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Jeremy Underground | Insight and Inspiration

Sweat dripping as pure, raucously rhythmic heat is fired out by two of house music’s finest perpetrators: Kerri Chandler and Jeremy Underground. As the two go back-to-back, marching from groove to groove with their uncompromising blend of deep and classic house, there’s a special atmosphere in the air for the night. Chandler has left an incredible mark on the Parisian’s music, and the significance of their coming together shouldn’t be understated. Their set was a testament to house music’s unifying qualities, with the inspirational coming together with the inspired, a pairing that symbolises unwavering devotion to house music.

To outsiders, the night could be seen as a penultimate point of achievement for Jeremy [Underground] Fichon. Playing back-to-back with a humble legend in the game, an originator that inspired his taste, his label, and his musical direction.

“All I’ve done since the beginning is a tribute to the Kerri Chandler sound”

But make no mistake; Jeremy is no shadow about to be over-shadowed. The Parisian digger is an inspiration to those who’ve seen him play live and experienced his prowess behind the decks. His considered, soulful selections underlie his depth and his mastery as a collector; timeless, far sought and carefully picked for each show.

After years of cementing the correlation between ‘Jeremy Underground’ and what you could now interpret as his own sound, he stands and grooves next to Kerri Chandler, perfectly aligned and by no means beneath in stature nor selection. Earlier that day we sat down with Jeremy in Shoreditch, talking through the upcoming Boiler Room show, his highly anticipated Beauty release and detailed insight into his musical journey to date.

Seemingly relaxed and with minimal visible tension, he begins surprisingly – yet understandably given the occasion – saying he’s feeling pretty tense.

I feel so much pressure from everyone man, people are like ‘Woah, this is the biggest day of your life!’ I mean it’s great; it’s really great but chill out. I need to relax! I think Kerri plays a lot of different styles these days, depending on where he plays. But he knows what I like so I think we’re gonna be classic tonight. Let’s see!

We couldn’t help but admire the photo you posted on Instagram earlier this week, the one of you and Kerri back in ’05 with your customized t-shirt, have you dug it out for tonight?

 Yeah! I had plenty of other customized t-shirts like that you know. There was a point in my life when I was just wearing label t-shirts and my homemade ones, you know like ‘King Street’ or this red one, ‘produced by Kerri “kaoz 6:23” Chandler’ I was wearing all the time. Yeah, I was pretty obsessed! I also had a black sweatshirt; you know those ‘I love NY’ shirts. I had one of those but it said ‘I love 6:23’.

Some people didn’t understand that everything I’ve done since the beginning is a tribute to the Kerri Chandler sound. For me it’s so obvious that I didn’t even talk about it in interviews. But for me my number one has always been Kerri and you can hear that through My Love is Underground and most of the records I used to play.

So finally someone [Gabriel from Boiler Room] got in touch saying ‘We’re gonna put you and Kerri together and it’s gonna be great! I said absolutely, of course, and he goes ‘Well we’ve already asked Kerri and he’s totally keen for it.’

It happened once with Gerd Janson, we played once and then suddenly we had 5 or 6 bookings together. For me, it’s an obvious connection so I hope that the same might happen with Kerri.

So Boiler Room is in conjunction with Ray Ban tonight, is this the first thing you’ve done that’s sponsored?

Yeah, it’s the first time I’ve done anything sponsored and I asked myself at first, ‘is it fitting with me? With Jeremy Underground?’ But then I was like well I have nothing against Ray Ban, their glasses are actually pretty fine, so I’m like whatever!

The thing is, I’ve refused in the past to do things sponsored by alcohol brands. I quit drinking myself, and I don’t want to be a part of that. I won’t do anything that’s sponsored by alcohol or cigarettes or anything like that. I’ll never do a sponsored thing with a brand that I don’t like. But when it came up with Ray Ban I don’t mind, there’s no harm in that. It could be Levi’s or Carharrt or something and I’d do it.

Have you packed any records especially for tonight? Anything different for the occasion?

I’ve packed my bag as if it were a regular gig but of course, I’ve brought some special records too, records produced by Kerri actually. Some obscure mixes he has done that maybe nobody really knows or even he may have forgotten about. So yeah I’ve definitely got my special Kerri b2b selection, but it’s only two hours together so I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to play everything I want. But also I want to work off Kerri, so it completely depends on which direction we go.

