Take a trip behind RAKA, Golden Features & The Presets' collab EP
On RAKA, two Australian trailblazers unite for a four-track EP which link together their distinct sounds.
While Australia's electronic scene is amongst the world's most varied and versatile, it's hard to find two musicians that capture its brilliance so perfectly as The Presets and Golden Features. The former are pioneers of the bloghouse movement that shaped the mid-00s and is still evident today; the distinct touch that Kim Moyes and Julian Hamilton bring to Australian electronic felt for the larger part of a decade, regardless of how the scene has shifted and changes in the time since their domination. The latter, meanwhile, is a central force of the next generation - well-regarded amongst the Australian electronic circle, but also capturing the brilliance of our market internationally as his presence is felt in the US and UK - a feat that only a slim number of acts have been able to achieve, let alone one who is still on his debut album.
RAKA is a monumental release that today, sees these two defining forces unite for a sound-shaping four tracks that not only capture the brilliance of Golden Features and The Presets and their distinct sounds, but also their ability to cross-pollinate and collaborate - something that both of these acts have shown throughout their respective histories through top-liners and session musicians, but not necessarily through working with other producers of such ilk.
In many ways, RAKA highlights the brilliance of both Golden Features and The Presets and how, despite them having two very defined and signature sounds, they're able to work together to bring something concise and slick. RAKA - the EP's opening track and pièce de résistance - combines the swift synth work of The Presets' Kim Moyes alongside Julian's signature shouting vocal as Golden Features' flurry of bass kicks and swelling melodies is felt amongst its breakdown, while on songs like Paradise - the EP's introductory moment, being its first single - this crossover is vaguer; both The Presets and Golden Features' touch felt in a way that's harder to pick.
Control, meanwhile, takes a tech-house backbone reminiscent of The Presets' Pacifica record and moulds it together with modular, mid-00s-esque drop that in The End, the EP's closing moment, turns into a whole different beast - darker, heavier, more sinister and brooding as the dark side of The Presets meets that distorted, left-of-centre crunch that defined much of Golden Features' last record, SECT.
"Collaborating with Tom was such an enjoyable way to make music. Collaboration in general is very rewarding. You don’t have to be as precious as you might normally be when creating your own stuff. You can afford to explore new areas and try a bunch of things you ordinarily wouldn’t - often leading to really exciting results," says Julian on the EP. "It has been great fun stepping outside the walls of The Presets world and seeing what can be found there. We are really proud of it and hope to make more music with Tom in the future."
Here, to celebrate the EP's release and to cover the in's and out's of the EP's creation, we had a long, extensive chat with The Presets' Kim Moyes, in which we broke down the release one song at a time. It's quite a read, so dive into it while you explore the realms of RAKA below:
This is the first song on the EP, so it's probably the best time to talk about the EP's creation and conception as a whole. I know you two have been friends with Tom (Golden Features) for quite a while and invited him to remix No Fun a while back, but where did the idea actually come from to work on something together as a trio - like a full project?
It wasn't until around the end of last year or the beginning of this year. More specifically, I've been friends with Tom for quite a while - we didn't know him when he remixed No Fun - but we were really impressed with the remix. We'd never heard of him as an artist or as a person before we got that remix, so when that landed in our inbox, we were really impressed with the quality of the work for someone who was a relative unknown. My ears were always kind of pricked up to what he was doing - I heard him getting played on the radio; I checked out his Spotify and stuff like that. I kept a quiet eye on him because I really liked his approach and I felt like he was doing something within electronic music in Australia and in Sydney that was kind of in his own league. So many times with dance music, you find that people are just regurgitating each other's sound or regurgitating a genre. Tom had something else going on, which I was really attracted to.
That naturally just moved over into getting together to jam, as he was a big fan of The Presets and I was quietly becoming a fan of him. We messed around in a couple of jam sessions, just making beats and playing with synths and stuff like that, and then I think more towards the end of last year, we had lunch together and he was like, "you know, I have got one or two ideas that I want to play you that I don't know what to do with" and it was just very much off the cuff. "Maybe, it could be cool for The Presets?" I was like, "Oh yeah, cool, that sounds fun." So, he and I got together over maybe three different sessions towards the end of last year - and maybe even the beginning of this year - and we ended up just jamming out maybe around 15 ideas. I was secretly kind of keeping them to myself and I was slowly starting to play them to Julian being like "Are you into any of this stuff?" And then for some reason, it kind of came up that we could possibly do something with the material that I was working on with hiM, or maybe we should get into the studio all three of us and just see what happens.
How did that turn into what eventually became RAKA?
I eventually approached Tom and asked whether he would be interested in doing something with us. It could've been one song or it could've been an album, but that was really the genesis of the project. Thankfully, when we got into studio with all three of us, it was a relatively easy process. He's really confident in the studio. He wasn't perturbed by the fact that he was just one dude coming into a duo space or any of that weirdness. He always felt like a younger version of us really - cynical, neurotic, with a dark sense of humour. Quietly pissed off at the world.
