“The postman who brings my records in the morning is much nicer,” says Jeremy Underground from his new countryside home in Provence. It's so rural our Skype connection often cuts in and out.
The Frenchman is in a massif called Luberon, an hour north of Marseille, and half an hour from Laurent Garnier. It’s a region made up of three mountain ranges and bustling local markets. A place where vineyards and scorched earth stretch off to an infinite horizon. Villages perch on mountain sides. Endless rows of deep purple lavender scent the air. The hazy light of the place inspired Cezanne and Vincent van Gogh: basically it’s post card perfect Provence, and it is, both figuratively and literally, many, many miles from his previous home in Paris. Moving there is one a few big changes the DJ has made in the last year.
“I always had a love-hate relationship with Paris,” says the now 30 year old Jeremy, who lived there all his life until three months ago. “It’s always very crowded, people are not very cool. It’s too expensive, the traffic jams are bad. There are beautiful areas, but you need a lot of money.”
His decision to move came about for a number of reasons. Firstly, he has—on and off throughout his life—suffered with depression and anxiety, which was at least partly fuelled by big city life. Secondly, he now feels more comfortable buying “only new, sealed” records online, at leisure, rather than under the innate pressure of a shop (but says everyone should start buying in shops "to learn" and for the "social aspect.“)
"I can already see the sun impacts my mood a lot,” he says in near perfect English. “The nature, the no-noise environment. You just sit here and hear the birds and it changes everything.”
He says that his close friends have already remarked that he’s unrecognisable and “looks so much more at peace, so much more relaxed.” He's also working more efficiently than ever before, and even when he does break off to run errands like buying food, “it’s just a pleasure, the landscapes are so beautiful, you know.”
All this said, the stress of the move caused him to start smoking again. He’d stopped for seven years and seems mad at himself for being weak, using words like “shitty” and “awful” when it comes up in conversation. He's also drinking again after two years off. But he only drinks Champagne because “it’s classy, it’s French, and I love it.” He says he'd never drink a vodka apple or whisky coke because that stuff makes you drunk and “do bullshit things you regret the next day.”
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That he has these views is unsurprising: Jeremy Underground is not your average turn-up-and-smash-it-out party DJ. He's a self-confessed “super-sensitive” soul who likes to have personal relationships with the promoters he plays for, and the dancers he plays to. He is a celebrated house aficionado, but has also played Floating Points' heads-only You're A Melody night and put out a beautiful collection of rare jazz-funk, soul, Latin and slow disco tracks via Spacetalk.
He came to these sounds in his mid twenties having slavishly mined the depths of Chicago and New York house for many years before that. Nowadays, having taken pilgrimages to search out some of the then-forgotten US legends he's released on his label, he still digs for old house and does occasionally find new things like “a rare UK pressing that never made it to the shops.” He also recognises that tastes change, and like any record collector knows that where he used to play an A-side, nowadays the B-side might be more interesting. As well, he keeps an eye on new music via alerts from online record shops, and still plays "about 30%" new music in his sets.
But most of his big discoveries these days come from the funk and soul world, and he says that the processes of digging and discovering new music, then playing it in the club, is the same thing. “It’s just about sharing music, that’s what music is made for. Don’t keep stuff to yourself, it’s pointless,” he says, before correcting himself like any working DJ would. “Well, maybe keep it to yourself for a few months, then you share it, and that’s the magic.” “But it’s important not to be too nerdy,” he continues. “For me there is no difference between a house record and a rare funk record. None is more intellectual than the other. A tracky Chicago tune that is not very detailed, I value it as much as an expensive soul record. The range of emotions are what is important.”
His own emotions come up in conversation often. Including when we talk about social media and the instant feedback loop. Jeremy appreciates constructive words “maybe about a bad transition or something,” but says the occasional mindless shitty comment can “really fuck up my weekend.”
