Francois Dillinger live @ Missing Faces Detroit Art Installation, Andy Art Center (Detroit, USA) © Kassie Hyde

Detroit-based Electro artist Francois Dillinger, author of some of the most sought after tunes in the scene at the moment, is in his own right, a bit of a trailblazer of sorts. Crafting a very unique style that seems to take the best elements of hard music; whether it be Industrial, Metal, or just straight up dark eerie Electro, and fusing these with some of the more profound aspects of Science Fiction, the results are a sound that is as much familiar to long-time followers of Electro, as it is a breath of fresh air.

As one of the most distinctive artists to come forth out of the highly prolific (and historic) Detroit scene, Francois Dillinger has already proliferated his uncanny approach to many labels around the world, everyone from Electronic Leatherette, to Crobot Muzik, iK7, Dionysian Mysteries, and most recently Specimen Records out of the UK, have been pumping out his massive tunes over the past couple of years with no sign of slowing down.

In this interview with Electric Kingdom, Francois Dillinger discusses his new vinyl album MINDFRAME: Cycles, not to mention the wild transhumanist concepts behind it all, as well as his experience honing his skills in the Detroit area, and how that has in turn shaped his sound as one of the most popular Electro artists currently around.

Electric Kingdom: Let's talk about your new album first, "MINDFRAME: Cycles", recently published on Specimen Records. This seems to be perhaps your best work yet, and one with a really interesting concept; especially given the times we are in, and the push for Transhumanism everywhere that we are seeing, primarily by entities like the World Economic Forum.

Talk a little about the inspiration for the new record. Are you an advocate of Transhumanist ideas perhaps? Any musical influences that affected the end result of the sound?

Francois Dillinger: The album is certainly an evolution, and speaks to where I was at the time of writing it. I’m always inspired by ideas exploring the inflection points of humanity and time - everything from ancient civilizations and spiritual technologies, to ideas that explore the convergence of machines with human consciousness and biology.

In the case of MINDFRAME, I took a fascination with what the world might look like if we came out on the other side of widely adopted integrations of artificial intelligence. It entertains the outcomes from centuries of human enhancements, giving way to weaponized methods of behavioral control. I wrote the album from within the view of a future revolutionary who began a battle to regain the power of human consciousness.

My most listened to music in 2019 and 2020 was Hans Zimmer. I think that explains where my soul was in those two very challenging years. I’d listen to Hans Zimmer on repeat while I worked my 9-5. Combine that with the fact that when I’m not listening to electronic music I’m flirting with Dark Trap, Classic Hip-Hop, Jazz, DnB, Ambient, Folk, and whatever else gets me out of my head, and into album writing. Ultimately, I wanted to go somewhere with this album, even if I was the only one going. When I put this record on, I can still travel to that place.

Very interesting, you have some very complex ideas and concepts about your music, and perhaps a lot of that comes from your eclectic taste in music in general. Seems you are influenced by far more than what people would think!

So it sounds like you were driven to Electro in particular by its dark Sci-Fi aesthetics. Who are some key influences for you, and when did your journey in Electro begin? What do you consider special about the sound?

I just love Sci-Fi and something about Electro has, and always will, sound futuristic to me. It’s an interesting concept to play into as a producer, and can (for me at least) bring up all sorts of crazy interplanetary/alien/technology scenarios to write music about.

I started DJ’ing in 2000. Back then I was really driven by the Baron himself – Dave Clarke. I found the idea of toggling between Techno and Electro very appealing, but leaned most heavily into the sounds of Electro and Breaks. Being involved in what was happening musically in Detroit took me into the hands of Drexciya, Aux88, Ectomorph and others for inspiration. I was collecting records as fast as I could back then, and found myself spending all sorts of money I didn’t have. That said, the shop owner shared a love for Electro and would get records specifically for me in the early days. I owe my love of digging to that guy, my curiosity for the sound really grew during those years!

What has always remained special to me about it is that Electro has been immune to external forces and trends within electronic music. It’s largely remained unchanged in ethos and aesthetic over the 20+ years I’ve come to love it. There are core members of the sound that are still present, active, and thriving within the greater Electro community.

The fact that all these legendary titans of the sound are still inspired by it, and keep making music, says something to me about the state of it versus other sounds. Combine that with a whole new generation of producers coming into the genre fresh, taking cues from the Electro handbook, but delivering something that sounds like what the future’s future might.

