Touch Sensitive: it’s a name you most likely have become familiar with in recent times, but I remember seeing it on a mysterious record from 2006 called “Body Stop,” a toned-down, synth-driven disco track, which was particularly refreshing in contrast to all the banging electro at the time. Clearly Italo-influenced, you would have thought it came out in ’83. The cut was an underground hit when it was released, but nothing came from the elusive producer after that—until now, seven years later. Touch Sensitive is actually the solo project of Michael Di Francesco, co-founder of Sydney-based dance act Van She. Last summer marked his return, in the form of a collaboration with Anna Lunoe, the club hit “Real Talk.” If you went to at least two clubs last summer, you know the song. (And if you’re still unfamiliar, then you’ve most definitely been going to the wrong places!)
This year, Di Francesco had an EP released via Future Classic called Pizza Guy, featuring a title track, another called “Show Me,” and a heady remix from Lauer. The cheeky music video that accompanied the single featured Touch Sensitive himself delivering vinyl records inside pizza boxes to the likes of Flume, Chet Faker, and Jagwar Mar, among others. Now that Di Francesco is hanging out in L.A. for a minute, I’ve had the chance to catch him out and see what his live set is all about. The man seems to be busier than ever, serving up tracks and dishing them out hot—like the pizza delivery guy he played—but, luckily, I caught him in the midst of some rare downtime for a round of quick questions.
Hey man, how are things? Enjoying L.A.?
Hi, yes, I’m very well, thank you. I love it here.
So what brought you out here? Just a change of scenery? We have quite the Aussie crew in L.A. now!
Originally, I planned on coming here for a couple of months to hang and do some music, but then I got some gigs and a tour so it’s worked out well; everything fell into place. Yes, you’re right—half of Sydney is here! There’s a lot of studio gear there in storage not being used.
Alright, let’s go back in time for a sec. From what I understand, you came up from a very music-savvy family. Didn’t your dad used to wake you up in the morning to watch music television? Would you say that played a significant role in your musical interest?
Yes he did do that [laughs], and I hear things now that I grew up listening to, but at the time didn’t like. Some things you may like because of the memories associated with them, or because your ears and understanding has matured and you hear with a different ear.
And what sort of records did both your parents play around the house while you were growing up? Do you remember any particular tracks or artists that really got you excited about music in general back then?
Yes, I remember when my dad brought home the Black Box record. I thought it was very cool. Hearing “Pump Up The Jam” for the first time was also a big deal; I distinctly remember it. Another big record in the house was Beautiful by the Reels, which was an album of mostly covers, but it was all done on a Fairlight digital sampling synthesizer. Their cover of “This Guy’s In Love” is especially good. Another occasion was my mum bringing home “Hands Up (Give Me Your Heart)” by Ottawan and forcing my brother and I to dance with her.
How old were you when you first took music lessons and what instruments did you start with? Bass or keys?
No, my dad said if you could play piano you could play anything, so I had organ lessons but didn’t really enjoy it. My next-door neighbor was a bass player so I’d listen to him jam all the time and was just attracted to bass. I sold my fancy BMX and bought a bass, then later I got interested in synths, etc., etc.
Did it ever feel like music was forced upon you, or did you love it from day one? When you were younger did you assume you’d be in a band one day, or did you stick to yourself for the most part?
No, I always liked music. I think for all young people the thought of being able to hang around and travel the world playing music with your friends is a very alluring concept—but it can also an expensive one.
Let’s hear your real introduction to dance music. Did you dig for records a lot as a kid or were you introduced to stuff from friends? Were there any cool parties going down in your hometown that helped broaden your taste?
No, not really. I mean, sure, there were parties, but they were by no means about the music. And the real introduction, as cliché as it is, was Daft Punk’s Homework.
On a similar note, do you recall any shows or DJ sets you’ve attended in the past being especially inspiring? I think I read something about an America house night blowing your mind?
Yes, there was a night in Sydney called State Side. All the guys from Chicago would come and play so I saw Derrick Carter, DJ Gemini, Gene Farris, and my most favorite DJ/producer ever, Paul Johnson.
Around that same time you were studying music composition and theory in university, right? Because you were already musically trained at that point, was hearing house and loopy disco music something you found extremely interesting?
Yes, I remember the moment it clicked and I realized they were samples, but prior to that I was blown away by it and it seems silly now. [Laughs] The discipline of playing a one-bar loop with precision—around and around, trying to make it better every time—to me is exciting.
Would you say your mind was somewhat elsewhere musically before this turning point? Tell me about your decision to buy records based on the year and credits. Do you have a favorite year for dance music in general?
Yeah, well, up to this point I was studying double bass and then sold it to buy a 909 and a sampler. In regards to buying records I used to call them “educated guesses” so I’d see who played on it, [make note of] the year, and, most importantly, the performing media. For example, if there was Linn Drum and/or Prophet 5 in the liner notes, I’d buy it. I love the excitement of getting home, taking the price sticker off, cleaning it, and then playing it. Favorite year—no I can’t narrow it down to any year in particular.
