INTERVIEW & ART:CAST #143 Aiden Francis

With several releases under his belt Manchester-based artist Aiden Francis definitely has left the status of one to look out for and turned it to one to follow when searching for inspiring genre-spanning music to play out. His outings on Magic Carpet, Gestalt Records, Houseum Records and, his latest, on Holly Lester’s Duality Trax certainly have paved Aiden the way for a bright future in the electronic music scene. His less is more approach as well as his “elusive character“ and – let’s say it – the changing hair-colors conduced to Aiden’s success. But maybe it’s his recklessness of not taking himself too seriously that makes the originally from Yorkshire-coming artist an appealing character in the scene and this, in combination with his music, is golden and definitely continues the golden era of emerging artists from northern England. In his interview with Torture the Artist Aiden speaks about his pre-artist times, the status quo, his obsession with digging music as well as studio works and releases. Alongside the interview he delivers a club-oriented mix to ring in the weekend. 

Torture the Artist: Hello Aiden, tell us something about your day.

Aiden Francis: Hey there, thanks for having me. It’s lovely to be asked to speak to you ♥️ Had a nice weekend to myself to prepare for some upcoming – and exciting – gigs, work on some new music and get some mixes recorded after a period of taking a music break. 

Torture the Artist: Manchester-based – is this the place where and how you got involved with electronic music or when and where was your first encounter with the music?

Aiden Francis: So, I’m actually from a town called Scarborough in North Yorkshire where all of it began for me. I’d liked electronic music my whole life but really wanted to start making my own music after hearing Daft Punks Alive 2007 album when I was around 13. It felt life changing hearing that for the first time. From there I got really into House, Techno and Trance. It wasn’t until a few years later that I got a cracked version (lol) of FL Studio and started teaching myself how to take tunes. Up until I was about 20 it was just a little hobby that I would do after school or college, so I didn’t really take it – or myself – that seriously.

I remember very vividly listening to Alive 2007 and Alive 97 constantly on my little mp3 player whilst on my way to school pretty much every morning. From being exposed to this I went down a rabbit hole of 90s house music which has become a huge influence on my music even now, most notably the House Marke CD compilations. Although I must note that I had a weird phase between 16 and 18 of listening to/attempting to make commercial EDM (the 3,2,1 EVERYBODY PUT UR F**CKIN HANDS UP” kind) so it hasn’t all been plain sailing. <winks>

I moved to Manchester when I was 18 but didn’t actually start raving properly until I was 20. I never really knew where I wanted to take myself musically and had no clue how to “break” into the scene other than releasing a few odd Techhouse tunes here and there (the less we say about those the better haha). However, it wasn’t until just before lockdown that I started going to some of Manchester’s queer-centric parties at The White Hotel and Soup (mainly High Hoops and Kiss Me Again) where I was exposed to the type of music I loved when growing up – that was when something ‘clicked’ for me. So over lockdown I used the time to focus on developing “my sound” properly, re-aligning myself with the music that got me into this in the first place and started connecting with people in the Manchester scene online.

I would definitely say that the Proggy/Trance/Hard House/Breaks-vibe of my music is definitely influenced by the Manchester based parties that I hold so dear to my heart, without them I think I would have headed off into a very different direction. But, as always with me, I’m never satisfied so I’m always looking for new sounds/genres to try out so who knows where I’ll end up.

I think it’s the self-doubt that keeps you on your toes a little bit. 

Torture the Artist: What were the tracks that shaped your early or pre-artist days and when did you decide to dedicate yourself fully to electronic music?

Aiden Francis: Oooooh, I love this question. So outside of dance music I have a bit of varied listening like HAIM, Radiohead, Lorde, Alanis Morrissette, Little Dragon, Björk and Lady Gaga (I love her).

But when it comes to what influences me as an artist I have a few tunes that have shaped and influenced me that I will list below but the number one tune that sticks out for me is Soul Capsule – Lady Science (NYC Sunrise). That tune alone is why most of my music has a lot of ambient pads in them.