Francois Dillinger - MINDFRAME: Cycles (2021) © Specimen Records

Very true. The ethos of the Electro scene is definitely something to admire! What about music in general then? Your taste is very eclectic, and you seem to be influenced by many things.

When did music in general become a big deal for you in life, and who would be some specific non-Electro influences that catapulted you to pursue a career with it later on?

Music was always a part of my life growing up, I took to it right away at least as a fan. My parents were very into music, had eclectic taste, loved to go to concerts, and put music in front of me every chance they had. Most of my memories growing up have a soundtrack. I played trumpet, then guitar, some synthesizers while trying my hands in a few different bands, all of which were pretty bad. Nothing beat getting cut from the high school talent show for trying out with our cover of a Marilyn Manson song.

I spent a period obsessed with Industrial and different flavors of Metal, then made my way into Hip-Hop. Ultimately, I found my way back to Electronic Music through Breaks, compliments of a friend that moved to my rural Michigan high school from Florida during my senior year.

When I search for new music or am writing in the studio, I think there’s a part of me that subconsciously searches for that feeling I had the first few times I heard Electro in those early years. I love my Techno and House as much as the next person, but I don’t get as disgustingly excited about other types of music as I do when I hear a really remarkable Electro track. It just clicks for me in a way that gives me access to my entire musical timeline.

Electro definitely has a very unique allure to it. I think that was the bait most of us took long ago! It seems to speak kinda deeply and on many layers.

So talk about Detroit for a minute. It is obviously one of the core influential places for Electronic Music around the world, and most certainly for Electro. Are you a native of the area? What is it like coming up as an artist there? Is it a particularly competitive scene?

I’m actually not from Detroit. I cut my teeth there as a DJ, promoter, and dancefloor fanatic, and had been going there for industrial shows since the mid 90’s. My wife and I have lived there twice, but currently live about an hour away in a more rural area close to family. We make the trip a number of times each month to stay actively engaged in the art and music scene, and we work with a couple local labels by supporting them with artwork and content. When we say we are Detroit artists, we truly mean it despite our physical address, yet still our plan is to return to the city in the very near future as permanent residents.

It seems that the scene in Detroit is burgeoning with a lot of potential, with a lot of it coming from newer promoters alongside the core staple of crews and usual suspects of club venues. There’s a mix of heads and younger partykids all hungry for a different experience, so the scene is ultimately stretched pretty thin with a fair amount of events happening each weekend. There’s definitely a mix of clubs bringing in larger names, as well as the off-broadway warehouse gatherings. Pretty much everything revolves around the main annual festival and the local company that throws it, Paxahau. The city and the music scene has really been hungry for that to return in 2022 after two years without it.

The interesting thing about your sound is that it does not have that obvious influence of Detroit Electro that a lot of artists can often have. However, I am sure it is also safe to assume that artists from the city have affected you as a musician as well. Who would be some key Detroit influences for you?

Drexciya. Next question…… I’m joking, sort of!

Detroit is part of all Detroit artists, it’s impossible to operate within the city for any length of time, and not soak in all the artistic history and weight. One of my biggest heroes coming up in Detroit was Keith ‘K1’ Tucker and his AUX88 work during my Electro upbringing. Having him do a remix for my album on Diffuse Reality earlier this year was nothing short of a dream come true. Another Detroit legend on that same release is Detroit’s Filthiest. If you love Electro, you cannot keep him off the list of most prolific producers in the genre.

The biggest influences of mine are probably the entire Interdimensional Transmissions crew, led by BMG and Erika—aka Ectomorph. I remember finding a copy of IT001 in my record shop, and going to test it out and immediately knowing I’d scored the mother lode. I was hooked, granted it was a different duo then, but the IT crew have been able to carry a very specific attitude in their music throughout time. Their events, their ethos, and musical intelligence is an inspiring exchange to witness from any distance.

Lastly, I have to give a nod to my man, Dj Di’jital, who like the others has been holding it down at a high level for what feels like forever. Consider the output he’s had, the labels he’s been on over his career, yet never resting – releasing alongside Anthony Rother this year on Mechatronica, appearing regularly on Trust, and coming hot with new material on UR. No Electro list is complete without his sound, Detroit or otherwise.

I could go on, outside of these Detroit icons there’s so many potent locals coming up and playing a talented long-game in all sorts of genres. To that point though, there’s not many people making Electro, it’s very Techno and House dominated here. You can find it though, and there are DJ's supporting the sound too, but it’s a rarity.

