Fran Hartnett is a highly skilled multi-disciplinary artist and producer who delves into live analogue hardware and audiovisual production, alongside being a very talented artist and tattooist. We caught up with the Dublin native to discuss his latest projects, his approach to production, some of his favourite tracks and tons more.
There’s not many producers who have taken on production in the manner Fran Hartnett has. Using a bunch of analogue hardware for audiovisual production, he moulds the sounds and visuals for a completely immersive experience. His tracks bear the grit and intensity often missed in modern dance music, and acts as a much needed reminder of the roots of electronic music – unpolished, industrial and full of machine funk.
Having seen Fran’s music and sound evolve over the last few years there’s never a dull moment catching up about tunes. His sheer passion for creating and experimenting is an inspiration, and hopefully some of our readers will take this inspiration on board for their own projects. We start off discussing his current project:
Tell us a a bit about your audiovisual project. With your background as an artist was it a natural progression to move from music to audiovisual?
Yeah I’ve always been really into the audiovisual format as a medium to explore relationships between music and images. These days the image side of that relationship is in terms of video and animation, but the idea of exploring a relationship even between ’static’ images and sound has some interesting history that you can get into as well – I was recently lucky enough to catch an exhibition of Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings at the Guggenheim in New York, and he was obsessed with trying to visualise music in his paintings. And that was back in the early twentieth century! I suppose I’m similarly obsessed, but instead I’m using video to explore these abstract relationships with my audiovisual work.
Why have you chosen to go down the analogue over digital route?
A few years back, while I was trying to feel my way towards some kind of integrated system that would enable me to perform my audio visual material in a live setting, I started having issues with my computer. Around that same time I heard about an American company, LZX, who were making video processing modules for Eurorack (a popular format for expandable synthesiser systems), and I was attracted to the idea of processing video in the analog domain. I thought it might give me a more stable system to work with than the computer based software I was using at the time. Also I love the aesthetic – there’s something about the analog video medium that has an organic quality, you can see it in all those ‘pixels’ that are never the same, it’s like the image is really alive.
Since then I’ve been slowly building this unusual system, which combines both analog and digital processing – often through trial and error, and regularly leading me down convoluted rabbit holes on nerdy video forums, or wading my way through heavy instruction manuals!
What art / music is currently inspiring you?
As a DJ I always find it hard to list the music that I’m really into, because I’m into so much of it! Right now I’m listening to a lot of Minced Oath. That’s one of the names that Dublin based Dunk Murphy uses to release his music under. I think he’s probably the best producer in Ireland. The sheer volume of work that he’s put out now, his attention to detail in every aspect of his songwriting, and range of styles in his repertoire is just incredible. But the Minced Oath project is my fav for creating a headspace for me to work, when I’m not actually making music – typically when I’m drawing tattoo designs.
Then… Dopplereffekt, Death Grips, new Jeff Mills/Blake Baxter/Jessica Care More collab ‘The Beneficeries’, regular doses of MF Doom, Idles, some killer Flying Lotus DJ set I found recently on YouTube. Autechre for days, Abul Mogard when I’m drawing artworks late at night with my dog, DJ Overdose, Paula Temple KNTX radio show set, Sofie Birch new ambient LP, Datasette, Low (RIP Mimi!), Samuel Kerridge, The Fear Ratio, Vince Staples, DVS1 DJ sets, Rod Modell, Mick Jenkins, Skee Mask, JK Flesh, Cynna, The Bug… the list goes on!
On the visual art side of things, there’s a lot that inspires me. Working as I do with tattoos every day, I’m constantly looking for reference material. Often I sample images in a similar way to a musician creatively sampling records, mangling fragments of images in the creation of my designs. So when I’m searching for references I’m constantly absorbing the images I find. I’ve discovered some incredible art through Pinterest – from the surreal sculptures of David Altmejd, Johnson Tsang, Matthew J. Levin or Wookjae Maeng, to the abstract paintings of Antony Micallef, Julia Rehme, Simon Birch, and Ryan Hewett.
