In-depth interview with New York house music legend, Mr. Kerri Chandler.
Kerri Chandler Interview
My first assignment for Traxsource was a phone interview one of my house music heroes - Kerri Chandler. After an hour long conversation, the editorial feature was very well received worldwide, with Kerri sharing the article himself to his quarter million followers on Facebook. They say don’t meet your heroes. But, in this case, I strongly disagree.
Kerri Chandler Brings Kaoz Back to the Clubs
The term legend is bandied around far too easily these days. Everyone is a ‘legend’ after even the tiniest morsel of endeavor. Whether it’s your mate who jumped into a swimming pool with a firework in his pants or the next-door neighbor’s cat who once accidentally high fived you, the tag is given away far too freely in today’s overcrowded ‘legend’ market. But let’s get one thing straight here; when it comes to underground dance music, Kerri Chandler IS a legend.
As one of the original forefathers of the deep house scene well before tattoo sleeves and muscle vests, Kerri has been one of the few DJs to smoothly transition from the old school to the new. His original dub edits in the early nineties under the ‘Kaoz 6.23’ pseudonym could almost be traced back as the genesis of the bass heavy sound of today’s dance floors. Residencies with Circo Loco and DC10 has seen a new army of Chandler fans grow ever bigger and they will now have the chance to re-experience Kerri’s dub credentials with the launch of his new ‘Kaoz Theory’ label.
I’ve personally been buying his records for over 20 years and judging from what he’s got planned with the new label, I could well be buying them for another two decades. I even plan to have his hauntingly uplifting track ‘Inspiration’ with Arnold Jarvis played at my funeral, though that’s another story altogether.
I had the pleasure of talking to Kerri about dubs, clubs and bone shaking subs to get the low down on the new label and how he made the song that will be launching me into the netherworld. Hopefully not any time soon though! Congratulations on the new label launch. With Mad Tech and Mad House already under your belt, how will the Kaoz Theory label differ from your others?
"Well, Mad House is very soulful, very gospel. Mad Tech is for featuring new, up and coming producers that I believe in to help develop them as artists. Kaoz Theory is going to be a lot of people I know who are already established and are very close friends such as Jamie Jones and a few of the DJ crew at Circo Loco." Kaoz was a pseudonym of yours ‘back in the day’. Will the music released on Kaoz Theory have any kind of old school influence? I’m sure most DJs of a certain ‘maturity’ have a Kaoz Dub tucked away somewhere in the vault.
"The Kaoz 6:23 style dubs, to me, were all about the deeper, darker dubs and that’s what I’m looking to put together again with this new label. I loved making all those Kaoz Dubs back in the day, so I thought now was a great time to reintroduce that style. It’s not a typical song lay out, but it’s something I’ve always been into; really chunky beats and bass heavy production. I couldn’t really do a lot of that with Mad House, as many of the releases were vocal lead tracks. The Kaoz Theory label gives me a new opportunity to bring back that deep, dubby Kaoz sound. That was always what the Kaoz style stood for. I just always wanted to take the main, deep part of the track and extend it out longer and really concentrate on the breakdowns. That was what Kaoz stood for and that’s what I’m looking to bring back but with some new producers. I’m really excited about the whole project." I still play the ‘Kaoz Trackin Dub’ of Janet Rushmore ‘Joy’ in my sets and it’s just as relevant today as it was in 1994. Do you think the current output of underground dance music will have the same kind of longevity?
"Well that’s kind of my gauge, as now I have teenagers coming up to me in clubs telling me that their mom or dad introduced them to my music, which is just crazy!"
As the Kaoz Theory label owner, will you be looking to spend more time behind the desk, or oversee the talent who will be working for the label?
"A bit of both really. With the Kaoz label featuring so many established artists, I don’t really need to wait for vocalists or musicians to come in to the studio and record their parts. I can find the time to sit with my creative process experimenting in the studio. With Kaoz I can experiment with heavier, darker sounds and lots of unconventional ways of recording and modifying gear. Kaoz comes from a very personal expression of what I am as a producer and what I’m looking to play out."
How did your whole Ibiza connection come into fruition, as you’ve become a very regular face on the scene out there?
"It was basically a combination of being in the right place at the right time and getting to know the right people. I was a little skeptical when I first went there to play. Ibiza now has a reputation for bottle service and a lot of glitz and glamor. I’m not really from that kind of background, but the guys told me they wanted me to make a sound based around my style of deep house. Then I had a meeting with the DC10 guys and they told me they had Tony Humphries doing a night there, so I realized right away that they knew their music. I was playing in Rome at the time and we met up and they told me they wanted to change the sound of Ibiza. They explained to me that they didn’t do bottle service, they had a big, dark main room with a few red lights and an open air terrace with amazing sound systems in both areas. It sounded like my kind of party so they booked me to play the club’s closing party and I really had no idea what to expect. When I played, something clicked with the crowd and I just went as deep and as crazy as I possibly could and people got it. It felt so easy and instant, the connection with the people. I went on to meet the other residents who were coming in and we all got along so well that I now feel I’ve made some serious friends for life. It’s a real family atmosphere and just feels like home; I love playing there."
Fans in Europe have really embraced you as one of their own. Why do you think you had such a smooth progression with the younger audience than some of the other big name American DJs?
