strict face is the poster boy for beautiful, wavy australian grime

We speak to the producer at the end of his European tour about being serious and making music that will break your heart.

Sep 5 2016, 12:30am

Photography Sebastian Petrovski

Strict Face is a much-loved grime-slash-synth-pop producer from Adelaide, who releases his genre blending bangers on well respected labels like Gobstopper, Tuff Wax and Nina Las Vegas's own NLV Records. If you're asking yourself, what actually does Australian grime sound like? We'd recommend him as an excellent introductory course. Recently returned from his first international tour and with his new, bi-monthly club night Wavey Season lighting up Adelaide's night life, we spoke to the artist otherwise known as Jon about his experience as a kid growing up across two countries, how high school music classes influenced him and what happens on tour.

i-D: Firstly, where does the name Strict Face come from?
When I was a kid, my parents went to parties quite often. I usually kept to myself at the time. My parents would encourage me to be more sociable by steering me towards other kids at those parties. They'd also tell me to smile more often and tell me I was being too serious.

Why didn't you want to hang out with the other kids?
I don't know. There wasn't really a reason. I've always been kind of reserved by nature.

As well as Adelaide you also spent some of your childhood in the PhilippinesWhen were you there?
When I was ten we moved to the Philippines because my mum was homesick. She was intending for us to stay there for good, but then I got homesick so we moved back to Adelaide a couple of days after I turned 13.

Was it tough starting over again in Adelaide?
Yeah it was tough. I'd been away from Australian culture for such a long time and I guess I was a bit shy and didn't necessarily know how to gain my footing back in Adelaide. For the first six or so months I was trying to readjust to Australian life. All the old friends I had in primary school went to different schools so I didn't see any of them. I guess it wasn't really until late year 9 or year 10 that it felt like I was back home again.

Out of interest, which instrument did you pick in your music classes at high school? 
trumpet and then clarinet until the end of year 11. In year 12 I just did music theory.

Neither of those instruments turn up in your music. What did you take away from five years studying music?
I guess it just taught me a lot about writing music and playing music - basically the ins and outs of it. Those instruments weren't necessarily what I wanted to play. I was more into playing the guitar or the drums but as I remember the school allocated the instruments to students.

How did you get into electronic music production?
Somewhere in year 12, when I was taking music theory, I realised I didn't need acoustic instruments to actually make music. I was more interested in music structure and it was then I started trying to lay the groundwork to work without them.

What was your introduction to grime?
I used to browse the internet quite heavily to find new music and I obviously found Wiley and Dizzee Rascal. Then in my last year of high school I started listening to a lot of shows on Rinse FM and gradually I started educating myself on the history of grime.  

If someone back then had told you you'd be touring the UK and Europe in 2016, what would you have thought?
I probably wouldn't have believed them because I guess so many things were going on in my life and I was just developing as a musician. Even when I found out I'd won an International Touring grant, as part of the contemporary music program at Arts SA, it was hard for me to actually get my head around it at first because I didn't think I'd get to do that so soon.

That's awesome though. How were your European shows this year?
Before I left Australia I had six shows booked. That blew up to about ten shows by the time I touched down in London. I ended up playing four shows in London then in Paris, Manchester, Ireland, Bristol, Glasgow and Leeds.

What was a highlight of the tour?
Being able to play a lot of the stuff that I've been into and actually having it received positively was a big boon for me, because I'm so used to it being hit and miss in Australia. I was like, "sick", but at the same time I was thinking, "holy shit - I've never seen this much response to it". They'd literally yell at the top of their lungs when they heard a song they liked.


Text and photography Sebastian Petrovski