Expanding Horizons with Francis Inferno Orchestra

Griffin James is still getting used to the fact that he’s a newly wed. When I call him up in his home in London, his spouse had just left on an errant. “My girlfriend has just left to for the grocery store“ he says before correcting his error through the smile I can hear from the other end of the line: “sorry I meant my wife; I’m still getting used to that.” Griffin James’ Australian accent is unmistakeable, bounding with the friendly approachable demeanour only an Antipodean could deliver. At the same time however Griffin is a also a Londoner, enjoying the vantage point the city offers him to pursue his career as Francis Inferno Orchestra, the reason I called him up.

The name has been a staple in electronic music with a dancing persuasions since 2010, when a debut 12” hit the shelves with an edit house/disco sound occupying the space somewhere between MCDE and Arthur Russell. Since then Francis Inferno Orchestra has gone on to release countless EPs’ and 12” and an album, “A New way Of Living” on labels like Let’s play House and the label he runs with Fantastic Man, Superconscious. The studio work however is only the tip of the iceberg and behind it all lies a deep-seated enthusiasm for music, in any way shape or form – one that distils right down to his dusty fingers. James is a fervent digger of music and his horizons are broad, something that we learn has been carried through to adulthood from his youth and his parents. It’s something you could hear in his productions, when you really concentrate, but something that’s incredibly hard to ignore in his DJ sets.

We take up the conversation with the artist as he prepares for the interview, plugging in his hands free set and getting comfortable in his own home…

Are you plugged in and ready to go?

I’m plugged in mate.

How long have you been London?

It’s coming up to three years.

You started making music in Melbourne though, right?

I’ve been making music since I was a teenager, like really badly. I started with the whole hip-hop thing and I got more into dance music when I was 17/18. The first release I did when I was 19 and I was still in Melbourne?

I know you are quite a prolific digger, but what came first, the production side of it or the collector side of it?

I’ve always been collecting music, because we’ve always had a huge record collection at home, so it was drummed into me from a young age to hunt music down. My parents would make my brother and I just watch music-video channels non-stop on a Saturday as spending some quality family time together. We always had a lot of music at home.

Was there anything that specifically stuck out for you at a young age?

Before I was a teenager, it was everything my parents liked – so everything from David Bowie to Madness or punk stuff, like The Sex Pistols. And then I went through the rebellious teenager phase; just hating everything my parents would listen to. Now it’s come full circle again, so I’m listening to music and my mom’s like; “o yeah, I like that stuff.” Skateboarding also played a big role for me as a teenager because skate-videos always seemed to have very well thought-out soundtracks, and introduced me to a lot of different styles of music.

When did the name Francis Inferno Orchestra appear?

It’s funny because it’s really not an interesting story. I get asked this a fair bit, and I wish I had an interesting story, but basically at the time I was sampling a lot of disco music. I guess a lot of bands would have long names like KC and the Sunshine band and I was like, “I want a big name”. And then my friend just thought up the name off the cuff, and I’ve used it ever since.

You should make up another story about it then, like most of those bands did?

I have tried to think of something, something to do with mythology – like “someone Francis III with Nero burning down the coliseums.” (Laughs) I’ve never come up with something that’s quick and good, so I’ve just got my old boring story.

We’ve mentioned your start in making music, but I’ve always thought of the name Francis Inferno Orchestra more as a DJ. Do you side of you that that trumps the other?

I go through waves. I always collect music, but was never that serious about it – it was just something I did for fun. I got really into production first, and I took that really seriously for a while. It’s only been since I was nineteen that I really got into digging. Sometimes I feel like I take my production a little more seriously, and then sometimes I’ll take digging a little more seriously. I’ll go through waves where I’ll think; maybe I should write my next record now. And then I’ll finish that and I’ll be; “ok I don’t really need to make music for a while so I’m just gonna concentrate on finding new records – expanding my musical horizons.

What do you specifically look for, when you are looking for new records.

I guess it’s weird, because getting booked so much to do the headline is making me subconsciously buy more party music, but I also make a conscious effort to buy a lot of ambient stuff from innovative communications or afro, or Japanese stuff. At the moment I’m really into getting 7 inches and 45s because I find that they’re cheaper and way more fun play. The song is usually a summed up version of 12”. There’s no fucking around on it – you’ve got 3 minutes and it’s fun because it’s really quick.