Francois Dillinger in his studio in Michigan, USA © Ashley Worden

Alright, let's dive into a little studio talk. What's a day in the studio like for you? Are you more inclined to use hardware or software? Both perhaps? How does a song begin for you usually, with rhythm or a melody?

These days my studio time has been pretty minimal. We moved into a new house and had to completely rebuild my studio, which took a little longer than expected and the inspiration to write took even longer to return. But my schedule is usually a few nights a week after our son goes to bed, and a long night or two on a weekend. If I’m in a groove I can finish at least 2 tracks per week at that rate.

I have gone through many phases of tools, but am primarily all hardware based at the moment. I do use a fair amount of VST effects, and do all of my final arranging and mixing within the Ableton environment. I tend to trade parts of my studio out regularly, seemingly always in search of the best possible combinations of sounds and workflow enhancers. Currently my studio consists of an Avalon Bassline, Dreadbox Typhon, Elektron Digitone, Division Department 01/1v, Elektron Analog Rytm, Erica Synths LXR-02, Arturia Polybrute, Sequential Pro-3, Hydrasynth, and a handful of modular and semi-modular stuff like the DFAM which I could never possibly part with.

I often start with sound design in mind and will work on a patch until I find something that turns into the foundation for a bassline, a rhythmic effect, a pad or any non-percussive element. Once I have that I might not even write a pattern with it, but will start on some basic drums and find a way to work the sound around the drums. If I do this for some time and nothing happens, I usually start over in reverse and dial in a drum groove I really like without caring too much about the finality of the drum sounds themselves. I always end up changing or editing the drums pretty heavily from what I lay down first in this method.

On the album track ‘Meditative State’, I only used my modular setup to create the entire track. I had to track everything one part at a time. That one started with a kick and bass both out of the Michigan Synth Works Sy0.5 Syncussion Clone. I haven’t done another track like this since, but strangely it happened to be one of my favorite tracks from the album and came together very quickly. I’m currently rebuilding my modular case so I can use it live for drums in some instances and as an fx processor.

If there was one single tip you could give aspiring artists out there as far as how to make a really proper Electro track...what would that be? Any plug-ins or hardware that you feel are a must?

I’m not sure I even know how to make a really proper Electro track! In all seriousness, at a basic level Electro is about some drums with a sprinkle of future in them. No one is going to fault you for using some solid 808's either, it’s pretty ubiquitous. Acid basslines are really prominent too, but I try and use them sparingly myself. If you have some weird fx, arps, an interesting pad, and perhaps a strange vocal phrase run through a vocoder, you might be quick to get my ear.

However, I’m constantly trying to write Electro that operates on the fringe of all these ‘norms’ in the genre. I’d encourage any new producers to try and make something unlike anything they’ve heard before. That’s what I’m most interested in hearing.

As far as tools – find a good saturator/distortion effect or plugin. It can go a long way and will have a lot of uses, but overall can help give your drums and tracks more heft if you’re without an analog mixing console or other post-processing equipment. Other than that, try as many things as you can – go play with synths at a shop, or a friend’s studio, download VST demos and try them out. See what inspires you and works for you as you develop your workflow.

...I don’t get as disgustingly excited about other types of music as I do when I hear a really remarkable Electro track. It just clicks for me in a way that gives me access to my entire musical timeline...

What about as far as making it in the music industry? You are a relatively new Electro artist, but so far your career has taken off quicker than for a lot of others. If there was one key thing that brought you to this point, what would you say that is?

It's always funny when I think of myself as a new artist, having produced for the last ten years and spending over 20 years as a DJ. I do have that feeling that I’m just getting started though, and I hope I never lose that. I think my recent surge has just been due to stopping my attempt at writing music that would fit somewhere. I’d been really driven by making tracks for a particular label or sound, particularly when I was writing Techno and House-leaning tracks. As soon as I decided I wanted to go a completely different direction I was finishing more music and finding that inspiration was coming much easier.

I also really internalized this ethos that I call ‘published over perfect’. I released things that I knew had flaws and was willing to send demos out or press them despite that. I decided to take all the time I had previously wasted trying to find all the little parts that could be fixed and come up with new ideas instead. Also, I started with a writing technique that I adapted from Pheek, who has some really good musical and creative insight on his site. Essentially I batch my writing process in a way where I’m working on multiple tracks at the same time but all in the same phase of production.

