Strict Face guides us through his new mixtape, New Racer
One of Australia's most exciting club names continues to evolve on his most ambitious project yet.
Header photo by Tiff Williams.
Strict Face has taken on a lot of different forms over the years. The K-Major-featuring Murderer, the Adelaide producer's 2016 arguable break-out, combines quick-firing bass kicks and thick synth stabs with a swooning R&B croon for a track that unites two very different sides of his inspiration and influence, while songs such as This Heat highlight Cobra Charm are more profound and intimidating, bringing together crashing productions with the rapid pace of rapper-on-the-rise Sophiegrophy. Linking all these works is Strict Face's skill-set in production and songwriting, with each track feeling as slick and polished as the next despite taking on a vast and versatile mix of sounds.
Strict Face's most ambitious project to date – a nine-track mixtape titled New Racer arriving today via NLV Records/Local Action – showcases this skillset in a condensed, 34-minute version that feels like his most triumphant, yet also most intimate thus far. It takes on the many varying forms of Strict Face but in an entirely solo and uninterrupted form, each track being reflective of his production growth over the years and how now, even without the guest collaborators that have marked his past work, he's still able to tell stories.
Songs including feature single Gold Citro combine the romantic R&B mannerisms of his past work with Rustie-esque synth drops and twisted melodies, while Crisis Combo and Viper Striking push this warped experimentalism into the forefront through synth chops and deep, shaking percussive kicks. "I see New Racer as a gratuitous 'thank you' to everything that's influenced and inspired me over the years and the final product of turning everything I've learned prior to the last two years on its head at once," says Strict Face on the release and you can hear that. There are nods to his past work as mentioned – lush, Timbaland-esque R&B, buckled, club-centric productions – but they're brought forward into 2018 and even beyond, offering a glimpse at the future of one Australia's most exciting.
Dive into the EP below with a track-by-track walkthrough from the Adelaide producer himself, then catch Strict Face playing two "low-key" launch shows in Adelaide and Melbourne over the next two weeks – more info HERE.
At the time the mixtape really started getting itself into gear, there were a few things I wanted to do to augment what we already had. One of them was getting a few vocalists in to work with some of the tracks, this being one of them. That didn’t exactly go to plan, but Lethargic worked really well as an intro, so we kept it.
This also has me playing the guitar on it. It took me 50 takes to get there though.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Eurodance melodies – a lot of that stuff was the earliest musical memory I vividly recall, aside from my family’s friends at the time being obsessed with Madonna, MJ and Prince – so it’s largely a tip of the hat (albeit a very twisted one) to that genre. Even then, a lot of the melodies I’ve written in my music over the years have been a homage to how ‘maximalist’ that whole sound is. The 80s toms and percussion seemed to fit in nicely as well, oddly enough.
Compared to most of the other tracks, this one doesn’t really have a fancy backstory – I made it as a fun no-frills track to play in my DJ sets. A lot of people liked and played it when I sent it to them, so it kind of stuck around when Tom, Nina and I were planning the mixtape together. I tried to make a few ‘album-friendly’ versions of Viper Striking, but none of them seemed to have the same impact, so we kept the demo version for New Racer.
I’ve made a lot of music to amp yourself up to, but I’d say this and Viper Striking are probably two of the hardest tracks I’ve actually made. This one came together quickly too – I found a DX7 jam I recorded when I came across one at uni, chucked one particular sample through a long effects chain (that plucky stringed instrument you hear throughout the track), wrote the melody and built the track around that not long after. Kinda sounds like Scott Storch soundtracking a medieval sword battle.
No lie, this one was a pain in the neck to finish, but I love this one to bits now. I probably spent more time mixing this one down than the rest of the mixtape... there’s a Moog bass synth I use as a topline during the drops, and it kept getting buried under everything else, so having to EQ it constantly was... err, a lot of fun.
I’d also copped a Yamaha PSS-270 synth at the time I was working on this track. I played the chords on the breakdown for a test run and discovered it sounded way better than the synth I had in the demo, so in it went. Bonus points if you figure out which song I was trying to send a ‘thank you’ letter to in that section.
This one doesn’t have an awfully compelling story, but it was the last track I finished for the mixtape. I’m glad it got included in the end, because I think it ties the whole thing together quite nicely. That said, it’s been a little funny hearing people say that they sense a Timbaland influence here when this one was more of a tip of the hat to the Neptunes!
This track kind of kickstarted the whole mixtape for me. I’d spent the better part of 2017 not writing a single track that was above 120BPM, which was a nice seachange for me, especially since I was coming off the back of a period of time where I felt a little exhausted and unsure of where to take my sound.
I had a few sketches lying around on my HDD at the time and, just as a lark, I decided to try and combine two of them – one of them being the main melody and synth bass and the other being the outro in loop form – to see how it turned out. Looking back, it’s one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written. I couldn’t even tell you what I was trying to get at when I wrote the sketches, but now it kinda reminds me of some of the brighter Kanye/Just Blaze/Timbo productions that came out of 2008.
Kiss Me Later
I try to write ideas down as much as I can so I don’t forget a melody or set of chords worth using later on. This was one of the 500-odd project files that just sat in my DAW gathering digital dust for ages, but during that period of working on the songs for this tape, I was able to flesh this one out. Just as well, ‘cause I still love the piano on this.
This is the oldest track off New Racer. I wrote the demo for it shortly after I’d gotten back from a tour I did around the UK/Europe in 2016. I’d had the main chords stuck in my head for a while, and I was listening to a lot of old-school R&B (the Isley Brothers, Luther Vandross and Millie Jackson’s Caught Up album in particular) and AM radio classics at the time, so it kind of pieced itself together quite quickly. Tom was a huge fan of it from the get-go. The intro and guitars didn’t come in until much later though.
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