“My old manager sent one of my songs to Diplo, and I just hit him up on Twitter,” says Dillon Francis about his start as a professional DJ. At only 27, Dillon Francis is touted as the pioneer of moombathon music (a cross between slowed down house music and reggaeton). A native Angeleno, Francis lived in L.A. his whole life except for the two months he spent interning for Dallas Austin in Atlanta, which marked the start of his musical pursuits. After the internship, he made an ultimatum with his parents: he’d make music for a year and if that didn’t work out, he’d return to school. The next thing he knew, he’s having a beer and watching the Phillies game with Diplo. “Diplo was like, ‘Hey man. That was awesome. Where do you live? LA? Oh, come to my studio… I was just like, ‘Oh my god. I’m having a beer with Diplo!’ It was so surreal.” In 2012, Francis’s EP Something, Something, Awesome became the first moombahton release to have the number one slot on Beatport’s Top 5 Releases Chart.
Since signing on with Columbia and Mad Decent Records, Francis has performed at some of the world’s most popular music festivals including Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, TomorrowWorld and Electric Zoo. His official debut album, Money Sucks, Friends Rule was released on October 27th, 2014. Dillon recently kicked off his “Friends Rule” tour, which began November 17th and runs through a January date at Barclays Center in New York. In addition to the tour, Francis released a new EP of remixes for his song “When We Were Young” (from the album) with Sultan & Ned Shepard. While performing in New York, Francis stopped by The Untitled Magazine for a chat us. Check out the exclusive interview with Dillon Francis below.
Indira Cesarine: How did you get into music? What was the impetus?
Dillon Francis: I was always into music. I grew up listening to pop music. 102.7 KISS FM — that’s what I listened to until I was like 13. Then I met my friend Dean, who was my best friend. He started showing me a lot of pop-punk stuff. Just a lot of weird music. He introduced me to Fischerspooner. He introduced me to Dead Kennedys. He introduced me to The Smiths. He introduced me to of Montreal. There were just all these different types of bands. I was never really interested in DJing or electronic music growing up, until I think around 18. My friend played me this remix that The Bloody Beetroots did of a song called “Seek and Destroy” by Metallica. They made this remix that was hard… I guess [it was] house-techno-y. I don’t really know how to explain what it was but I thought it was amazing. So then I just dove into that world. I found out about Crookers and Rusko. Rusko was the real reason that I wanted to start producing music. When I heard his stuff, I really wanted to recreate the bass noises that he was making. So I ended up moving to Atlanta and worked with my friend Cory Enemy for two months. I interned at Dallas Austin’s studio (where he was working) and just sat there and watched him everyday. I slept in his dining room on a blow up mattress for two months.
IC: That’s so cool. I love that. So that evolved into eventually working with Diplo?
DF: Yes. After that I moved back into my parents’ house and told them I was going to work on music for a year. If I didn’t make anything of it, then I would go back to college. I was at [Santa Monica] Community College and didn’t like it at all.
IC: What were you studying?
DF: In high school I was doing photography, because I went to art school. I was doing general ed stuff when I went to Santa Monica Community College.
IC: Boring crap?
DF: Just the most boring crap ever. That’s also why I dropped out. I was like, I’m just gonna go intern for this stuff. I’d rather do that instead of going to school and wasting my money. I’d rather be making money and learning the craft that I really love. So I stayed in my back house for a year and didn’t really go out or do anything. Then my old manager sent one of my songs to Diplo and I just hit him up on Twitter. Diplo was like, ‘Hey man. That was awesome. Where do you live? LA? Oh, come to my studio.’ That day I went to his studio and hung out with him. We watched the Phillies lose. I remember the Phillies game that we watched downstairs in the bar. I was just like, ‘Oh my god. I’m having a beer with Diplo!’ It was so surreal.
IC: And that was the beginning of your collaboration, right?
DF: Well, I’m here.
IC: So did you get signed?
DF: Not straight away. I kind of forced my music upon them and was like, ‘Hey, I wanna do an EP.’ They just wanted a single of these two songs. They wanted to do an A and B-side. [I was like,] I’ll do two more, and we can release them and have an EP. And they were like, ‘Okay, well we don’t really want to…okay, yeah, I guess we do.’ I became one of the artists after Rusko to put out at Mad Decent as a moombahton artist and it just went from there. It was really funny how everything kind of started up. I remember going to London; I had switched managers. I started working with this guy, Kevin Kusatsu. I really wanted to go to London and play over there. He was like, how about you–excuse my French– how about you buy a fucking ticket and go over there and figure it out? I was like, oh! I’d asked him to help me figure it out and he was like, how about you just do it yourself and figure it out. And I did, which was the best thing he could have ever done, because I ended up staying at my friend Kito’s place and then at my friend Two Inch Punch’s. These are just producers that I met online. Kito was on Mad Decent and Two Inch Punch knew Kevin. Kevin had introduced us through email, so they let me crash on their couches. I think I stayed there for two weeks until I went on tour with Diplo. I opened for him all across Europe, which was bad. I mean, it was good because it was like—you’re here to pay your dues—I was playing for like 10 people at the beginning of the night, and all these people would show up right as I was going off.
