“Let me just hammer this fucking thing in. It's already breaking — classic Ikea,” Dillon Francis says with a frustrated smile.
He's sitting in Sonos Studio on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood before an unassembled wooden bed, staring at the assembly directions. Tall and lanky, he has short, dark brown hair and tattoos up his arms.
The 26-year-old DJ/producer asked for this. On his website's merch section, it says he'll build your Ikea bed for $1,000. For that same price, you can have him sing “Happy Birthday” to you underwater or prank call an enemy. For a million, he'll join the Army.
Unfortunately for this venture, before long he's pretty much broken the bed frame. It's understandable — those things are impossible. And he maintains good humor throughout.
“Afrojack will not build your Ikea bed. Neither will Calvin Harris,” he notes. (For more of our interview with Francis, see the YouTube video after the jump.)
If you haven't heard of Dillon Francis, you're likely not a 20-something electronic dance music fan. Though he's not quite as famous as EDM royalty Diplo and Skrillex, he regularly kicks it with them, and his highly anticipated first full-length album, Money Sucks, Friends Rule (out Oct. 28), features collaborations with other big names including Martin Garrix, Major Lazer and DJ Snake.
Francis plays mainstages at the biggest festivals — Electric Daisy Carnival, HARD Summer, Coachella — and maintains some 4 million Soundcloud followers.
Francis is known for reggae-inspired moombahton, whose name comes from DJ Dave Nada's take on Afrojack's remix of a house track called “Moombah.” Nada slowed it down to a tempo more befitting reggaeton and added a funky, Latin edge.
But Francis is perhaps even better known to his fans as a jokester. He makes Vine and Instagram videos of himself asking people if they know where his dad is. He creates characters with names like “DJ RichAsFuck” and “Rave Dad,” which are simultaneously preposterous and believable. And he offers absurd rewards to deep-pocketed fans, such as Ikea bed assembly.
He's also a savvy self-promoter and a genuinely likable guy who knows just when to turn up the charm. His live shows are high-energy, driven by Francis' ability to keep the crowd jumping, dancing and sweating.
A born-and-raised Angeleno, Francis grew up on the Westside, on the border of Palms and Rancho Park, with his older brother and two parents; his dad works in alternative medicine. Nowadays he lives on Fairfax. “I hate downtown,” he says. “I can't live there.”
In school he was never much of an academic. He ended up at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where he studied painting and printmaking: “I'm a much better musician than painter.”
When he was 16, his parents bought him his first set of turntables and a mixer. At the time, he was most impressed with the scratching in Linkin Park and Slipknot performances.
“They had DJs in their band,” he says excitedly. “I thought: That's so cool! It's not supposed to be there, but they made it work.”
By his own admission, Francis still sucks at scratching. But it planted a seed.
After graduating high school, Francis briefly attended Santa Monica College. He recalls the day he dropped out: “I was really hungover and I was angry about going to school. I was, like, 'You know what … I don't wanna do this anymore.'”
Instead, he moved to Atlanta to work for and be mentored by his friend, producer Cory Enemy.
“Dillon started hitting me up very, very persistently, saying he wanted to learn how to produce music,” Enemy recalls. “At the time I had a few other random people asking to be mentored by me. But I never really felt like I was much of the mentoring type, so I always passed. But then Dillon was beyond persistent.”
For two months, Francis slept on a blow-up mattress on Enemy's dining room floor. The two would work until 6 in the morning, continuing until Francis exhausted his finances and returned home.
Unwilling to go back to school, he asked his parents if he could live in their back house for six months and try to make the music thing work. If not, he said, he'd go back to school. His dad agreed, with the condition that Francis would go to a life coach and work at music like it was a real job.
Next: Watch L.A. Weekly writer Sarah Purkrabek interview Dillon Francis as he tries to assemble a bed.
“If you're not in school, you're going to basically have to earn a living and get a dose of reality,” Francis' dad told him.
Dillon worked on music 12 to 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week, and paid rent to his parents. By the end of the six months, things were starting to pick up. Francis was playing at L.A. nightclubs such as Teddy's and Hyde. But he still spent his entire day — every day — in his parents' back house, learning everything he could about the music production software Ableton and experimenting with different sounds. Impressed, his dad agreed to another six months.
“I probably only went out 10 times over that year,” Francis says. “I definitely trained myself to have a good work ethic during that year by myself. And it was also from my dad.”
Cory Enemy thinks the time Francis spent at home was a brilliant move. “I think Dillon was super determined to prove to his parents and to everyone else that he was serious,” Enemy says. “And that caused him to really focus and ultimately gave him the work ethic that has driven all of this huge success.”
Francis' dad agrees: “I'm telling you, I knew at that time this guy was going to do whatever it took. His mom's and my jaws were dropped in terms of his commitment to the music.”
His big break came in 2010, when Francis' then-manager sent his outrageously funky moombahton track “Masta Blasta” to Diplo, the well-known producer behind record label Mad Decent. Diplo tends to produce party-ready tracks, and “Masta Blasta” fit the bill.
When he got word that Diplo liked the tune, Francis hit him up on Twitter. “I said, 'Yo man, I heard you like the song. Fucking awesome!'?” Soon the two were hanging out in the studio and collaborating on a track, “Que Que,” which ended up on Francis's 2011 Westside! EP.
His career now is reaching an apex. Following the arrival of his new album, his North American tour will include stops at L.A.'s Shrine Expo Hall on Dec. 21 and the Barclays Center in New York in early 2015.
But not everything will be different. “On tour I'm definitely going to explore the cities,” he says, “but I also wanna bring a cameraman so I can make stupid videos.”
At Sonos Studio, Francis finishes nailing the edges of the bed frame together, then pauses to joke around with his manager. Together they watch a not-quite-completed lyric video for his new song, “I Can't Take It,” composed of various googly-eyed foods and animals with speech bubbles saying things such as “Fuck Dillon Francis” and “Dillon Francis shits the bed.”
“Let's make fun of me more,” Francis says seriously. “I think the kids will like that.”
Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the venue for Dillon Francis' Dec. 21 show as the Shrine Auditorium, rather than the Shrine Expo Hall.