Touch Sensitive

Touch Sensitive

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.”

Catch him at Mountain Sounds Festival 2015 alongsideDZ Deathrays, Safia, Kilter, The Griswolds, The Kite String Tangle and more atMount Penang Parklands onSaturday February 21, tickets online.

Tell Us What You Think

Touch Sensitive

Touch Sensitive

Asthe bassist for Van She for over a decade and now the synthesizer-loving electronic producer known as Touch Sensitive, Michael Di Francesco has forged a unique career path.

Taking this interview as he attempts to complete a four-year overdue tax return, Di Francesco is not your typical contemporary musician. Not feeling the pressure to release tracks as often as possible has helped him focus on doing it just for the love of music, which is perhaps one of the reasons for his longevity and versatility in the business.

“I’d been doing electronic stuff at home and with Van She lead singer Nick Routledge for a while – that [music] wasn’t suited for the band,” Di Francesco says. “I knew the guys at Future Classic and we were talking about doing some new jams, so Anna Lunoe and I were able to put out ‘Real Talk’.”

A solo career was never a goal for Di Francesco, despite dabbling in electronic sounds for years and being well connected with the likes of Future Classic, who put out Touch Sensitive’s best-known tune, ‘Pizza Guy’, last year. “The fallout from ‘Pizza Guy’ was a bit unexpected but it hasn’t changed my life – I’m still wearing the same shoes,” he says. “I used mostly computer- and software-based sounds on that record, but I felt bad because I had all this beautiful, old gear just sitting there.

“I tend to use those software-based elements because when I walk into the studio, I instantly know that I prefer working at home as that’s where I’m most comfortable.”

An impulsive and expansive record collector, Di Francesco has a solid plan in place to ensure he can never lose songs on forgotten hard drives or USBs. “I always buy vinyl instead of MP3 singles, because otherwise I’ll just lose the track and forget I had it. That means if I forget I bought the song, I can go record shopping through my own collection and be able to rediscover it later.”

Coming through on Touch Sensitive’s music are distinct disco and house influences inspired by the genres’ different incarnations from the ’80s to the early ’00s. It’s a feeling particularly prominent on his latest work, ‘Slowments’. “I really like Change, Paul Johnson and Italo-disco,” he says. “I’m also a fan of the late ’90s and early ’00s house, and jazz fusion as well.”

As he turns his attention to performing alongside Cut Copy this month, as well as making his way to Byron Bay for this year’s Splendour In The Grass, Di Francesco explains his method behind his aim of putting together a timeless and notable mix. “Making the mix for the SolО Fixtape series for example [in 2013], I didn’t want to do only new or old songs because that dates it straight away,” he says. “If you can make it ambiguous as to when the mix was made, that’s the key.”

Touch Sensitive will be playing Splendour In The Grass at North Byron Parklands from Friday July 25 until Sunday July 27. They will also be supporting Cut Copy at the Metro Theatre on Thursday May 8, tickets available through Ticketek.

Tell Us What You Think