We jammed and jammed and we filled up a whole bunch of ideas, we were basically throwing shit at the wall and seeing what could the three of us come up with. RAKA was one of the first ideas that Julian really responded to. He was like "let me take this one home and throw some vocal ideas at it" and he came up with the initial vocal sketch relatively quickly, which is always a good sign. The process of us trying to nail it down was really what we had to do from there. It was the one that we really want to get right, in terms of it being a perfect blend of Golden Features and The Presets.
When we announced this project to the world - Golden Features and The Presets are doing something together - we really wanted you to be able to hear it immediately, and not throw a curveball like an album of string quartets. There is a real concept to it, and thankfully it worked really well. RAKA was the track that got the ball rolling, so to speak. The bassline is very much of a Golden Features kind of thing, the beat and the synth work make it feel like a very The Presets kind of thing and the vocal is, you know, Julian at his best. It just felt like a no brainer track to start the EP with. It was a funny one as well like you kind of like because it was the one weekend breaking you know we were kind of feeding it into the wall within a little bit but thankfully we've got there in the end.
RAKA is not just this song's name, but also that of the greater EP. What made you go with RAKA as the project title?
When we named the EP RAKA and we made the track RAKA, it was seriously just a working title that we thought was cool. It turns out that RAKA in Hindu mythology was the daughter of some god, and she was the custodian of the full moon. We came up with this name - and then with this artwork - that completely reflected the feeling of the music coincidentally - dark, slightly otherworldly, slightly cold, kind of detached you know.
While RAKA is the centrepiece of the record, its introductory moment is Paradise - the first and only single released before the entire project. Was there anything that made this the obvious starting point for this project?
Julian and I have never really done this kind of collaboration with another producer in this way - we've had guests and worked with session musicians in the past - but it's always been that they've come onto our project and onto our terms. Whereas this was way more of a collaboration where we were starting something from scratch with somebody else, and we're going to see it through with somebody else and it was going to have both of our names. It's was very much a split down the middle collaboration. What comes along with that, is that you've got two different record labels, you've got two different sets of managers - and sometimes you even got another set of managers in the States - and there are all these different opinions about what you should roll with first. To be very honest with you, it was quite divided amongst our two camps about how we should present the EP to the world and what would be the first song to do that. It was almost exactly 50/50 of artists and managers that thought we should leave with Paradise, and the other 50% thought we should lead with RAKA.
The cool thing about it was that there was a really good argument for doing both. If you come out with your guns blazing with a track like RAKA, it's instantly recognisable - probably more-so like a Presets track than anything - it's got that really kind of punchy entrance. The argument with starting it with Paradise, meanwhile, is that it felt like it was maybe more of a song that was a gentle entry and just had a bit more potential for Spotify playlisting and things like that. It wasn't too abrasive and we felt like it maybe would have suited the algorithm a little bit better or something like that. What a world we live in now, right?
So, there are all these different considerations to factor in, but I think there wasn't any point where we're all really didn't know what to do, because we had a really good problem: We had two really great songs that we could have led the project with either way, and they would've led us to the same points, but maybe through a different journey. When it came down to it, we were just like "Well, you know, what? Let's just go with the goodwill and not have too much of a struggle with it and just go with the idea to go with Paradise first," and it ended up being the right decision. To be honest with you, we felt like even Control was a potential single as well. When we got the four songs together, we had a really neat package that basically covers the entire territory of what we would expect an album to do, but only in four songs.
You and Tom represent two very different eras of Australian dance music, but you're both big fans of the mid-00s electro scene and the people that rose through it - Justice, Digitalism, even yourself, with Apocalypso. How much did this sound shape the EP?
I think when you start talking about the mid-2000s sound, we were a part of that, so we can't really shake that for better for worse. That's our greatest challenge in creating music because we grew up in that scene around those people and they're more like our peers. One of our biggest moments was in the crest of the wave of that movement. You can't really talk about us without talking about that period and that genre.
For Tom, I think that period was more-so his coming of age, the time where he was really interested in music - the first gig he ever went to was a Presets show on Bondi Beach at New Years Eve, and he got a fake ID made so that he could get into that because he didn't want to risk trying to jump the fence and not making it in. It's as much of a part of him as it is a part of us, it's just that he is coming from that second generation of it. You really hear it in his first record, especially the Justice-like stuff - a lot of people don't really touch that sound anymore, but Tom has been able to take it with all sincerity and zero irony, and put his own stamp on it. There are all sorts of nods to those artists from that period. That's one of the things that I've always liked about Tom's production is that it feels like a second wave of that period that we kind of cut our piece from, and that's what has always attracted me about working with him. I felt like there wasn't going to be much of a "do you get this? Do you get that?" The proof's in the pudding and you can already hear it in his work and his approach to making music.
There was never any conscious decision to harp back to that time. I think it's really just authentic - for both Tom and for us. It's literally the best we could come up with together without being cynical about it and saying "let's try to make this and let's try to make that." All the music that we made was thankfully very honest and very easy, and from a sincere place.
