22-year-old Vincent Frank has big ideas. He’ll make an outlandish claim like “two days ago I worked out what the future of pop music is”, but then you listen to his music and you realise he’s probably onto something. His songwriting takes place in outsized, tatty A3 notepads stuffed with arrows and crossings out and random scribbles here and there, full of mistakes and moments of genius, instantly identifiable as either the deranged scrawls of a trainee psychopath or a blueprint for future pop genius. Initial signs point to the latter: Frank’s music is splashed with broad, contrasting strokes of superficial colour and emotional depth and it’s all fronted by an irresistibly charismatic frontman who refuses to stay in the shadows.
Frankmusik’s debut EP, released last Autumn on his own label Apparent Records, quickly set the ball rolling in the right direction. It was the eccentric but likeably mainstream sound of a guy who spent his teens glued to late night house shows on Kiss FM, spent his weekends in XSF Records in Soho, and was out at Turnmills by the time he was 15, falling in love with electronic music and the artists demolishing its boundaries – Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx, Busta Rhymes. It’s the sound of a guy who describes himself as a “huge sponge” – he inherited his gran’s lodger’s passion for drum ‘n’ bass and abstract late 90s hip hop, and his mum’s passion for Bowie. It’s also the sound of someone who, as a toddler, was plonked down in front of The Chart Show. “I knew what I wanted to do as soon as I saw Luke Goss in a Batman bomber jacket,” Vincent laughs. “Bros singing ‘When Will I Be Famous’ was a huge deal - a bit urban, very pop, with ridiculous key changes. The trousers halfway up their armpits didn’t help, but the songs were genius.”
Mixing substance over style with a healthy dose of ambition clearly made an impact on the young Frankmusik: 20 years later he wants the strings on his album to sound like ELO, for the album itself to be “massive, like Thriller. I know it’s stupid – I’m not going to fucking make the next Thriller, but this needs to be epic”. Ironically the way he wants to achieve this is through self-imposed limits. “I’ve found that the most important thing about creativity is limiting myself. Setting myself a brief. That’s the difference between pop and jazz, and I make pop music.”
Vincent’s right. It might sometimes sound like Shoreditch is under heavy attack from a thousand 80s arcade machines, but his music’s melodic flourishes and deceptively simple structures follow pop songwriting’s golden rules, even when the sonics are endlessly inventive and completely original. Listen to ‘Confusion Girl’ on MP3 and it’s a high-speed techno gem; search for it on YouTube and you’ll find it works just as well in a homemade clip of Vincent at a grand piano belting it out like an Elton John ballad. (You’ll also find him pissed, backstage at a gig sometime last year, being persuaded to revive his staggering beatboxing skills..) The point is that this is classic, melodic pop songwriting whose sound frequently transcends genre – fortunate, because try as one might, throwing around prefixes like ‘post-’ and ‘nu-’ until the cows come home, it’s hard to put Frankmusik in a box.
Another song, ‘Three Little Words’, is typical of Vincent’s idiosyncratic approach to life and love. It’s ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ through the looking glass – a very simple message about, in Vincent’s words, “being made to feel like you’re always in the wrong. Being told to explain why you love someone. I was getting that question a lot from my ex. ‘Why do you love me?’ So I wrote a love song about refusing to say you love someone: ‘you won’t hear it now, you won’t hear it then, I love you’.”
Frankmusik’s album has a TBC tracklisting as Vincent continues to deliver new songs at an alarming rate, but it’s taking shape. One of the pivotal songs is ‘Tears In The Rain’, inspired by the celebrated scene in Blade Runner in which Rutger Hauer’s character notes that moments “will be lost in time, like tears in the rain”. A visually stunning film which after 26 years is still completely relevant, Blade Runner shares something important with Frankmusik’s album - strip away the cutting edge veneer and, at its heart, you’ll find stories of love and loss.
Capturing the moment is one of Vincent’s big things. It’s the reason that big A3 notepad is such a mess; it’s also the reason he has to live alone. Work never stops. ”I could never not have a studio in my house,” he explains. “If I’m in the shower I need to be able to run downstairs and get things going immediately.” Things happen in Vincent’s life and 24 hours later they’re a song – the album’s running-on-empty ballad ‘Run Away From Trouble’ was finished on a comedown from one particularly heavy weekend in Brighton. Vince is blunt about what lies at the album’s core: “it’s about how I’ve fucked relationships up, and how relationships have fucked me up”.
Vincent grew up in New Addington, a large and not particularly floral estate just outside Croydon. There’s one road in and one road out – the locals, Vince says, call it Little Siberia. Funds were limited when he was a kid (“I was at secondary school before I got my first PlayStation”), but he immersed himself in music. Despite his family’s background, Vincent had found himself at boarding school under what seem like some rather suspicious circumstances. Vincent will only say that “my granddad hooked me up throughout my life. He was a Royal Engineer and he made sure I was looked after”. While he was away from home he’d listen to tracks obsessively, rewinding and repeating single songs on his Walkman for hours on end, but there was one another passion in his life: stupid cars, all UV underlighting and dodgy Halfords customisation kits. As he says, you can take the boy out of Croydon, but you can’t take Croydon out of the boy. For reasons we may never know, on the day he was due to buy his first motor something clicked in his head and, instead, he spent his savings on recording equipment – Pro Tools on a G4, one condenser microphone, a mic stand, a second hand Korg workstation and a massive monitor, most of which are still working today.
And so the work began, with mental remixes of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Vanessa Paradis. He’d sample kick drums from a hip hop track, snare from an indie record. He made an EP called ‘Solo Zoo’ – all very ‘oh woe is me I’m in the middle and everyone’s looking in’. Was it good? “No, it was shit.” After boarding school Vincent had been looking for a new challenge in the creative industries, and ended up on a foundation course at St Martin’s College. “Nobody would take me on,” he recalls, “so I promised the head of jewelry a bottle of champagne if she took me on her course. I brought the Moet on the day of entry with an ideas book and she took me on.” As ever, however, Vincent’s passion for music was all consuming, and the course was never completed.
Family remains incredibly important to Vincent; his nan, for example, doubles as his part-time stylist. “The devil does not wear Prada,” Vincent laughs. “It’s more a case of non-slip slippers. My nan has a lot of say in quite a large part of my life – she’ll tell me if I look silly or stylish or smart.” One major turning point in Vincent’s career came as recently as last year, with the death Vincent’s grandfather, who’d been Vincent’s key role model as a kid. The passing of this “modest, very old fashioned but brilliant man” was, Vincent says, “a kick up the arse to get on with things”. Before long he’d found management and had started his own record label, Apparent, which issued the first ‘Frankisum’ EP in the autumn of 2007. As well as recording his own album for Apparent, Vincent is currently signing – and working with – a number of other artists you’ll be hearing lots more from over the next twelve months, spending what remaining free time he has remixing artists as diverse as Chromeo, Bloc Party, Telepathé and Alphabeat in his unique signature style.
So that’s your crash course in Frankmusik. It’s a starting point but the story really comes out in his music, which is both instantly familiar and undeniably fresh. “All pop music should be trying to fight against what has happened before,” Vincent states, “and my pop music is rebelling against genre, niche, pigeonholes. I’m trying to let it happen instinctively, but you’ve got to make your own future. Nobody else is going to do it for you.”