When Van She was coming up, the band was grouped into a sound that a lot of your label-mates and bands in the area were defining—guys like Cut Copy, Bag Raiders, Miami Horror, the Presets, etc. Do you feel that you learned a lot and grew during that period? Did it feel like this underground style of dance music was finally turning into something greater?
Yes, that was an exciting time; all the people you mention here are my friends so it’s nice to have been part of something that other people around the world care about.
Did you always produce dance tracks by yourself and on the side? What are some of the glories of being able to make music alone as well as part of a band or collaboration?
I like doing both; the best thing about music is sharing it, and it’s the best thing in the world. So when you create something with someone else, you’re sharing something very special. I suppose a DJ presenting something special to a crowd of people is very similar, like the first time I heard Stardust was when Eric Morillo played it. I’ll never forget.
I like to consider your music “songs” rather than “tracks.” I’m sure you intend that, too. What are some of the key elements in music for you? What really gets you going when you hear something you like, and what are the most powerful feelings that you try to emulate in your work?
I’d say that for me there’s there things: I’m either crying, dancing, or in complete amazement.
If a composition does any of these things to me I’ll let it into my iTunes collection. Another thing, though, is the context in which you hear something; I think that’s just as important. The first time I got goose bumps was during the second guitar solo in Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” and I’ve been chasing them ever since, so if I can give myself goose bumps in one of my works, there’s a chance it will have the same effect on someone else.
How about naming a few records that you find most influential.
Bo Boss, “Tequila”
Savage, “Turn Around”
Alexander O’Neal, “What’s Missing”
D-Train, “The Shadow Of Your Smile”
Taana Gardner, “No Frills”
De La Soul, “Me, Myself and I”
Ralphi Rosario, “Instrumental Need”
Le Knight Club, “Holiday on Ice”
Womack & Womack, “MPB (Frankie Knuckles Remix)”
Steve Harvey, “Tonight (Dub Mix)”
Another big thing about your music is how it’s not specifically aimed for a certain situation all the time. Some songs are great for chilling at home, others work the club. Is this balance something you intend on pushing consistently?
Yes, I think it’s interesting to bounce around. I’d like to make one club track and then a slower B-side to play when you get home, maybe sometimes it’s borderline romantic. I love the thought of people having relations to it. Actually, someone the other day asked if I play my own tracks during romance. I don’t, but it would be pretty funny I’d imagine.
How did the collab with Anna Lunoe go down? Were you surprised by the reaction? You guys must have known each other for a while back home. Was the collab a long time in the making?
Yes, we’ve known each other from around and she’s a good friend. I liked what she played when she DJd and also the track she did with Wax Motif, so I suggested we do something. Then we did. It took us a while because we kept changing our minds and, because it’s a three-bar loop, it was a bit weird to arrange. But I remember when we finished it we both agreed that we’d done something we thought was special. I think mainly because we felt like we had captured something. Surprised, yeah, a little. You never know how something is going to be received so we’re very grateful. We’ve had the opportunity to DJ together a couple of times and it’s always fun to play that.
Who came up with the music video for “Pizza Guy”? That one turned out pretty awesome. Did you really film a few of those bits at actual shows?
It was made by Entropico and, yes, it’s all real; one take in one day. In retrospect, I could have styled myself a little better.
What does your current studio setup consist of? Any pieces of gear that you could never go without?
Right now, in the USA, I have with me my Prophet 12, Maschine, and I just bought a DX7. Donnie Sloan—whose house I’m at—has kindly lent me a nice suitcase Rhodes and an MPC 3000, so I have enough here to do stuff. I hate being stuck in the computer, as I like to have options. I have lots of stuff in Australia.
Now that you are doing more shows as Touch Sensitive, what can we expect from these sets? Are you playing live, DJing, or a bit of both?
It’s a live show. I play bass-trigger loops, play some synths, and sometimes, depending on what my agent (who is a legend, by the way), books me for, I do like doing both. The way I feel about it is that if you have an actual show—i.e. you perform—then that gives you a little more freedom when you DJ, within reason.
Do your productions speak for your live shows/DJ sets? What are some tracks you’ve recently discovered that you’re really feeling? Do you typically go higher energy than your usual material in a live setting?
Yeah, for live I speed it up a bit, because, most times, whoever is before me is up around 122 BPM and my first track is 110, so it’s a bit of a slap in the face, but it builds up again. As for new stuff, I like what Classixx and Pyschemagik are doing, especially their DJ sets.
If you could create the ideal dream gig for Touch Sensitive, what would the setting be like?
We’d need a time machine and I’d want to go back in time to the obvious places and to the future and back again
Looking toward the future, do you have anything in the works you can fill us in on? Are you doing more for Future Classic? Remixes? Travels?
Yes, more stuff on Future Classic, tour with Flume starting September, in San Francisco. There’s also someone I’d like to work with, but I have to reach out first.
Alright, that does it! Thanks so much for chatting! Looking forward to seeing you around in L.A. Any last words, shout-outs, or things we forgot to mention?
No, I think that’s it. I’ve got RSI; I did this on my iPhone because I can type so much quicker on it. Please excuse any mistakes. This was an enjoyable interview, many thanks.