Later on that night the initial tension he spoke of was well and truly released. Unfazed behind the decks and visibly in his musical element, the fact it may have been the biggest night of his life had no bearing on the output of his selections. Playing a typically soulful, underground set, his selections are underpinned by that classic New York House sound, entwined with rhythmic techno and facets of what’s to come on the new Beauty LP. We were searching for something classic and Jeremy delivered in heavy doses, naturally complimenting the wizardry of Chandler.

Online he’s respectfully spoken about recent health issues that have grown from his hectic schedule, whilst using his online presence to make the most out of so many connections, and ultimately through his music. We spoke about the ‘straight-edge’ clubber and the way he might envision the scene to one day be.

It’s a long story; there were a lot of alcohol leaks in my family, so I grew up with a really bad image of what alcohol is. I drunk a lot myself during my youth and I partied a lot. I wasn’t a massive drug-head or anything but I was getting pretty drunk pretty often at the age of 15, 16, 17, 18. Almost like everyone else but kind of abusing it too. Then came the touring and drugs came along with it.

They helped connect with the crowd and everything, but you know, you get drunk you get a hangover or you sleep for only 2 hours and then you jump on a flight and you’re like ‘shit, I’m feeling anxious and I’m sweating’. Then you play another gig and by Monday you’re totally destroyed and at some point I was just like, I can’t do that anymore, let’s stop. I stopped completely after a few attempts but now I haven’t drunk anything for a year, and I really don’t plan on drinking again.

People think or have a pre-conception that it’s a necessity for clubbing culture, but it’s not a requisite, not if you have a passion for the music you’re listening to…

Yeah. I mean you face reality. If the party is bad, the party is bad. If your company is bad, if your friends are not interesting then they’re not going to interest you. You cannot fake things, sometimes you would hang around with a group of people and being sober would not be exciting with them, so then you would drink or take other stuff to make up for it. I don’t want that kind of relationship anymore, so at some point you just filter your friends, your social life and you just go see and hang out with people you love. And if the party is good then I’m just having a great time, and that’s the way it is, you face reality and on Monday morning you can do something productive and you feel well.

So it’s a mixture of things, giving up drinking, going straight is really optimal for my health considering I have to travel a lot with late nights and long weekends, but then it’s also to do with my history, my family and everything. Everyone was pretty much an alcoholic, so for me it’s great on every side. Not drinking – I’m extremely proud of it. And it makes a lot of sense in my life.

I understand though that it wouldn’t make sense for other people, I don’t blame other people for drinking now. But right now I’m really proud of it and I hope that I’ll be never drinking again and the same goes for drugs.

Touring frequently do you find that’s a common approach with the other DJs you play with?

There are more and more of successful DJ’s that are not exactly “party heads”, Floating Points, Hunee, Gerd Janson, all these guys are pretty healthy overall and far from the typical tanned, tattooed, Ibiza-type gym-head dude. There are more and more DJ’s who are MUSIC heads and not exactly drug-heads. Hopefully this will inspire more and more people in the crowd too. All we want, all we need is just good music, good sound systems, good people.

It goes back to why people choose to attend parties in the first instance, is it because of the music or because of the scene happening around them? At the very core of what makes a good party is the respect a DJ has on the night he’s chosen to play, and thereafter the selection of music chosen for the occasion. Of course it’s not always like that though. 

I can be a pretty shy guy. I run, I exercise, I listen to a lot of music, when I get behind the decks and the party’s going well then OK, I let myself go, but I’m not the type of guy who can just let himself go on any occasion. Yes I can be really be shy and reserved and cold, not exactly the funniest dude sometimes but then if the party’s good and I can see some good faces in the crowd, people who understand what I’m doing, THEN I spread and I share my energy, but it’s not always like that. Then if the vibrations are not that good, you can also see me really dark and bored. Good mood is obviously not guaranteed or automatic. I’m a super-sensitive guy and if there’s one little thing wrong then I feel it. Sometimes I tell my agent or my friends that I should only really care about my set and do my thing but sometimes I just can’t. I just look at everyone and if there’s that dude who doesn’t smile I’m like “Am I doing something wrong?” Way too much questioning and sometimes only a detail can ruin my smile, “this isn’t normal why do I care so much?” But that’s just the way it is.

