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The Strict Face Formula

The producer's latest release, 'New Racer', plants him at the summit of Australian club culture. So where does he go next?

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I ring up Strict Face the day after the release of New Racer, his first full-length mixtape. He’s on a break at his day job, “admin guy” for a security alarm company. As we chat about New Racer, and I heap praise on it, he tells me that he’s surprised by the reception. I’m surprised in turn, because from the outside it’s hard to imagine New Racer being anything less than brilliant. Strict Face has been perfecting his signature club sounds for seven years now, and the EP is the best expression of it yet.

In 2014 Strict Face debuted with the two-track release Fountains / Highbury Skyline, quickly  followed by his 2015 EP Marble Isles. 2016’s ‘Murderer’ with K-Major was his first collaborative effort, followed by tracks ‘Afterparty’ with Tarquin and Yayoyanoh, and ‘Cobra Charm’ with Sophiegrophy. 2018 saw him share Melbourne’s first Boiler Room stage with Nina Las Vegas. Strict Face’s music is infectious. He creates sonic atmospheres in a way that few can—fusing the club with a lazy Sunday morning. You could put it down to his ability to conjure up unusual rhythms and sounds to his tracks. Or you could attribute it to the consistency of his roll outs. Either way, Strict Face is one of Adelaide’s best exports.

He’s worked with homegrown labels like Gobstopper and Tuff Wax. He was among the first to sign to NLV Records. As far as Australia is concerned, Strict Face has pretty much done everything a DJ can do—without morphing into Flume. After New Racer, where does he go next? He’s got some ideas (that might include resigning from that day job).

Hello! New Racer is your biggest release yet, and it’s such a varied, cohesive body of work. I’ve read lots of reviews, it’s been received really well.
When I woke up on the day that the mixtape came out, I had a few messages from people that I’d sent the record to. I didn’t really expect much of a reaction on the day that it came out. It was actually quite unexpected. I didn’t think anyone would hit me up about it until [a couple of days later.] To see the reception it’s been getting so far has been quite surprising.

I heard that the post-production process made up the bulk of the work compared to the recording stages.
Yeah. I’m not that much of a perfectionist, per se. If anything, it was more having to reflect on how the production needed to sound whenever I tested it out. Or if I sent it to the label, more often than not they’d have at least a handful of feedback everytime I sent a demo through. It was more-so just having to feel what general skeleton the track was on. It was kind of difficult, especially when you’re in a mood to move onto the next thing. It’s not always easy having to focus on each track as it is. Sometimes when you’re working on a project and you’re having to clunkily go back and forth between them, it gets a bit frustrating.

You did your first solo Boiler Room with Nina this year. How was that?
It was cool! I didn’t really expect to get a Boiler Room session this year, let alone any time soon. When I got the call from Boiler Room at the start of the year, I had to do a double take. I couldn’t say no. Especially because it was with Nina, Corin, and Basenji. They’re all producers that I really, really like in terms of what they’re doing. It was an honour.

I can imagine! I’m going to be honest and say that I know it’s not your first experience with Boiler Room. I saw you dancing at Amy Becker’s 2016 Boiler Room in London
Yeah… I was there. (Laughs) When I was touring the UK and Europe in 2016, I went and saw that Boiler Room. I mean, everyone on that line-up [was amazing]. There was Amy Becker, Tarquin, and a few other mates of mine. They were playing a show together and just by coincidence I happened to be in town that weekend on my tour. I hit the guys up and I managed to get in somehow. I guess you could say that it was my first time playing Boiler Room this year but not my first time in front of the camera!

Technically… if we’re going to nit-pick. I know you’re from Adelaide and that’s where your DJ career stemmed from. What was the first club you ever played?
It was definitely in Adelaide at a small, dinghy club.

I love the sound of that already.
It was at Hindley St! It was at this club called Cuckoo, which has unfortunately shut down now. It was this really, really small techno club. And my friend who I used to throw club nights with knew the owner. Just for the hell of it, we decided to do a small club night there. We didn’t expect much in the way of people showing up to the club when did those nights. It was actually a good way to cut my teeth and learn the ropes in terms of DJing and how that whole system works. I played quite a few shows in Adelaide… at this point I have trouble remembering exactly where I technically started.

Can we talk about Earworms, your Spotify playlist? Which has great cover art, by the way.
Oh man. It’s kind of funny, it’s such a juxtaposition because it’s a pretty grisly thing to look but there’s a beauty behind it.

Did you ever watch Narcos?
Yeah!

