ICONS; Kerri Chandler – Order Through Kaoz

Kerri Chandler is one of the most important innovators of modern deep house, soulful house and garage, serving as a major guiding light for the New York and New Jersey house music scenes for almost a quarter century. On Saturday the 5th of October Chandler is playing at ADEPT in Utrecht, the Netherlands. In collaboration with the ADEPT crew we arranged an interview with Kerri.

Throughout his illustrious career Chandler has been responsible for countless classics under numerous pseudonyms, many of them which are now highly collectable on vinyl. His first record, for instance, now counts as one of the most sought after holy grails of house music. ´Super Lover´, released early 1989 on his own Express label, easily fetches four hundred dollars on Ebay anytime it shows up. And that´s on a bad day.

Since he first entered the game in the mid to late eighties, Kerri ‘Kaoz’ Chandler has played a key role in the development of what we now call deep house. Chandler´s deep house isn´t the sort of pointless noodling and hushed moodiness often associated with the genre, though. The man has always been about badass basslines, highly innovative production and all-round dance floor excitement. After all these years, KC´s productions and dj-sets still sound as urgent, vital and relevant as ever, maintaining an incredible level of craftsmanship and staying true to the game for more than twenty five years. Chandler explains how he managed to keep that inner fire burning for so long:

“I have always listened and produced with my heart and just did what felt good to me. I was always happiest when the songs I loved got to the part with the breakdown and the dancers loved it just as much as I did. So I thought: “why aren´t there more songs that have better and longer breaks? And why aren’t the drums bigger sounding?” I always wrote with what was on my mind rather than following a guideline. I also thought you could mesh any other style to house music: jazz, soul, funk, Latin, experimental sounds. Wherever my thoughts took me. You can dance to anything or at least feel something on an emotional level. I never made a record thinking I needed to make a bunch of money out of it, I wanted to make songs that reflected the story of my life.”

Born from a musical family, Kerri practically grew up in the studio, his father already being a well known DJ in the New Jersey area. He inevitably became an integral part of the infamous Jersey garage scene of the eighties. A scene that felt like family to the young Kerri.

kerri_chandler_150_3“We had a vibrant musical thing going on with a lot of amazing clubs in our area. Most of the clubs not only focused on the DJ, they focused on the groups as well and you would see the same singers performing that used to hang out there. We all hunted and tracked down the best records, because the quality level was very high. We made songs that would bridge these gaps and play them off of tape or get records cut of our edits.” In the local clubs it was all about sound in those days: “you had these sound systems unlike anywhere else in the world at the time. Richard Long was responsible for the best sound systems. His sound systems maximized the potential of the venue, and we, the Dj’s, were like airline pilots who had to make sure we could make the audience feel as if they went on a wonderful journey.”

It was this technology that appealed to Kerri so much he was actually on his way to becoming an engineer. “I was an intern at a studio at first so I learned whatever I could. I also interned for a television station. I was very ambitious and wanted to learn everything. I stayed very curious and always wanted to add new things to what I was doing.” Ever innovative, Kerri was keen to introduce live elements to dj-ing, experimenting with drum machines, sequencers and even computers. Something that was pretty revolutionary at the time. “Back then, I used a Compaq that had a green and black screen built in. It was the equivalent of today’s laptop. Back in ’89, I ran programs like Texture Live to add to a track I would dj with. The studio was a mystery to lots of people back then.”

Today’s situation is a far cry from the days when producers and DJ’s needed to have access to expensive equipment and technological skills to get their music out there. “In those days, the DJ wasn’t a superstar. Sure, we had our following, but we just wanted to start something wonderful and have a great time with each other. Something we could call home. Later on, more people wanted to be DJ’s and producers instead of being the audience, but a lot of them were doing it for the wrong reasons. That can make the scene and the person doing it destructive. I like the idea of new energy, but I don’t like people who don’t care and want to suck the soul out of the house scene without giving anything back. We really wanted to do something. Create a scene and have a great time doing it. Somewhere along the line someone in the higher ups found out there was money to be had and they figured out how to make stars of people who can’t even turn the power on the mixer on. And that’s a real problem.”

kerri-chandler-4That’s why you might find Kerri meticulously checking and double checking all equipment when you come to the club early. He will only settle for sonic perfection. “I have very long sound checks because I want the songs to be heard as the producer intended them and then enhance them. If something goes wrong or sounds wrong they blame the DJ and not the sound system, so I always like to be prepared for anything. I try to make sure everyone’s set up in the club is going to work for the night. Not just my own, because the audience wants a great night and they expect to see professional quality and hear great music and they want to share their experiences with other people as well. That’s why I have a big technical rider. When everything is in place I’m comfortable to work and make the booth feel just like home.”

While deep house has once again become increasingly popular over the last years with a lot of younger kids, producers and DJ’s getting into it, Kerri still feels the need to stay on top of things and stays deeply involved in the scene he helped create. “ I have a lot of friends who keep me wanting to do more and become better. I have a lot of conversations with people like Dennis (Ferrer), Martinez Brothers, Jerome Sydenham, Joe Clausell, Theo Parrish, Apollonia, Dj Deep, Davide Squillace and DJ Wild. We talk about what we feel the scene is doing and we focus on people that we feel are the next generation. People who keep that fire burning. We pass what we know along in the studio and with DJ-ing and we try to help those who we believe represent the integrity we love. We ourselves differ in ways, but we all share the same love for the music. I have become family with Circo Loco over the years and we all speak the same language musically. Our deal is to make sure the next generation feels and knows why we do what we do. We’re really picky about studio gear and try to make sure we put songs together that represent our life. It’s great to have your friends put you in check rather than kiss your ass. That’s also true for the people and agencies that represent what you stand for.”

When it comes to defending the true spirit of house music in times when money grabbing hipsters seem to be everywhere, you can always count on Kerri. And he’s never afraid to give his honest opinion, even if that means he’ll be stepping on some toes. “ I’m infamous for being outspoken. I call it pulling a ‘Dennis’. It just comes out and I can’t help what I feel. I just don’t like it when someone rapes the house music scene. It feels like someone has fucked with my family and I have to go and beat someone’s ass.”

ADEPT is a concept focused on the dedicated electronic music enthusiast who wants to be inspired in a musical way. ADEPT delivers inspiring and exciting artists from both the (underground) techno and house genres, who are able to enrich their performance with the courage to experiment and do have a characteristic sound. ADEPT provides a deliberately chosen mix of upcoming talent and established artists.

For more information about Kerri’s performance at ADEPT on October the 5th visit the ADEPT Facebook page.

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Rogier Oostlander

Rogier Oostlander is the former editor-in-chief of Bassic Groove Magazine, one of the first magazines worldwide dedicated to house music culture in the early nineties. He now works as a record dealer and copywriter in Haarlem, the Netherlands.