I only really started seeing myself as a valid artist in the last two years, before then I had a lot of self doubt that I wasn’t “good enough”. I’ve always had some form of dedication to music but it’s only been in the last year or so where I’ve really started to view it in a different light, and with that my negative perception of myself has also changed. I’m a little more confident in myself now than I was a year or so ago – I’m still not 100%, but I think it’s the self-doubt that keeps you on your toes a little bit. 

Torture the Artist: The past year saw you releasing a four-tracker on Magic Carpet, which was heavily supported and featured in several media as well as among DJs. How and when did RIDE09, Dreamstate, come about and how has it been a game-changer for you?

Aiden Francis: Yeah I’ve been quite taken back by the support it’s got to be honest, it’s not something I would ever have expected. It’s been very affirming to see all the support it’s been getting, but none of it would have been possible without the lovely guys behind Magic Carpet, Harry and Sam. It is such a cool and fun label that they have got going on, it’s such an honour to be a small part of it’s growth.

The tracks on Dreamstate were never intended to be released together, in-fact Zephyr and Dreamstate weren’t even part of the original demos that I sent over to them – they were added on later on. 

Sapphire Satellites also originally sounded quite different to what it does now, it was originally a Techhouse-esque roller but one night around 3am I went back to it and changed it up to the slightly faster bouncy-tech tune it is now, thus calling it the In Orbit Mix. Maybe I’ll reveal what it originally sounded like in a mix one time or something hehe.

Torture the Artist: What’s your personal favorite on the EP, and why?

Aiden Francis: I’m very proud of all of them but Eternal Trance has got to be my fave. (sorry to sound cringey but…) I think it really captures my “vibe” as an artist and encapsulates everything I love about electronic dance music; a constantly moving bassline, spaced out synths, snappy drums and a retro trance feel all without feeling too in your face about it. And maybe because I like my house tunes sped up it also doesn’t seem that fast to me even though it’s 140bpm. It felt like a turning point for me when I was making it and unlocked some nostalgia for me, I hope people also feel the same when they listen to it. 

Every now and then my old tunes come back to haunt me on YouTube.

Torture the Artist: According to Discogs, your first release, Delano, dates back to 2018 and was released on In You Records. First of, is the EP-title a reference to Delano Smith and how have you changed/grown as an artist (in the studio and outside of it) since then?

Aiden Francis: Oh no, I try to forget about those old tunes of mine. <laughs> I’m actually not too sure where I got the name from for that release. Knowing me, I probably got it from the drag queen Adore Delano.

I tried very hard to distance myself from anything I made before 2020 and I feel I have succeeded in some way but every now and then my old tunes come back to haunt me on YouTube (type me in and you may find some poorly mixed down Techhouse from 2017 somewhere <laughs>). 

Since then though I have definitely changed as an artist, if anything I think it’s down to maturing a bit more and knowing what works for me musically and what doesn’t. At the time of releasing Delano I was attempting to just make anything I could and get it out as soon as possible – regrettably it didn’t matter to me if it sounded good in two or maybe ten years, all that mattered is that it sounded what was deemed popular at the time. For me personally, that sort of process of throwing tracks out as soon as they’re done almost always leads to regret as I hadn’t let the track sit on the shelf for a bit. The best bit of advice I ever saw was from Daft Punk about their album Discovery. I believe they made the full album by 1998 but “left it on the shelf” for two years and came back to it to see if they still liked it. This is the sort of process I have adopted over the years, and so far it’s working for me.

There’s definitely a pressure that comes with attention to make sure that each release follows up from the previous one. But I try not to think about it too much as it gets me into a creative dead-end where I start limiting myself on what I make.

Torture the Artist: With success comes attention and possible changes, meaning artists try to make their sound more appealing to the masses and therefore rely on more popular sounds and arrangements. What keeps you grounded and what path do you follow when it comes to your (production) career?

