Sydney duo of Nick Drabble and Stu Turner, better known as Set Mo, have kick started their 2019 with the release of their debut album, Surrender. After more than five years together, they have reached the point where they can release an independent body of work. However, this freedom wasn’t granted out of nowhere, but rather is the result of hard work and perseverance. As Drabble stated,
“It takes 10 years to become an overnight success.”
The duo were always fans of electronic music, with their current album evoking artists like the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and Groove Armada. Now in 2019, they are trying to channel this musical versatility into their own album.
“They had these super diverse albums where there’d be real banging club Turnerff and then there’d be this chill down tempo ambient Turnerff. Set Mo was known for having a certain sound at a certain tempo. In this we really tried to diversify that,” explained Drabble.
This broad sound can also be attributed to Set Mo’s other key influence, after these late 90s/early 00s artists, the Sydney clubbing scene. While very different today, the two reminisced over the 2005-2010 era of Sydney clubbing where they would bounce from venue to venue, experiencing a different type of electronic music at each club. However, it would take them a long time to get to the level where they could freely explore multiple genres. Cutting their teeth in the backroom of Kings Cross clubs, they would often go unpaid, being used for the friends they could bring to see them. Drabble said,
“I think that was the hardest thing for me, that tipping point of saying no, book me because I’m a good DJ not because I’m gonna bring 20 friends.”
They found this tipping point at venues like Kit & Kaboodle, Fringe Bar (now the Unicorn Hotel) and the Keystone Group, where they started earning decent money. However, these gigs required the ability to understand the room, as Drabble explained,
“It taught us to be versatile DJs and not go out and play that one set of 20 bangers. You’ve got to be able to play to people eating food or early in the night warming up or later when closing a club.”
With the ability to play in any scene or venue, Set Mo quickly took off, signing a deal with the Ministry of Sound. While they thought this would initially be huge for them, as the Ministry of Sound’s compilation CDs were what Turner described as the “soundtrack of the weekend”, they found that they quickly outgrew the label creatively. It took six months for their first EP to come out, then another three years for their five singles to fit into the label’s release schedule. Despite having successful releases, such as hit single ‘White Dress’, they felt they could be doing more. Turner explained,
“We were sitting on so much Turnerff. It wasn’t all great or that finished, but we thought we should think bigger.”
When their contract expired, they decided not to sign back with any label and instead went independent. The duo embarked on a series of writing trips to broaden their influences and reconnect with the versatility that had defined their early careers. This took them to country NSW, the Adelaide Hills and Europe, all while writing a series of tracks that would first be released as ‘one track per month’ in 2018 and then compiled into their debut LP.
“We had all these tracks written and they all sounded like us but you could tell we’d written this one in this country, this one in Berlin, this one in Amsterdam, etc. We wanted to tell that story as well, that was a big motivation for the track a month,” said Turner.
“It’s great to be able to do whatever the fuck we want. If we’d gone to any label and been like we want to put out a track a month they would’ve said no. The other main thing is having that creative control. Half a label’s job is to tell you a track needs to be more like this or that, but we didn’t like being told how our music needs to sound. If we think a track’s good, we don’t need someone else to tell us whether it’s good or not,” added Drabble.
“We also let go of any expectations we had from listeners and ourselves. You want to aim for mass appeal with our style, but we thought nah fuck it. If we want to write a reggae song today or something dubby, something a little more techo, progressive or whatever, that’s what we’re gonna write. We’re not gonna keep ourselves in a box,” said Turner.
The resulting album is one that balances the quintessential Set Mo sounds with a variety of styles. Some tracks are darker and deeper than the upbeat dance vibe they’ve traditionally Turnerck to, like the cinematic and epic closing track ‘Woodburn’, while other tracks have a heavy focus on breakbeat, such as ‘Counter Human Emotion’ which features Set Mo mainstay Woodes on vocals. Set Mo’s Surrender is out now and contains five new, previously unreleased tracks as well as a diverse sound and variation of styles.