After some minor confusion I finally have him on the phone. Jeremy Underground is in the middle of moving house, and he has been packing for days. It’s “a bit hectic,” because he has 80 boxes of vinyl alone, weighing over 25 kilograms per piece.
Two-thousand kilograms of vinyl. Some collectors would smirk at the amount. To me, it’s flabbergasting. Jeremy Fichon (aka. Mr. Underground) just calls it “a bit hectic”. Fichon has been collecting since he was ten, and he built his record label My Love Is Underground around a relentless passion for New York house.
When you start an immense collection of house records at the tender age of ten, there has to be one identifiable moment of awe. Fichon had one of those ‘eureka’ moments while listening to the Parisian Radio Nova one evening. “DJ Deep had a residency at the station and in those days he was the ambassador of New York house music in France. When I first heard him play, it felt like I was being enchanted. My parents never really influenced me musically. My musical education came from people like Kerri Chandler and Masters At Work. Being exposed to house music really early on changed my life.”
He isn’t kidding either, he ensures me. His collection frenzy started when he was ten. When most kids were only listening to “shit music,” he was already into underground house and buying it at the local record store. “Of course I also bought CDs, but vinyl was it. I had one turntable and many years later, just after my eighteenth birthday, I got a second one. I was never obsessed by DJing, but it was only logical to try and mix my collection together. I never planned to be a DJ either, I only took that up after people started to contact me for gigs because they loved the label.”
My Love Is Underground
As most overly zealous music collectors will acknowledge, one of the most satisfying feelings in the world is when you convince your friends to listen to ‘your’ music. With a bit of luck, they’ll dig into what you hand them, and if you really try your best, they might even surprise you with music and artists you’ve never even heard of. Fichon had that same urge to share his passion. “I don’t see myself as a musician at all, but I have always been highly passionate about the music itself. I wanted to share that love and starting a record label felt like the only way I could manifest that longing. Luckily I had talented friends around me, so I started out releasing their work. I never fathomed it being a full time occupation. I was always pretty pessimistic about the reception of that kind of house music by the audience, and our first release was an unreleased track by Nathaniel X and later we did a re-issue of a track that didn’t really make its mark when it came out back in the day.”
But the feedback he got from other DJs was quite the opposite, and within a year Fichon could quit his regular job and switch to music full time. “I learned the distribution, marketing and licensing on the job. The main thing about this label is: I am not a businessman. Everything I release is released because it’s ready, not because I have a schedule to uphold. I never think: I have to release five records this year. That’s why there hasn’t been any activity on the label for two years now. In my opinion, the music I got just wasn’t exciting enough. I always did it for fun and never forced anything. I prefer quality over quantity, for sure.”
To Fichon, house is something personal. On the first two My Love Is Underground releases you can read the words:
‘This label is dedicated to the memory of Monique Fichon (1944 - 2002) & Joël Fichon (1950 - 2007)’.
Fichon lost both his parents just five years apart. It was his love for music that got him through the hard times and the start of his label that ended them. One only has to read the subtext on the stickers on the first ten MLIU releases to see that he is in this for the long haul: ‘Vinyl is Here To Stay’, ‘1993 Forever’, ‘No Compromise’, ‘100% Hardcore’.
The recent resurrection in vinyl sales is something he welcomes with open arms. “The sales have been rising a lot, which is great. But there’s another side to this as well. Labels that are doing limited pressings will see their prices going up because people are sharking copies and they resell them for more cash. The fact that more young people are going to the record shops and buying vinyl and turntables is really great. I’m happy to see that people that said vinyl is going to die were proven wrong. I think it will exist as a niche forever. The medium has been obsolete for years, but it’s still here because people love the format, and they love having something substantial in their hands and has beautiful artwork. It’s a different way of listening to music. Record stores have been closing for years, but you see new ones opening up all over Europe.”
"To me, there is only good music"
“There’s just one thing that leaves me with this strange feeling. Everybody is talking about the comeback of vinyl, but in the clubs where you can actually play the records to the fullest you encounter a lot of problems. There is only a handful of DJ-booths where you can play your records properly. Many sound engineers and promoters have no idea how to set up a proper vinyl booth. That’s something I struggle with every weekend. People promote me as a ‘vinyl-only DJ’, but when I get to the club I can’t play my records. You need a proper, solid table that doesn’t vibrate because of the sound system. There’s a huge lack of knowledge because it disappeared for years.”
His advice: “That they have a talk with the older generation of engineers that do have that knowledge. Just be a bit more careful about avoiding vibrations, for example. They should start caring about it really. It costs money, I know. You can play CDJs everywhere, even on a boat that is swaying heavily on the waves, but vinyl is something you have to invest in. I have been fighting for vinyl forever, but lately I have had so many technical problems that I’m thinking of switching to USBs. Even I am thinking about giving up.”
So why does he still play with records then? “I mean, it’s a tradition. I remember the first time I entered a record store. It was magical. You go to the store, socialise with the guy behind the counter, scroll through the vinyl bins, and put the needle on the record. That is just how it works for me. It just makes sense. I can’t really give a proper rational answer, but to me it feels like this is the way it’s always been and should be.”
There has been a resurgence in DJs pushing the vinyl envelope as well. Just look at Motor City Drum Ensemble and Floating Points, both friends of Fichon. It’s no surprise that the first time I saw the name Jeremy Underground pop up was when I was listening to a nearly four hour-long gem of a DJ set featuring Fichon, Floating Points and Red Greg - a mix recorded during one of the famed You’re A Melody nights curated by Floating Points at the late London club, Plastic People.
“I used to be a house head. 100%. For ten years, from when I first bought my records in ’97 until 2007, I’ve been strictly into house. I dug as deep as I could, but I got the feeling I’d heard it all. I got curious and discovered new styles. At some point, when you’re crazy about house, you want to know about disco as well. You want to get to the roots of what you love, and I took that path further into history. I discovered jazz, soul, and funk, and I later delved into these amazing parallel musical histories in Brazil and Africa. I can’t really separate good house from good soul anymore. To me, there is only good music.”
Some people still have to get used to Fichon playing all these styles because they still see him as that house head. “At first I didn’t play that much soul in my sets, because my love for rare groove wasn’t really linked to my love for house which people were expecting. Today I’m trying to mix it up. I start out with some soul 7-inches, and then I work my way to house, acid, and techno. That’s something I really appreciate in Sam (Floating Points). He just doesn’t care. Originally he was a bass producer, but when you listen to him play today you hear this crazy mixture of styles, going from Brazil to jazz and techno. I really respect that. When I listen to him, MCDE or Hunee play I kind of feel guilty for still playing so much house.”
Music-wise, Paris has gone through a rough patch the last couple of years, but Fichon thinks it’s really on the rise as of late. We briefly touch on the topic of how his city has been hit by the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the gruesome events of November 13th. “For the month after, it was pretty quiet during the night, but I think things are back to normal now. We know that it can happen again, and it probably will happen again. It’s not only about clubbing, it’s about the way we live. We are aware it can happen again, but life will go on. It’s as simple as that.”
The new My Love Is Underground-compilation by Jeremy Underground was released on January 18th and is available to buy on Juno.