Jeremy Underground Takes Us Through the Rare and Forgotten House Gems That Saved His Life

The acclaimed French selector’s new compilation of undiscovered house tracks—including the first possible Derrick Carter single—is out this week.
February 19, 2016, 9:35pm

The classic disco song-turned-adage "last night a DJ saved my life" primarily refers to epiphanies experienced on a packed, writhing dancefloor. But for French DJ and deep house head Jeremy Underground (né Jeremy Fichon), such salvation occurred in the dark of his childhood bedroom back in 1997, when he was just a ten year-old stuck in the Parisian suburbs listening to a DJ on the radio.

"One night DJ Deep came on Radio Nova playing house music and I went, 'Wow, what the hell is this?' and recorded it to tape," Fichon recalls over the phone when I call him at his apartment in Paris last month. Before that transformative moment listening to the radio in his bedroom, Fichon had never been very interested in the pop and rock he heard over the air. "My parents didn't put me onto music, I didn't grow up with records in the house," he explains. "House music just touched me and I cannot explain it. I made this passion myself."

Fichon describes himself to me as an introverted, artistic kid whose devotion to house music made him feel even more estranged from his classmates. "At first, it was strange to know this music in isolation, you just feel weird and awkward," he says, slightly hesitant to recall his adolescence. "I was never the one who was very popular. I was more by myself. I've been through depression my whole youth, thinking no one understands me. Especially at that age, it was very hard."

In 2002, tragedy struck: Fichon's mother committed suicide when he was 15. Her death prompted a deep, harrowing depression that shadowed Fichon for nearly a decade. He calls 2002 through 2010 "bad years," and were it not for the spiritual uplift inherent in house music, Fichon admits he might have gone under.Instead, he threw himself into music with even more fervor, discovering house music forums online that he found others just like himself—awkward teens obsessed with house's intoxicating kick, resonant chords, and raw vocals. He also started going to clubs, including sneaking into a notorious US garage party called Cheers at La Coupole in 2003 to see house legend Kerri Chandler behind the decks for the first time—an experience he still recalls vividly. In 2010, Fichon finally made a trans-Atlantic trip to New York City—a "pilgrimage," he calls it—and met forgotten house producers Nathaniel X and Jerzzey Boy, whom he'd connected with earlier online.

The in-person meeting inspired Fichon to start his own imprint, My Love is Underground, which he used to reissue some of the producers' unreleased tracks and thereby introduce them to a new generation of house heads. In November that same year, Fichon was invited by fellow DJ Nick V to spin at a party in Paris called Mona with his close friend and label partner Brawther. "That's the start of everything for parties for me," he recalls over email.

Fichon's fervor for 90s house music continues with the release of My Love is Underground Vol. 2, his second compilation of rare, forgotten, and unreleased house tracks, released on the vinyl-only imprint Favorite Recordings this week. Asked how he was able to find these rare tunes, Fichon admits, "Telling the truth, I buy most of my records online now. The thing now is you don't have to be in NYC to buy New York house. The older generation of French DJs like DJ Gregory and Laurent Garnier had to travel to NYC to get these records. But now we have Discogs and it changed the game completely."

The main difference between the two editions of My Love Is Underground is geographical. The first compilation, released in 2014, dove into the strain of bumping deep house that producers like Mike Muñoz, Caucasian Boy and Natureboy concocted in New York and New Jersey in the mid-90s—one that is light on effects and filters, yet heavy on the music's soulful roots. The second volume expands its parameters to include undiscovered gems from London during that same decade. Yet Fichon's goal remains the same: "With the compilations, I want people to hear what they don't know yet."

With that in mind, we asked the acclaimed selector to tell us the stories behind some of his favorite tracks on the recent release, including one of the first records he bought as a kid, and what could possibly be Derrick Carter's first single.

1. The Unknown - "Get On It" [Housetime Records, 1989]

"This might be the first Derrick Carter single. The funny story with this is that I played at Smart Bar last year at Derrick Carter's party. I had never met him before and he didn't know who I was. I got to meet him and thank him and told him "oh by the way, one of your tracks is on this compilation." But that track was originally on a sublabel of Trax Records and as every house head knows, those were weird deals that Trax Records had with their artists. It was all shady and I don't think many artists got paid, even for big hits. They didn't even try to contact Derrick Carter for the compilation. I told him and he just shrugged. He didn't give a shit but it was still a bit weird."

2. Dionne - "Feel Da Rain (D'pac Dub) (Edit)" [KMS, 1994]

"To be clear, My Love is Underground isn't meant to be house music's greatest hits. Otherwise it'd just be all Masters at Work, Blaze, Kerri Chandler tracks. These are just tracks that mean something to me. I had played the original Dionne track to death, but people always complained that the track wasn't long enough, so I made an edit for the compilation. Now it's five minutes instead of three minutes."

3. Sanjay - "Untitled" [Not on Label, 199?]

"I bought this when I was a kid. It was one of the first records I ever bought. Back in 1997, I couldn't buy ten records a week, more like one record a month. This is one of the first ones I bought. The A-side had a very nice, beautiful vocal tune, but the second track on the B-side was always driving me crazy. It was so simple, yet so rough, so aggressive in a way. I was always fascinated by this track. It was different than the other tunes on the record. I put it on many mixes way back when. It's the Kings of Tomorrow (Sandy Rivera & Jayson Sealée) but I don't know why this came out as a white label credited to Sanjay."

4. Groovestyle - "Love (Underground Mix)" [S.O.D. The Sound of Detroit, 1994]

"This may be the easiest one to find on the comp. Lots of people like it for the B side, "Freedom Train," but I never really went for [that track]. My friends and I think the A side is way more soulful, yet it's completely overlooked. It's not that rare, but when I learned it had never been licensed for my compilation, I went 'Yes!' and put it first. It's beautiful and it really sets the tone. It's emotional."

5. Sublevel 3 - "Someway, Somehow (Zack Toms Dub)" [Grassroots, 1995]

"Not long ago it was not very rare, even though it was only a promo-only record. But it was famous for the 90s UK garage movement and I originally heard it in a garage mix. Now, it's super rare as it never officially came out. I didn't pay over 15 Euros for this when I got it though."

Jeremy will play alongside Matthew Herbert, Chez Damier and more at Studio 338, London on April 16. More info here.

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