“You, sir, have a set mo,” is the inscrutable comment behind the name of Sydney DJ duo, Set Mo. It was about a moustache, and thus never meant to stick – but, like a mo to a man, stick it did – and now they’ve dropped their first album, there’s no turning back.
One could, of course, argue that the point of no return was reached on a Sunday night at Sydney’s long-gone Kings Cross staple – Kit & Kaboodle, when the pair, Nick Drabble and Stu Turner, printed a bunch of Set Mo stickers, and plastered them all over the clubbers gathered at their regular gig.
“Branding 101. There was no music to back it up, but we had the stickers,” they laugh.
Drabble and Turner remember their years DJ-ing at Kit & Kaboodle, above what used to be Sugar Mill, as the first time they had “complete control” over what they played, and it seems they’ve come full circle.
After the runaway success of their track, I Belong Here, independently released and smashing their personal best with 10 million streams, the duo asked themselves whether they even needed a record label. In short, no. No, they did not; and so their debut album comes to you as a creatively controlled body of work.
Surrender is a journey of 16 songs, or, “four chapters of four tracks” each encompassing a different vibe. The selected tunes were whittled down from a good 30-40, born from collaboration with long-time friends, and “speed dating” their way through Australia and Europe.
“[We would] literally just rock up to a studio at a certain time, meet a stranger and then write a song… luckily a lot of those sessions turned into things that we liked and are proud of.”
The lead single, Counter Human Emotion (feat. Woodes), came from perhaps one of the wildest of these sessions; 12 hours jamming in an “insane” studio in Berlin, jumping from instrument to instrument, oblivious to a massive storm ripping up trees by their roots outside.
“It was probably the live-est we’ve ever recorded a track… capturing the magic as it happened – it was one take and that’s it… so there’s definitely a lot of raw emotion.”
Surrender plays like the best kind of club nights; lyrical tracks slipping seamlessly into “don’t talk, just dance” dream-like house. It’s as euphoric as it is nostalgic, the evolution and elevation of the kind of stuff Drabble and Turner would have heard on a night out at Sydney’s Candy’s Apartment or Tank back in the day. It’s also a testament to Set Mo being students of music.
“We’ve always been huge fans of disco, like, all disco… if you don’t like disco there’s something wrong with you… it's all very cyclical, flashing back you had very noisy electro.”
“We’ve seen the rise of house music over the last 12 months, that house groove again, which is great for us, that being [Set Mo’s] main, core sound.”
It’s a sound that has taken the duo out touring over and over again, which they love, even if the next day is a bit painful.
"Nick can’t get hungover and I get hungover when I look at a beer,” Turner explains, “it’s a great dynamic the morning after a show.”
Naturally, the best part of touring is the thrill of seeing people sing along to their tracks, but coming in a close second is the hunt for the best piccolo latte, or cheeseburger (or hangover cure) in each city, venturing out with a mass of pinned locations on their maps.
Once home in Sydney, though, there’s no need for directions; they’ve got their favourite home-town haunts to hit up:
“Not only does this happen to be the closest café to our studio in Redfern, it’s also one of the best cafes in Sydney in our opinion. We’re here for coffee every day and they also do an amazing purple drink called a taro latte. The food here is not your standard café affair with these crazy delicious dishes like house-made meatballs with scrambled eggs or folded eggs with chorizo and soft-shell crab. If we’re feeling a little naughty we’ll share the waffles as a sneaky dessert breakfast.”
“Getting down to Icebergs first thing in the morning to have a swim in the ocean water pool followed by a sauna overlooking Bondi Beach as the sun comes up is a pretty damn strong way to start your day if you ask us.”
“You can sip a local craft beer and shoot some stick in the front bar, have a delicious meal out the back in the beer garden, play some classic arcade games in the sneaky gaming room or grab takeaways along with cold cut meats and cheese from the delicatessen style bottle shop.”
The Dolphin Hotel
“Being suckers for Italian grub and natural wines this spot is one of our favourites. They do a great aperitivo hour in the wine room, have an awesome restaurant in the middle of the venue or you can grab a pizza and beer in the pub section.”
Earls Juke Joint
“There’s no sign out the front, it’s dimly lit and hides behind lace curtains so unless you know what you’re looking for it’s not the easiest place to find. However, once inside there’s a great long bar with knowledgeable friendly staff who definitely know their cocktails. We’ve spent many nights here starting the evening, having a nightcap or being there all night long until the lights come on.”
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