For example, I start with a week or so of sound design, making custom patches, sampling my drum machines or modular, building kits of drums to use. Then I begin working on upwards of 20-30 ideas over the next phase, just laying down grooves, and staying raw while chasing ideas. Out of those maybe 6-10 are worth continuing with, I may take parts from some of the abandoned ones and bring them over into the projects with merit. Those then get tracked into Ableton and arranged, mostly as a long-format 10+ minute live jam. I then go through and chop the arrangements up on all of them and apply some light mixing techniques as I go. Then they are done until a label wants them and that’s when I go in and do any small adjustments and final mixdowns.

I like not ending the process on mixing down because it’s my least favorite step and I’m able to ride the high of finishing new tracks and go right back into that cycle starting from step one.

In the middle of crafting up one of those spooky melodies! © Ashley Worden

Very nice tips! The idea of working on batches of tracks within the same phase of development is actually pretty brilliant.

So what's the state of the music for you? Has the resurgence in popularity for Electro become evident in Detroit as well you think? Could the music ever achieve mainstream success again, and could that ever be done right without watering the music down?

Long-term I’m trying to fit into the global network of performing artists, and travel to places and parties that have a bit more appetite for the sounds left and right of center. There are moments of that in Detroit, but Electro is not a common item on the menu. I’ve seen artists quite well known for flying the Electro flag, turn up in Detroit only to play Techno or House. The crowds here prefer something different for the most part, and I think that shapes who takes the stage and what events do well.

I think Electro is probably as mainstream as it needs to be right now. There are at the very least, some usual suspects, albeit good stewards of Electro that headline festivals and get the nod at all the best clubs around the world. That means there is an export value to Electro talents. It does seem the worldwide stage is most appreciative of the faster tempos, which seems to be the trend in Techno as well.

Overall, I prefer that Electro stays just as (if not more) underground as it is now. Anymore and it will introduce some form of bastardization. It’s in a good place as of today, and it’s evolving in all the right ways, it feels fresh and exciting. There’s already too much good music for me to keep up with, so from a selfish perspective it can stay just like this!

How affected by COVID-19 have you guys been? What kind of drastic negative effects has it had to the local artistic community? Any positive things that have come out of this that you can see?

Well, we didn’t do anything for nearly two years it seems. Combine that with having a baby in the middle of the pandemic and buying a house, we almost completely lost our minds. At first I think the extra time at home had a positive effect on ours, and everyone’s, artistic output. But the stamina for that ultimately waned, it seemed, when we went so long without events, loud music, or connection. Overall our venues and artists suffered in Detroit, but I feel like everyone did what they could to help everyone survive – there was a lot of resilience from our community on display during the pandemic.

On the positive side, I felt more open to collaborating as a way to keep people motivated (myself included), and keep us connected to the music while all we had were headphones or our studios. I worked more with other artists during the pandemic than all of my years before combined. I also think a lot of artists experienced a period of prolific output, and we’re still enjoying the fruits of that today with so much good music coming out.

What's in store for the future? Any new releases or projects you'd like to talk about?

After the most unproductive year EVER for me in 2021, I’m excited about all the potential ahead of me in 2022. I’ve already spoken to a number of my favorite labels, and have queued up a handful of EP's, VA's and remixes. Some of which I really wish I could talk about but you’ll have to stay tuned to hear more – I hate when people say that, but it’s the truth!

I have a handful of collaborations in the works that will finish up in 2022 with artists like Lloyd Stellar, CYBEREIGN, The Droid, Rain, Trichrome, RXMode, Telephasycx!, Lord Jalapeños, Kafkactrl and maybe some new material under a new alias, The Thousand Order which is myself, Cyphon and Obzerv. We already have an LP coming on International Chrome’s sub-label Data Planet later this year.

I frequently collaborate with my wife on immersive art+music installations, and plan to do more of that soon – we have a traveling show called Missing Faces (@missingfacesdet) alongside projection mapping and digital animator, Light Bender. We’ve added augmented reality and live audio/visual performance to these shows which has been really exciting.

I plan to sink a lot of my studio time into solo productions this coming year, but I am really motivated by the high potential of my various collaborations and think that will continue to fuel me into the new year.

Thank you so much for your time! Excited to see what comes next from you. Keep up the great work!