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Eoin Murray
8 June 2023, 12:29

Premiere: François X ‘My NDA’

Paris’ François X explores fast, atmospheric techno, cloud rap, and what it means to be a cowboy on his new EP, ‘CEO’ for XX Lab

François in a long black leather coat and dark sunglasses, standing with his head tilted in front of a screen print of a dusky sky

François X returns to his own XX Lab this month with the ‘CEO’ EP. Listen to ‘My NDA’ below. 

An acronym for ‘Cowboy Executive Officer’, the six-track EP contains the Parisian DJ and producer’s first new music since March 2022’s ‘Digital Fever’. Like that EP, which drew on dystopian sci-fi themes, ‘CEO’ finds the former Concrete resident and Berghain regular blending his high-velocity techno sound with elements of hip-hop, cloud rap and subdued pop.

The EP also, as he puts it, contains his first “song”: the hazy, cloud rap-inspired opener ‘Infinite Anthems’. Merging wiry trance synths and slow, sub-shaking kicks, the track features François’ most prominent vocal performance to date, an FX-laced delivery that sets the tone for the rest of the release, even as it shoots for headier club territory. 

The penultimate track, ‘My NDA’, is classic François X, but faster; a galloping techno storm designed for deep, dark dancefloors. Peppered with glitchy vocal loops and eerie synths, it’s the sort of atmospheric affair we’ve grown to expect from the artist, whose personal sound remains rooted even as he branches into new terrain. 

Speaking about ‘My NDA’, he said: “[It] pushes the boundaries of my sonic exploration, taking me into uncharted territories. It stands as the fastest track I have ever produced, blending tribal-infused elements with a fearless approach to music-making. The creation of this track was an absolute joy for me. It became a process of complete freedom, where I allowed my creativity to flow without any inhibitions. This track represents a departure from my comfort zone and an embrace of the unknown. It serves as a testament to the limitless possibilities that exist within music and the thrill of venturing into unexplored sonic landscapes.”

‘CEO’ follows Vel’s ‘Era El’ EP on XX Label from last year, and will be released on 16th June. Pre-order it here.

Listen to ‘My NDA’, and read a Q&A with François X about the EP and what he’s got coming up below. 

Revisit François X’s On Cue mix and interview here and his contribution to DJ Mag’s Selections series here

In 2020, you told us that “[music] is literally a portal to my feelings, my soul”, and the duality between the external and internal self has been at the heart of your music over the past few years. How do you feel ‘CEO’ represents where you’re at at the moment, both on a personal level, and as a musician?

“In a sense, I have liberated myself from the self-imposed restrictions that I had carried for many years. I no longer have any limitations, which grants me the artistic liberty necessary for enhanced creativity. 

“As a result, I am now prepared to open myself up to the world outside. However, in doing so, I have come to realise that my personal journey is more intricate than I had initially anticipated.

"As I mentioned in the press release, I possess a duality that is reflected in my persona — an individual who is both nearly prophetic and, in contrast, a resilient, sensitive artist brimming with profound emotional depth ‘CEO’ serves as a reflection of my current state both personally and musically. It encapsulates the essence of my journey, with themes of liberation, self-discovery, and the interplay between my external and internal selves.” 

You use your voice more than you ever have before on this release. Do you find incorporating your vocals, even when heavily altered, to be a vulnerable experience? Is it something you want to explore more, to put your singing more to the front of your music? Are you keen to work with other vocalists?

“The use of my vocals has become more prominent on this release than ever before.  It holds immense power as an instrument, serving as a direct conduit to one's soul. In my EP, particularly in the track ‘Infinite Anthems’, which can be considered my first song, I discovered the captivating vulnerability that arises when you sing or attempt to, even with the support of various vocal effects. There is a sense of insecurity, hoping not to appear ridiculous while simultaneously yearning for the lyrics I have written to resonate authentically.

“A voice within me urges me to write more songs, marking a pivotal moment where I can convey my message in a more comprehensive manner. Moreover, I am eager to collaborate with vocalists beyond the confines of the techno scene. Working on projects with artists from pop, R&B, or rap genres is a compelling prospect. By doing so, I believe there is a broader freedom to explore and expand my artistic horizons.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about the inspiration behind the EP? When putting these tracks together and imagining them as a single body of work, what is the thread that connects them? 

“The EP is truly a captivating sonic journey. Interestingly, the track ‘The Wonderlightskin Condition’ is three years old and served as the potential starting point for the entire project. The inspiration behind the EP was driven by my desire to create a personal statement, one that encompasses my yearning to delve into the depths of my being.

“If you examine the track titles, they collectively unveil fragments of my personal story. They reflect a dichotomy wherein the outer layers may appear colder, while the inner depths are rich with intense emotions. This underlying duality acts as the connecting thread that unifies the body of work.”

From a technical standpoint, what new methods or musical techniques did you explore on this EP?

“In the creation of this EP, I ventured into new musical techniques and methods. One significant aspect was discovering the recording and mixing of vocals. This particular exploration resonated with me, as I realised the immense power of the voice as an instrument. It was truly enjoyable to manipulate vocals using various effects, adding layers of emotions that were previously unexplored in my music-making process. To enhance my understanding and skills, I delved into YouTube tutorials and closely listened to major mainstream pop acts, gaining insights on how to properly edit and refine my songs. This learning process was essential in refining my abilities and expanding my creative process.

“The mixing aspect of this EP proved to be a captivating endeavour. Unlike previous projects, I approached it not solely from a technical standpoint but also from a more creative perspective, utilising the newfound skills and knowledge I had acquired. This approach added an additional layer of depth and artistry to the mixing process, elevating the final result.”

Your last EP tapped into sci-fi themes and the concept of dystopian private corporations, while here we have a reference to Westerns with the ‘Cowboy Executive Officer’ title. A few artists have been unpacking the cultural significance of the “cowboy” character in recent years. What does that figure mean to you? Or is it just a fun title?

“To me, the cowboy figure holds profound symbolism and meaning. It represents the brave, solitary individual who embarks on a journey across the world, carrying not only their love but also a powerful message to share with others. The image of a cowboy evokes a sense of adventure, resilience, and a willingness to take on challenges head-on.

“However, upon reflection, I pondered why this iconic figure is often portrayed as a lone wanderer. Is there an inherent feeling of being misunderstood or disconnected from others in this archetype? As I embrace the role of both a cowboy and a CEO, I recognize the duality within myself. 

“For me, the title ‘Cowboy Executive Officer’ is not merely a whimsical choice, but a representation of the complex nature of my persona. It encapsulates the amalgamation of qualities that exist within me, the dichotomy between the individual with a profound almost prophetic purpose and the resilient, sensitive artist who seeks to connect with others on an emotional level.”

What’s next for you? What’s coming up on XX Lab?

“I am currently immersed in the creation of new material and aiming to complete an album in the near future. Additionally, XX Lab has some exciting projects lined up. We have two upcoming records: one by Eloise Massoni and another by Mac Declos. Both releases promise to deliver unique and captivating musical experiences.”