Dillon Francis on new album ‘Wut Wut,’ new series ‘Like & Subscribe’ and returning to Belly Up Aspen (podcast)
IF YOU GO …
Who: Dillon Francis
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, Dec. 21, 10 p.m.
How much: $98-$235
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
After releasing a full-length album, creating and starring in a new TV series and launching the bizarre social experiment of an “influencer-only” mural in Los Angeles, Dillon Francis is capping a creatively fertile 2018 with a trip to Aspen and a hotly anticipated show at Belly Up.
While so many DJ’s have doubled-down on self-seriousness and aggressive assaults of sound, Francis has developed a signature moombahton sound that’s focused on fun and peppered with the sharp sense of irony that infuses everything he does.
“From the beginning I’ve always wanted people to feel like when they go to my shows it’s like a house party — fun and happy,” Francis, who will headline the club on Friday, said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. “And I play everything because I make everything and have horrible A.D.D.”
The Aspen show comes amid a year-end run of high-grade electronic shows at Belly Up that began Wednesday with NGHTMRE and that includes some of the most popular DJs of the moment including Cedric Gervais (Sunday), Diplo (Dec. 29), Justice (Dec. 30 and 31), Emancipator (Jan. 1), Above & Beyond (Jan. 2) and Steve Aoki (Jan. 5). Yes, Belly Up’s lineup over the next two weeks stacks up against just about any EDM club on Earth.
Why? Well, as Francis put it: “Aspen is just the best.”
Francis, the producer behind stratospheric hits like “Get Low” with G-Eazy and “Coming Over” with Kygo and James Hersey, made his local debut a few days before New Year’s Eve 2017. His visit last year overlapped with a Diplo show at Belly Up, and the DJ pair went snowboarding and hit the town together.
“It was probably one of the most memorable trips,” Francis said.
It reminded Francis of his boyhood family snowboarding vacations in Mammoth and Vail, he said. So this time around, he brought his parents and brother along and is spending a few days on the mountain with them before Friday’s set.
But don’t expect to see his folks in the club.
“I’m sending them home before the show because who knows what debauchery will ensue,” Francis said with a laugh, “and I don’t want my parents to see that.”
The big Aspen show — and rare family-time break from the road and the studio — comes on the heels of Francis releasing the Latin pop-inflected album “Wut Wut” in September and the hilarious Funny Or Die web series “Like and Subscribe” last month.
Francis’ comedic chops and brilliant self-parody are familiar to anybody who’s seen his videos like “Need You” and his spots on “What Would Diplo Do.” But “Like and Subscribe” — a seven-episode satire about content creators — is a new creative turn, with Francis playing the ludicrous Hollywood manager Skyy Goldwynne. His inane character locks four of his clients — caricatures of clueless web-famous rappers, DJs, YouTubers and teen pop stars — in what Goldwynne calls a “social media half-way house.”
“A lot of people didn’t realize I can actually act,” Francis said of the project.
Francis developed “Like and Subscribe” with the writer-directors Brandon Dermer (who co-created the goofy EDM send-up YouTube series “DJ World” with Francis) and Jack Wagner (who has made Francis music videos including “Need You”).
They wanted to build on the over-the-top satire of “DJ World” and turn their keen eye for the absurd toward the wide — and widely ridiculous — world of social media influencers and YouTube stars.
In a bizarre meta turn, Francis and the “Like and Subscribe” team put up a mural inside a tent on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles this summer, announcing they would exclude anyone from taking photos in front of it unless they were verified on social media and had over 20,000 followers. Its existence drew online outrage — and attracted the blue-check crowd — until Francis and the team revealed it as a hoax.
But, Francis noted, the weird and often morally obscene reality of Instagram influencers is almost beyond parody. For example, in the days before “Like and Subscribe” premiered, its creators marveled at how L.A.’s more clueless social media climbers responded to the horrific Woolsey Fire as it raged across Malibu — posing with the flames in promotional posts.
“They were really bad,” Francis said. “It was, like, people in some weird photo shoot flexing their abs and saying ‘So sorry about Malibu, these fires are such a bummer’ and all these hashtags.”
(In another on-brand turn of real events, the platform for which Dillon and crew developed the show — Verizon’s go90 — failed and shuttered before the show’s premiere, leaving “Like and Subscribe” homeless and unseen for a few months until Funny or Die picked it up and released it.)
Francis is hoping to make a second season of “Like and Subscribe” and aiming to do more comedic work on-screen.
“It’s so much fun,” he said. “It’s just a whole different outlet that I can do beyond making music. But it all kind of comes from the same creative part of me. … I’ve always loved making people laugh and being in front of people.”
Back in DJ world, “Wut Wut” is a mostly Spanish-language record of Francis collaborations with some of his favorite Latin pop vocalists and full of the Latin fusion moombahton sound that Francis built his career on.
“I listen to all this stuff and see if I can bring them into my world, and vice versa,” he said of his Latin pop collaborators on “Wut Wut.” “So, it doesn’t feel too much like theirs and it doesn’t feel too much like mine and both fans can listen to it.”
Francis spent two years working on the album with recording sessions in Mexico City, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
“It just took a long time to get all the right pieces and to be able to connect with certain people,” he said.
It’s just his second full-length album after his 2014 breakthrough “Money Sucks, Friends Rule,” though Francis regularly rolls out one-off collaborations, singles and remixes. For “Wut Wut” he hand-picked vocalists to showcase like Arcángel (on “Ven,” of which Francis said: “I wanted to make something that would be super-hyped and “Get Low”-ish, but in Spanish), Lao Ra (on the infectious “White Boi,” which Francis unabashedly describes as “cheesy”) and Young Ash (on the propulsive “BaBaBa,” which Francis said has been a high point of recent live shows).
While he was working on the project, Latin pop exploded in the U.S. with songs like J Balvin and Willy Willaims’ “Mi Gente” and Lusi Fonsi’ and Daddy Yankee’s “Despactio” planting the genre squarely into the mainstream — becoming the biggest hits of 2017 in the U.S. and racking up nearly 8 billion YouTube views between them.
But Francis isn’t hopping on a Latin crossover bandwagon — he made his name on a sound that fused reggaeton and house music, collaborating with Spanish-language vocalists over the last eight years. “Wut Wut” was aimed at introducing his audience to some singers and producers they probably haven’t heard yet.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Latin culture and reggaeton,” Francis said. “I’ve been making that music since 2011. So, I always wanted to give back in some way and help these artists I really believe in.”
Despite his increasing forays into acting and other media, Francis won’t be walking away from music anytime soon. He recently announced a 2019 tour with Alison Wonderland and said he’s already been back in the studio working on new bilingual records as he plots his 2019.
“I definitely will always be making music,” he said. “I try to do like 75 percent music and the rest I like divide among other stuff I’m lucky to be able to do.”
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The nonprofit VOICES led 39 bilingual Basalt Middle School students through a visual journaling project to tell their stories this spring.