Well groomed, well mannered, well spoken, well dressed, well liked: Set Mo are the DJ / producer duo your mother didn’t warn you about, and in fact, would be glad for you to invite home for dinner — before happily sending you out for an evening of 21st-century-sophisto-disco debauchery with the boys.
They seem so nice and trustworthy. (Well, until you’ve witnessed the sweaty, multisensory, marathon-set mayhem of their already kinda legendary Stamina Session club nights, that is.)
Comprising Sydneysiders Nick Drabble (short back’n’sides) and Stu Turner (goatee and ponytail), Set Mo came together in 2012 when the two DJs, who’d often found themselves on the same bill, decided their sounds were so complementary that perhaps they should test how tag-teaming tracks back to back would sound. Pretty good, as it turned out. Studio forays soon followed, resulting in tasty classic house-tinged, guest vocal-driven cuts including Comfort You (feat. Fractures), Chasing Forever (feat. Alphamama), Keep On (feat. Erin Marshall) and the breakout White Dress (feat. Deutsch Duke). Yeah, you heard that one, right?
The distilled sound of a blissed-out Australian summer — albeit, written in London after an eight-day bender in Ibiza — White Dress was the 11th most-played track on Triple J in 2014, and has clocked up more than 20 million streams on Spotify since its launch. Licensed for full release in 11 countries outside Australia (where it was on etcetc), via heavy-hitting majors Universal (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Baltic States) and Warner (GSA & Russia), in addition to proving popular Stateside, it was a particularly big winner in Germany. “We’re really into artists like Booka Shade from Germany that maybe play a bit deeper than us,” Nick opines, “and I think that influence came through and struck a chord, resonated with people over there.”
Since White Dress broke, Set Mo certainly haven’t been resting on their laurels. Mid-2017 saw the release of vocal house beauty, I Belong Here (featuring lilting Townsville-bred singer/songwriter Woodes on the mic), which received high-rotation support from Triple J, props from UK Radio 1 tastemaker, Pete Tong and Spotify nods of approval via New Music Friday in Australia, Germany, France, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. The past 12 months have also seen a relentless series of sold-out shows and high-profile festival sets, including closing the main stage at Beyond The Valley 2017, opening the new year playing to a capacity crowd at Field Day 2018 and smashing dance floors at a string of sold out show on their 24 da. Vitally though, the guys managed to find plenty of time to record new music — stuff that just might surprise you.
Nick and Stu are huge Groove Armada fans (“I can remember exactly where I was, as a kid, the first time I heard Superstylin’,” Nick enthuses — “it changed my life”). In a way, the new material’s approach and production process echo that of GA’s wildly diverse 2001 album Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub), which was recorded during nine hermetic months at a studio in a barn in the Cotswolds boondocks. Set Mo didn’t ‘go bush’ quite that long, but last year, they did get away from it all — in the process, getting away from what’s come to be thought of as their signature sound.
At one point, Stu explains, “We spent 10 days in the country on a writing trip, rented this house, set the studio up and were just writing day and night, punching out as many tunes as we could.” Going totally off-grid “was amazing, there was no internet, no mobile network, just this shoddy landline,” says Nick, “and we didn’t give that number to anyone but our girlfriends and our manager.” They also put in time at unfamiliar studios in far-flung places like London, Amsterdam and Berlin. With the change of scenery, lack of distractions and offline peace’n’quiet, says Stu, “we found ourselves writing this stuff that wasn’t a million miles removed from what we’ve done in the past, but it was different — we were experimenting with different tempos, different sounds, and we came up with these songs… There’s a cohesive sonic pallette, but stylistically they could be confusing to people who are purely White Dress fans.”
Hence the decision to (wait for it, this is big) release a new tune each month throughout 2018, which kicked off with February’s drop, Nightmares, a gritty breakbeat number featuring British multi-instrumentalist Scott Quinn on vox. Though their rep thus far has been built on hooky lyrical tracks — and Nightmare’s sure no noodly minimalist instrumental — there’s been more left-of-centre surprises from Set Mo including their moody March drop Unity. “We want people to know we’re not just doing 4/4 beat, vocal stuff,” says Stu. “We love artists like Chemical Brothers and Groove Armada, or Moby and Jamie XX — you listen to their albums, they’ll have big, deep electronic dance tracks, and then delicate, soft, beautiful songs. We don’t want to be pigeonholded as just house DJs. We’re so inspired by different styles of music, and want to express that,” says Nick. Concludes Stu, “No matter what type of music we’re making, when it comes down to it, we’re songwriters, we’re writing songs.”