That Jeremy feels the scrutiny of crowds while deejaying is a particularly salient trait. Stylistically he won’t change his sets because a crowd might not like it; feeling the crowd is something that comes when a knowledgeable crowd is willing to give back the energy that is given out.

I was playing with Danilo [MCDE] at Montreux Jazz Festival and we played in a big room so we’re like ok, let’s start with some Soul-Funk. One dude came up to us with a piece of paper saying ‘Change your sound, we want some techno’ in French! I mean it could upset me or fuck my mood, but I took the paper and showed it to Danilo and we just laughed about it. With this kind of thing I would actually go even deeper into what I play to go against those kinds of people. I mean, we’re at a jazz festival here! I’m sorry if that guy was not aware that we’re not techno DJ’s, but we’re not gonna change our sound for that guy. I love techno, but I’m not playing it at a jazz festival!

You mention Danilo [Motor City Drum Ensemble], could you tell us about some of the friends you’ve met and made through the music along the way?

It’s the beautiful thing of travelling and offering something to people from putting mixes up online or buying records, you connect with people you would never normally get the chance to meet. Not only at parties but also through people appreciating and choosing to comment and show love online.

I’ve made some great, great friends along the way but on the other hand, there are also a lot of superficial people, but I feel I’m a good judge of character. Who’s going to be a real friend and who’s going to be just here to try and make an EP with me or do something with me or whatever. I’m aware of the people trying to profit from you, so I’m careful about the people you meet and their intentions.

But I would say I’ve made like five really good, close friends that I would go on vacations with in these last years, that have formed through the music and living abroad in Berlin. You have more opportunities to meet good people, and same goes for bad people too. And just great connections, people like you guys who I don’t get to see very often but I respect you, I love your vibes, I love your work. We haven’t even properly partied together, but I’m like ‘I like this dude, I like his vibes’ and if I can do something for him like I did by publishing your photographs with Beauty, I mean, I would never have seen your work had we not met at a gig, there’s something beautiful about that. I’ve met so many friends in Paris, even every girlfriend that I’ve had over the last few years has been related to music. Almost everything I do is related to music, it’s beautiful. And then there’s some really good DJ friends as well, some really good guys that I don’t only talk about music with, they’re people that I get deep with like Danilo now, Hunee, we talk often and it’s not always about the new African record, but about life, it’s nice.

jeremy-underground-beauty

Veering through the different facets of Jeremy’s touring schedule and network of friends on the circuit, the conversation naturally comes back to his music, touching on the impact of Soul-Funk on his sound, his Beauty release and My Love is Underground.

Well my musical approach has changed across the years. I started as a House kid from the first record I bought when I was 10. Up to the age of 18 or 19, I was a proper House head. I would listen to Hip Hop and everything and would say ‘ahh this is good, that’s good’, but I wouldn’t collect those records. But at some point, you realize, New York & Chicago house is not infinite, you’ve got the main legends and then smaller artists but there are not millions of labels so you would kind of always get back to the same tracks, so I thought hey, I want to expand. So you wonder what the older people are listening to, and of course when you go deeper it’s always disco first, and then soul, funk and then jazz and I started to really feel all of that.

There are lots of samples and inspirations that come from that side of the music. But the thing is, it’s pretty much a different world. Soul-Funk collectors for example, they’re very often former Hip-Hop dudes who are into it because of the whole sampling side. ?But these guys don’t care about House and Techno. The people in the world of “rare grooves” – who are deep into African Jazz and Brazilian and everything – usually don’t care about House and Techno too. These people would be like “that music is for kids who don’t know shit”. Sadly it’s kind of all compartmented – But hopefully this will change

Since 2007/2008 I got really deep into rare grooves, and I started to build a really strong collection on the side of my House and Techno collection. Danny from Psychemagik was the person who initially approached me with the idea for a compilation. It took us three years to produce the [Beauty] record, sort out the licensing and everything and now here we are.

When Danny first heard me playing a Soul-Funk set he absolutely loved it. And he’s typically the dude who doesn’t care so much about what I’m doing in the House scene because he’s not that into it, but he is crazy about these 7”s that I’m playing. He said to me, “Dude we need to make a compilation!” and so I jumped on it. I have always wanted to express myself in that field because people know me for my House side, which is amazing, but in order to give a complete picture of who I am, musically, I need to express my love for this side too. Jeremy Underground is both, and sometimes even two at the same time. See I want people to have the picture of me as a House kid who also cares deeply about all other sorts of great music. I will always be the House dude, but I’m not just a House dude. It’s me you know; this compilation is a reflection of me. And I know that it may come as a surprise to some people who thought I was just a House DJ, but for me I am just so happy and so proud of this release. Finally I can express myself even more and be more confident about mixing up styles because now, it is official. I am also into that.

