Along with artists such as GRAFTON PRIMARY, CUT COPY and VAN SHE, THE PRESETS were part of the first wave of early millennial Antipodean electronic artists to start having global success.
Formed of Julian Hamilton (vocals and synths) and Kim Moyes (drums and synths), their earlier material combined a stripped back synth-punk aesthetic with rousing anthemic songs such as ‘Are You The One?’ and ‘Down, Down, Down’, but also counterpointed with more introspective-sounding tracks such as the NEW ORDER-inspired ‘Girl & The Sea’.
However, the debut 2005 album ‘Beams’ which featured those aforementioned songs was a hit and miss affair, relying on the singles and the band’s growing live reputation to carry it.
The follow-up ‘Apocalypso’ was a far more consistent-sounding work and arguably their strongest to date; featuring the melodic synthpop of ‘This Boy’s In Love’ and the surprisingly politically-charged ‘All My People’, it showed that the duo’s songs could work over an entire album. Further UK dates with acts such as LADYHAWKE, HEARTBREAK and SOULWAX helped to solidify the acts’ momentum and reputation as an electronic band to be reckoned with.
After a four year hiatus, the band returned with ‘Pacifica’ which was preceded by the UNDERWORLD-inspired ‘Youth In Trouble’ and the quirky, almost sea-shanty electro-singalong ‘Ghosts’. The album revealed itself as a softer maturer piece of work, with most of the spikier edges of its predecessors rounded off on tracks such as ‘Cool’ and ‘Fall’.
The 2014 stop-gap singles ‘Goodbye Future’ and ‘No Fun’ saw a partial return to their earlier sound, but also introduced more of a House Music slant, especially the latter with its almost early Acid House-style pitched down vocal effects.
Activity in THE PRESETS camp started to ramp up again at the end of 2017 with the release of a trilogy of singles which all feature on the new album ‘Hi Viz’. Opener ‘Knuckles’ (named after Sonic The Hedgehog’s brother) starts off in a similar bleepy 8 bit fashion to YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA’s iconic ‘Computer Game’. Throwing a hell of a lot of styles into the mix, from live horns to half-time R’n’B drums, ‘Knuckles’ is not really representative of ‘Hi Viz’ as a whole, but provides an intriguing overture to it.
First single ‘Do What You Want’ is potentially classic-sounding material, but is partially let down by its over-repetitive vocal hook which makes you wish for a more instrumental-based re-edit without the title in it so much. This is a real shame as the song itself is excellent and showcases a return to the band’s earlier driving synthpunk sound. ‘Martini’ and ‘Beethoven’ are uptempo, and initially throwaway-sounding tracks, the latter which oddly has you wondering whether it is going to morph into the EURYTHMICS song of the same name.
Both identical in tempo, they segue into each other, the former has a square wave House bass with vocal samples and a blippy lead riff with Hamilton intoning the virtues of said drink. At 2’40 secs a gorgeous PSBs-style chord change arrives and saves the track from being overly repetitive and monophonic sounding. ‘Beethoven’ (which amusingly ends with a Mozart sample) conceptually owes a debt to EURYTHMICS, but is ultimately is its own entity revolving around a tough electronic bass riff, it’s one of the filler tracks here.
‘Downtown Shutdown’ completely throws out THE PRESETS rulebook; featuring guitars, live bass and vocals from The St Paul’s Lutheran Church Choir (which comprises of refugees and young people from places like Burundi, DR Congo and South Sudan who are now living in Victoria). A feel-good hybrid of BLONDIE’s ‘Rapture’, TALKING HEADS and splashes of KRAFTWERK, ‘Downtown Shutdown’ is the kind of track which if put out by BRUNO MARS or PHARRELL WILLIAMS would undoubtedly be a huge multi-million selling global smash. Present here in a more extended format than the single, it showcases more of the electronic elements of the track and is a definite highlight of ‘Hi Viz’.