Best believe, it ain’t all about four-to-the-floor. Set Mo have got much more in store. Each month, a new track, as a matter of fact.
SET MO: FAQ
WHERE DID THE NAME COME FROM?
Though their facial topiary has evolved since, for a while there, the guys were both rocking serious moustaches. After a show, a (quite possibly inebriated) gentleman hopping into a cab glanced at the duo, and remarked, “You, sir, have a set mo’. You are an operator.” The sobriquet stuck. Their first four mix tapes were released under the moniker Set Mo Operators, which was subsequently shortened to simply Set Mo. (Thanks for the inspo, drunk dude.)
HOW DID THE SIGNATURE MONOCHROME LOOK EVOLVE?
Nick and Stu had wangled a loose invitation to a day party being hosted by P.Diddy at the rap entrepreneur’s Miami home during the Winter Music Conference in 2015. Meeting in their hotel lobby, the two glanced at one another’s casual shorts’n’tees attire, and agreed they should make more effort for Puffy’s sake. After a swift costume change, the guys re-rendez-voused, and one happened to be dressed all in black, the other all in white. “It was a strong look, man,” Stu says. They made it past Diddy’s doormen, partied heartily, and ‘ebony and ivory’ outfits have been their perfect harmony lucky charm ever since.
OVER THIRTY FIVE MILLION PLAYS ON SPOTIFY!? HAS THAT MADE SET MO FILTHY RICH?
“Um, no. But with the rise of streaming services, it’s a super exciting time now in terms of empowering the artist. The labels always owned the lion’s share and dictated what you could or couldn’t do, they called the shots. Now, they don’t have that power any more,” says Stu. Set Mo have more than 600,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, and Australia, North America and Germany lead the way with the most listeners.
DO PEOPLE HAVE NICE THINGS TO SAY ABOUT SET MO?
Sure. i-D called Set Mo “Australia’s most optimistic band… they love what they do and it shows.” Keeping with that theme, Triple J reckon “Set Mo do it all for the love … constantly trying new things and pushing the boundaries of the music they create … one listen to these guys will have you bopping in no time.” Under The Gun Review describes Set Mo as “a go-to source for emotionally-driven house”. Life Without Andy rightly claim “Set Mo are making a smooth ascension upwards in the music world thanks to their ability to perfectly occupy this intersection: exciting charts, clubs and chin-strokers all at once.”
WHAT ARE SET MO’S TOP INFLUENCES?
[In alphabetical order]: Basement Jaxx, Beer, Bespoke #Menswear, Booka Shade, Brian Eno, Burgers (like, they seriously love burgers, fully), Chemical Brothers, Classic late-1980s house, Disco, Groove Armada, Ibiza, Jamie XX, Moby, Pho, Sandalwood incense, Set Mo-jitos, Sneakers.
CAN THESE GUYS PLAY ‘REAL’ INSTRUMENTS?
Yup. Both played music in high school — Nick the sax, Stu the flute. In their adolescence, Nick was into hip-hop and Stu dug punk, but once they hit legal age and started clubbing, an abiding love for electronic / house music took hold.
DO SET MO HAVE ANY DARK SECRETS?
Not ‘dark’, no. And not really ‘secret’ either — though we hesitate to mention it, because the guys don’t do this stuff seeking philanthropic props. But both Nick and Stu have a really solid approach to ‘giving back’. When he’s not on tour, Nick does Meals On Wheels deliveries every Monday. Stu has a history of volunteering for Heaps Decent, an organization that works with young people and emerging artists from diverse communities, offering ongoing programs at juvenile justice centers, schools and indigenous communities. The duo also do an annual Christmas visit to homes for the elderly, where they sing carols, hang out and chat. All that may not make for as cool a muso promo bio story as drug-fuelled groupie orgies and biting the heads off bats, but… Nah, hang on — actually, it’s way cooler.