EDM's Reigning Clown Prince Dillon Francis Hits Phoenix with the Mad Decent Block Party

Dillon Francis is scheduled to perform on Friday, September 12, during the Mad Decent Block Party at Rawhide.
Dillon Francis is scheduled to perform on Friday, September 12, during the Mad Decent Block Party at Rawhide.
Columbia Records/Mad Decent

No one can accuse Dillon Francis of taking himself too seriously. Sure, he might be guilty of prank-calling, re-creating Ghost's pottery wheel scene with 12th Planet on YouTube, or giving away ham at shows, but he's never been one of those self-important EDM producers obsessed with image.

Instead, the 26-year-old prefers to obsess over Taco Bell, cats, Tiësto, or whatever absurd bit he's planning next -- and he's definitely got a lot of 'em. When Francis isn't performing or producing, he's uploading videos of arguments with himself to Instagram, trolling Twitter, or creating another of his farcical alter egos, such as German deep house weirdo DJ Hanzel.

And, for the right price, you can book Francis via www.dillonfrancis.com to do your taxes, assemble IKEA furniture, drunkenly cook a favorite recipe, or call your parents in the dead of night.

Needless to say, Francis is EDM's class clown, but also one of its fastest-rising stars. In four years, he's blown up from lowly bedroom producer to festival star and inking a deal with Columbia Records to release his debut full-length, Money Sucks, Friends Rule, next month.

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A lot of his success is due, in part, to Diplo and his eclectic hip-hop/dance music label, Mad Decent. The tastemaking DJ/producer -- who worked with M.I.A. on "Paper Planes," helped the "Harlem Shake" go viral, and propelled "turnt" into Internet lore -- curated Francis' early efforts in moombah just as the genre was breaking big.

"Diplo's given me a lot of guidance over the years," Francis says. That includes recruiting him to play the annual Mad Decent Block Party.

See also: Mad Decent Block Party 2014 - A Field Guide to Friday's Event

In some ways, Francis' meteoric rise has paralleled that of Mad Decent and its signature event. Originally a one-off thrown by Diplo in 2008, its become a nationally touring summer festival hitting 22 cities this year, including its first-ever visit to Phoenix on Friday, spotlighting the label's roster and some of the brightest (and weirdest) stars of EDM, alternative hip-hop, and indie rock.

While he's had releases on dance-music imprints like Skrillex's OWSLA and Fool's Gold, Francis still has a certain loyalty to Mad Decent. That's why you'll see him on the tour, find the label's logo on Money Sucks, Friends Rule, and hear singles like 2011's "I.D.G.A.F.O.S." on its website.

The 2011 track's name, shorthand for "I Don't Give a Fuck or Shit," is fitting, considering it personifies Francis' attitude about his humor and music.

"I've just always been interested in whatever inspires me. I don't really care what it is," Francis says by phone from New Orleans. "I like making people laugh. I like finding humor in everything."

He also won't be a producer pigeonholed to a sound, which is why you'll hear everything from sweaty moombahton dembow and clamorous dubstep to four-on-the-floor electronica bombast in his tracks.

Francis' parents forbade him from listening to anything but pop music and mandated daily viewing of Sesame Street during the Los Angeles native's childhood. As a teen, Francis had a flirtation with graf art ("I drew dicks all over L.A.," he told Spin in 2012), and began discovering genres beside those on the radio.

"I've never been a person that's obsessed with one genre," he says. "When I was growing up, I listened to nothing but pop music, then I listened to metal, then it was like pop-punk, emo music...Everything. I just didn't care what it was."

Eventually, he embraced EDM, and it gave him a career path after high school, when stints as an art school student and photographer proved unsatisfying. Francis spent a make-or-break year holed up in his family's guest house dabbling in beatmaking on Ableton Live. After his then-manager, influential DJ/producer Stretch Armstrong, clued him into the emerging moombahton movement in 2010, Francis reworked his 130 BPM reggaeton/house hybrid "Masta Blasta" to fit the genre's aesthetic. At his urging, Stretch got it into Diplo's hands.