In a new move for THE PRESETS, there are several other collaborations on ‘Hi Viz’; ‘Out of Your Mind’ features the vocals of Sydney’s ALISON WONDERLAND (who THE PRESETS remixed earlier this year). It’s a killer hybrid of Acid House and Hip Hop with a side-serving of THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS plus some wicked drum programming thrown in for good measure.
‘Tools Down’ which features Jake Shears from THE SCISSOR SISTERS is a bit of a go-nowhere track that again segues into the subsequent one ‘Feel Alone’. Thankfully ‘Feel Alone’ harks back to the sound of ‘Apocalypso’ whilst lyrically recalling 90s dance (in that it only has a single vocal hook); ‘Feel Alone’ brings a welcome dose of melody and chord changes to the ‘Hi Viz’ party.
‘Brains’ provides a short percussive bridging piece, its Afro-vibe takes its cues from LEFTFIELD’s classic ‘Leftism’ album and leads into ‘Are You Here?’ which features Britpop revivalists DMA’s. Revolving around the kick/snare pattern from ‘Trans Europe Express’, DMA’s singer Tommy O’Dell provides a wonderfully rhythmic vocal which takes him out of his musical comfort zone in a similar way to when Noel Gallagher guested with THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS on ‘Let Forever Be’.
Second single ‘14U&14ME’ is a bit of a curveball, starting off with some Trance-style arpeggiator and VANGELIS synth in its moody intro. The song then revisits the hard FM bass sound from ‘My People’ to great effect and only misses a second use of the intro to help (again) make the track feel a little less repetitive.
Rather than finishing the album in introspective mode, ‘Hi Viz’ finishes with a real banger in the form of ‘Until The Dark’ which shows that a one finger synth bass line can really work. After being joined by a multi-layered sequencer riff and splashy 909 open hats, the track has a monumental breakdown half-way through with ‘Ghosts n Stuff’ style organ and glitch treated live drums before kicking back in again.
This is undoubtedly THE PRESETS’ party album, it’s shamelessly unafraid to take risks and try out new sonic territories and in the main succeeds brilliantly.
There are a couple of fillers here, but the overall mash-up of classic clubby dance, heavy influence of THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS and a modern twist has provided the band with what is arguably their strongest work yet.
‘Hi Viz’ grabs you by the scruff of your neck, drags you onto the dancefloor and rarely lets go over its 52 minutes – highly recommended.
‘Hi Viz’ is released by Modular Recordings as a CD, vinyl LP and download
JORI HULKKONEN is one of Europe’s most highly regarded electronic producers, yet remains something of a hidden secret.
While a fan of synthesized music such as PET SHOP BOYS, NEW ORDER and JOHN FOXX, Hulkkonen’s love of Detroit techno and house music has brought a rhythmical edge to his many productions and remixes.
Hulkkonen released his first album ‘Selkäsaari Tracks’ in 1996, but he first came to the world’s wider attention as ZYNTHERIUS with TIGA on their 2001 electro cover of ‘Sunglasses At Night’.
As well as solo long players such as 2010’s acclaimed ‘Man From Earth’ and collaborative projects like KEBACID, STOP MODERNISTS, PROCESSORY, SIN COS TAN and THE TANIA & JORI CONTINENTS, he has DJ-ed around the world, presented his own radio shows and remixed artists as diverse as ROBYN, KID CUDI and JOE JACKSON.
Based in Turku on the southwest coast of Finland, Hulkkonen recently downsized the amount of hardware in his AlppIVhouz Studios, although he still retains a Korg PS3100, Emulator II, Roland Jupiter 4, Roland SH101, Roland TR808, Roland TB303, Siel Orchestra and the ubiquitous Eurorack Modular system.
Always up for the odd spot of artistic mischief, he assembled THE ACID SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, an experimental avant-garde techno ensemble of nine fellow conspirators each controlling a Roland TB-303, conducted and mixed by Hulkkonen; the collective famously supported KRAFTWERK on their Helsinki date in 2009.
