Dillon Francis holding a banana to his ear like a telephone, photo by Clare Gillen

Back to school with Dillon Francis: Why a maturing music career still needs class clown antics

Being a reputable producer/DJ might be one big comedy skit for producer Dillon Francis but his determination and dedication are no joke – and his work on This Mixtape Is Fire TOO proves it.

Dillon Francis. Image: Clare Gillen

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BananaPants88. That’s the name that appears in front of a black frame when our interviewee arrives in the video chat.

It sounds like a username that someone with zero talent for innuendo chose for an anonymous dating app. Or maybe it’s the first part of an email address made by a 10-year-old. Alas, the account belongs to a grown man: the famed producer and DJ, Dillon Francis.

Francis is beloved for his raucous and eclectic productions, including the certified-platinum party track Get Low, he co-produced with the French EDM and trap maven, DJ Snake, in 2010. But Francis is also known as the guy who brings uproarious comedy into the world of electronic music. He’s been making people laugh for as long as he can remember.

Dillon Francis on the cover of MusicTech, photo by Clare Gillen
Dillon Francis. Image: Clare Gillen

“I’ve always been the jokey kid. In high school, I used to get kicked out of class all the time because I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut,” Francis says from behind his BananaPants88 veil.

Now as a professional artist, his penchant for comedy has moved out of the classroom and onto social media. Francis got his start in the early 2010s, around the time when social media networks such as Vine and Instagram were taking off. These rising platforms made it easy for him to share his jokey personality without restraint — showing his true self to his growing fanbase.

“As we’ve gotten further and further into what the internet is now, it’s easier to see if someone’s being truthful or not,” Francis says. When it comes to humour, he remains truthful to this day.

For the promo of his new album, This Mixtape Is Fire TOO, released on 1 December, he shared a clip of his friend trying to light his flatulence on fire. In another video, he accosts live-action role players because he got stuck on his balcony after going outside to pretend to smoke weed.

The MADtv comedian and established podcaster Bobby Lee also made an appearance to demonstrate aggressive fellatio techniques, which were then converted to TikTok NPC form on the music video for the pop-house track, Rainy.

“That’s what’s helped me have longevity. Joking around and not taking myself too seriously,” Francis says.

To be specific, the longevity of Francis’s career extends back 13 years with the new album serving as a follow-up to his 2015 mixtape, THIS MIXTAPE IS FIRE. He didn’t think his career would last eight years — let alone 13 – and much has changed for him after over a decade in the scene.

“Most of the time, your career is maybe going to last five or seven years,” Francis says. “I turned 36 and this was a very interesting age for me. Once you pass 35, you gotta start thinking about bone density. I gotta make sure I’m working out every day. Gotta make sure that I’m able to wake up at these horrible hours that I have to for DJing and feel good. I don’t drink anymore. I’m two years sober now on my own. I’ve started going into that later part of my career.”

“Diplo and I are the main dudes that really just go out and make everything and somehow still have a career. I don’t know how.”

At this stage in his career, Francis has released three studio albums on top of dozens of singles, EPs, and remixes. He’s also started a side project dedicated to the deepest house music in the universe under the name DJ Hanzel. However, if you were to ask Dillon Francis (or DJ Hanzel), neither would consider the other a ‘side project.’

Apparently, DJ Hanzel hates Francis’s new album.

“It’s not deep for him. The only song he likes is On A Trip with Martin Hørger, but it’s only the first three seconds of the drop, and then he said the rest of the song sucks because it doesn’t do that for six minutes straight,” Francis says of the caricatured house music snob who never takes off his sunglasses. “He’s very disappointed in me and that’s OK. I think if he’s disappointed in me I’ve done a good job.”

Before Francis was making music that’s not deep enough for DJ Hanzel, he was a dominant force in the explosion of EDM in North America.

His first track to garner major attention, the downtempo heater I.D.G.A.F.O.S., came out in 2011. It arrived at exactly the right time – when EDM was beginning to barge its way into the mainstream.

The culture attached to EDM amassed an entirely new population of neon-clad superfans. These bright-eyed ravers flocked to the burgeoning phenomena of ostentatious bottle service night clubs and festivals that flaunted attendance caps in the hundreds of thousands.

Francis was (and still is) the guy playing those nightclubs and festivals, dealing out the enormous, in-your-face beats that were popular in those venues.

With such exponential, mainstream growth, the EDM era is often scoffed at. But having made his name in that era, Francis considers the EDM era a “breath of fresh air.” The accessibility opened the door for a lot more original voices in the genre, including Francis, giving him space to produce a plethora of styles in the electronic spectrum.

“As a music producer you get to this level and then you’re expected to be amazing all the time and I feel like I’m not.”

Diplo and I are the main dudes that really just go out and make everything and somehow still have a career. I don’t know how,” Francis says.

Francis certainly kept it diverse on This Mixtape Is Fire TOO: Free with Alesso and Clementine Douglas is throbbing deep tech; Francis worked on a trap banger with IDK and Eptic called Okay Okay; and he closes the record with Don’t Let Me Go, a titanic future bass collaboration with Illenium and EVAN GIIA.

“This album is definitely a massive exploration into everything that I love about dance music and every facet that exists in dance music,” Francis says.

But his expedition took much longer than he anticipated. He had been wanting to follow up THIS MIXTAPE IS FIRE for quite a while. He didn’t expect it would take eight years.

“There are a lot of songs on there that took me way too long to finish,” Francis says. Part of the reason for the delay was a lack of inspiration in Ableton Live.

