Words by: Angelina Nikolayeva
Photography by: Koen van Santvoort
Tilburg-based producer French II has stepped into the spotlight with his dance-floor ready debut EP last December. What was undoubtedly a killer tune from the first listen, “Hytune” has received overwhelming support from adventurous DJs known for pushing that niche UK sound associated with the post-dubstep era. If the slick, on-point production of his first release didn't give it away, French II isn’t a newcomer. Before embarking on his solo journey and taking up the new alias, Frank Klick would share the stage with the likes of The Prodigy and Noisia, dishing out energetic dubstep, trap and drum and bass as part of BANGANAGANGBANGERS collective. With that experience and forward-thinking, gutsy attitude under his belt, French II seems to have managed to translate it into something of his own - the sound drawing from a myriad of influences but is unequivocally idiosyncratic.
Today marks the release of his second EPTime/Tracker, where he explores a rather sentimental, emotionally charged realm. We had a chat with the producer to get to know his background, gain an insight into the studio process and how his new record came about.
You are a relatively new face to the electronic music landscape as a solo artist, so let’s start from the very beginning. You mentioned that you used to play guitar when you were younger. What was your first introduction to music and why did you decide to give up instruments?
My grandma used to play me some old records when I was around the age of 3 and I still have vivid memories of that. Unfortunately, she passed away when I was 5 so I never got the chance to ask her what records those were. My parents weren’t so much into music. My father had about 2 CD’s he liked; one was a Rolling Stones album and the other a Queen’s Greatest Hits CD. I think that was it and maybe some Pavarotti. I believe my mother doesn’t listen to music at all - how? The thing about the guitar is that I gave up my lessons because I went to gabber parties at the age of 14 and immediately had no ear for my guitar anymore!
What experiences got you hooked on electronic music?
When I was 14, my best friend Jeroen and I got our parents’ permission to join the older lads from our little village to a club called Kikvorsch. So we called a friend to print fake ID’s and jumped on a bus to that party! I remember Dj Buzz Fuzz, Gizmo and Chosen Few were playing there. That stuff got us hooked in an instant. From there on we went to a gabber party almost every weekend. At the age of 17, I started opening up for other sounds such as drum and bass, electro and such. I loved to explore new sounds and boundaries.
Is that when you started playing and producing yourself?
I started goofing around with the CDJs when I was 18/19 with some of my local friends in a small bar. We were pretty late with that but when I moved to Tilburg to study, things got more serious. I met some like-minded guys at college and formed a DJ collective called BANGANAGANGBANGERS, in those years James Castelijn taught me the first steps of producing. It wasn't for the last 3 years until I got a bigger part in the productions of the crew. I co-produced the King Abbott EP, which got rinsed almost every week by Bassnectar and produced a couple of singles/remixes afterwards.
Over the years of being part of BANGANAGANGBANGERS collective, you got to play for different crowds in clubs as well as large festival stages. What have you picked up from that experience?
I gained a lot of stage experience from that time. We played more than 200 gigs in 7 years from little bars to stages like Mysteryland, ADE, Decibel and Laundry Day. That taught me a lot about having a connection with the crowd, and that it doesn't matter how big the stage is, you have to give the people a fun night they will hopefully remember. I was more of a background type of guy tho, focusing on the selection and techniques but the other DJs in my crew could def hype up a crowd through their enthusiasm. That's definitely something I learned from them: to have fun and not be too much of a perfectionist, just vibe.
What encouraged you to pursue your solo career and what is your relationship with the collective now?
The collective stopped existing at the end of 2018. We all went our separate ways but still remained close friends. That was the moment I picked up my moniker French II as I felt I wasn't ready to leave the club scene just yet and really wanted to evolve my production skills. I had the urge to prove myself that I was capable of making some solid tunes. We still have the studio [Studio Bangana] where we try to help talented kids get into music and into the club scene in every kind of way. It's a way for us to contribute to the local scene and stay in touch with youngsters.
With your French II moniker, you took a step back from dubstep and drum & bass genres, yet your sound is still largely informed by UK-centric dance rhythms. How was your own style developed and what were your main influences on this path?
I’ve always been fascinated by the scene in the UK which started with grime and D&B, and dug MC’s and DJ’s like D Double E, Footsie, Joker, Commodo, Plastician, DJ Hype, DJ Hazard and so on. After we quit Bangana I released my first tracks still in the D&B area, with some dark halftime, Homemade Weapons / Samurai Music types of releases. That was mainly to stay in the picture because I didn't want to fall into the background when the group split up. In the meantime, I was working on my UK club releases, but I didn't feel those were good enough until Raynor [Coloray] pushed me to release a first 2-track EP at the end of December 2019 on his label [Intercept]. He helped me a lot in developing my production skills over the past 2 years.
What were the biggest challenges and the most exciting moments in your solo career so far?
