Focus FL

Focus FL has become a Dissident Music staple, and for good reason. His last 3 releases have seen top 5 progressive chart placements on Beatport, and huge support from artists such as Solarstone, Aly and Fila, Kryder and many more.

Depth Perception / State Of Illusion looks set to continue that tradition. Along with his remixes for Noel Sanger and Abstrakt.Digital, each releasing 2 weeks either side of this EP, we expect to see Focus FL on a myriad of playlists as we roll into 2023! His debut album will follow closely early next year as well.

How are things with you and whereabouts are you chatting with us from?
Thanks for having me on. I am currently in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but hope to be relocating to Colorado some time in the next year. Things are going really good right now. I’ve just gotten word today that my first project on Perfecto will be released in 2023, so I am super excited about that. I have just finished my first solo LP for Dissident, which I am very proud of. I am currently working on some new music for JourneyDeep and Masvingo Recordings, and also ironing out some details for a residency in Las Vegas. It’s been nonstop from every direction, but I’m loving it. This is what I’ve been working for.

Who are your biggest musical influences and why?
I would have to say my influences range over a broad spectrum of many genres. Pink Floyd and The Beatles are certainly on the top of the list. What those guys were doing with samples and ambient textures 50+ years ago was certainly ground breaking and way ahead of its time. As a child, I can remember putting on headphones and listening to albums like “Dark Side of the Moon”, “The Wall”, and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”. I would just lay there with my eyes closed and feeling like I was being transported into another world, These albums would finish, and you’d feel like you had been on a journey.
Fast forward to my teenage years, and I started getting introduced to artists that gave me the same feeling, and eventually would shape the sound of the music I make today. Artists like Union Jack for example. I picked up the “There Will Be No Armageddon” album on vinyl at a local record shop when I was 16 years old. I can still remember the first time I dropped that needle on that record and “Red Herring” started playing, It was unlike anything I had ever heard in my life, I was instantly captivated and that started me down the rabbit hole. BT was also another artist that really inspired me. To this day I consider “Flaming June” to be one the the greatest pieces of music ever written. There were so many new sounds that I was being exposed to in the 90’s that it’s impossible to list them all. These days I’ve really been influenced by everything on UV. Artists like Fuenka, Sean & Dee, and Paul Thomas are doing amazing things. Stan Kolev is another one that I am inspired by. I absolutely love his approach to progressive house.

As someone who’s been involved in the US scene for a number of years, how do you think the scene has morphed over the years? Is it in a healthy state now?
Good question. I think the scene is as strong or stronger than it’s ever been. I mean, guys that we used to pay $10 to see perform are now being nominated for Grammys. So, I think it’s great that the industry in general is finally getting the respect it deserves. However, if you spend any time on social media, you’re obviously going to hear the argument that it’s gone too commercial nowadays and that it isn’t as cool as it used to be when we were growing up. That’s all subjective though. I personally preferred the club experience to the festival environment of today, but things change and evolve. The kids of the next generation ultimately dictate what is cool, and how they are going push the scene forward. As artists, we have to learn how to adapt or risk getting left behind. I do understand both sides of the argument though. I think that when it was still underground, we all had the feeling like we were a part of something sacred, and the rest of the world didn’t really know about it. As it becomes more commercialized, some people feel that something sacred was taken away from them. I totally understand that as well. I guess it all boils down to the love of the music. People on both sides are very passionate when it comes to the scene and it’s direction. I try and tell people that there’s enough room for all of it. Everything has it’s time and place. Even though there may be some things you don’t like about the scene today, the things that you loved still exist. You might just need to look a little harder to find them.

