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Francis James: ‘To be original and yourself would be the best advice I can give someone’

Francis James is an emerging Electronic Music Artist & DJ originally from the Philadelphia and New York City areas now living in western Germany. He is an experienced veteran of the underground dance music world and no stranger to rocking out electronic music crowds.

Over the years he has worked in major nightclubs in Philadelphia, New York City, and Atlantic City where he was a Friday night resident at one of the biggest nightclubs in Philly in the late-1990’s (Egypt Nightclub). Many other guest DJ appearances soon followed in New York City, Atlantic City, Dallas, and Miami. In addition, he has been involved with countless DJ Expos including guest DJ Sets at the prestigious Winter Music Conference in Miami, and he has had countless radio shows that have been broadcasted worldwide on various internet radio stations under different DJ aliases.

He is also a music producer who has released some of his older productions on a global scale on platforms such as Beatport and Juno Records out of the UK to name a few, and in 2016, he had the opportunity to open for some of the biggest names in Electronic Dance Music such as Alex M.O.R.P.H. and one of Armin Van Buuren’s legendary trance singers–Susana from Amsterdam at the Tentorium in Germany.

In recent times, he has reinvented himself and has finally found the music that suits him best. His radio show entitled: Deep State Sessions is broadcasted on over six different radio stations throughout the world (Milan, Moscow, London, Brussels, & Amsterdam) and features his signature sounds of melodic progressive house music that have been earning him a reputation within the scene.

Lastly, he currently has a number of new productions that will be released worldwide in the coming months that promise to take the underground dance music world by storm. He is a dedicated artist that would take any lineup to the next level.

We caught up with Francis James to talk about his current musical projects.

Electronic Groove: Hello, Francis! Thank you so much for being here with us today. How are you holding up with the whole quarantine situation? Has this ordeal made you re-think about the future on a personal level?

Francis James: Well first off many thanks for having me. I have a lot of respect for your magazine, and I know it is pretty much a name brand within the electronic music scene, so thanks again for having me :) The corona situation has really been a frustrating one for me personally; however, it has allowed me to get focused again on production work, and also build myself up as an artist. I think the trick to it is using the time as wisely as possible and trying to think outside the box as much as possible while avoiding too much negativity. It is very easy to get wrapped up in it all, and we can all use some beautiful music to enlighten us a little bit these days. To be fair, I have certainly had many days scratching my head wondering where this is all going; however, I am trying to stay within the ‘here and now’, as we say. My primary focus has been my track productions, radio shows and simply trying to remain relevant in the scene at this point. As an emerging artist, or up and coming act, this situation has served only to motivate me, even more, to get out there as we say.

EG: Tell us a bit about your musical background. What are your first musical memories? What have been some of the artists that influenced you the most and why?

Francis James: Well, that goes all the back my first 12” – Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’. I would say from that point on I was hooked. Of course, through the years I pretty much lived at nightclubs. My first teen club was at the age of 13, and I was immediately hooked on dancing and electronic music. The next big club and major influence for me was a little known nightclub in a western suburb of Philadelphia called Pulsations. That venue was a state of the art nightclub, and to be honest, still may beat even the most modern nightclubs of today out as it was simply an incredible experience and venue. Most people have seen ‘Rocky 4’ with the robot, right?…well the robot was from the actual nightclub or at least a scale replica of it as I am not 100% sure…but the idea was taken from the club as it had a giant spaceship that would hover over the dance floor and this robot would come out of it. If memory serves me correct, I even saw the now late Erick Morillo there performing his smash hit— ‘I Like to Move It’ back in 1993, so it had a huge impact on me to say the very least. The resident DJ there pretty much took me under his wings and showed me the ropes concerning DJing, so it had a positive influence on me as an artist. I could go on and on, to be honest, as I spent a lot of time in nightclubs in Philadelphia and New York and met some really cool people throughout the years. In regards to major acts, Paul Oakenfold, Hernan Cattaneo, and Armin Van Buuren. They all had some influence on me as a DJ and Producer. I remember seeing them at Crobar in New York back in the day. These guys are all legends within the scene. I call them the ‘Madonnas of Djing’. They all knew the right people—right place—right time type of deal… and made the most out of it…so my hat is off to them. Most of these artists got their start when they were young. I am a little bit of a late-comer unfortunately—but better late than never right.

EG: We know you’re used to traveling and playing a lot. How do you envision the return to clubs and festivals?

Francis James: Unfortunately, the one word to describe this would be ‘slow’. I think between government restrictions, and even the crowds being reluctant to return will have an impact on this in general. It will also depend on what organizers can do to ‘make’ the public feel good about coming back while complying with local laws and regulations. From a dollars and sense point of view, it will be a challenging situation to say the very least, and I can easily see the entire COVID-19 situation changing the clubbing landscape. I mean the average nightclub has anywhere from a 1-5 year lifespan, to begin with, and that is if they are lucky nowadays, so with the entire virus situation, I can see a lot of venues simply closing their doors regrettably. It will take some innovation and vision to really move the situation forward in my opinion. The big promoters and huge acts will easily get through this situation as they have the credit and capital to do this; however, the small guys will go under, and even emerging artists such as myself have to be a little bit worried. Making music is great but there is also a business side to it which most people don’t talk about or fail to recognize. It costs money to get equipment and market yourself. This is not a business of hand-me-outs unfortunately unless you are lucky enough to have a major label backing you; however, as an independent artist, this becomes quite challenging. I hope that we can get things back to normal as quickly as possible. We simply all have to hope for the best while putting together viable plans that will keep everything moving.

EG: You’ve got a brand new upcoming release, ‘Invictus’, on So Deep Recordings. What’s the inspiration behind them? How do you usually work on your tracks?

Francis James: Some of Hernan Cattaneo’s tracks, or tracks he played in one of his sets, were my inspiration for ‘Invictus’ to be quite honest. I tend to pick an inspirational song for each track that I make which serves as a guidepost for me. It is really as simple as that. I tend to play around with different arrangements, sounds, and so forth to see what works. ‘Invictus’ was a combination of this. I did a lot of back and forth on it. The one thing about me is that I have ears, and I know what is good and what isn’t, so I am overly critical of my own work—actually too critical. I think I have like eight productions sitting in my DAW that I simply sat on for like three years. I am in the process of working on them and getting them released. For me, ‘Invictus’ is my best work to date, and I am pretty happy with the result. I can still find things in the track that I can personally critique still, but I am learning to simply go with it and let the music lovers decide its club worthiness, and so forth. The important thing for me at this stage in my career is that the track sounds good and is relatively respected within the scene. This would be a win for me at this point.

‘Making music is great but there is also a business side to it which most people don’t talk about or fail to recognize’

EG: Do you feel like you’ve found your sound? What makes it unique for you?

Francis James: That is a very interesting question. As a DJ I have definitely found my sound within the last year. Over the years I was a house DJ, then a trance DJ, and vice versa. I kind of flipped flopped around, to be honest; however, my home was always progressive house. Even going all the way back to 2005, which was a pretty good year for me from an artist point of view, I was playing all 12”, as I was still a vinyl junkie at the time and supporting tracks from the likes of Kasey Taylor and Perry O’Neil back then. I got away from this over time, but now I am back and pretty content with it. In regards to my productions, I have a pretty bad habit of making decent and cool tracks but are a little bit outside the genre of what I would normally play in a set, so my goal is to bring them a little bit more in line as I continue producing. Once the creativity sets in, I tend to make what I make, and if it is a little bit outside of the genre or sounding perhaps a little different, I go with it if I like the track. I remember something that Armin Van Buuren said— ‘if it sounds good and makes you move, it usually is good’, so I tend to go with this philosophy. Another thing is that music is very subjective. For one person the track will be banging, and for another, it won’t. You can only please yourself—and not the world, so I try to keep this in mind when producing.

EG: Diving into the studio…What’s your set up like? Do you have any new favorite gear?

Francis James: Well, I work with Logic Pro and also Ableton. I can’t say that I have a certain piece of equipment that I just simply love. Everything there serves a purpose, and it is a never-ending learning process. ‘Invictus’ was a two-month project for me. I know producers that can bang out a Top 10 Beatport track in literally three days; however, I am not one of them at this point. I am overly critical of my own work, and I am always trying to get each production to be its best. The last sets of productions I released were in 2015, and to be honest, they needed some additional work. But they are a part of me, and out there now, so we constantly have to learn and better ourselves. Producing is a learning process like riding a bike. Nobody wakes up one day and is a producer. So, I try to constantly learn the art and apply the techniques to my tracks.

EG: What are your plans for the rest of the year? Do you envisage a different landscape going forward?

Francis James: The shortest answer of the interview–lol —Keep doing what I am doing.

EG: You have quite an extensive career. What have been the hardest obstacles to overcome?

Francis James: The hardest obstacle is simply to remain relevant and get your name out there. This has not changed in the almost 30 years I have been in and out of the scene. Over the years I have had many lost opportunities, moments in time where I have completely been out of the scene entirely, and other times when I was playing in front of a large audience thinking how great everything was. I am at the point now where I am just going to push forward and see how far I can take it. It is a vision that I can follow and see where it goes. I learned a long time ago not to quit your day job, so I try not to put too much pressure on myself. Take one step at a time and see where the boat lands as we say, but with a good idea where one wants to be or you can simply drift, and that isn’t good either.

‘You can only please yourself and not the world, so I try to keep this in mind when producing’

EG: Times have changed and the music industry has grown and evolved exponentially. What advice can you give to those who are venturing into DJing and music production?

Francis James: Well, basically one word—perseverance. Don’t listen to the naysayers as there will be a million of them—including your girlfriend and parents ;) Even other DJs that are simply jealous of you will throw you under the bus very quickly, unfortunately. That said, I have to mention that there are plenty of other great and friendly artists out there as well; however, they all have their inner circles too, and if you are not part of them, it simply makes it a little bit more challenging as an artist to get where you want to be, so I would hope that anybody looking to get into the scene will recognize this. I always try to deal with everyone professionally no matter their background. This has been my motto from the very beginning. I really try to avoid the ‘I am better than this DJ’ game. The scene has enough of that, and for me, I simply do not have the time for it. It is more about the music and scene as a whole for me and forming good relationships. In regards to music production – educate yourself, and make what you like. Music comes from within – not everyone will like it. To be original and yourself would be the best advice I can give someone, and try to avoid having all the latest and best gear game as well. I know other producers that have half the set up I personally do and are making Top 10 Beatport tracks, so it is not all about gear.

EG: Thank you so much for your time, Francis! It’s been a pleasure. We wish you the best going forward!

Francis James: Yes, you too, and many thanks for having me again. I hope to see you all again very soon, and many thanks for the support in regards to my latest track—stay safe everyone!

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