More recently, Hulkkonen has teamed up with fellow Finn Jimi Tenor for a touring presentation of their silent art movie ‘Nuntius’. Starring Mr Normall as its central alien character, it features a live improvised soundtrack ranging from blippy ambient to frantic motorik; none of the music is to be released. So with each performance being unique, ‘Nuntius’ provides a cerebral audio / visual experience for who are able to witness it.
With such a varied catalogue of work and projects, The Electricity Club looks back at the career of JORI HULKKONEN in the shape of this eighteen track Beginner’s Guide, arranged in chronological order and with a restriction of one track per album / project…
TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS Sunglasses At Night (2001)
This cover of Corey Hart’s cult classic, adopted as a signature song by the Electroclash movement, came about when Hulkkonen was in Montreal promoting his ‘Helsinki Mix Sessions’ CD released on TIGA’s Turbo label. “The synthline just felt very cool to use with the 808 beat” he told The Electricity Club, “I’m glad I used a pseudonym for that release as even though I loved a lot of the music that was around and connected with Electroclash, the whole scene felt a bit distant to me.”
Available on the TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS single ‘Sunglasses At Night’ via City Rockers / International Deejay Gigolo Records
JORI HULKKONEN featuring JOHN FOXX Dislocated (2005)
“’Metamatic’ is one of my all-time favourite albums” said Hulkkonen, “and for me it was a fantastic opportunity to get a chance to work with one of the people who had shaped my musical world. ‘Dislocated’ was written by me, with John and the sound of ‘Metamatic’ in mind”. The end result sounded like what the title suggested and the pair worked together again in more collaborative manner in 2008 on ‘Never Been Here Before’; it wouldn’t be for the final time either…
Available on the JORI HULKKONEN album ‘Dualizm’ via F Recordings
Work had actually begun on a TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS album, but the pair both felt that keeping the project as a one hit wonder was a much cooler alternative. However, several songs from those recording sessions ended up on their various solo albums, with ‘Dying In Beauty’ appearing on Hulkkonen’s ‘Dualizm’, while ‘High School’ with its hypnotic synth sequence and latent machine groove found a home on TIGA’s debut long player ‘Sexor’.
JORI HULKKONEN featuring JUSTINE ELECTRA Errare Machinale Est (2008)
2008 could be considered Hulkkonen’s Down Under phase and for the title track of his sixth solo record, he recruited Electra, a Melbourne-based singer / songwriter / musician / DJ to add her wispy nonchalant voice to this expansive mood piece with an extended ambient intro. The track utilised grainy Emulator II strings in an aesthetic that was to become one of his trademarks. The album also featured a tune fittingly titled ‘Forgive Me Father For I Have Synth’.
THE PRESETS This Boy’s In Love – Jori Hulkkonen Remix (2008)
Australian duo Julian Hamilton and Kim Moyes made their international breakthrough with ‘This Boy’s In Love’, an uptempo ASSOCIATES flavoured highlight from their second album ‘Apocalypso’. Hulkkonen stretched out the track out for almost ten minutes in a beat laden squelch fest and described it to The Electricity Club as: “a 10 out of 10 remix on my standards. It’s difficult to say why but somehow everything just clicked when I was making it and it still sounds fresh”.
Co-written with one-time KILLING JOKE bassist Martin Glover aka Youth, Hulkkonen’s remix adopted a deep framework and applied a pulsing club friendly vibe to the dark cool of Client A and Client B’s Cold War Chic, while “dancing on a ticking bomb”. Growing up in Finland during that era with The Bear next door looming would have had a profound effect on Hulkkonen in shaping his soundscapes.
Available on the CLIENT album ‘Command’ via Out Of Line
Like its predecessor, TIGA’s ‘Ciao’ was mostly co-produced by Belgian brothers SOULWAX, although James Murphy of LCD SOUNDSYSTEM gave a helping hand on another track originally intended for TIGA & ZYNTHERIUS. Hedonistic and sweaty like a clubby Marc Almond, TIGA however could never quite escape the DJ tag to establish himself a fully-fledged artist in his own right. Indeed, he once congratulated LADYTRON “for escaping Electroclash”.
