Living Art – An Interview with Jack France

  • “Rubber is a substance all alone. It takes on the character of the person who is wearing it.” – Helen Wellington-Lloyd from 1977 documentary Dressing for Pleasure.

Latex is an unforgiving material. It neither breathes nor flatters, but give it time and it will mould itself to you like a cocoon to a moth. To wear a rubber is a commitment, a submissive commitment where the wearer completely disappears into his/her chosen uniform. It’s unsubtle and obdurate and in Jack France’s case it’s a complete extension of his artistic voice. His eyes and mouth, peering out from the tiniest holes through his rubber mask are all that’s left of the DJ and producer when he adorns the outfit and the artist becomes wholly consumed by his synthetic habit. “I wanted to put myself in the art”, says Jack over the telephone when I ask him: why latex. It’s an element that intrigues and it’s very easy to get caught up in it when you would meet the artist face to face, but when you’re talking to him over the phone it merely falls away and makes way for the strong artistic personality behind it.

In the mid 2000’s Jack had become informed by London’s creatively stimulating east end where figures like Buster Bennett and Fayann Smith brought parties like all “You can Eat” and “Nuke ‘em all” to London’s grimy east end to the delight of the young, professional, media-savvy population. It was before Facebook and Youtube, but during a time when the social aspects of the Internet were just in bloom and even from Jack’s remote location outside of the physical space of it, Jack became entrenched in it. “It was just generally exciting that these kids seemed to have harnessed this platform. It was DIY and you could make yourself into a celebrity with a MySpace profile. There was this whole ecosystem online and I knew everybody I wanted to meet before I arrived in London and I just knew that if I put myself in that environment I would realise myself as an artist.” Jack’s initial introduction to this scene however was exactly “through the prism of Myspace”, but by the time Jack eventually arrived in London in 2009, “like Lee Bowery to the New Romantic scene, it was all over”. The friendships he forged online were cemented by then and he soon started working with Fayann Smith aka Ktron of All You Can Eat / Calling All Tribes – “who thought I could make it big in fine art” and provided Jack with some introductions to that world through the “art movement Wowwow” and exposed Jack to people like Alana Lake, who was last heard of “being bad ass and proper fine art, firing off ak47’s in a former East German prison.” Through Fayann’s unwavering support, Jack “acquired a context”, but another kind of bug was soon to bite, giving Jack over to music. Jack started frequenting the likes of East Bloc and parties like Jim Warboy’s SOS, where House/Techno and vogueing would be the norm. It was a time and place of uncompromising DJs and where performance aspects would become commonplace in the LGBT clubbing circuit crossing a divide between club culture and performance culture. What was initially a vision to join the fine-art world for Jack was soon consumed by everything music to a point where the fine-art world has almost completely disappeared for Jack. “I don’t find the fine-art world particularly exciting or relevant. Being a recording artist seems to be more appropriate for the times.“

Being a recording artist comes at the end of a “long process”, one where Jack didn’t “realise how long it would take” to get to grips with music, but one that the “right environment” certainly helped nurture. Built on the legacy of the likes of Steve Strange and Princess Julia, the scene evolves every few years when a new “bunch of kids come along and do something in a club” and eventfully it would be Jack’s generation’s turn at the wheel, where they lay emphasis on elements of extreme counter culture to the soundtrack of Techno. INFERNO, the club night that Jack resides at alongside Sebastian Bartz and Lewis G Burton, is at the forefront of this new generation and they are marching to the beat of an unrestrained Techno sound, informed by the harder edge of Berlin. INFERNO brings this to a wider audience today with Bartz’ Four on Four label, which hosts his own Venice Calypso productions and Jack France’s unreserved musical statements. Like the generation before them, who favoured styles of Ghetto Tech and Booty Bass, INFERNO and Four on Four calls on an uncompromising sonic aesthetic through four releases today including Jack’s most recent sophomore EP, 2206. There’s an unbridled, unforgiving hardness to Jack’s music on that EP and Function, which came before it. Even a track called House Cut is rather ambiguous and quite misleading, firmly planting itself within the borders of Techno, much like DJ Hell’s “My definition of House” did for R&S. Other titles on the EP are Techno Cut and Acid Works and are as functional as their name suggests. Techno Cut has caught the ears of other DJs like Rrose as well as a few “Italian Techno dudes” when Bartz recently played it out at the Egg recently, reaching out to very different audiences around the world, much in the same way that INFERNO would attract a very mixed crowd at their Dalston Superstore nights. “We’ve got a video of the Italian dudes really digging the Techno cut and I was really pleased with that, because if they like it…”Jack says that with a wry chuckle. I can understand why a track like that with it’s hard motorised kicks and 303 stabs, stripped back to nothing but those elements would have such a universal appeal and perhaps speaks of Jack’s own ethos in the studio. “I love the Techno elements, but maybe there’s a pop sensibility I might have. I don’t want to be fucking about, I just want to deliver the goods.” This ideology is informed by Jack’s “love” for Ghetto Tech where the music is constructed for the fundamental purpose of the DJ and the dance floor. “The whole thing doesn’t need to be on one track. Some of them almost seemed unfinished and you can tell when listening to the track that when it was going to be played out there was going to be some other track on the other end.” Jack accredits DJ Deeon, Traxman, and Houz’ Mon as influences as well as placing a lot of importance on Bartz’ sage advice in the studio. “He pushed me a lot, because I could’ve been noodling for a long time.” This is how 2206 came along too, the EP taking its title from the date it was put together. “I spent so long in the studio, I just needed to get something out. It’s slightly nebulous, but I just wanted to put a record out.”