This single starts with a bit of a techno kick that also reminds me of your Pacifica album, and you've spoken quite a bit about the rest of the album being inspired by the mid-00s bloghouse era. Are there any other areas you were taking notes from to form the musical blueprint behind this record?
Particularly with Paradise and even with The End, there was something with Julian's vocal delivery that Tom and I were really trying to steer Julian towards in terms of actually how he sang on a couple of the songs from this EP. I think Tom and I got to talking about Presets songs like Girl And The Sea and Anywhere where Julian's delivery is much more muted. It's more full voice and it's more resonant and it's way more velvety than the yelling call to arms Julian that we all know and love from My People and Do What You Want. So there was a lot of conversations going on back and forths to Julian to say "would you try doing anything like this? Or a bit like that?" It's something that he has wanted to do, but he just hasn't have had the chance to do it for a long time.
I think that he's just naturally more inclined to want to have a bit of a yell when he's sketching songs ideas because I think he imagines being on stage - he's up there, he's gotta own it; he's gotta command the crowd and so I think he finds it much more comfortable if he can do that with his full voice, but there is something so unbelievably beautiful about his boys when he sings softly. So, Girl And The Sea for sure, Anywhere for sure also in terms of the overall feeling, like that bittersweet-melancholy-with-hope was something that we were really chasing.
We had quite a few tracks in a shared Spotify playlist that we were constantly referencing, anything from like Four Tet to LCD Soundsystem, plus lots of techno and lots of electronic stuff. Julian and I are really big into techno and Tom is as well, provided that it's in a certain kind of context. We had a pretty clear idea of the world that we wanted to create, and you raised the point of the Youth In Trouble-esque Pacifica kick drum: I think it's all about the starkness and the darkness and slightly detached and cold feeling of that kind of electronic music that we were chasing on this on this record.
You mentioned that both yourself and Tom often work with session musicians and topliners, but not so much with other producers. Both The Presets and Golden Features have very dominant production sounds that are both very recognisable, was there a battle when it came to finding that balance when it came to writing this EP? You said that you wanted it to reflect both The Presets and Golden Features equally.
I think it kind of just got there inevitably anyway, but there was definitely a point early on where we were still feeling each other out and we weren't exactly sure how far we should push certain things. Some of the progress versions of RAKA, for instance, were feeling like so The Presets-esque and it felt more of a problem from where Julian and I were standing because we would listen back to it, and it sounded like half-baked The Presets ideas. I'm talking specifically for RAKA. There was a point where we're like, "God, we really don't want this to just be a watered-down Presets thing" and similarly, we didn't want it to be a watered-down Golden Features thing, so it was really at the forefront of our mind that we didn't want it to tip either way in that regard. Even what I said to you before, we wanted the sound to reflect very easily in the mind of the beholder when you told them that it was a collaboration between the two bands, so I guess it took a little bit of elbow grease to get there.
The End is the last track on the EP, and it feels like quite a dark and menacing take on the rest of the release. Was that a purposeful move, or was it something that naturally happened?
It just naturally went that way, yeah. The idea initially was really heavy and very industrial, and there was a very vicious vocal from Julian that was like bordering on unlistenable because it was just so intense. I think it was one of those things where we were in this unique position where we can do what we want and have a little bit of fun. I guided Julien into moving towards this more spoken word, cinematic thing and maybe maintaining the intensity and the mood, but trying to make it more sinister and more threatening - having fun within the context of electronic music to make something that I hadn't really heard anything like it before. We spread together a few different ideas of things that we might like - Nick Cave and Portishead, Massive Attack and stuff like that - so for us, it sounded very natural, and all three of us really loved it, but we all agreed that it was a complete headfuck of a track. I think the EP without it is very cool, but with it, it's really meaty. There's a bunch of cool tracks that we can all bop along to, but there's something there for the twisted psycho fans that we all know we have.
Was the idea always to have a four-track EP? How did you make sure it kept to that?
We made our minds up early on in the process that we would aim for about three to four tracks and in that respect, I guess it was kind of cool that we would be like getting out of each other's way a little bit because there's three of us. We're all competent producers. We're all competent musicians. We all had our own little pets, our own little favourites.
I spent a couple of weeks finetuning the drop on RAKA or finetuning the production on The End, while Tom was noodling away at Paradise and Julian was doing top lines for Control. We just let each other focus on what we were getting attracted to, and then when we were all together, it became a package and it felt really well rounded as a result. If anyone was ever getting lost or asking for advice, we were just encouraging each other and helping each other along and suggesting different approaches. Even if it was an entirely completed Golden Features track, you'd go and wack a Presets vocal on top that Julian and I had workshopped lyrically, and it's inevitably going to sound like The Presets and Golden Features. There wasn't too much concern about where things are going to end up. I think the biggest lesson I learned was to get out of the way and let things happen. We gave ourselves a relatively short amount of time to do it so there was a quite a bit of fury and fire in our bellies to get the job done. There wasn't too much chin-stroking or fucking around debating on whether or not something to one way or the other. It came together really nicely.
The Presets and Golden Features' new collaborative EP, RAKA, is out now.
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