What are some of your formative memories of the Florida rave scene in the 90s?
In the 90’s, I was a punk rock / ska / hardcore kid. I was in a few bands and played local shows. Jumping in mosh pits was my thing. Slowly that local scene started dying out where i lived and left a void in my life. One Saturday night in 1994, a buddy of mine suggested that we go down to a club in Ft Lauderdale called “The Edge”. Now I had been to this club many times in the past to see bands play, but apparently they also did a rave party from 2AM – 12PM on Saturday. I was initially against the idea, but I got talked into it as the night went on, I walked into the club and I honestly wasn’t really feeling it. In those days, South Florida was dominated by old school breakbeats all night long. Very similar to the music we used to roller skate to as children. I knew this club had an outside patio area, which I had assumed would be empty, So I quickly made my way through the club and to the outside. To my surprise, the patio was just as packed as the club inside…. but the music was very different.
They were playing ambient, acid jazz, and really intelligent drum and bass. The sounds I was hearing out there really grabbed my attention. What I had experienced that night on the patio convinced me to come back the next weekend. The next week I went there, and I’m hanging out on the patio. I start noticing that everyone on the patio was going inside the club all at once. Like…. literally everyone, I’m sitting there by myself wondering what’s going on. So I stick my head in the door, and there’s a guy on the main stage with keyboards surrounding him. Come to find out that this is Rabbit in the Moon doing one of their first live performances ever. Keep in mind that this was before Sasha and Digweed’s classic “Northern Exposure” album, so this was at the very start of where RITM were about to go. I watched this show, and saw David playing these epic piano scores that could have easily been in an opera, and mixing it with the electronic sounds of the time. I watched Bunny put on one of the craziest interactive dance performances I had ever witnessed. It was a perfect synergy and changed my whole perception about “techno” music and what it could actually be. I walked out of that club knowing what I wanted to do with my life. That’s where it all started for me.

You produce a range of genres, but mainly specialize in progressive house. What is it about this particular strain that appeals?
As I said earlier, I was initially drawn towards ambient music and soundscapes with ethereal vocals, and not so much the old school breakbeat music they were playing inside the clubs in South Florida at the time. It was maybe my 3rd or 4th week of going to these rave parties, I was handed a flyer for a party in Orlando. On the back of the flyer in big letters, it said…… “SASHA”. I asked around about this Sasha person, and I was told that he was not to be missed, and that Orlando parties had a different vibe than South Florida. So we made the 4 hour journey to Orlando to check it out. What I witnessed in that club was yet another life changing event. Sasha went on and started with this long ambient intro, which of course drew me in. Then he started mixing these records that had the ambient vibe that I loved from the patio, but was mixed deep, bouncy, and sometimes even borderline aggressive beats. He played a 4 hour set of the greatest music I had ever heard. By the time he finished, I felt the same way I felt after listening to an album like “Dark Side of the Moon”. I felt like I has been taken on a journey throughout the universe and dropped back off in Orlando, Florida.
That was my first introduction into what became known as “Progressive House”. That led me to artists like Quivver, Chicane, and so on. So the short answer to your question is… it’s the journey. When done correctly, progressive house tells a story, You can close your eyes and lay back and let it take you there…. but you can also be in a club with tons of people feeling the same way you do and dance all night. When we’re talking progressive house, each and every journey is a little different. Sometimes its really deep. Sometimes it’s really aggressive. Sometimes it’s somewhere in the middle Sometimes it starts off deep and keeps building and building until it explodes, That’s what I love about it, and why I make the music I make.

Tell us about your latest EP for Dissident… how did you first hook up with the label?
State of Illusion came about almost by accident, I was actually working on an ambient song for an upcoming project. I had no intention of putting drums on it, I started adding some sub bass frequencies for a fuller sound, Once those bass frequencies were in there, and started changing them to a more defined bassline. Once the bassline was there, I had no choice but to add the drums. It just all came together before I knew what was happening. Noel really liked it, so we ended up putting it on the EP. Depth Perception was a little different. I started with that main arpeggio lead and built the entire song around that. I made that track on a very sleepless night, I have a lot of those when I start working on music, By the time I turned off the computer, I didn’t really know what I had, or if it was any good, Sometimes I wake up the next day and whatever I was working on the night before is totally unusable, Other times I really hit the mark and have no idea how I got there. I felt this one was good, so I sent it to Noel and we both agreed it should be on the next release. Beatport named it the number one Progressive House Hype pick for the month of November, which was quite the honor.
As far as how I initially hooked up with Dissident, I’ve known Noel Sanger for a long time. Back in 1996, I used to DJ at a club in West Palm Beach and run the promotion for it every week. The club owner started giving us a budget to book headliners, and Noel was one of the first guys I booked. I really loved his music and couldn’t wait to hear him play. He showed up that night and I was giving him some praise, but he was super humble about it all. He went on to play one of the best progressive trance sets I had ever heard, We had been in touch on and off ever since, I ended up running into him again about 3 years ago at a Rabbit in the Moon party and we reconnected briefly. Shortly after that, a friend of mine reached out to me and said that Noel was looking for new artists for Dissident. I was initially reluctant to reach out to Dissident. Mostly because I had already put out records with other labels for decades, and they really went nowhere, So by this time I had pretty much given up on music production. It took a little convincing from the people around me, but I eventually submitted something to Noel. He told me that he loved the songs and was going to sign me to Dissident. It’s crazy how life really does come full circle. One day you’re booking an artist that you love to play a gig, the next day you’re getting signed to that same artists label, and your music is being played around the world. Noel is an all around great person both in business and in life. I am truly glad our paths crossed all those years ago. The decision to book him for a little club back in 1996 was another milestone in my story, and it changed my life forever.