It adds to the immediacy of Jack’s music, that constant resolution in the music that puts it all out on the surface and functions much like his appearance in encouraging a direct engagement between you and the art, whatever form it might take. In Jack’s latex attire, there’s very little peripheral vision and as such “you only interact with people who want to interact with you directly, and the rest of the time you are in a nightclub Techno kind of space.” There’s this obvious correlation between the hedonism of Techno, giving yourself over to the music, and the sub/dom underlying themes of fetishism. It’s about “loosing yourself to a frequency or surrendering yourself to something” explains Jack who also says he is “not sure how you can do some kind of fetishism as a performance to any other kind of music.” It coincides with existing fetish events like Kaos embracing the sound of Techno more in recent years, and new events like INFERNO incorporating fetish performances in the context of a party. “We just had a party in a squat on Holloway road with some members of the House of Health and the Chronic Illness. What they are doing is a marriage of Techno with performances that are quite laden with fetishism.”

Techno has always enjoyed a kind of aleatory relationship with Techno, especially in the harder aesthetics of the genre, but as I approach the subject with Jack more throughout our telephone call, I get the sense he is getting somewhat vexed about fielding questions like these. It seems that the artistic skin he lives in has become “more of a hindrance” than the motivation to perform and create it might have been initially. “In one sense it’s part shamanism and in another sense it’s just an out fit” (sic). He realises that if you “show up in a nightclub and look like that, it’s quite an immersive experience, and obviously people will react to it”, but at the same time what was very appealing to him in the beginning, is “slightly different now”, he says with a distinctly mischievous laugh. “At this point it doesn’t really interest me, because this is my look, this is how I’m gonna be showing up, it’s not something I’m massively excited to talk about.” Jack has “never fitted into boxes”, and is “reluctant to talk about fashion or latex or whatever, because people will just switch off” and enjoys a fluidity, which living within your art affords and that includes not being acquiescent to a single signifier like latex or Techno. “As an artist you want to go out and change the cannon. If I could have a bigger platform, outside of the Techno scene I would definitely go for it, and then it might useful. I’m kind of stuck with it and it’s as much of a hindrance, certainly in music as there is any benefit to it. It’s just a medium.”

This medium is what Jack is currently focussed on, but there’s no hint that it’s one he’s completely resigned on fulfilling his entire career. During the course of the interview, I hear allusions to what could be perhaps a Techno album, with “pure song” moments; a Techno track that will be reconceptualised and presented as two different tracks – a functional tool, and a radio friendly song; and an “Instrumental Grime meets Ghetto-Tech track called buck for your dollar” – suggesting there’s a very adaptable approach to music that might not be that obvious through his first two releases. Jack particularly emphasises that there are more vocals coming too. “That’s kind of exciting and a bit scary, working on vocals with other people.” The human voice, even in Techno “is essential” to Jack and he says we can expect “a combination of pure Techno moments, stuff you could play on the radio, and hopefully pieces that are just pure song” from the recording artist in the future. Jack’s in touch with a few vocal artists and it’s all a still a “bit of a mystery how these next bunch of tracks turn out” even to Jack, but at the same time he’s also collaborating with one of his influences and a Chicago legend, Houz’Mon. “I’m doing a few remixes of the classic 101RX and maybe another one for Frozen. He’s just gotta dust off the floppy disks, but he’ll be on a few things from me, some jams and I like his hats and top lines.” Jack’s also in the studio with Venus Ex Machina, incorporating live elements with drum machines and samplers in the studio and for the most part he says “he’d just be “happy in the studio all the time”.

I imagine him in that context, most likely unadorned in rubber, realising that his “out fit” must have very little influence on his work in the studio, which when you talk to him about music, seems to dissipate completely and all your left with is the artist. In the DJ booth the image creates an immersive experience, and probably allows Jack to focus solely on the music and the people in front of him. In the studio however that’s unlikely to occur, but yet, in the music, and the latex character he has created there is an undeniable symbiosis that occurs. They function individually but when they come together they make even more sense. It’s very easy to get caught up in the image of Jack France as it is very purposeful, but interviewing him over the phone, we negate the superficial aspect of his appearance and all that’s left is the art. If rubber does in fact take on “the character of the person who is wearing it”, it should expose a professional artist and DJ with a severely uncompromising attitude to this music and the walking, talking, signing musical art form he has created as Jack France.