Beauty is being released on CD & Digital, this is a new thing for you right?

My view about that changed over time. When I started MLIU in 2010 it was important to spread the message that vinyl is important and that it should not die, that people should go to the record shops, that it was better than being lonely behind a computer downloading things for free. I think that at that time, 6 years ago, it was vital to share that message. But now, vinyl is everywhere.

It’s trendy, you get all these people who buy records and they don’t even have turntables at home, they buy it because it’s “cool” even though they can’t listen to it. It’s got to that point, and I’m not going to bitch about it, it’s absolutely fine, sales have been rising so I’m not going to complain. But on the other hand I’m like, well, vinyl is now here to stay. It’s established and I can relax. I have done enough for it on my little side. I’m not paid by a “vinyl lobby” so I’m happy to step into these other platforms now too!

Beauty is Jazz/Brazilian/Disco/Boogie, it can touch a lot of people. It’s not a specific niche compilation like the ‘My Love is Underground’ 1 & 2 on Favorite. So my idea was to open the spectrum. I want the people who are downloading things from iTunes, I want them to listen to this compilation because it’s beautiful music that can touch their souls.

The people who are buying CD’s, even though it’s probably more old-school than vinyl these days! I want them to be able to hear it as well. It’s much, much broader, I don’t want it to be niche. My Love is Underground is a niche label for a niche market, a specific House style made for DJ’s, music made to be played out in clubs. “Beauty” deserves to touch more people in my opinion.

In terms of My Love Is Underground it’s been 3 years since the last release, what has been behind that?

Yeah! I’ve just been “chilling”. I have always seen this label is as a fun thing, and I didn’t have anything to release for a few years until some good tunes came to me and so yeah here we are again. Over the three years I was never like ‘oh shit I’ve not released anything on MLIU for a while’, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been quite busy DJing. And these tunes, hopefully you can play them in ten years and still get the same feel. There is no rush.

How did the tracks on the new mliu16 come about?

DJ Steaw first sent East Orange over to me 3 years ago untitled. It is a total 93’ classic Kerri tune, you know the keys, the bass, that true New York House sound. And I said to him, ‘You know I love it but we have to name it something after Kerri!’ and he was like ‘Yeah sure okay’ and then I came up with the name ‘East Orange’ because that’s the city in New Jersey where Kerri was born. So we then had the East Orange track finalised and I sent the promo to Kerri a few months ago. He came back with a great response, thanking us for the tribute. Then last month in Paris, I played before Kerri. I decided to wait around a bit later to hear Kerri’s set, and there it was, he played it! I recorded the video and sent it to DJ Steaw straight away. He couldn’t believe it he sent me a message back like ‘Man! I am crying!’

Jeremy is at a point in his career right now where more and more people are starting to recognise him for his passion and revere him for is mastery as a collector and DJ. Unafraid of risk-taking or challenging musical boundaries – and subsequently delving deeper into musical experimentation – Jeremy is notably optimistic about the future of his career as well as the impact his music is having.

Whoever is on the top five on RA is not exactly my kind of music. Last years ranking on RA was really optimistic, for me it was a great achievement, like Hunee at 26, MCDE at 14, its’ like yeah! We represent quality house, disco and techno all together.

The fact that I’m getting myself a name and that there are a lot of people following what I do, it’s fucking crazy, because in the end I’m never thinking about myself, its all about the music that I play, and it’s refreshing to see so many people getting into this great music. So many kids who actually save a lot of money to get themselves a good mixer just because they understand that quality is important or all these kids that are making the effort to go to record stores to keep the tradition alive. I am very optimistic. Of course you know the bigger names and everything will always be something consensual but that is not really the music that I like though.

Over the years his contribution to dance music has become increasingly important; always aspiring to offer something new while maintaining the essence of his root inspirations throughout the landscape of his work. He’s amassed a dedicated and knowledgeable following, taking his time in the process, doing things his own way and reaping the rewards for his approach and devotion to music.

Words by Elliot Fairhurst and Will Harris