“The only tattoo on my body that means anything is this Grim Reaper with a feather sickle,” Dillon Francis says, pointing to a tattoo on his left arm. “When I was around seven, I watched ‘E.T.’ and had nightmares for two years that E.T. was going to tickle me to death.”
Francis is one of the most heavily tattooed DJs you’ll find on the charts and, for the most part, aside from a rogue tickle Reaper, he’s avoided attaching meanings to his tattoos. “All of the tattoos that I’ve gotten have just been because I really liked the art itself,” Francis says. “I’ve always gone to tattoo artists and said, ‘Look, pitch me on what you want to put on my body,’ because it’s a representation of that artist.” This approach may seem strange to those who spend years deciding on the perfect piece to fit a significant event, but when you consider who Francis is as an artist, it makes perfect sense.
Francis knows that he will get the best possible work from a tattooer by letting them do what they’re passionate about, and when it comes to his music, he relies on the same trust from his fans. “I’m making whatever I want to make and I don’t care about anybody else but myself right now,” he says. “I’ve been making music for so long and I’m just servicing what makes me happy. I’ve always done that, but now I’m fully being the selfish producer that I want to be.”
For years, Francis was in the mindset to make festival music, the kind of tunes designed for people who wanted to get weird in a large, sweaty heap in a random field. However, when the pandemic hit and those social gatherings were canceled, Francis realigned his focus entirely. “I’ve really started getting into fun and happy house music,” he says. “I’ve made a song called ‘Hey Look Ma, I Made It’ with Panic! at the Disco and then a single this year called ‘Be Somebody’ with Evie Irie. My upcoming releases are the new iteration of those, a mix of uplifting indie pop and fun, euphoric house.” Positivity is the central theme in both of these singles and considering the whirlwind that 2020 has been across the board, Francis is making the kind of music that we can all use right now.
“I don’t want to put out a sad song or something depressing,” Francis says. “Anything that would be helpful right now would be happy stuff that I can produce myself.” With optimism on the brain, Francis wanted to keep the good vibes going when it came to his collaboration with one of TikTok’s biggest influencers.“I just did a remix with Dixie D’Amelio for her song ‘Be Happy,’” Francis says. “I got to be on her YouTube show and at the end of the episode, she challenged me to remix her song in one week.
“I love remixing music and I’m always up for an inspiring challenge in quarantine, so I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’” he continues. “I remixed it in a week and was able to surprise her with my whole DJ setup at her house. That surprise was turned into the music video for the song and it was really fun.”
Since collaborating with D’Amelio, Francis has been looking at TikTok and its talented creators in a whole new light, becoming one of the first mainstream musicians to hop onto the platform. Well before TikTok was churning out pop stars faster than “American Idol” in its heyday, he saw its potential. “I got on there two years ago and the music part of the app really interested me,” he explains. “The kids on there are so funny and it’s such an inspiring app for being creative, which is great for music. The next guy on there I’m trying to work with is a melodic rapper named Johnny 2 Phones who has a song named ‘Rescue’ that I’m going to work on remixing.”
When Francis takes on a remix, whether it’s for a TikTok creator or otherwise, he approaches it with the same level of care he’d bring to one of his own songs. Creating a remix is a delicate act. A skilled DJ needs to create a track worthy of the original, without being too similar. “I need to give people a reason to listen to it,” Francis explains. The trick is finding the right formula for the task. Sometimes this means taking the track in an entirely new direction, other times the work is far more subtle. “For instance, I did a remix for Cardi B’s ‘I Like It; and the only thing I really did was push the BPM, add some drums and put in a drop that would make it a good play at a club,” he explains. “Usually, my process will be listening to the song and I’ll tell them then and there if I have an idea. Whether that’s keeping it to the original or adding vocals to make it my own, complete version.”
Francis has kept busy creating new music throughout the pandemic, but what he really looks forward to is sharing those tracks with a live audience. There’s only so much feedback you can get from a screen, and he’s chomping at the bit to be surrounded by like-minded folks going off in a pit to his latest jams in the not-too-distant future. “When we go back, I think it’s going to be absolutely insane and the energy levels will be bonkers,” Francis says. “People are really ready to get back out there and hopefully we’ll soon be able to stand less than six feet away from each other. I think this year has been a total bummer, in many ways, but the silver lining is that the energy level for shows is going to be at an all-time high.”
The day when we can safely convene under one roof and dance until the sun comes up is coming. We may not know exactly when, but you can be damn sure that it’s coming. And when it does, we know Dillon Francis will be right there with us, ready to drop the beat.