The most exciting thing for me was when I was going to release my first club release on Intercept. I was pretty hyped at the time - actually only 4 months ago - and felt confident enough to do some DIY mailing to some DJ’s I liked. I just looked up the contacts on the internet and started sending out personal e-mails with a promo of the Hytune/ Quiten OK EP. A few days later, my mailbox started to get some messages from pretty cool DJ’s saying they liked my stuff. Then ANZ and re:ni were the first to air “Hytune” on NTS. That was a big boost for me. A month later Call Super played my track on Ben UFO’s Hessle Audio podcast on Rinse FM. That was so cool! The biggest challenge for me was to come up with a follow up on Hytune/Quite OK because that one worked really well. So I hope you guys like my new EP :)
You live in Tilburg where nightlife is quite limited compared to the larger cities like Amsterdam or Rotterdam. How do you find the local scene here and what role did it play in your own development?
I think the scene in Tilburg is slowly getting a more mature vibe but it still has a long way to go. There are a few people who are pushing forward club music and art and experimenting a lot, that's great to see. After the first year of Draaimolen parties, I joined Milo and Elisa to organize the first festival and worked with them for 3 or 4 years. That was a really fun time for us. Milo and I also started a small club night called Lost which was totally focused on the UK sounds. Super low-key but very effective. After that, I did a few Bangana Invites nights with artists like Ed Rush, Plastician, Stooki Sound etc.
You recently launched your own event Go! Which sadly couldn’t take place due to the pandemic we are facing now. What was your experience with promoting in the past and why did you decide to get back to it?
After I left Draaimolen I didn't feel like hosting a party anymore until Go!. I was wholly caught up in the production side of music. I locked myself up in the studio spending a shit load of hours trying to create my new sound. That was and is still the most important thing in my life. I started the Go! concept with my good friends Bas Veekes and Lars Dennemans. We share similar tastes in music and felt like having some fun. So, why not throw a party we would like to attend ourselves in our town? We decided to catch up with the faster club sound inviting Cera Khin and Titia and I was going to take care of the opening duties. We just have rescheduled the party to the 25th of September.
Talking about the pandemic, how have you been spending your time in isolation?
I actually finished my new EP just before the pandemic hit and didn't make a lot of music in the meantime. I spend most of the time with people I like to be around and take some time to clear my mind. Also, I’m annoying my big homie Raynor [Coloray] a lot. I guess I see him more often than his girl does! We do some experimenting with music and I help him with the label [Intercept].
Can you walk us through your creative process in the studio? Do you have your own way of dealing with creative blocks?
Last year, I bought the Novation Peak, which is a polyphonic synth. This really boosted my creativity. Most of the time I just start out making a bassline and some percussive bits in that synth, layering it with an 808 drum pattern. Then I try to make a groove with percussion and finish it off with some analog pads/atmospheres. That way works best for me, but if it doesn’t, I just fuck around with the peak until I got something weird, layering weird stuff on weird stuff until I feel like adding the drums again. I recently bought the Moog Dfam, that one is going to be so much fun! If I got a creative block I just feel a bit down and annoy Raynor again [laughs].
I noticed that you often make use of samples in your productions.
I have access to the library on Audioscience Online started by Amit. Artists like J:Kenzo, Gremlinz, Fracture, and Krust share some quality samples there. The breaks featured in that library are insane - all original - and there is a lot of dub percussions, sirens, and moods to find there. The second library I use a lot is the one of Mad Zach. I know him from the Bangana times and we are still in contact. He shared a lot of banks with me (you can purchase them online). Really creative sounds. Then you have Samples From Mars; it contains all the “OG” drum computer samples like 808, 707 and 909 which I use a lot. Last but not least, I use a lot of foreign percussion sounds which I cut and tweak to make it sound authentic.
With Time / Tracker you went into a deeper, emotive direction. What was on your mind when making that record?
Raynor [Coloray] set the date earlier this year so I had to come up with a follow up for Hytune EP before 10 April. I had made a bunch of straightforward club tracks and literally the last week before I had to round up the EP, I made “Time” and “Tracker”. I called Raynor and told him to skip the other tracks - I made a totally new EP.
When my good friend Luuk [Lifecycle] was over at my place, I started a new Ableton project and just jammed on the Peak. He started fucking around with a vocal idea and provided some drum samples. “Time” was born in about 4 hours. I definitely own some credits to Luuk for this track. The day after, my friends Milo, Ivy, and Bob came by to share some new beats and play music, which got me inspired to start something new. Again, I flipped “Tracker” in one afternoon. So I guess there wasn't necessarily a specific emotion involved, just some fresh inspiration from the guys!
Both of your releases so far are featured on Dutch imprint Intercept. Could you tell a bit about your relationship with the label?
Ray [Coloray] and I are best buddies, and he has always supported me in my process, so it was obvious that I would release my first club beats on his label. We are exchanging thoughts about new releases on the label and I try to be a listening ear for him while mastering, scouting and mixing stuff. The label is leaning towards a more experimental sound at the moment with releases from Ramses3000, Ineffekt and Baril coming up; such good records!
Lastly, what have you got on the horizon for the rest of 2020?
I really don’t know! With the virus in the air, things are pretty uncertain. I hope to get some first club gigs later this year to share my records and skills with people. I will also probably release a follow-up EP on Intercept again, so let's see what will happen from there on. I don't want to have too many expectations; I am just having fun in the process and hope to be noticed a bit in the scene.
Listen to Time/Tracker on Bandcamp.