The creation of electronic music has always been affiliated with loners. The process of tirelessly tinkering with instrument sounds, effects boards and EQs and applying them to lengthy pieces of music is best suited to those comfortable with solitude. However, Michael Di Francesco, the mastermind behind house/disco project Touch Sensitive, doesn’t seem to fit this category. The Sydney local is an affable chap, not to mention handsome, and onstage he’s a cannon of charisma. Nevertheless, Touch Sensitive is a one-man enterprise, and this insularity does pose certain challenges.
“It’s hard to regulate the stuff and be your own barometer,” says Di Francesco. “When you’re working with yourself, there’s no-one pushing and pulling you, there’s no-one saying, ‘That’s done, let’s move on.’ So if you’re not careful you end up going round and round in circles.”
Touch Sensitive’s first single ‘Body Stop’ came out way back in 2004, but Di Francesco’s real breakthrough came a few years later as one-quarter of indie-electro outfit Van She. He stayed with the band until 2012’s Idea Of Happiness LP and has since contributed to recordings from Flight Facilities and George Maple. So while Touch Sensitive is a solo project, Di Francesco’s got a gang of wily comrades to fall back on.
“My manager and the people at the label, who are also my friends, they’re honest with me,” he says. “So if they don’t think something’s good they’ll tell me, but most of the time if I don’t think something’s good I won’t send it to them anyway.”
Judging from Touch Sensitive’s latest single ‘Teen Idols’, the method appears to be working. ‘Teen Idols’ is something of a diversion from the producer’s previous releases, which have been fairly luxurious house music offerings. It’s a high-energy jam, centred on layers of interweaving wordless vocals, which evokes a calypso beach party vibe. Rather than signifying a new direction for Touch Sensitive, however, it was simply needed for the live set.
“When I play live, I just play all of my own stuff and I felt like a lot of it was just too slow,” Di Francesco says. “Because it’s not like half-time trap, the slowness is a bit ploddy. [‘Teen Idols’] was me making something that I thought would be fun to play live. I love house music and I love faster stuff, but I love the slow stuff too.”
Presently, Di Francesco is putting the finishing touches on a new EP, slated for release this year. “There’s one [track] finished and then there’s a reprise of that, then there’s two other ones with the instrumentals finished, I’m just waiting for the vocals to come back,” he says. “Then there’s maybe one other one that I want to put on there, but it has to fit.”
The live show has influenced the direction of Touch Sensitive’s new EP as well. “I’m really conscious that they’re not all love-making songs,” says Di Francesco. “There needs to be maybe one or two dancing songs. So you’ve got one side [that’s] the party side and the other side’s the romance side.”
Like many in his field, Di Francesco is a certified synth nerd. The forthcoming EP gains distinctive character thanks to the implementation of a particular synthesiser. “It’s amazing,” he says. “I’ve used that on quite a lot of it. I wanted to make it sound like it was a band playing the record – so that’s your guitarist, that’s your keyboard player, that’s your bass player. By keeping the instrumentation the same, I’ve kept it uniform throughout. Most of the stuff that I’ve done, they’re all different from each other, but you can still tell it’s me. I think it’s important to always be doing something different, but with this EP I’m trying to make it so it’s got a similar vibe throughout.”
So what is this magic synth? We’ll just have to wait and see. “I don’t really want to say. The thing is, it isn’t anything that’s crazy exotic. It’s not some high-end, really rare, boutique thing. I have those, but sometimes they’re no fun because you’ve been hearing them on record for 30 years. The thing that I’ve used went out of fashion a little while ago, so it’s a good time for it to come back.”
Di Francesco remains tight-lipped for now, but once the EP’s out, all will happily be revealed. “A lot of people will know straight away, ‘That’s that,’” he says. “Then there’ll be some people that won’t know and there’ll be lots of people that actually don’t care either.”
More than just possessiveness over a piece of electronic equipment, Di Francesco’s use of a less-than-popular tool underlines his disinclination to cohere with current trends.
“I try to be really conscious of that,” he says. “The sound of now becomes the sound of yesterday. Using all of the same sample tracks and all the same preset libraries and all the same synths, that’s why all of the EDM stuff sounds the same. If you want to do different stuff, you have to play with some settings, you have to tweak some knobs. If you’re just using presets and sample packs, you’re limited to whatever you’ve been given or whatever you’ve collected.”