Like many longtime producers, Francis has developed production habits in his chosen DAW. That’s how he maintains the connective tissue between all the genres he makes. Many Dillon Francis tracks sound completely different, but they were made using similar techniques on the back end.

Dillon Francis rolling his eyes and sticking his tongue out, photo by Clare Gillen
Dillon Francis. Image: Clare Gillen

In his case, stock applications in Ableton Live, such as Frequency Shifter and Beat Repeat, have become staples of his sound. Frequency Shifter is a go-to tool for buildups and he loves using Beat Repeat on synths.

Except, as he relied on the same quirky things, his inspiration faltered within the routine. Around January 2023, he found himself in a major creative rut; opening Ableton felt like “opening a newspaper”. It was a chore rather than a joy.

“As a music producer, you get to this level and then you’re expected to be amazing all the time and I feel like I’m not,” he says of the uninspiring period.

To reinvigorate his passion, Francis decided to massively shake up his routine. He went much further than searching for new production techniques on YouTube and immersed himself in a creative environment — he went back to school. Specifically, he went to a production school in Burbank, California, called ICON Collective College of Music (the same school he briefly attended many years ago before dropping out).

Dillon Francis sitting on a chair and waving, photo by Clare Gillen
Dillon Francis. Image: Clare Gillen

Mike Diasio — who produces under the name Gigantor and is one-third of the drum ‘n’ bass outfit Evol Intent — is one of the ICON instructors who mentored Francis.

According to Diasio, this time Francis wasn’t at school to crack jokes and get kicked out of class. Despite being a world-touring, festival-headlining artist, he put his ego aside and truly engaged with the material.

“I didn’t know what to expect going into it,” says Diasio, “But they were really fun sessions. It felt less like a teacher-student relationship. He has such great taste for sound design. I demonstrated a few techniques and he could just take it and run with it. It was really fun to watch.”

Dillon Francis with his hand on the side of his head, photo by Clare Gillen
Dillon Francis. Image: Clare Gillen

They did six sessions together in total, loosely following the curriculum of the advanced sound design class of ICON’s advanced music production program.

One key aspect they focused on was experimenting with the virtual processing applications in Universal Audio’s ecosystem. They also spent a lot of time on synthesis, exploring the intricacies of Kilohearts Phase Plant and Xfer’s Serum.

“There’s a lot of stuff in Serum I didn’t know you could do. I didn’t know you could put in a PNG and make WAV file out of it. You gotta go read the manual for that. Who has time for that? But no I should be reading the manual,” Francis laughs. “It was awesome to go [to ICON] and reinspire myself.

“I even talked to Porter [Robinson] about this when I was going through a little crisis in my mind. He’s like ‘You gotta go out to shows. You gotta see people live and keep reinspiring yourself.’ So that was a big thing I started doing at that time when I was going back to school. I was trying to check out new artists and search for people that were inspiring me and that was a big part of [This Mixtape Is Fire TOO].”

Some of Francis’ inspirations ended up as collaborators on the album. Unlike THIS MIXTAPE IS FIRE, where he was the one courting major stars with artists such as Skrillex, Calvin Harris, Kygo, and the rest of the co-producers (whom Francis considers an “all-star team”) the collaborators on This Mixtape Is Fire TOO were thrilled to work with him.

Dillon Francis smiling at the camera, photo by Clare Gillen
Dillon Francis. Image: Clare Gillen

Knock2 – the US trap prodigy who contributed to the upbeat house tune called buttons! on This Mixtape Is Fire TOO – told Francis when they were on a taco run that it was surreal to be on his album.

“It’s so bizarre. In my head, I still think that I’m in my twenties. Musically. Not mentally. I’m definitely a grown man who washes his clothes,” Francis says with a laugh.

When Francis was a young man (who apparently didn’t wash his clothes), his productions were less diverse. Today his releases are a wildcard of whatever he feels like making, but in his twenties (when the EDM era was still peaking), he was championing the heavy yet downtempo genre known as moombahton.

THIS MIXTAPE IS FIRE consists of seven hot ‘n’ heavy tracks in this style. Eight years later, This Mixtape Is Fire TOO only has one moombahton track: a collaboration with Miami electronic duo Good Times Ahead called LA On Acid.

Dillon Francis standing with his feet turned inwards, photo by Clare Gillen
Dillon Francis. Image: Clare Gillen

Funnily enough, despite his fortuitous relationship with social media, the internet has been the primary reason Francis avoided the genre on this new record.

“Every time I try to make a new moombahton song, the same thing happens: Kids tell me to make new moombahton. I make new moombahton. They hate it,” Francis says. “I just feel like I’m shooting myself in the foot and it’s not fun to be in that repetition of people telling me I suck.”

Regardless of the online hate gets, Francis remains loyal to moombahton. As part of the celebrations of the new album, he hosted a strictly moombahton event at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, and he has a full moombahton release entitled PERO LIKE coming in January. It’s a joint release with Good Times Ahead and it might be long enough to be a full LP.

“Some of the downtempo records are some of my favourite records ever,” Francis says of PERO LIKE. “I’m trying to satiate everyone’s appetite for all different types of music. So go peep it. Hopefully, you enjoy it and if you don’t, you know where to find me. Just go and tell me I’m a piece of shit on Twitter or X or whatever the hell that stupid app is called now.”

Those who do tell Francis he’s a piece of shit on X will find on his profile the same hilarious content he always shares. Except, after 13 years as a professional artist, the jokes exist alongside an increasingly genre-fluid production discography fueled by an unwavering desire to learn and engage with his craft.

The laughs will always be there. At 36 years old, his Zoom username is BananaPants88 but the man behind the black screen is serious about making his career last long into the future.

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