You know how in the opening title where they have the burning car at the end?
You know what? I feel like there was actually a subconscious nod to that. I mean, it’s also like a really subtle because of the whole “getting handed the AUX cord and blowing up the car” joke.

[Laughs] Yes. That’s amazing. I didn’t make that connection! I love that it covers a whole range of music. When did you start it?
Well, I had a whole bunch of playlists before that, but they didn’t really take off like Earworms has. I felt that if I combined different things I was listening to and paired it with music that I was listening to in the club at the time, it would give people a more accurate picture of where my head was at musically. It’s a rolling playlist. I update it at least once a fortnight. It’s just like a bit of an obsessive belief that I’ve got when it comes to that.

I like that.I got told the other day that you really love Rihanna’s last album.
Anti! Yes! Huge fan of that album.

Me too. What do you think makes a good hit song?
If I was tasked with having to judge a hit song, I’d say the sonics and how the song is written really matter. It depends on the kind of sounds that are involved and how the artist, producer, and songwriter approach it in terms of structure and vocals—how it throws that, even in the slightest way, off-kilter. Everything matters when you’re making something stand out. A lot more than something that you could consider a ‘paint-by-numbers’. I look for the really weird sounds that you wouldn’t expect. I also look for how rhythmic it is as well. If there’s a really good drum pattern that’s something that stands out to me.

Top five releases of 2018?
Okay. Look, there’s been so many. The Kacey Musgrave’s album Golden Hour for sure. Travis Scott’s Astroworld.

Oh my god. Great album.
I don’t know what it was, but a lot of rap didn’t stick with me this year. I don’t know if it was production or the number of tracks, but compared to pop, R&B and club music, I felt like I liked individual tracks when it came rap, as opposed whole records. But Astroworld is the exception. That whole album is great, production wise especially. Everything Charli XCX has put out recently has been amazing. Kota Banks’ Prize for sure. S-Type is a producer from Scotland. He put out a track every Thursday for a couple of months, and then at the end of that period he compiled it into an album. I’ve been obsessed ever since. This could all change in a month’s time. Troy Sivan put out a bunch of really good tracks too. The Sinjin Hawke and Zora Jones EP, Vicious Circles, comes to mind. Pretty much everything Fractal Fantasy put out.

Would you ever produce a pop album? Who would be your dream person to produce for?
I definitely want to do something like that in the future. In terms of who I would do it for… is a lot harder. My dream collaborator would for sure be Ariana Grande or Kelela. But I feel like I couldn’t just pluck them out of a hat. It would come down to how we worked in the studio and how it all fits together. If we’re on the same wavelength, then that’s cool.

Who doesn’t love a good pop album?
I feel like pop has had a very good resurgence and has been quite widely accepted, as opposed to seeing it as this little sphere where a lot of people don’t really touch it because of the connotations or people might think it’s too commercial for their tastes or their sensibilities. But in this day and age, especially with streaming, that whole pre-conceived notion of pop has been demolished. And it’s lead us to a lot more experimental and forward facing music because of it.

Are you a fan of Björk?
Yeah, I’m more a fan of her older stuff than her newer stuff. I don’t think her [newer] stuff is necessarily bad music, it just didn’t stick with me.

I was watching an interview with her, and the interviewer asks her about she thinks of people that call her music pop music. And she says “Well, it’s made from the everyday sounds. It’s made from inspiration that everyone can relate to, from universal themes.” It’s one of the best descriptions of pop that I’ve heard.
I think she nailed it as well. A lot of the music that’s made is inspired by what we hear. Like walking down the street, we can hear something and that might be the start of a track that could potentially be a hit. She was onto something.

Did your everyday life come through in New Racer?
It’s a mix of those. I wouldn’t necessarily say that my personal life did inspire all of it. But I wouldn’t deny the fact that parts of it did.

What’s your Adelaide club food?
I actually go to Yiros House on Rundle St. It’s right near Sugar, one of the clubs I go to the most. After the club, or even during the club, I’ll go there. I normally get the standard falafel. That or a small bag of chips. The staples of the club.

Speaking of, what’s the staple of a good club? What keeps you coming back?
Most of the time I would say a good sound system and a well maintained DJ set up, just from a DJ perspective. As a punter though, I’d say the curation of the club. From the vibe, right down to who you’re booking as a DJ. It doesn’t really matter how dinghy or how poorly decked out the club is, as long as you’re doing all those things I’ll come back. It’s really bizarre because a lot of clubs in Australia succeed in some of those areas, but they don’t get all of those parts right. I’ve been to a lot of good clubs here, but they’re getting rarer by the day.

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