For the last few years, I've been working as a New York City-based music photographer. Last summer, I shot Flosstradamus in New York City and their manager liked my work. "Great," I thought and left it at that. But I was shocked when I got an email earlier this year, asking if I would cover the Flosstradamus/Dillon Francis European tour this past May.
I couldn't believe it. This never happens to photographers, not in this day.
The trip threw me into some of the hardest photography scenarios I've ever been in. Most of the clubs were extremely dark. Floss asks for the only source of light to be strobes and purple LEDs. Dillon didn't have a preference and his laptop was often the only light hitting his face. The shows were much smaller than their US shows and they didn't bring a lot of production. I kept a running diary, with both photos and words. If you've ever wondered what it's like to spend a week in Europe on tour with some great artists, read on.
May 3: Steering to Stavanger
The first leg of the trip was flying from JFK to Amsterdam to Stavanager, Norway. As we made our descent into Stavanager, the captain shared some bad news. "There was a problem with the central luggage belt in Amsterdam, and most of your luggage didn't make it on to this plane." Sure enough, my bag wasn't there when we landed. I was starting to realize how weird it might be to meet up with everyone considering I was some guy showing up to take photos/video, but they were nice from the start. Dillon, Flosstradamus (Josh Young and Curt Cameruci) and Solana (our wonderful tour manager) landed an hour after me and shared the same luck with their bags. Dillon looks at me and says "have we met before?" and I reminded him of our smelly photoshoot in a sewer in Austin. Floss had gear in their lost bag, and now Solana was racing to find a replacement. Even though there was a setback, spirits were kept high. You definitely have to have a high temperament to deal with all of the crazy curve balls the touring life throws. Or in Dillon's case, a guy who DGAFOS. Luckily I got my bag back just before we left for the Landstreff Festival. Everyone else didn't have their bags, and KLM didn't have any updates.
In the van, Dillon jokes about imagining having played this festival before with his Nickelback tribute band Quarterback, and starts to poorly sing "Hero." He's really goofy and you can find this daily by following him on Twitter.
Stavanger was cold (about 38F) and rainy. The festival was exclusive to students graduating. This ceremony is called Russ. Their government pays for a private music festival which is pretty dope. Don't you love Norway already? There was a field of drunken 18-19yr old Norwegians running around at night in the rain. They wore colored overalls which coordinated with the program they studied. My camera got really wet but I didn't care much after 12-plus hours of travel, having KLM temporarily lose my bag, and lacking in sleep. It felt great to finally hit the pillow, and this was day one.
May 4: Skru Opp
When we landed in Oslo, a 40 minute flight from Stavanger, two fans walked up to us in the airport "Dillon? Josh? Curt?" and they freaked out over meeting them. I asked Dillon if this is normal. He said sometimes fans will wait at the airport. They'll check flights and piece together clues they drop on Twitter. Dillon asked if they were coming to Blå tonight, but he said he was too young to get in to the venue. Dillon added him to the list anyways, but we found out later that we couldn't get them in. It was the first time Josh and Curt have been recognized in an airport by fans.
That night we ate at Trancher which was the second best meal of the trip. Curt found Club Mate at the venue and was really excited. It's caffeinated soda made with Mate tea. He loves this stuff and we end up drinking it when we can find it to help us stay awake. Speaking of vices, the guys don't really do drugs. The Floss guys smoked weed on occasion after shows, and Dillon got drunk a few times. If you party every night it quickly wears you down. You have to be in decent physical condition to tour like this, and the guys stay clean. They told me there are people who do drugs to stay awake or perform at shows, but it's not very common.
It really hit me as I watched Blå fill up. I'm here in Norway on tour. It's a wild feeling. Flosstradamus gets on the mic and says skru opp ("turn up" in Norwegian). Of course they don't know it's funny to us Americans to say "screw up" and have it mean "turn up."
Norway is such a beautiful place. Out of all of the countries we went to, I'd want to come back here. Dillon talks about vacationing/retiring here.
May 5: Special Guests
In the morning, on our trip to London, Dillon jokes about fans asking him too many questions after shows. What if I threw it back at them? Hey man, how did you make those facial expressions? Want to come back to my hotel, have some beers, and talk about your face some more? He also drops some insightful producing knowledge from Porter Robinson: "I realized making a track that sounds unique is more important than it sounding perfect." Dillon is working on new music, and the sample he played for us sounded great. Beautifully crafted harmonies and melodies in Dillon's signature style. Floss spent most of their trip working on a remix. Even though these guys were usually exhausted, they made time to work on music.
We're in London at Heathrow waiting to clear customs, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest recognizes Josh in the airport. Josh feels honored. Their music has inspired Flosstradamus, so it's an honor for him to be a fan.
Since Floss is missing some of their gear, they took to Twitter to source some equipment. A fan quickly came to the hotel and dropped off the controller they needed.
Later at the show Dillon brings out Diplo as a secret guest, and they laid out a wild B2B DJ set. I have a video somewhere of Dillon and Diplo trying to flip a car over, but we'll save that for another time.
May 6: A Day Off in Paris
The crew finally got their luggage back in London and everyone is stoked. Solana is probably the most excited -- she doesn't have to wake up early every day to bug KLM. It was great to have her as the tour manager. She lived in New York City in the early 2000s, worked at a bar, befriended the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and they asked her to tour with them. Since then, she's worked with Beirut, the Faint, Simian Mobile Disco, and many others. Because of her we traveled around Europe as easily as possible.
