot more songs at the piano.
“But I don’t think you ever go into the studio thinking ‘I want to make an album like this’.
“You go into the studio and start writing and recording and [the album] materialises in front of your very eyes.
“The trick is not to think about it too hard.
“Don’t force square pegs into round holes.”
Despite reaching the number three position on the Australian charts and being embraced by their fans, Pacifica has not equalled the overwhelming public impact of Apocalypso.
“The critics have really loved Pacifica– it has been the best received music we’ve ever made,” Hamilton says.
“It’s been getting way better reviews than our music in the past.
“But then again, it hasn’t sold as well as Apocalypso, but I think it’s just one of those things.
“Some music is going to hit a nerve with certain parts of society and other music won’t do that, but we’ve been thrilled with the response.”
Pacifica has also given The Presets the chance to further explore the visual tapestry of their music.
Their three album covers are appropriations of the same theme and were each designed by their friend Jonathan Zawada.
For the Pacifica live shows they employed the help of Martin Phillips, who designed the incredible pyramid set for Daft Punk’s 2007 Alive tour.
“He certainly makes us look a lot more interesting than we are,” Hamilton says of Phillips.
“It’s the same as the [music] videos, the album artworks and the T-shirts.
“We’re very lucky to have a whole bunch of video directors and graphic designers around us who interpret our music and add a visual element.
“It adds a lot to The Presets narrative.
“It becomes part of the myth even though we didn’t have any real hand in the creation of [the art].”
Hamilton hopes it won’t be another four years before The Presets story continues with a fourth album.
“Pacifica was a big album, mentally, for us to get out,” Hamilton says.
“We needed a break after the Apocalypso madness – it was a huge thing.
“It culminated in this wild success, which we were very thankful for.
“So I feel a real sense of relief that Pacifica is written and released.
“We’re already looking forward to getting into the studio and doing the next thing – who knows what that’s going to be?
“Maybe an album of string quartets – something that’s really going to upset our fans.”
The Presets appear at Newcastle Panthers on Sunday, February 10.
Tickets are available through Moshtix.
Alive has two double passes to give away.
For your chance to win simply fill out the coupon in today's Maitland Mercury by noon next Wednesday.