IC: It’s a good way to break in, if you’re a newbie, right?
DF: Yeah, it’s what you’ve got to do. It was fantastic. It was a good way to start everything. It just made me hungrier. Seeing how many people were at my thing and how many people were at his—that was what I was going to go for.
IC: Yeah, definitely would make you hungrier. And so, obviously you’re known for making moombahton music, what is that exactly?
DF: Moombahton comes from reggaeton. There’s this song called “Moombah.” This guy Dave Nada slowed down the song “Moombah” which was remixed by Afrojack. It was at 108 bpm [beats per minute] and it was at a skipping party. [A skipping party] is this thing in DC that they do, where they’ll go and buy 40s, find someone’s basement to go to, and drink the 40s while listening to music. So they had a skipping party and Dave had all this music that was 128 bpm house stuff. He was with a bunch of his Mexican friends who didn’t listen to that. He was like, these records are so cool, I wonder if I could play them. He decided to slow them down, and right when he did that, it [moombahton] was born. Then he put out an EP of these edits, where they just slowed down the songs, online. This guy, Munchi found out about it and found the edit pack that Dave had made. Munchi had been trying to figure out a way to infuse house music with reggaeton, because growing up, his mom had the biggest wealth of knowledge for all the different types of music within reggaeton and bachata. I forgot what the other one was called…well, she had CD collections and just so much music that Munchi used to sample. When he found the stuff that Dave did, he made an EP with the coolest music ever. His old music still influences Diplo and I. We think he’s one of the best producers in the world but he’s somewhere in Rotterdam, lost. We can’t even get in touch with him. He went through something where he had a blood clot in his head, or he was hit in the head somewhere or something… but he had an aneurysm while he was in Hawaii. No one really knows the real story, but he had to be in the hospital and we raised money for him. He’s sort of fine now. He’s making music now, but he’s completely… no one can get in touch with him.
IC: So you guys worked with him on the sound? Or how exactly did that relationship evolve?
DF: Wes had found out about him before I did. Munchi had sent me a message on Soundcloud. That’s how I found out about him. He was like, ‘Hey we mixed the same song!’ I listened to his and his was 10 times better and cooler than mine. I started listening to all the stuff that he had, and I saw that he had Moombahton in the genre. I listened to the songs and became obsessed with them. I didn’t even know what tempo they were at. I found out what they were and thought, I’m going to start making this. And I started making it. I heard about Munchi before I met Diplo. Munchi was kind of the one who inspired me to make the stuff that turned into my EP. We had tried to work with him before that whole thing happened to his brain but he was such a character. Because what he used to do was just get 40s, drank in the studio, and worked on his own stuff. He was kind of crazy.
IC: Definitely thinking outside the box. He was creative, and obviously, that resonated with you. Do you continue to work with that kind of rhythm in your music now?
DF: Yeah, yeah. I still do a lot of stuff at 110. I’m starting to bring back that old sound because a lot of my fan base wants it back…
IC: What is it about EDM that you like?
DF: I don’t know. I just got into it because of that first song. No one’s making good punk music anymore. When I heard someone remix “Seek and Destroy”—I loved Metallica— it was a way that opened up an area of music that is ever-evolving. You can’t do anarchy shit after. That doesn’t work anymore.
IC: It’s great to have a new take on it. So you’ve been playing a lot of festivals. Were there any this year that stood out?
DF: Yeah. Coachella. That was my favorite one ever!
IC: They have great sound stage for their EDM performances…
DF: Yeah. Well, I had also just gotten signed to Columbia. Rob and Ashley were there and they had never seen me play live. It was really cool to meet up with them after the show. Everyone was super stoked on the project. It was just cool to be a part of the family of the record label.
IC: Yeah, that’s really exciting. Coachella’s a good set up. That tent, for some reason the sound is better there than anywhere else. Don’t you think?
DF: Yeah, we have our sound guys. It could be because it’s in the tent. It’s covered.
IC: Yeah. It really helps to contain the sound. I don’t know why they don’t do that with more of the areas there.
DF: That’s what Skrillex decided. He totally could have played main stage and I think they asked him to, but he wanted to play in the Sahara tent because of that reason.