"I think maybe because I always made a lot of dub style tracks for the dance floor so my music crossed over to the new style of house a lot easier. I remember hearing a few of the guys like Jamie Jones and the Martinez Brothers playing their own edits of my tracks and I was like ‘Wow, I would never have thought of doing my song like that’. They were filtered and looped in a completely unique way to how I had originally thought of the track; it was so impressive. The more modern sound of today was never too far away from what I was already doing, so I guess my transition to play to the newer crowd was a little smoother as I’ve always made dubs. Things just fell into place really nicely and I feel blessed to have kept it going the way I have."
Do you still get the same buzz and excitement from DJing as you did 20 years ago? What makes you keep putting in the long hours?
"That was always going to be my gauge, that if I didn’t feel the same way as when I first picked up a record and DJed then I would walk away. I still get the same feeling as I did when I was 13. My dad was also a DJ so you could say it’s in the blood. I think I’ll know when I play and it doesn’t feel right, then I’ll know it’s time to hang up the headphones. I’d maybe just concentrate on making records, go back to engineering or even something completely different. I guess I’ll cross that bridge if I come to it."
Two decades of constantly flying around the world has to be tiring. Do you ever see a point when you’ll stop and put your feet up?
"Well I’m away from home working internationally at least 3 weeks of the month, with the maximum time spent in each city only 2-3 days. For example, last week I was flying every day. I do get a little homesick, but I’m not home long enough to ever really feel it! I have to travel with a huge duffle bag that you could fit a person in since I’m away for so many consecutive nights. The funny thing is that even though I travel to so many places, I never really get to see very much because I’m always in and out so quickly. It’s mostly highways, hotels and sound checks. Two places I’ve always wanted to visit were Stonehenge and Loch Ness. I remember one time I was playing at Glastonbury and Stonehenge was on the way, but time was so tight that we didn’t even have time to stop. I saw it for about two seconds as we drove past it! Then I played another festival in Scotland that was near Loch Ness, but I had to visit the place in the dead of night. I managed to see the sign as we drove up and walked down to the water in the dark. The only way we could see the lake itself was shining someone’s car lights at the water! That’s just the way it is with my tight schedules between shows and the next flight."
Do you have any other things you would like to achieve away from music?
"I’ve always been an engineer and I’m currently helping Native Instruments and Pioneer with some exciting new ideas to push things forward. I studied engineering and I’ve always had my hand in building electronic equipment, so my hobby became my job and my job became my hobby. A lot of people want to own the moon and the stars, but I’ve always been just happy looking at them."
Is there anyone you'd like to work with that you haven’t had a chance to?
"I would love to work with Quincy Jones some day and I love Lyle Mays who is an American jazz pianist and composer from Wisconsin. Rod Temperton is another that I’d love the chance to work with. I nearly had the chance to work with Nina Simone who was one of my favorite singers but unfortunately she passed away just before that was supposed to happen which was a real shame. She was working on some songs that she wanted to call ‘The Blood Album’ with Jerome Sydenham that I was going to be a part of, but unfortunately fate intervened."
Some of your music has a long-lasting affinity with many DJs, producers and fans alike. When you were producing tracks like "Inspiration" with Arnold Jarvis, did you realise at the time you were making a house classic?
"That was one of the first times I ever worked with Arnold and he came by the studio straight from visiting a friend in hospital who was dying. Arnold was so inspired by him because he was still happy, even though he knew he didn’t have long left to live. At the time I had this huge studio space that I’d built to look like a nightclub with a stage and a wall of speakers, a bit like a mini Ministry of Sound. I liked the idea of making club music in what seemed like a club. I played Arnold the basic backing track and he wrote 4 or 5 things on his hand and asked if I could play live while he sang, which I hadn’t done in a while but agreed to. So Arnold got up on the stage, I hit record and we just jammed the whole thing out in one eleven-minute take and that was it. Those lyrics were sung off the top of his head and I was like ‘wow’! We sat down together and listened back to the track and we both really liked it, but weren’t sure what to call it as there wasn’t really a chorus. Then we noticed that he had mentioned the word ‘Inspiration’ on a few occasions, so I chopped up the sample and looped it. It was that simple and the whole thing took less than an hour. It was like a literal moment of divine inspiration. In no way did we think we had made a ‘classic’ and I’ve never been in the studio and considered trying to make something like that. I just want to make music that someone, somewhere can relate to. All of the songs I make have a story behind them; I have to live through something to make a track about that experience. Making music for me is like an internal release from within and I guess this was Arnold’s way of expressing something that was very personal to him with his friend being terminally ill, but also being so positive through the whole experience."
Where do you think you’ll be in 10 years?
I just hope I can keep doing what I love to do and continue to help other producers get their music out into the world. The people I work with are not only super talented but also close friends that I care about. I’m really happy that I’m able to help my friends that are just starting out and promote their amazing music and I’m glad that I have friends that I can call family.
Kerri Chandler really is one of the good guys in dance music, and it’s easy to see why so many people are drawn not just to his music, but also to the man himself. In a time of over inflated egos in the industry, it’s refreshing to see one of the main players stay as humble as ever and continue to put something back into a scene with his output as a label boss, producer, and DJ.
With Kerri promoting and pioneering the next generation of house music producers through his labels, it’s great to see the future of the real underground is in safe hands. Plus, the return of the Kaoz concept is going to be adding some serious heat to the dance floor. I personally can’t wait to see what comes from this exciting new label, as anyone that’s releasing on the legacy of that blueprint knows they have a lot to live up to.