There definitely sound like there are some trance elements to Depth Perception / State Of Illusion. It’s a genre that fell out of favour for a while, but that people seem to be gravitating towards more and more. Why do you think that is?
I don’t intentionally try and add what may considered trance elements to my music. I just kind of feel whatever it is in the moment and go with it, I’m not as concerned with fitting into a certain genre as I am with making something that I am happy with, Because I was brought up on the music of artists like Paul Van Dyk, Binary Finary, Paul Oakenfold, BT, and Union Jack, those elements are definitely going to push through in the music I make, As far as it coming back around again… I think people just missed it, As with any style of music, trends are going to change and then come back around. We’ve seen it with punk rock in the 90s. Disco is also another genre that has really made a comeback with artists like Purple Disco Machine leading the way. I think with any style of music, people are drawn to melody and energy, Trance certainly provides lots of both. That really aggressive style of trance will always hold a special place in my heart, but I think the melody of progressive music (be it trance, house, or breakbeats) will always bring the people back to the table sooner or later.

What does the process of creating new tracks look like for you?
People ask me this often. I always start with a melody first. I’ll play around on the keyboard until I have something interesting and then start recording the chord progression. Some artists I have worked with with start with a beat, then a bassline, and so on. For me, I always try and start the song with how it’s going to sound at it’s absolute peak, and then work backwards. I find that it’s much easier to build a bassline and a beat around the main chord progression than it is to build a chord progression around a beat and bassline, I can’t really explain why that is. All I know it that it works out a lot easier for me in the long run. Remixes are the same. People will send me stems, and I isolate the main elements that I’m going to use, loop them, and build the song around it.

Are there any specific bits of kit or studio gear that were prominent in the new EP?
All digital nowadays. Whereas I used to use a Triton workstation and synths for everything, now I’ve moved more towards DAW and VST. I use Ableton 11 Suite, and some of its plugins like Wavetable, Operator, and Analog. Like most producers now, I also use Serum quite a bit. I use Nexus 3 for it’s synths and plucks. Absynth gets used for ambient textures and soundscapes. Analog Lab 5 gets used for the sub bass. I still use the Triton for some of its Pad combinations. The Reason Rack gets used often for drums, the arpeggiator, and it’s effects.

Thanks a lot for chatting with us! To round off, is there anything else that you’d like to share with us?
Well, I would like to thank you and everyone at Additive for the questions. It’s been a pleasure talking with you, I have a massive track coming out next year on Dissident featuring Seth Vogt on vocals titled “What You Know”. I really think people are going to love that one, and I’m very excited for it’s release. Also be on the lookout for my first release on Perfecto, which is a remix of “Prism – Alchemy”. That one is very heavily trance influenced, and I absolutely love it. You are going to see big things from me and Jeff Ermilio aka “Prism” in the future. I currently do a weekly stream every Friday on Mixcloud though the PortsmouthUndergroundRadio channel if you’d like to check that out, Also my brother in music Theodor Kavaratzis aka Klangedin out of Athens, Greece just started just started a show on his Mixcloud page called The Proggy Project. It has also been picked up by React Radio. We play all progressive all day on Sundays. So keep an eye out for that as well, You can also catch me on Dunbartonshie DJ Sessions Mixcloud shows from time to time. I’d also like to thank all the readers and all of you that support my music. It is truly an honor to be able to talk about my experiences and to share my music with you. Big Love