IC: Yeah because of the sound and the lights… Do you have any festivals coming up?
DF: I’m doing a bunch of the Mad Decent Block Parties and then I have my Fall tour in November. November 17th to January 16th. It’s just in North America right now. I think in 2015 we’re going to try to bring it over to Europe, because I’m touring with this big thing called the Gary.
IC: What is that?
DF: It’s this big Aggro Crag looking, global Guts type of thing. It’s made from Frank Gehry’s design of the Disney Opera House in LA. We kind of just did our interpretation of it for the live set up and it looks really cool.
IC: So is it like a moving sort of thing that you bring on the stage?
DF: It’s just these panels. So there are different ones… they look like buildings [and] kind of sway to the side. Then there’s an LED screen behind it and video guide maps to each of the little crevices, so [that] video is presented through those little holes–just all the content for all the songs. We have different content for each of the songs.
IC: Amazing. So tell me about your debut album, Money Sucks, Friends Rule. How did you come up with that name? It’s a great name!
DF: Haha, I was taking a shower. When I’m in the shower my brain is like everywhere. I’m either thinking about Instagram videos that I want to make or I’m thinking about music that I want to make or I’m thinking about t-shirt ideas–and that’s what it was. It was a t-shirt idea first for ‘money sucks, friends rule’ and I told my manager. We got the t-shirt made and around that time, I needed to come up with an album name, and the t-shirt wasn’t out. And he was like, hey why don’t we name the album “Money Sucks, Friends Rule.” I was like, ‘Oh my god. That’s ten times better than just making a t-shirt of it.’ So that’s what we decided to do.
IC: You already had the song “Get Low,” which is from that album. Was that the first major track you released from the album?
DF: Yeah, that was the first major single that we’ve had from it. The next one is “When We Were Young,” the song that I did with Sultan & Ned Shepard and The Chain Gang of 1974.
IC: That’s a cool name. Are there any other collabs on the album that we should look out for?
DF: Yeah, there’s one with Brendon Urie from Panic! At The Disco. There’s one with Twista and The Rej3ctz. There’s one with Martin Garrix and The Presets from Australia. I think that’s about it. And then some solo stuff that’s just Dillon Francis-y.
IC: So what’s your favorite track that you’ve done so far?
DF: My favorite one is a song called “Hurricane” that’s on the album. It released on October 28th, then “Love In the Middle of a Firefight” with Brendon Urie. Also because, Panic! At the Disco is one of my favorite bands.
IC: I’m just curious, where were you born?
DF: I was born and raised in LA. I have only lived outside of LA for 2 months, which was in Atlanta.
IC: Do you still live in LA? What part of LA do you live in?
DF: Yeah. On like Fairfax and Melrose. I grew up in Westwood and then kind of kept migrating with my parents until I moved out. Then I moved to downtown for like two years, and it was awful. I hated it. Arts District is okay. I can deal with it. I just love Central LA so much. I’m so used to being over there, and I know all the places to eat…
IC: What’s your favorite restaurant?
DF: The Little Door. So good. Best steak!
IC: So tell me about your tattoos?
DF: So this is an artist that I really like. His name’s Sung Song. He’s from the Valley. He works at this place called Unbreakable, and I just went in. He had done one on my friend’s arm. So I went in and was like, ‘Hey man. I want you to do art on my arm. I have some ideas.’ I was trying to make him add on to these pieces, because I wanted to do a whole scene here. He was like, ‘Look man. I don’t really add on. How about you go get those removed, and I can work on your other arm until after they’re removed but we’ll work on the left one right now.’
IC: Is it hard to get them removed?
DF: Um, it hurts a lot.
IC: Can they do it pretty convincingly?
DF: Yeah, this one’s pretty light for what it was. This one’s taking way longer but it is lighter than it was. What happens is they just start disintegrating into your blood stream.
DF: It must be really good for you… Especially with the laser penetrating my skin. This one, I just told him I wanted a bird, because I really liked the birds that he did. He made this and I told him to put a top hat on it. This one, I wanted to get a grim reaper that had a feather sickle, because I used to have nightmares that E.T. would tickle me to death. I had them for like two years and my mom can vouch for that. It was pretty bad. There was one where it was E.T. and Chucky from Child’s Play that ganged up on me!
IC: Oh my god!
DF: Tickle match–
IC: So funny! That’s hysterical. I guess that’s where you get your highly creative, imaginative sensibility. I’ve noticed that on your social media channels, you have a great sense of humor with your work.
DF: I’ve just always been a jokester type of person, I always liked making people laugh…if they like my jokes! I don’t take myself too seriously. I like to have fun!
Interview and photos by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine