Its somewhat fitting that when I meet with Francis Inferno Orchestra its on one of those all too rare life-affirmingly sunny London mornings. Listening to his debut album ‘A New Way Of Living’, released recently on Voyeurhythm, its hard not to visualise scenes similar to the one that we’re faced with in Hackney’s Broadway Market that day. Seven tracks in length, its a record built from lush sampled piano arrangements, delicate string parts and battered MPC drum beats-with just the slightest injection of Acid applied to add the occasional curve-ball. A coalescence of his sound thus far, the record marks the end of the first chapter of the young Australian’s burgeoning career.
Debuting on British Disco label Under The Shade back in 2010, subsequent years have seen the producer-born Griffin James, carve out an especially luxuriant niche for himself thanks to releases for labels around the world. It was during that time he also began to realise that despite his hometown of Melbourne’s many perks-it was decidedly lacking in opportunities for young artists such as himself. Resolving to move abroad, James and his girlfriend made their preparations and a little under a year ago they relocated to London. Its a move that so far couldn’t have worked out better-save for a couple of hitches at Heathrow customs. “Basically they thought I was trying to sneak into the UK illegally, because I used a permit that was still valid but I’d already used it before (laughs)…they put me in this little room where all you get is vending machine tea and a couple of apples!”. As a fan of lowest common denominator Australian immigration reality programme, ‘Nothing To Declare’, I can’t resist drawing a parallel with the show and James’ own tale. Thankfully he appreciates the reference. “Its my absolute favorite TV show!”, he replies-although he’s keen to point out his countrymen’s English counterparts are just as bad, “We fly 24 hours to go on an English holiday and they treat us like that as well -so it goes two ways!”.
Immigration delays aside, the move has been nothing but a positive one for James. Spurred on by a change of scenery, he’s enjoyed a level of productivity that had previously eluded him at home. “Australia just liked sucked all my creativity from me-its such a dull place in a lot of ways. It’s so safe. You just live this kind of anticipated life, you go to school, you go to uni, you live with your parents until you finish and then you go get the job, then you go get the wife get married and get a house.” The Big Smoke meanwhile has served to provoke James out of this stupor and into a renewed vigor that renders his choice of album title all the more appropriate. “I feel like now that I’m here I need to do this seriously. I’m surrounded by lots of cool creative people, I feel like here there’s such a grind, you’ve always gotta be doing lots of shit.”
Primarily written in London, ‘A New Way Of Living’ displays the results of James’ recent acquisition of an MPC-a development that sees him expressing his love of sample-driven Hip-Hop in ways hitherto unexplored. James is quick to highlight the way in which producers such as J Dilla sample, “the most random things like and makes it sounds so like haunting and kind of weird”, as being something he aspires to, with his pursuit of this quality leading him on crate digging missions around some of London’s lesser known record spots. Although the fruits of these trips often resulted in James finding sample ready gems, he was keen not to simply plop them in his tunes. “I’d find like a chord of a song where it was like a quarter of a second of a chord and I’d somehow make it into a keystroke thing. It was more dynamic sampling than just nicking something and dropping it in.”
Its this approach that has helped him stand out from the crowd amongst the legions of producers operating at lower BPMs in House music. Although he has several well received dancefloor weapons already under his belt, James paid little heed to club functionality on the album-preferring to aim for selection of tracks that could be listened to “…the whole way through”. He’s personally intrigued to see how DJ’s adapt to play the unquantised drums on the record, noting that “…even the two songs that I think are the most club friendly sound like a bit of a struggle to play.” This potential lack of functionality on the record’s tracks is a worthwhile sacrifice in James’ quest to craft a fulfilling home listen-something which is frequently neglected by those producing electronic music LP’s. Bookended by the sunrise/sunset affectations of ‘First Light’ and ‘G.A.B.O.S’, the album has a subtly deliberate sequencing that incorporates an entertaining level of stylistic detours into its relatively short running time. “I just liked the idea of having a 7 song thing that has a start, goes through a bit of experimenting and then finishes off.”
The album’s brevity would perhaps be an issue were it not for the range displayed in several tracks, most notably ‘Watching The Stars’, which takes in homespun Chicago Acid, sensual vintage string samples and drum breakdowns a-la Madlib in tribal freakout mode across six minutes and three distinct suites. This variety was music to the ears of Voyeurhythm label head Tyson Ballard, who allowed James “…total creative control” on what was to be his and the label’s first foray into the album format. That creative control extended to allowing James to slip in a few personal jokes on to the track titles, including the aforementioned ‘G.A.B.O.S’. An acronym for ‘Game Ain’t Based On Sympathy’, its cribbed from the impossibly cold mantra relayed in Louis Theroux’s documentary on Miami’s prison system, and serves as a shout to all his friends over on the other side of the world. “We always used to hang out with each other in a group and just be like ‘G.A.B.O.S’ and just like ‘yuh yuh’ (laughs) with each other and it was always just a bit of a joke….its kind of funny me being like this suburban white kid from Australia talking about jail terms.”
Although the record has only just dropped, James has already got his eye on the bigger picture. Considering, ‘A New Way Of Living’ as “..a prologue to another album”, there is definitely sense that his career is only in the first stages of its arc. As a diversion from his FIO moniker, James has also joined forces with Ballard to start up a limited release Techno sub label, ‘BBW’. Adopting the alias of ‘Deepthroat’ for the project, he’s churned out some impressively hard machine funk that’s as danceable as is it is troublesome to Google. Put out with the assistance of Serge from Amsterdam’s Clone Records, the third in the series is likely due shortly, with James receiving positive feedback from the likes of Ostgut Ton boss Nick Hoppner on his dabble into the often ashen faced world of Techno. Done with a sense of humour and a whole heap of talent-the series of tracks might sound worlds away from James’ usual style, but they too contain all that make him such an intriguing proposition.
‘A New Way of Living’ is out now on Voyeurhythm. Buy it here.
Interview: Christian Murphy
Photography: Alexander McBride Wilson