JOHN FOXX & LOUIS GORDON Neuro Video – Jori Hulkkonen Remix (2010)
‘Neuro Video’ came out of Foxx and Gordon’s ‘From Trash’ recording sessions and reflected Foxx’s known love of old science-fiction B-Movies which had influenced much of earlier solo work. For his remix, Hulkkonen stripped the track down and made it less percussively frantic, procuring a spacious groove for the bubbling electronics to work within. This remix and another of ‘Impossible’ were originally made available as a free download via Foxx’s Metamatic web platform.
Available on the JOHN FOXX & LOUIS GORDON album ‘Sideways’ via Metamatic Records
Hailing from East Helsinki, Juho Paalosmaa and Tomi Hyyppä’s superb debut album ‘Origin’ was co-produced by Hulkkonen. He told The Electricity Club at the time: “The guys had written a lot of songs in the previous couple of years, so someone outside their songwriting duo having a fresh pair of ears was crucial in picking a group of songs that would make a good album…They have a lot going on for them though; great songwriting, a very good debut album to build on and definitely not least, Juho’s magical voice”.
Available on the VILLA NAH album ‘Origin’ via Keys Of Life
“We were both going through on a very deep phase with THE SMITHS” said Hulkkonen of ‘Lo-Fiction’, his first collaboration with reclusive vocalist Jerry Valuri in 2005. With their ambitious joint project PROCESSORY, the aim was “to create its own little universe” with various space travel themed concepts. With a lo-fi anguished gothique, ‘Take Me To Your Leader’ concocted some very introspective moods at The Finland Station… however, nothing has been proved.
A cover of the lost NEW ORDER single from 1985, Hulkkonen remembered: “The idea was to take what me and STOP MODERNISTS partner Alex Nieminen felt was an underrated song, make a late 80s deep house interpretation and bring some extra twist with having Chris on the vocals. It’s very hard – impossible, actually – to explain how important this record is to me. PET SHOP BOYS have been the most important musical influence for me”.
Available on the STOP MODERNISTS single ‘Subculture’ via Keys Of Life
When VILLA NAH went on hiatus, Hulkkonen and Paalosmaa formed SIN COS TAN. Explaining the difference, Paalosmaa told The Electricity Club: ”With VILLA NAH, I’ve been solely responsible for the songwriting, so I knew that would be different with SIN COS TAN. With Jori, we both bring our ideas to the table”. Very nocturnal in tone, ‘Trust’ was a superb 21st Century answer to ‘Enjoy The Silence’, described by Hulkkonen as “Disco You Can Cry To”. Indeed, like that iconic tune, ‘Trust’ had been written as a ballad.
Available on the SIN COS TAN album ‘Sin Cos Tan’ via Solina Records
BILLY MACKENZIE Boltimoore – Original JiiHoo Bootmix (2012)
The magnificent voice of Billy Mackenzie from his stark cover of Randy Newman’s ‘Baltimore’ was flown into a hypnotic tech house bootleg constructed by Hulkkonen. With deliberate incorrect spelling of our hero’s name to mask its illegal nature, it was a haunting ghostly return from the heavens to the dancefloor. Mackenzie would have loved it and had he been alive today, he would have almost certainly been working with Hulkkonen; what magic that would have been…
Available on the 12” vinyl release ‘Boltimoore’ via Kojak Giant Sounds
Despite their collaborative history, Foxx and Hulkkonen had never worked together on a body of work with a conceptual theme, but the opportunity came with the appropriately titled ‘European Splendour’ EP. It took on the grainier downtempo template of PROCESSORY and the lead song ‘Evangeline’ was all the more beautiful for it. Full of depth, coupled with an anthemic chorus and vibrant exchange of character throughout, this rousing yet soothingly futuristic number was quite otherworldly.