I mentioned I was in New York this summer. Apart from trips to MOMA and the Guggenheim, I experienced some more current and street art styles on a graffiti tour run by this guy Jeff who has been involved with the graffiti and street art scene for over 30 years. That was really inspiring and a highlight of the trip! Also seeing a lot of new graffiti in Dublin these days. Some really great stuff. Shout out to Subset in Dublin for highlighting the value of street art by organising large scale murals around the city, and putting their neck on the line for the greater good! I hope the court proceedings against them come out with some kind of fair, and hopefully significant result. How can a fair society involve the punishment of those who go to such efforts to share their art?!
I’m also inspired by the new wave of art style coming through the medium of NFT. Here you have a whole generation of artists who have become skilled with the digital medium, creating short animated loops and static images, and sharing them with audiences in a way that conventional gallery exhibitions can’t provide. I’m not talking about the kind of collectible series of NFTs like cryptopunks or bored apes, but rather the kind of NFT art that is adventurous and daring. Of course, you have to sift through the junk to find it, but there’s some stuff out there that blows my mind. Check out local artist @E_O_I_N_ , @A_Giant_Swan_ , or @random_freaks if you want a taste of the kind of things I’m digging in NFT space.
What can people expect from your live show?
My latest show was a live collab with Jon Hussey, as we supported Kerrie live in Borris House in Carlow for Native Spaces. That was really special show, Kerrie was exceptional, and Jon and myself had a blast. Hopefully there can be a lot more of this kind of thinking outside of the box. With the right approach, there’s a lot of possibilities for events like this in unusual and historic buildings like Borris House. Some hope for the future!
My last live AV show was last Halloween bank holiday weekend and I actually managed to get that filmed properly, which I’m currently editing, so I hope to share that soon. It’s pretty hard to explain what I actually did for that show, and I think it’s best explained by watching the recording. So, you’ll see 😉
Musically, we’re talking heavy minimal rhythms. Unusual synthesis. Textured sound design. Distorted energy. Occasional ravey riffs and dirty basslines… that’s the kind of thing I go for!
What’s your approach to making tracks?
The way I make music is heavily informed by an interest in sound design. My craft is in forming, sculpting, and shaping sounds, usually with the kind of controls that are found on a typical synthesiser – envelopes, filters, equalisers, etc. Quite often when I make a track I’m less interested in composing melodies than I am in, say, programming an LFO to modulate just the right amount of decay on the filter envelope, or layering samples in two different frequency ranges to create an effective kick drum. My music, like a lot of classic techno, is focussed on the tonal quality of the sounds created. The patterns and riffs can be very simple, following the kind of tried and tested forms that are traditional in techno, made for playback on sound systems, and designed to create dynamic energy, tension, and release. So a kick drum or hi-hat pattern might be very basic indeed, or it may be part of a complex polyrhythmic arrangement combining different sequencers, but in crafting the sonic qualities of those parts, that’s often my primary focus.
Once I’m happy with the range of tones and textures in my composition, I often rearrange the patterns and musical motifs completely, and I’ll be quite content with throwing away the initial ‘song’ and creating new musical variations based on the tonal core that I created in the beginning. I find writing music to be a very organic and experimental process. I know what I’m searching for when I find it.
What’s your favourite track that you’ve made and why?
It’s hard to pick a favourite. I’ve got a lot of new unreleased music on the go at the moment, which only exists presently as arrangements on my Octatrack sampler, ready for performance at upcoming gigs, and I’ve got a few new favourites in there.