Aiden Francis: There’s definitely a pressure that comes with attention to make sure that each release follows up from the previous one. But I try not to think about it too much as it gets me into a creative dead-end where I start limiting myself on what I make. I like to keep my options open when making music and try not to pigeon-hole myself into one particular sound because I get bored and restless quite easily – much like how I am in real life. I cannot sit still and always have to be always doing something other than resting. Which I think I use to my advantage when approaching my production.

Torture the Artist: What’s your go-to-piece or device in the studio, which always does the trick?

Aiden Francis: I’ve been using Ableton now for 2 years and absolutely love it. I use many of the stock plugins as well as a few VSTs like the Korg Monopoly, Roland Cloud and uhe Diva. Hardware wise, I always turn to the Novation Peak.

Torture the Artist: You do not have a high output of your music. Is your premise ‘less is more‘ or what are the reasons you keep a low-profile when it comes to releases from your side?

Aiden Francis: I do keep a bit of a low-profile in general to be honest, I’m a bit of an elusive character at times that keeps to myself and that transfers over into music. <laughs> I do make a lot of music and most of it either gets put on the shelf or deleted with a small percentage of my output actually making it out to be released. I used to be very happy with smashing a track out in a day and releasing it very quickly, but now I definitely prefer the less is more approach.

Torture the Artist: Last year you played with one of your scene’s favorites Eris Drew at The Loft, what other artist(s) is on your list to play a gig with, and why?

Aiden Francis: Yess! That was a dream to play, it’s definitely become a core memory for me that I will treasure for a long time. I’ve not properly thought about who I would like to share a lineup with but some from the top of my head some names come to mind other than Eris Drew: DJ Fart in the Club, Byron Yeates, Roza Terenzi, D.Tiffany, Angel D’Lite, Sinéad, Fantastic Man, Job Jobse, dj sweet6teen, Peach and Octo Octa

Torture the Artist: How does the green-hair support the energy in your DJ-sets and what’s the next powerful color for you?

Aiden Francis: I’m sadly back to my natural hair colour at the moment, I sooooo loved having it neon green – especially when it would glow up under UV light in the club. <laughs> I wanna do it pink next but we will see. <winks>

The pay-off of nicely mixing two records together without any clanging in a busy club feels much better than with CDJs to me.

Torture the Artist: Do you prefer playing vinyl over digital or vice versa?

Aiden Francis: Tough one, I’ve definitely got more confident with DJing vinyl in dark settings but it still stresses me out a little sometimes. But the pay-off of nicely mixing two records together without any clanging in a busy club feels much better than with CDJs to me. <laughs>  But it honestly doesn’t matter to me, I love DJing either way. 

Torture the Artist: How and where do you find new music and what’s your daily or weekly routine when it comes to it? 

Aiden Francis: Discogs, Bandcamp, digging through collections in my local record stores and listening to mixes on Soundcloud are where I mainly get my tunes from. I am literally hunting for new music every day, like I can’t remember a day where I wasn’t looking for new records. There’s no real structure to my “digging process”, it’s just a bit of an obsession at this point. 

The music I play to my nan before but the speed of the music was “too scary to enjoy”.

Torture the Artist: Your style is said to be an energetic mixture of Proggy, Electro and Trance-sounds. How would you describe it to your grandparents?

Aiden Francis: I’ve tried explaining the music I play to my nan before but the speed of the music was “too scary to enjoy” (her words). <laughs> So for now, I leave her to enjoy ABBA without scaring her. 

Torture the Artist: What’s the last three tracks on Spotify/Soundcloud/Youtube you listened to?

Aiden Francis: The last three on my Spotify were: 

It’s a strange mix, I know.

Torture the Artist: You’ve mixed and compiled the latest edition of the art:cast series. Where is your mix best heard and played and what was your intention when putting it together?

Aiden Francis: Yeah thanks for having me, I really enjoyed putting this mix together. I added an unreleased tune and a new one from me in there too. It’s definitely a club orientated mix so I kept it four to the floor with some tunes I am enjoying at the moment for the full hour with a sweaty dancefloor in mind. <smiles>

Words by Holger Breuer

Cover picture by OoohSheAnArtist

Other pictures by Alex Winton

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