The launch of James's production career couldn't have come at a better time. The genre he was working within—disco-indebted slo-mo house—was hitting its peak through artists like Mark E, The Revenge and Eddie C. For James, it began with a single on UK disco label Under The Shade in late 2010. By the same time the following year, he had four more 12-inches to his name, with records on Join The Dots, Kolour Recordings and Sleazy Beats Recordings furthering the Francis Inferno Orchestra reach.
Somewhere along the line, James said goodbye to his industrial design degree and, with the blessing of his parents, took to music full-time. An abundance of gigs around Melbourne and the rest of Australia followed. Winters in Australia were punctuated by jaunts to Europe, DJing in places like Ibiza, Berlin and Barcelona across 2011 and 2012. The benefits of being based somewhere with a better established scene became obvious, so upon returning to Australia after his second trip, James started working towards a longer term move away from his home country.
Since arriving in London earlier this year, the 23-year-old has wasted little time getting to work. He played dates in Switzerland, Croatia and Germany during his first few months there and racked up long studio hours. When it comes to house music, being based in London means opportunities that are unavailable to those in Australia. "It's more of a struggle compared to, say, Berlin," James says of living in London. "In Berlin everything moves slowly because there's no real sense of urgency. You don't really have to work because you can live off about $10 for two weeks. London's one of those places that it will chew you up and spit you out if you're not consistently doing stuff."
James's move to London has coincided with a musical disconnect from the close-knit group of artists and promoters based in his hometown, including Tornado Wallace, Mic Newman and Melbourne Deepcast founders Andy Hart and Myles Mac. For a while, they and a few others were the focal point of Australian house music, championed by local and overseas audiences alike. Their sample-heavy output, usually clocking in below 122 BPM, struck a chord with DJs and listeners, slotting into the burgeoning deep house / disco cannon.
"At the same time, there were so many dudes on SoundCloud who'd be like, 'Hey, I found an old disco track, slowed it down to 105 BPM and then just put a big kick drum over the top,'" he explains. "It became a label. It became 'deep & disco.' It sounds so lame."
James has since experimented in genres outside the house sphere entirely. Together with his friend and Melbourne resident Tyson Ballard he launched BBW, a platform for his first attempts at techno. The pair has released two 12-inches on the label, with James assuming the alias Deep Throat. With track titles like "Gag Reflex" and "Gush" and a rainbow-coloured theme, the label pokes fun at a genre renowned for austerity. James is happy to bring some humor to the music. "Everything's so serious in techno," he says with enthusiasm. "With the porno names, stupid fucking track titles and rainbow stamps, I think we just wanted to do this whole thing tongue-in-cheek."
The music itself is far from it. Relentless and brutal, the four cuts released so far wouldn't be out of place in set from any of techno's main players. The two tracks that James has released as Deep Throat are a long way from the mellow sounds he's best known for, with big breakdowns and a maximalist, big room approach. The new sound reasserts his knack for crafting attention-grabbing music that appeals to a large, unpretentious audience.
But while James is happy to associate his name with the label now, this wasn't always the case—the original aim was to release BBW anonymously and leave Francis Inferno Orchestra as his only known production alias. The reason for this was simple enough: to preserve credibility. James's take on the topic is based on a perceived difference between house and techno crowds. The latter, according to him, are more critical, more likely pick up on flaws in the tracks they hear. "With house music, you can get away with being a bad producer," he says. "There's something really lovely about that. With techno, if it's playing at Berghain, for example, the place has such a good sound system that if a crappy song goes through it, everyone knows it. [On BBW] I did the best job I could, and I am the furthest thing from an audio engineer."
James speaks highly of Clone Records boss Serge Verschuur, who distributes BBW. The Rotterdam veteran offered valuable advice to James and Ballard, and he was a big supporter of the anonymous approach. His input was very much welcomed, but the link between BBW and James became known. "I failed on that front," James admits. "I think I was quite proud of the work I did on BBW, because it was something I'd never done before, and I was able to get good response. I was trying to promote the label, and was doing it through my own Facebook. I guess eventually people caught on."
The Francis Inferno Orchestra moniker was born out of a love for elaborate artist names. The producer runs us through his favourites.
Boomerang Club Band
A dope Italo electro-rap group from the '80s. "Dee Jay Superstar" is worth checking out. I think I may have a soft spot for the fact that boomerang is in the name.
Ecstasy, Passion & Pain
This was a superb five-piece soul group from early '70s. These guys were around before ecstasy was a thing. I'm not sure if you could get away with a name like this anymore.
TISM (This Is Serious Mum)
I was brought up on these guys via my dad. They're an Australian band from the '90s who basically made fun of anyone and everyone. They're also notorious for always sporting balaclavas. Out of names I've mentioned, this is by far the best.
Universal Robot Band
One of the many projects from the great Patrick Adams. Both albums have killer artwork, too. Most of my DJ sets include at least one record from Patrick.
James's relocation overseas can only mean good things for Australian dance music. While his presence in Melbourne clubs is no doubt missed, the strengthening of European ties stands to be beneficial beyond his personal gains, placing some of the spotlight back on his hometown. A house label he has in the works, Superconscious, will release music from James and his Australian associates. He eagerly name checks Melbourne's Sleep D and Zanzibar Chanel and Adelaide duo The Carter Brothers as ones to watch, suggesting there's plenty of Australian talent left to discover. "I'm lucky I have lots of talented friends," he says. "[Zanzibar Chanel] are doing really well in Australia, but they just need a bit more going on outside. Melbourne's back to the thing where there are way too many DJs and nothing's progressing artistically. Zanzibar Chanel have just come in and been like, 'Everything sucks. Fuck everybody—we're not afraid to say it.'"
"Setting [the label up in Europe] and knowing the people here is really important," he concludes. "I think everyone looks at Australia from overseas and thinks, 'Fuck 'em, they're in Australia. What can they do? They probably haven't got a clue about what they're doing.' I'm here to get the foundations laid, and get to know all the right people."