From here we headed to Paris for our only day off. Dillon spent an extra day in London to work on music, so it's just Floss Solana and I. On the train, Curt tells me that when he gets older, he wants to figure out how anti-gravity works. Flosstraphysics. He listens to science podcasts on NPR. Curt makes all of the logos and recent album art. He showed me some of his photoshop techniques, and broke down the album art for Assquake.
We take the Eurostar, check in to the hotel, and walk to the Eiffel tower.
May 7: Bring On the Tigerfish
The next day I woke up early to go to the Louvre and do some sightseeing. Turns out that day was a national holiday in France, and the Louvre, and all other museums I could find, were closed. I wasn't too upset. It was really nice to walk around Paris and disconnect.
Later that night, during Floss's soundcheck at Showcase, I remember I'm a fan and how surreal this whole thing is. Spending all day with these guys you can forget who they are until they take the stage. We had the best meal of the trip at La Tute (Solana's idea), and did shots of snake liquor after. Dillon was joking about selling Tigerfish because it's bad for the ocean and they need to get rid of it. "What if after shows we said, thanks for coming, we've got Tigerfish for sale."
Later that night we played Showcase with DJ Snake.
May 8: Dillon Francis Is Dead
I'm starting to lose track of what day it is and what country I'm in. I've definitely checked my phone to see what day of the week it is. From what I could see from the drive to the hotel, Switzerland is beautiful. I really wish we had more time to explore these cities. Everyone does. The catch is that we have to choose between sleep and exploring, knowing that we wont leave the venue until 4 or 5am later that night.
On the flight from Paris to Zurich I talked to Josh about some Flosstradamus stuff. He told me they played a free outdoor show in Chicago last summer, and that the cops shut it down when too many people showed up. They're banned from playing outdoor shows in Chicago, their hometown. I also asked him about how they ended up sampling Hardstyle music. He told me a friend put him onto it a while ago, and he sampled it because he liked it. Their new style of music has taken their career to a new level. Curt and Josh refer to this time as Floss 2.0 because they've been doing this since 2006 and finally caught their break. They looked at all of the mistakes they made in the past, and used this knowledge to make smarter decisions going forward. Most artists don't get a second chance. They've received negative feedback as well, with people discrediting the music. Kids in Amsterdam have threatened to kill them for sampling music from their artists. You can think what you want about their music, but at the end of the day they are supporting themselves from it.
Zurich was one of the best shows. Dillon and Floss opened for Major Lazer. Walshy Fire dumped champagne on me and almost ruined my camera. Backstage we shared a room with Zeds Dead and either Curt or Josh rearranged the sign to read "Dillon Francis Is Dead."
Josh pointed out that there were Brodem poles, or dudes standing on dudes shoulders. We don't think this would fly in the states. We've never seen one go three-bros high though.
At shows I've been taking photos of the fans with my Fujifilm Instax. As they develop I write my name on them and give them to the person I took the photo of. Most of them show up on Instagram or Facebook. I love giving fans a tangible momento. It's a great way to connect with people and I love the look on their face when I hand them a photo of themselves.
May 9: On to Stockholm
Dillon was still sleeping, but I asked Curt and Josh if they wanted to go for a walk in Zurich before our flight to Stockholm. I asked them if the touring life ever gets old. They told me that they've recognized how lucky they are to do this for a living, and that our destinations are most people's vacations. We talked about past jobs we each held in retail. Josh worked at Petco a long time ago. I used to be a bank teller.
Later that day we flew to Stockholm. I was on a different flight that connected through Munich, so I didn't have much time to eat before heading to the venue, Debaser. I met a photographer who traveled three hours just to see Floss and Dillon. I realized how spoiled I am as a photographer in New York. So many great bands come through here every week.
May 10: So. Very. Tired.
I'm starting to feel exhausted. We went to bed around 5am in Stockholm and got up at 10:30 to catch a flight. Normally this isn't difficult for me, but it's rough after multiple nights of not getting a lot of rest. We flew from Stockholm to Copenhagen to Brussels, and drove an hour to Liege.
Dillon's sense of humor prevails even though he's tired.
Last day of tour. We took a train from Liege to Cologne.
Oddly enough our hotel is called The New Yorker. They played at a club called Bootshaus which was really impressive. They had Funktion One speakers pointing in every direction. The promoter told us they run them at 30% of their capacity, or 110 dB. They're loud, but sound incredible. If I had to pick one venue to return to, it'd easily be Bootshaus. The guys switched things up, and Dillon opened for Floss. Floss had been opening on other nights even though they considered it a co-headlining tour. Josh got on the mic and told the crowd that they went harder than any other city on the tour, and I'll cosign this.
My takeaway from this experience is that I didn't realize how difficult the touring life is. They were telling me it's somewhat easier when they're in the US, when they have a bus to go from city to city. Spending every day in an airport gets old quickly. After touring with them I have a lot of respect for the artists who do this. It's not easy at all, and they stayed cool no matter what. Josh is married (to an amazing photographer) and Curt is in a relationship, so that makes things even more difficult. After playing a set, running on a few hours of sleep, Dillon and Floss would always stop for photos and act kindly towards fans. They are hard working and creative people who feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this.