A Deep Soul – Kerri Chandler

The legend of Kerri Chandler’s immense appreciation for music, sound and the dance floor is one that has been well documented in the past. Tales of the New Jersey DJ standing on the dance floor, mid-set tweaking levels remotely; tuning systems before a gig; and remixing tracks on the fly, have rippled through clubland since the eighties. It paints a picture of an artist completely invested in the musical experience that goes way beyond the perfunctory role of a DJ, and assumes a position somewhere between technician, DJ and artist whenever he gets behind a pair of decks. In a XLR8R interview he talks at length about his processes: “I’ll go through each speaker in the room and I’ll listen. I’ll listen to all the crossover points. I’ll listen to the range of the room. I’ll listen to noise of the ceiling vibrating. I like to know the room very intimately — and then I try to get the best sound I can out of that place.” It’s this meticulous approach that sees Chandler feature in as many tech magazines as music publications , with interviewers getting caught up in the nerd culture surrounding Djing and music, but as Chandler says in that very same interview: “It’s not just for me…I might be one of the DJs there, but I want to see everyone do well. I don’t want people to just say ‘Kerri was great,’ I want everyone to say ‘That night was wonderful.’”

It’s a desire to cultivate the perfect atmosphere for a good night that stems from Chandler’s roots as an integral part of the New Jersey scene where places like Zanzibar and people like Tony Humphries created their own community away from the limelight of New York. That was the springboard” explains Chandler in an interview with Attack Magazine, and “Tony was the voice” . In a region and time where delinquency had a fast grip on society, Chandler and friends opted for a more positive perspective. “Our attitude was, rather than going out and shooting someone or robbing someone, let’s make some music and have some parties.”

Chandler grew up in East Orange in New Jersey, a neighbourhood that rapper Treach made famous by saying: “If you make it out of East Orange without getting shot or stabbed, you’ll be alright.” In an area where a life in crime was an accepted way of life, there wasn’t much in the way of leisure time other than going to church and making music for a young Chandler. “All we had was hope, gospel and some kind of raw talent” explains Chandler to Attack ieditor Greg Scarth and while many escaped their situation through drugs and music, Chandler turned exclusively to the latter for his escape from this harsh reality — a gruesome reality where Chandler often lost friends and loved ones to violent crimes.

Kerri Chandler was a precocious talent that had started out working as an studio intern at a mere 14 years of age, went on to become a production manager at a film studio at the age of 15 and ended up back in music as a head engineer at a studio at the tender age of 16. From engineering he went into production, making tracks for the R&B singers and rappers that would pass through the studio. He instantly realised he had an innate ability for this and started making music and edits for himself, mostly to play at Club America, a local club New Jersey club that became famous exactly because a young Kerri Chandler had come into prominence there. Those edits and original pieces had found the ear of the local DJ community through Tony Humphries no less, who had started playing Chandler’s creations on the radio early on. Chandler was instantly welcomed by his elders, as a much younger statesman of the sound of House sweeping across from Chicago to Detroit to New York and New Jersey, an infectious wind blowing across the east coast, with each city putting it’s own spin it. In New Jersey’s purported Latin influence helped shaped this sound, but Chandler certainly added a new idiosyncratic touch to his interpretation. He might have been the new kid in the block, but he always had the staying power that in many ways outlived the people he looked up to.

Channeling those gospel roots into House’s more soulful dimensions, his creations brought a new emotional depth to House music that got stamped with the term Deep House, almost instinctively.  “Every song I’ve ever done I actually have a meaning behind it”, explains Chandler to XLR8R’s Reisa Shanaman back in January 2016. “There is a real reason I wrote this song, and it’s usually something to get off my mind or something I was going through and I wanted to write about it so I could kind of release [it] out of my inner being.” Merging gospel with Latin influences and the sound of House from Chicago, Chandler fell into a sound all his own through externalising this spiritual depth with deep chords; improvised keys with a progressive touch; soulful vocals; and a lively percussion arrangement lifted straight from Disco. Although New York had access to the high-end studios, the sounds of Garage and Nu-Groove had nothing on Chandler’s prodigious production talents and his early works like Atmosphere and Raw Grooves still hold their own a couple of decades on in the contemporary House scene. While Deep House has gone through its own development in Europe, currently occupying a corner in House music where minimalist electronic arrangements and a lo-fi sound aesthetic dominates, Chandler’s music, mostly found on his Kaoz Theory label, is always a welcomed distraction from the epochal trends. His signature kick always bouncing out in the front of a track like a prancing horse, never dominates the elements that infect his productions with melody and atmosphere; the things that relay that eternal depth to Kerri Chandler’s music.

He easily extends this to the booth in sets that fuse DJing with the studio. He was one of the first DJs to bring a sequencer to the booth, and has always embraced new technologies. When Midi was introduced he upgraded his Roland drum machines to incorporate this new incredible feature and enhance his music through technology. He was one of the first to use timecode DJ systems and a laptop, enjoying the freedom of bringing your entire record collection on the road with you.

With all the advancements in technology, Chandler today enjoys bringing his entire studio with him, remixing tracks on the fly, and even creating new pieces spontaneously. He is always one step beyond in technology and interpreting the role of the DJ, making each Kerri Chandler DJ set a unique experience. Throughout all of this Kerri Chandler has remained that humble character as the kid on the block making tracks. Even though it was initially thought he’d be a little more than a flash in a pan, he’s outshone most of the very people that came to this conclusion. Today he firmly occupies that place on the steps of House music’s legacy, not only as the original institution of the genre, but also as an active purveyor for the future of the genre.