SIN COS TAN featuring CASEY SPOONER Avant Garde (2013)
Hulkkonen first found fame during the Electroclash era and a noted personality from that scene made an appearance on the second SIN COS TAN album ‘Afterlife’. ‘Avant Garde’ featured Casey Spooner who provided a suitably cynical snarl to contrast Paalosmaa’s lost boy cry on a track that sounded like THE CURE being produced by PET SHOP BOYS. Paalosmaa was particularly thrilled, saying “I’ve been a big FISCHERSPOONER fan since their debut in 2001, so it was a very cool honour”.
Available on the SIN COS TAN album ‘Afterlife’ via Solina Records
A brilliant slice of uptempo electronic pop with more than just a hint of GIORGIO MORODER and NEW ORDER, ‘Italian Love Affair’ was Italo Disco laced with a soaring vocal and a fabulous neon lit groove. Despite having shied away from singing throughout the majority of his career, Hulkkonen took on vocals himself on this highlight from his ninth solo album, with the end result sounding not unlike a cross between Jerry Valuri and Juho Paalosmaa.
Available on the JORI HULKKONEN album ‘Oh But I Am’ via My Favorite Robot Records
FEELS If You’d Meet Me Tonight – Jori Hulkkonen Remix (2016)
FEELS are a Helsinki based indietronica band comprising of Sofi Meronen, Mikael Myrskog and Jooel Jons; when Hulkkonen saw them band play live in Turku, he became a fan and asked if he could work on their material. Speeded up considerably and pracatically changing the entire character of the song, his remix of ‘If You’d Meet Me Tonight’ was highly danceable, but still retained the trio’s glorious Nordic melancholy for some more of that “Disco You Can Cry To”.
VILLA NAH unexpectedly returned after six years and Hulkkonen was there to assist again as co-producer. Of the magnificent track with which they returned, Paalosmaa said: “‘Stranger’ is a play on words; how somebody you’ve known can turn stranger over the span of time… and end up as a complete stranger in the process”. This was classic crystalline synthpop with a modern twist at its best, in a fine juxtaposition of swirling arpeggios and melodic tension.
Available on the VILLA NAH album ‘Ultima’ via Solina Records
Hulkkonen has released several EPs and singles over the last couple of years in the build-up to a new long player, while a new single ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ is set to be unleashed. A cinematic synth wave instrumental with a dripping percussive template, ‘Tintån Terdel’ signals a possible future in film work. It’s an avenue already being explored by himself and Jimi Tenor in a live context via the unique presentations of their silent Sci-Fi movie ‘Nuntius’.
Sydney’s very own Future Pagan’s THE PRESETS have announced their long-awaited return with their third album ‘Pacifica’.
Featuring ten synth laced songs, ‘Pacifica’ sees THE PRESETS “traversing both light and shade in energy and emotion” with a self produced collection mixed in Los Angeles with Tony Hoffer. The first track to be unleashed from the album is the heavily pulsating ‘Youth In Trouble’ which comes with a hallucinogenic video directed by New York based visual artist Yoshi Sodeoka and features socially poignant newsreel segments mixed in with the trip fest!
Their first album ‘Beams’ in 2006 was described by The Fly as “Simply the finest electro album since Depeche Mode’s Violator”. Now while it didn’t quite soar to such great heights, tracks like ‘Are You The One?’ and ‘I Go Hard, I Go Home’ showed their intuition for hard edged percussive club tracks of which ‘Youth In Trouble’ is a natural progression. But it was the ASSOCIATES go disco of ‘This Boy’s In Love’ from second album ‘Apocalypso’ that pointed to their song based potential.
But THE PRESETS have made their impact worldwide having apparently influenced BLACK EYED PEAS. Their ubiquitous leader will.i.am remarked that the ‘The E.N.D.’ album featuring the massive hits ‘Boom Boom Pow’ and ‘I Gotta Feeling’ was inspired by seeing THE PRESETS play V-Festival in Adelaide, with the song ‘My People’ being a particular favourite.
With a string of Autumn live dates in the USA as well as festival appearances in Australia, it would appear THE PRESETS are reaching the parts other synth acts cannot reach…
‘Pacifica’ is released on 14th September 2012 by Modular Recordings in standard CD, download and deluxe editions.