Discovery Project Releases: Freefall “House Music” [Free Download]
It’s not unusual to find out some of our favorite producers have unexpected pasts, oftentimes snaking through a long path of tangential musical inspirations. FreeFall, née James Smith, is such an artist who, at one point in his professional career, could be found with a guitar in hand, and then at another with a stack of dubstep heaters ready to drop at one of San Francisco’s many weekly EDM shows.
His most recent stop on that path, however, seems to suit him best. Armed with the collective knowledge of his previous musical endeavors, James combines his exceptional ability for crafting otherworldly space bass with layers of club-ready sophistication and ass-shaking shuffle.
While his sound may have changed over the years, his hustle hasn’t. His work with one of the leading underground house labels, Audiophile XXL, has led him to become one of its most prolific and heavily supported producers, with Ephwurd, Oliver Heldens and Don Diablo all singing his praises. And his frequent collabs with the likes of Night Owls, Sam F and Aaron Jackson are helping push his name to the forefront of house music.
His Discovery Project release is part homage to the roots of dance music. Aptly titled “House Music,” it grabs a slice of the familiar Chuck Roberts vocal and surrounds it with layers of dark, sweltering energy. The jackin’, chunky beats are deftly balanced with a filthy low-end that illustrates FreeFall’s feats as a bassline technician—and the sexy underlying tone of darkness puts you right against the speakers in a dimly lit room.
You’re from the Bay Area, which has recently become a hotbed for new talent. Is the dance music community in San Francisco rediscovering its roots in underground house music?
San Francisco, and the Bay Area in general, have huge underground scenes in pretty much every sense of artistic expression available in the area. From metal, to folk, to rap and electronic music, there’s a rich desire to always know the new up-and-coming people to look out for. I think this has definitely helped the growth of underground house music. Clubs such as Audio and Verso continue to book nothing but stellar house, techno and occasionally trance acts, as well—on top of the always-crazy Dirtybird quarterlies and other events. I’d confidently say San Francisco is rediscovering its underground scene in house, as many of us are putting out constant releases and continue to put our names on the map.
Tell us about the first time you really “understood” dance music. Can you pinpoint a time when it all really clicked for you?
I think the first time I really understood dance music was EDC 2010. I was a junior in high school at the time, had recently quit the band I had spent a large portion of my teenage life in, and had picked up Logic Pro, as well as a small DJ mixer. I decided to go to EDC 2010 alone on a whim, so a week or so before the show, I bought a ticket. Since experiencing EDC and seeing firsthand just how massive not only the scene around electronic music was—but also the love that every attendee shared for the music, as well as one another—that was really the aha moment when I... said to myself this was something I’d like to do for the rest of my life.
What’s your musical background like? Are you from a musical family?
My immediate family [isn’t] musical at all, but my grandfather did play saxophone in a dance band [in the] ‘30s and ‘40s. So I guess, in a sense, there must be something running through my blood. [laughs]
My personal experience all started as a child, when I was in choir and took piano lessons. From there, my desire to learn more instruments branched out to bass guitar and guitar, where I played in various bands through middle and high school. Somewhere along [the way], I taught myself the basic mechanics of playing a drum kit and actually would play a song or two on drums at some shows with our band.
Eventually, I found myself fascinated with recording and making music—specifically, engineering it. I [taught] myself how to produce, mix and master my own music. Now, although my immediate family isn’t musically talented, my family of very close friends is insanely talented. Just in the city where I was raised, we have artists like K Theory, AB the Thief, Alphabit, and my roommates, who are underground hip-hop artists that go by Lex Leosis and Sweatshop & Owl Green. It’s really inspiring to wake up in a house every day surrounded by talented individuals who all share the same amount of love you do toward music.
Early on, you were producing bass music under a different alias. Was your crossover to house music inspired by anything in particular?
My crossover to house actually came through some experimentation with many different genres. Producing dubstep and other bass music has definitely helped me look at my projects from an outside-the-box mentality. I incorporate ideas that I wouldn’t normally have thought of if I hadn’t produced dubstep and such. I found my workflow is just so much more productive when I produce house music, so I guess you can say I found my niche and I’ve stuck with it ever since.
And we hear you used to work with children.
Yes, I worked with children for years. I started my first job at the age of 15 as a daycare employee at a high-end athletic club and worked there for about four years, until I moved on to working at a private preschool and elementary school. There, I worked as an after-school assistant to one of the first grade classrooms for about two years, before I actually started working maintenance. The school had gone through a few people and needed some help in that department, so I took the job on until it became too much. Fast-forward to now, I work in the corporate audiovisual world for PSAV on Sand Hill next to Stanford and all the venture capitalist firms at the world-famous Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel. It’s nice learning a lot about the behind-the-scenes stuff in Silicon Valley, as well as seeing the world’s most advanced technology when I work some of these events at the Rosewood.
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