Of my previously released music there’s two tracks that are quite close to my heart. First one is an early release of mine, ‘Alpha’, for quite a few reasons. It was the first track I ever had released on vinyl, and being a vinyl DJ, it was always a dream to release a record. The record itself was a VA and I shared company on that with tracks from some of my best mates – Conor ‘Kachanski’ Hinfey, Rory St John, and Ed Devane. And the label, ‘Mantrap’ was the first label set up by another good friend Sunil Sharpe. So I have a very personal connection with that record. Also, it was the first track of mine played by an international DJ. I got a message from a mate shortly after its release, to tell me that Surgeon had played it at Fabric in London, and soon after that I got sent a link to a set he played in New York, playing it there as well. I had been a fan of Surgeon since the mid nineties so I was absolutely blown away by that.
The other track I love (which never saw a vinyl release, but was a Bandcamp exclusive) was my remix of ‘Syncopated Garden‘ by Contour. Again this one has a close personal connection for me, because Contour – Anna Doran and Conan Wynne – are really good mates too. It’s a real stomper with a minimal structure that hits hard and reminds me of an old fave – Dave Clarke’s remix of Dream On, by Depeche Mode.
Who in the Irish music scene inspires you right now?
Absolute boss Sunil Sharpe – as much for his incredible DJ skills as for all of his ‘extra-curricular’ activities, ranging from running an amazing record label, to representing generations of the Irish public with Give Us The Night. Congrats Sunil on being awarded the prestigious Bram Stoker Medal for outstanding cultural contributions last month. Certainly well deserved.
DefeKT, who has been making quality electro for years now, and recently had a release on Sven Vath’s Cocoon label and has been recently signed to Tresor, debuting with split EP with Jensen Interceptor earlier this year, and following that up with an absolutely killer Solo EP due any day now. Matt (DeFeKT) suffers with MS, and despite his condition he’s staying positive and putting all his energy into his music. It’s so great to see him receiving recognition for the music that he makes, and to see him join a label like Tresor is a significant testament to his skills.
Olan from All City Records – for continuing to run one of Ireland’s best record shops, promoting fresh talent in Irish music, and releasing new music on vinyl on his record labels, whether it be techno (his new Gurriers techno label released rising star Cailín’s first EP earlier this year) or pretty much any other genre you can think of, on the diverse and steadily building All City Records, which consists of an impressive discography by any standards.
What record never leaves your bag?
For the last good while, it’s been Neil Landstrumm’s ‘Energy Cash’ [Don’t] – it’s a bit of a curveball, and not the kind of track I even usually play in my sets. But it’s just a really fun, party tune, that has enough ravey swagger to set off the vibe in a room. And it’s familiar to so many people, as it is a remake of the original Energy Flash by Joey Beltram. I just love the way Landstrumm remade this classic and modernised it. It was such a buzz for me when I first heard it and I think it deserves more people to hear it, ‘cause a lot of people won’t have heard it and it’s a kind of ‘hey, isn’t that?!… ‘ moment. Maybe it’s even a little cheesy, for me at least – I don’t usually do cheese! – but if I had to take it there, that’s the little reserve bomb that sits in my bag, even if I hardly ever end up playing it… just in case 😉
Who would be your dream collaboration, whether art or music?
You just reminded me of one of my big regrets in life!!
I once supported Regis in The Twisted Pepper in Dublin, and after the gig he came back to a party where I had my studio at the time – it was a big multidisciplinary artists studio called A4 Sounds. I decided to take the speakers out of the music studio and ran them into the main studio area so that the gang we had brought back could have music. While Regis watched me lift the speakers out of the music studio he was looking at my setup in the room – drum machines, synths, mixer etc, and he says “hey we should make a track together” … but I said no!, cause I thought it would be rude to everyone there to just keep the speakers in the room and leave my mates with no music while I made a track with him!
Still can’t believe I missed that chance. He’s a legend, and one of my favourite artists of all time. So maybe, my dream would be have another chance to make a track with Regis, and set the record straight!
What’s next for you? Hopefully some more tunes
I’m just wrapping up a bunch of new tracks at the moment. Really excited about these ones. But first thing is the video of my latest AV project. Should be ready to share soon!
Thanks to Fran for joining in the conversation! Follow him on socials here to stay updated.