And it adds to that eclecticism in your sets.

Yeah. I kind of get bored really quickly. Someone else could DJ House music for an hour straight, whereas I just want to change it up. It’s a little bit of fucking with the crowd, but it’s also me trying to challenge myself – If I could make this gay disco song go into this weird, mind-bending acid track and sound really good together, I feel really good about it. It’s me entertaining myself. Most of the time it’s just me challenging myself to see what can go together.

Do you prepare your sets that way?

I never plan anything out. Whatever I pack for a gig, it’s always in terms of what vibe I want to go for. If I know it’s gonna be a crazy party I’ll just pack all my high-energy records – high-energy in terms of high-energy Techno, or high-energy Caribbean music, or high-energy Disco – and just make them work together on the spot for a bit of fun.

Does that eclecticism seep into your production at all?

It’s funny because my agent has this thing with me where he says: “you write one style and you play completely differently, and you need to start making music that makes sense in your sets.” But I don’t know. When it comes to production I’d be listening to a really dreamy atmospheric album and think to myself, “Ah I really want to write that.” And then I’ll try to write all these songs, but I’ll never play them. There was a long time where I didn’t play any of the songs that I made, and it was only in the last year or two that I started playing my own songs out.

Really, because I can definitely hear a song like Rap Beef working in your sets.

I think I’m gonna make a longer version of that. That and “The More You Like”, I want to make longer versions of so people could play it more. For the album, I was going for making 3-minute songs, album songs.

Wow, a couple of longer versions would sound great.

Yeah, maybe just a little off the cuff white label.

Besides that are you working on any new music?

I’m writing what will be my next record at the moment. It’s kind of weird, there’s some jungle in there. And I’ve been working on my label that I run with Fantastic Man a lot. He’s got the next release coming out which is really cool, and then we also did a release on our label by a guy called Luis CL. He’s done a follow-up EP that’s really good. And I’m also trying to write that atmospheric ambient album, which is coming together really slowly.

I find there’s quite a lot of ambient stuff coming out recently and in the near future. Is there something to that do you think?

There’s definitely a thing there. There’s that label I mentioned, innovative communications that’s also a bit like library music as well; two-minute songs that are just dudes sitting jamming out on pads, with little sound effects. I’ve been doing a bit of that as well. On my last EP, the first song, Kalamari Desert is library record inspired.

You’ve mentioned Superconscious earlier. How is it going with the label?

The good the thing about it is that it’s cemented itself already. It’s always daunting because you hope it goes the direction you want it to go. I hope people are into it. We’ve had five releases, as Superconscious and we’ve done little edits as Suco, which have all done really well. We had a bit of a slow start, but it’s fun. I don’t have a job, I just do music fulltime so it’s nice to be able to get around the artwork and things, because I used to do art when I was younger, but didn’t have a reason to do it anymore as I got older. Now, Mic and me are really getting into the artwork and having a lot of fun with it. Making a product is really nice and we’re bouncing off each other really well. I’ll send him some crappy Photoshop art and he’ll make it look professional. He’s more grounded and I’m more loose, and when I hear a song I was want to release it, and he’ll just sit on it for a week, and then I’ll be “yeah you’re right, actually it’s not that good.” It’s a nice professional relationship.

Talking about professional relationships, you’ll be playing back to back with Øyvind when you get here.

I’m really excited about that because Øyvind is such a dude. I met him when I played last with Leon Vynehall, and we just got chatting after the gig. And then he came to London and we hung out. I’m really excited, because I love the music he makes and he’s a pretty solid DJ as well.

Do you approach your set any differently since you are doing a back to back?

If I didn’t know Øyvind, I’d be a bit more hesitant, but I know what his vibe is. He’s gonna teach me some stuff and maybe I’ll teach him some stuff. He’s got a lot of knowledge and he knows his shit, so he’ll be fun to play back to back with.

And are there any new records you’re looking forward to bringing to Jæger with you?

I got the new, Hunee remixes. I played the Mick Wills one and it’s pretty wild and pretty dark. I don’t know if I’ll be able to play it at Jæger…maybe.