"That's when everything blew up for me," Francis says.

The Mad Decent ringmaster went gaga over it and got Francis into the studio and onto the label's roster, dropping his breakout 2011 EP, Westside! Francis found a mentor and champion in Diplo, a savvy and prescient early adopter of groundbreaking sounds such as baile funk, indie electro, moombahton, and trap.

"He's been pushing the envelope since, like, forever. He's been around and always finds the new up-and-coming sound and tries to really give it a outlet," Francis says. "I probably could've flourished anyway, but definitely not in the same way I have now. I've always had to hustle, so I would've gotten into someone's ear. I'm glad it was Diplo's."  

Mad Decent's oddball crew has become a second family to Francis (right down to calling Diplo his "dad") and a frequent source for his projects or pranks, like when he formed a jokey supergroup alongside Flosstradamus called Dillstradamus or riffing with Riff Raff on YouTube while promoting the Mad Decent Block Party.

When Diplo's one-stage circus rolls through Arizona, he'll bring along West Coast indie trip-hop rapper Thurz, future bass breakout Cashmere Cat, and Boulder, Colorado, acid jazz/instrumental livetronica fusion Big Gigantic.

"It's a place where you can experiment with new songs because the Mad Decent fanbase is very accepting of everything," Francis says.

He'll roll out newer material of his own, mainly from Money Sucks, Friends Rule. Fittingly, the album abounds with BFFs. He tapped "Turn Down for What" producer DJ Snake for the SoundCloud-scorching trap banger "Get Low," while Ned Sultan + Shepard and The Chain Gang of 1974 appear on the "super poppy" single "When We Were Young."

Francis' sense of humor shines in the video for "I Can't Take It," directed by L.A. graphic designers PizzaSlime, featuring an animated hurly-burly of 4chan-like imagery and googly-eyed foodstuffs declaring, among other things, that Francis "pees sitting down" and "shits the bed."

"PizzaSlime is slandering me," he deadpans. "It's all lies. All of them are lies." It's neither the weirdest visuals he's set to music (the video for "Flight 4555" is nothing more than him napping in a Denmark airport), nor the strangest spectacle of the block party. Diplo's famous for surfing over its audiences in a giant hamster ball, while Francis and rapper Kam reportedly rained down 500 unopened tampons last month in Philadelphia.

The tampon stunt was in line with Francis' description of the event as "the best place in the entire world to have fun with your friends and not give a fuck."

Well, unless you're a raver with a love of beaded "kandi" jewelry.

Last month, block party tour promoter Bowery Presents banned the item from all future dates after two attendees died and 20 were hospitalized from suspected MDMA overdoses in Baltimore. Ditto for most other rave accessories (pacifiers, LED gloves, plush backpacks) or anything else that could potentially conceal drugs. (Similar deaths have befallen summertime dance festivals, including Hard Summer in L.A. and Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas.)

Ravers put Mad Decent on blast via social media, alleging the ban was based on the subculture's onetime reputation as a druggy bacchanal and ran afoul of its longstanding ethos of PLUR (a.k.a. Peace Love Unity Respect). Diplo countered on TwitLonger that it was in the name of safety.

"I never wear Kandi and I understand it's not [a] drug-related culture inherently," he stated. "We just had serious issues with kids hiding it...and there was a definite relationship between safety and security and made it so we had to ban certain items."

He also dismissed the fervor as a "silly [thing] to get angry over."

"If it bothers you just don't attend. I'm down for anything positive, but this doesn't affect our parties too much," Diplo stated. "I'm not the promoter. I actually had nothing to do with the rules being implemented, but I do agree with my team. And 'cause of who I am, I'm the de facto speaker. I have thick skin, so [you] guys that consider yourself [PLUR] can attack me all you want. It doesn't bother me. I'm just here for the music."

The Mad Decent Block Party is scheduled to visit Rawhide Western Town on Friday, September 12, at Rawhide Western Town.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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