At a time when dance music can often be found taking itself just a little too seriously, Dillon Francis has proven a welcome industry jester. Under the watchful eye of Diplo, this moombahton poster boy-turned-audacious pop remixer has taken Coachella and the internet by storm, suggesting that a sharp sense of humor and a sound lapped up from LA to London can be a saving grace in times of vast saturation.
With an album in the oven and a long-overdue European stint stealing him from a high-profile streak on the North American circuit, Francis sat down with Beatport News in London to talk album mongering, being the class clown of his own career, and the hardships of losing your luggage at the outset of a landmark European tour.
2013 has been mercilessly busy for you thus far. What’s the vibe six months down the line?
Had you asked me if I would be remixing guys like Justin Timberlake and Passion Pit in 2013 last year, I would have just laughed. Yet here I am, with two cool remixes behind me and the focus now falling on my album. I am hoping to finish that in the next month or two, so, needless to say, between the touring, that is taking a considerable amount of my time.
Your decision to go for an album so relatively early in the game has surprised a few fans, to say the least. Do you agree that in the current market, the full-length platform can be a hit-or-miss affair?
Truthfully? No! I do think it is a tainted format, but it holds its corner. When someone does an album, it’s a statement. I could be a photographer and I could sell a bunch of stuff online, but when you have a gallery opening, it’s very authoritative of your ability. It’s like saying, “I have enough content that you can appreciate as being a cohesive sitting.” I wanted to make a cohesive body of work and then say, “Okay, we did it—now back to singles.”
There is no denying you have garnered a lot of attention at a rapid pace. Has it ever been tough to balance it all, and does the prospect of commercial visibility, or say, a Blackberry commercial, motivate you?
[Laughs] There is no question about it—I am going to do a Blackberry commercial. I have re-enacted Diplo’s advert to try and get a taste of that thrill on YouTube, but my time will come. On a serious note, though, I have always loved having attention, just because I used to be the class clown. I do that in general life and to that extent I always feel like the class clown of my career. It makes the alleged fame all the more human.
Your sense of humor has been a welcome relief to many. Has it proven an essential asset to have at your mercy under the circumstances?
I definitely need that sense of humor. Like now, where I am sitting here in the same shirt as I landed in, with no idea where my stuff is. I still don’t believe I don’t have my luggage. I am still fine being in the same shirt for three days, but give it a week and the humor will be gone. Doing what I do allows for a lot of unfunny stuff; sometimes you rely on the humor to make it tolerable.
Having cut your teeth in the LA club circuit, how valuable a starting place was North America to your career?
Starting out in LA was good for me. It’s crazy, because I never thought it would get to this point. I never saw me doing an interview for Beatport in a hotel room in London. London was a dream of mine. I would see it on TV, where all the cool rave scenes in films were filmed in London. My dream was to make music and DJ a couple of clubs in LA. The fact I was from there and that it wasn’t so saturated at the time definitely helped, but I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. It just went from a few clubs to a bunch of clubs and festivals.
Where do you sit on the argument that with time, saturation has taken the dance music community by storm?
To be fair, everything is saturated. People can say that dance music is super-saturated, but I come from being a photographer’s assistant—which is an immensely saturated and oversubscribed job. The thing that really happens is that if you can make music that is true to yourself that stands out, it works. That so-called saturation brings out the best of a certain industry and defines the true leaders.
Despite being the poster boy for moombahton, your sound has seldom stuck to one repetitive theme. Is it fair to say that genre boundaries are not of a huge concern to you?
I hate genre boundaries. I think people should just make good music. The main thing is to master what you make and create it correctly in an honest vein. If it’s good, then it will float; if it’s bad, people won’t go for it. But seriously, I hate genres so much. My taste of music is endless and it is easy to forget that I am a DJ by trade. In the earlier days, I would play ’90s hip-hop nights and I cut my teeth on the popular nights in LA. You had to be eclectic to keep it alive and fun.
In terms of the sudden swell of attention that met moombahton, did you ever fear being pigeonholed along the way?
There has always been a fear of being pigeonholed. It was cool to be “the moombahton artist,” but I want to make music that is both interesting and inspiring. That is was happened at the time. I heard other people like Flosstradamus doing similar stuff and I was able to start making it my own and that much more personal. I want to keep doing that forever—become inspired, study it ceaselessly, and make it correctly whilst not pissing anyone off.
Tonight we are in London—a city that must offer a nice variation to the bottle-centric culture currently sweeping North America. How does Europe measure up to your homeland?
I am so glad there is not so much of a big bottle-service culture here. My favorite thing about Europe is that everyone is dressed in a collared shirt or a suit and tie. Don’t get me wrong—I think it’s cool there are niches in America, but here it is like looking at a crowd of myself—and that’s before I have printed my face out and handed them around the crowd. Both continents are awesome, though. I can play so much different music in Europe. I can play minimal techno stuff and Disclosure in the same sets and it gets an equally warm reception. I love that. This is where dance music really came from and it’s a thrill to be able to play obscure and awesome music that I love. Quite often they don’t know what the songs are in the States, so there isn’t that immediate reaction. In my opinion, the UK is more open to hearing new stuff; America just isn’t quite as hungry. They want familiarity or someone to be talking to them along the way.
You have not shied away from remixing a lot of pop artists along the way. Do you approach the commercial market with a particular vision or mission in mind?
The formula is simple: I have to really love and believe in the song. Those guys have all been respective icons in my eyes whose work I adored in one way or another. Even when I remixed Cher Lloyd, who turned out to be a real cheesy act in the UK, I found some redeeming qualities that some people would like. Luckily, I got away with it, but generally I don’t care about backlash—people are going to hate somewhere along the line. If I’m happy, I will remix it.
There seems to be a cursed trend for festival favorites such as yourself where the tour schedule starts interrupting the studio time. Has this been a concern for you?
It feels like I am more used to playing festivals now and they are just so much fun. Coachella was the greatest experience ever, and the more big festivals I play, the more I find myself sold on them and their distracting nature. Trying to find time to make music on the road is always a challenge. Last year I toured real hard and this year has been the same. Finding time to sleep and make new music is tough. I try to start the year by hitting the ground running, but I struggled to adjust one song on this whole tour. When I am home I will finish five songs, but it is harder now to fit these things in, let alone find inspiration on the road.
In terms of your career, is there a bigger picture towards which you are aiming?
I just want career stability. That is going to be a hard one in this industry, but it is making me think much more clearly about the footsteps and decisions I make.
How is the remainder of 2013 looking, aside from the rigorous legwork behind your debut album?
I have a song with Martin Garrix called “Set Me Free” coming soon, and then a release with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs set to drop around mid-June. There are some other collaborations with DJ Snake and then one with The Cataracs, plus a lot of new ones coming that I have to keep in the bag for the time being. Away from releases, buying a house would be good. The major accomplishment for me will be finishing this album and putting it out.
Photo via Spin