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Credit: Timothy Charles Lyon

Frank & Tony: deep in the groove

Out of club music’s modern-day practitioners, few go deeper than Francis Harris and Anthony Collins. Producing under the Frank & Tony banner, working in the grand tradition of the sound’s pioneers, the duo has just released ‘Ethos’, their first long-player since 2014’s ‘You Go Girl’. Here, they speak to Bruce Tantum about their creative partnership, the uniting power of the house groove, and melancholic beauty of everyday life

The music of Francis Harris and Anthony Collins seems, on one level, to exist in a world of their own making. Working together as Frank & Tony, the pair are known for a hushed, meditative, and spectral kind of house, a soft-edged sound palette of whispered chords and shimmering pads hovering above a heartbeat kick. That sound, subdued yet full of life, is there in their earliest releases, culminating in the well-received 2014 album ‘You Go Girl’ — and it’s still there in their new LP, ‘Ethos’, freshly released on the pair’s Scissor and Thread label.

That sound has plenty of antecedents, of course, and during a recent Zoom call — Harris lives in Brooklyn, while Collins is currently based in Biarritz on the southwest coast of France — they catalog a few of them. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given their music’s form, Harris says that Frank & Tony’s music is on the continuum of a tradition birthed in Detroit, New York and, most especially, Chicago. “And if you really were to pin it down,” Harris, who's a co-founder of Gowanus club Public Records, says, “our sound is most inspired by that ultra-deep Chicago sound – people like Specter, Damon Lamar, Chris Gray, and DaRand Land, who are all inspired by Larry Heard, who is the absolute pioneer of this sound. He’s the first one that brought that minor chord in. That chord defined the sound.”

The sonic fingerprints of Heard and other Windy City pioneers like Ron Trent echo through Frank & Tony’s discography — but there are modern analogs as well, and one of the most notable is Peter Kersten, the producer better known as Lawrence. Along with DJ Aakmael, the aforementioned DaRand Land and the vocalist Eliana Glass, Kersten served as one of Harris and Collins’ collaborators on ‘Ethos’, specifically on the subtly unfolding, magnificently monikered ‘Too Poor For Movies, Too Tired For Love’.

Harris delaminates the technical parallels — “mixing on a desk with headroom, not like super loud and over compressed and modern sounding” — but the similarities are more in the vibe. Like Lawrence, their sound is full of melancholy — not a melancholia as defined by despair, but instead one rooted in the simple passage of life. “I think that’s our inspiration,” Harris explains. “There’s a lot of beauty in the things that we take for granted, like the everyday experiences and struggles of people just living their lives being who they are — those little snapshots of a life lived. Melancholia is not just about being sad. It’s about the poetic energy that exists in those snapshots. A major inspiration for our work is that there’s beauty in the everyday, all around us. Sometimes you have to get that snapshot, and that’s where you can find that poetic space where art is created.”

Photo of Frank & Tony through a glass pane looking into a yellow room
Credit: Timothy Charles Lyon

“Not to be crude but we know how to rock a party, you know? It’s possible to rock a party and play deep records.”

The two met in the early ’10s at a gig in Miami. Harris was nearing the end of his run of making music as Adultnapper (“I was touring with people like Carl Cox, which was great, but it just wasn’t the life that I wanted,” he says); Collins, who had been making minimally-minded music, was looking for something new as well. The pair formed Scissor and Thread in 2012, and semi-anonymous production work as Frank & Tony soon followed via such tracks as the aqueous ‘Rings’ and the tumbling ‘What You Believe’, followed by ‘You Go Girl’.

More deeper-than-deep tunes followed, but the project seemingly came to an end in 2018, with the duo moving on to other projects. Collins released music as Grant and worked on various projects with the Swiss producer Georgios Boutopoulos, while opening a coffee shop in Marseille; Harris, meanwhile, opened Public Records, started the experimentally-minded Kingdoms label and collaborated with childhood friend Gabe Hedrick as Aris Kindt, among other activities.

After a few years had passed, when Collins returned to NYC for a visit, the pair met up again. “We hadn’t seen each other in a while,” Collins recalls, “and we started talking, and it was like, ‘Yeah, we should start making music again’. We made one record pretty quickly. And we had a gig — we hadn’t played together for a couple of years, but it was like we never stopped. The chemistry was still there. It’s not my main job anymore, so it became like this fun hobby — no pressure, like when I first started, when there was no endgame to it, more like I’m just making music because I just want to make music.”

As veteran DJs, Harris and Collins come from a vinyl background, and while neither wants to be labeled as a “vinyl bro” — “What counts is the music itself — the format could be tape, a tambourine or whatever,” Collins says — Harris in particular still prefers to spin with records. “I like the way records sound on a really good analog system like at Public Records,” he says. (The club, where the duo hold down a monthly residency, does have a top-tier system.) “I love the idea of the needle picking up the energy of the room when it gets hot and humid. It changes the way the records sound, because it’s a physical connection between two surfaces. And I just personally love the feel of it. I mean, I’ve had amazing times with people who just play CDJs — it’s just personal preference.”

Photo of Frank & Tony DJing in a record store
Credit: Timothy Charles Lyon

But as Collins said, the music itself is the important thing, and while Harris and Collins’ DJ sets might have a degree more pump to them than their productions, they’re all of a piece. “Our spectrum of sounds in terms of DJing is maybe wider than what we produce,” Collins says, “but most of the tracks we produce would fit perfectly in our set.”

“Not to be crude,” Harris adds, “but we know how to rock a party, you know? It’s possible to rock a party and play deep records. Someone like Tenaglia could be playing at 7am, and it’d be the deepest music of the night, and the place would be going absolutely bonkers. It’s not a rocket ship that takes off, and then at the end of the party, burns out and crashes to the ground — the trajectory is much less linear than that. And I think great DJs know how to weave through that.”

A recent Frank & Tony set recorded for Groove Magazine proves his point. The selections are hypnotically deep from beginning to end, with the duo cycling through such tunes as Julien Jabre’s ‘That Day’, Mr V’s ‘Jus’ Dance’, the Soundstream mix of Rhythm & Sound’s ‘Free For All’, and Elephunk’s ‘Azure’. (The set leans heavily on cuts from the ’00s.) The tracks are given room to breathe and the mixing is precise — it’s the graceful yet relentless groove that dominates. For Harry and Collins, the groove is an art form in itself; the thread ties both the tunes and the crowd into a single entity.

“Ron Trent talked about this in a Q&A we had at Public Records — his only issue with the new generation of hard rave music is he feels that it’s a music of disconnection,” Harris says. “People aren’t facing each other on the dancefloor. They’re wrapped up in their own heads, in their own universe, not connecting with people. The power of house music was that it was one of the only refuges for people to come together and build a community on a dancefloor, and it was the groove that did that. The groove can be what brings people together.”

Public Records recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Among the events to mark the occasion was an ‘Ethos’ release party, with Frank & Tony joined by Octo Octa. (She and a handful of like-minded artists — Charles Webster, the Shelter’s Timmy Regisford, and Denmark’s C.K. — have ‘Ethos’ remixes coming out in late May.) People were smiling, people were dancing, people were together — the groove was working as intended.

Want more? Read DJ Mag’s recent feature on Bad Snacks from April’s NA magazine here

Bruce Tantum is DJ Mag’s North America editor. Follow him on X @BruceTantum

Pics: Timothy Charles Lyon