On the whole, though, his fan base reflects the man he is: friendly and thoughtful. As such, the conversations he has on Facebook and the messages he gets sent are “motivating because they are so nice.” Even now, after five years of touring, he still tries to respond to every single one, but admits “it’s another sort of addiction, those little red notifications on your phone.”
Unsurprisingly, it is important for Jeremy to feel comfortable in order to give his best. For a while, he tried not wearing any shoes when playing, but too many booths were dirty, with broken glass and tab ends kicking about, so he stopped. One thing he's been doing for the last year, though, is playing digital files off CDJs. Despite still being a keen collector and lover of vinyl, he finally stopped “fighting” for the format in order to make life less stressful.
“I had so many problems with vinyl. Carrying the bag, getting sometimes expensive records dirty, booths that vibrate too much and feedback, jumpy needles. Trust me, you get those problems in 75% of places, even places you would not expect. I fucked up so many sets because of that, and it just added to my anxiety. I used to spend all of Monday cleaning all the records I had played over the weekend and it took so much time.”
It was friend Motor City Drum Ensemble who finally convinced him after a chat at Dimensions in 2015. “He said, ‘why don’t you just fucking rip your records and do edits, they will work everywhere. Why not just make your life easier?’ and I was like, he’s right, I should do that, because you don’t get points of recognition just because you play vinyl. In the end, your set just has to sound good.”
Though playing digitally doesn't give him the same type of enjoyment, it does open up new avenues. These days he does much more with loops and edits, and plays tracks “in a way I never could. I can also play records that I never have before because I can remove bits from the start or the middle that are really bad. So it’s a different story, I’m enjoying it and still buying just as many records, but rip them first."
"Of course, the easy thing to do would get on illegal—or even legal—download sites and grab as much music as possible, then dump it all on your memory stick. But Jeremy has “really high expectations” so has instead employed a friend with a background in sound engineering to rip his records. They have a long, slow process—after a year he has only done about 500 tracks—that makes use of some niche gear to get the sound quality he wants.
“I still load up Recordbox before each gig in the same way I packed my record bag. It’s so easy to get lost, you have to. So I make sure I listen to all the tracks many times to get to know the arrangement, and am very picky about what I put in there. Just randomly playing music is not good for me, and just because files don't take up space doesn't mean you should take them all.”
For a while, Jeremy’s label My Love Is Underground was one of the hottest properties in dance music. It has been quiet recently—mainly as a result of more and more DJ gigs taking up his time—but next year the label will be back with some releases he's “really excited” about. “I’m just trying to be myself and play and release the music I love,” he says. “Sometimes, if I’m sad, I play like that, and if they don't like it, what can you do? How can you deal with that?”
Exercise is one way. It’s how he calms down, escapes and resets. But after getting a little obsessed with running long distances, he’s had to give it a break as his knees were getting wrecked. Now, he enjoys cycling. In Paris he’d do a 100km ride no problem. In his new home it’s down to 50km because although “the roads are sick,” it’s much more mountainous terrain. Next year he hopes to tackle iconic Tour de France mountain stage Mont Ventoux, which tops out at 2000 meters.
“I’m always trying to find a balance between sport and not getting too crazy into alcohol, ‘cause sometimes I really could. I have this history of depression and anxiety, and with DJ life, not sleeping properly, you have to be careful.“
Three months into his new country life, he’s not missing anything in Paris. And anyway, most weekends he heads to big cities to “DJ, see people, do some shopping.” One of those is coming later this month when he is “honoured” to be playing a party Floating Points has curated at The Warehouse Project featuring Madlib, Sassy J, Daphni, Jon Hopkins and others. After beaming once more about the positive impact of “the countryside effect”, he says good bye. It’s time for another long bike ride.
Jeremy Underground returns to The Warehouse Project this September as part of WHP and Floating Points Present, alongside Daphni, Jon Hopkins, Madlib and more. Final tickets on sale here.
THE WAREHOUSE PROJECT AND FLOATING POINTS PRESENT – SATURDAY 30TH SEPTEMBER. BUY TICKETS