Seven years ago, Adelaide's Jon Santos sat himself down and began his project, STRICT FACE. Fast forward through various EP's, a Boiler Room performance, collaborating with the likes of Le1f & Cakes Da Killa, joining Nina Las Vegas' forward-thinking record label NLV Records and he's here today releasing his biggest body of work to date; a mixtape titled New Racer.
If there's any one characteristic that has remained entirely consistent throughout Strict Face's sound, it's his fascination with rhythm and his knack for thinking outside of the box when it comes to crafting club sounds.
New Racer is an embodiment of both of these things - a heightened exploration of rhythm and a challenge in what is considered to be 'typical' about club music.
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The mixtape is dotted with these massive musical moments that really makes the 34 minutes only feel about ten minutes. I think I listened through this one about 4 times before I'd realised I'd been listening to it for over two hours. It's a testament to just how much versatility and variety he's packed in there, and it makes for an honestly refreshing listen.
The NLV Records family have really been hitting the mixtape format hard recently (Kota Banks' Prize & Swick's Court Composer), and looking critically at the advantages of a mixtape vs. an album, it's clear that for a club release where you want to explore versatility more than creating one fluid body of work, they're getting this absolutely right. Adding Strict Face's New Racer into the mix makes it clear that they've done this so each track can exist within its own context and its own space without the pressure of having to fit it all in like a puzzle. They're throwing the rules of a long-form release out the window and recontextualising them to suit their space in music.
On the mixtape, 'Crisis Combo' & 'Panther Pierced' explore these stadium-esque moments dotted by eurodance synths and complicated polyrhythms. 'Viper Striking' holds down the hip-hop influence, while 'Cherryhugs' puts dancehall to the fore. On the opposite ends of the energy spectrum, 'Lethargic' is a 2:22 electric guitar jam that makes you feel like the sun's setting on you. It's slow and beautiful, and the omission of any sort of percussion really sets the tone for the mixtape - you really don't know what's going to come next.
We sat down with Strict Face to ask him a couple of questions about the mixtape. We talked collaborating, exploring new sounds and why his work is so strongly embedded in rhythm.
Congratulations on preparing your first longer-form body of work! What has this journey taught you not only as a producer, but as a person too?
Ah, thank you! I guess you could say I learned the true meaning of ‘patience is its own reward’ in the two years it took for this project to come together, haha.
Can you tell us a bit about some of the challenges you may have faced making this mixtape?
If anything, I found the work that had to be done, after the tracks were finalised, a lot harder than anything before that! A lot of the tracks were already done or close to completion by the time I’d decided to do the mixtape last November, so I found the post-production process – mixing, scrutinising the masters, having to work on the little details – a lot more nerve-wracking than working on the songs themselves once I’d finished the project in July.
I read in an interview that you downloaded Fruity Loops at age 10, and have been producing ever since. Reflecting on your journey as a producer so far, do you feel as though this release is a true amalgamation of what you’ve learned & experienced so far?
It’s far from what I’d consider a ‘pièce de résistance,’ but it definitely encapsulates what I’ve wanted to make since I started producing as Strict Face back in 2011. There was a lot of learning (and unlearning) I had to do in the process of writing the tracks on this record, so I’m quite proud of how it’s essentially condensed what I’ve done and seen over the years into 30-odd minutes.
The mixtape embodies club sounds like no other. With genre influences spanning dancehall, RnB, club, hip hop and even elements of eurodance (that massive synth stab in ‘Crisis Combo’ comes immediately to mind), there’s a real element of fluidity to your project. How would you describe the sound that you’ve captured on this mixtape?
Kinetic. That, or a rollercoaster.
One thing that really keeps me coming back to your music is the way you produce rhythm. Each instrument feels complex and purposeful. The mixtape seems to be built upon this really strong conceptual foundation of rhythm. What is it that fascinates you about creating rhythms?
Personally, I’ve never found music that relies solely on a ‘4/4 kick-clap’ pattern to be very engaging, whether from a listening, DJing or producing perspective. There always needs to be something that comes along with a bat and breaks the simplicity to pieces, like if a drum pattern interacts with a syncopated/off-kilter synth, guitar or bassline or if a weird one-shot happens to be scattered throughout the entire drum pattern. It’s always been fascinating watching how people react when you take an anchor like that away from their reach, seeing if they hold onto it.
I suppose, as an extension of this answer, that’s partially why a large part of “New Racer” is between 90-110BPM: I’ve always found hometown crowds seem to favour the exact same thing that makes me fall asleep in a nightclub booth... and always only at 120-122BPM. So, in a way, it’s basically a reaction to all of that.
Tracks like ‘Viper Striking’ & ‘Panther Pierced’ capture these massive club moments that could definitely be played at the real peak of the dancefloor, but then you’ve also crafted tracks like ‘Lethargic’ that are there purely to listen to instead of dancing to. Were you conscious of producing such a variety of tracks with this mixtape, or did that only become apparent after you really sat back and listened?
Definitely the latter. I mean, given that we had a fairly comprehensive library of tracks to choose from when we were planning it, the mixtape could have turned out differently from what you’re all hearing now. There wasn’t much of an expectation of what “New Racer” would sound like, much like everything I’d done up until this point. If anything, I’d struggle way more if I came in with a conscious idea or concept to frame a record around.
You’re no stranger to collaboration. It feels like a lot of your recent work has included a few collaborative projects, like your previous tracks with Yayoyanoh & Sophiegrophy. Was it a conscious decision to have no features on this mixtape?
I did initially have a plan to work with a few vocalists when I was working on the tape. That all went out the window once Tom from Local Action, Nina and I listened to the rough draft of “New Racer” though. Kind of serendipitous, really. Even now that the tape’s finished, I can’t really imagine it with vocalists... I’ve gotten too used to hearing these over the last 11 months!
You’ve delivered so many important musical moments on this mixtape, particularly ones we haven’t heard from you before. Tracks like ‘Kiss Me Later’ & ’Starwipe’ incorporate slower, emotive elements. What was it that made you began exploring this softer side to your sound?
There’s been hints of it since the 'Gobstopper' single back in 2014! I’ve always written or made little sketches of where my head’s been at musically – whether more emotive or precision-tooled – but there just wasn’t a proper opportunity to really run with that side of the coin until now... I think once I got really burned out on making music at 140bpm all the time after the Rain Cuts EP, that was a huge “Eureka!” moment for me.
Photo by Tiffany Williams
Words by CAITLIN MEDCALF