Kerri Chandler is one of the most acclaimed house music DJs in the world. He’s a regular on our shores too and we caught up with him for a stroll around the city and a pint in Grogan’s after his recent set in Index for a chat about his dad, 9/11, what makes a great club and some B-Sides on our conversation.
As we stroll from the Westbury considering where to take a uniquely Dublin photo, Kerri identifies Phil Lynott as suitable for the occasion, “a black dude with a moustache just like myself.” Of course, it’s hardly supervising that once I reference who Thin Lizzy were and The Boys are Back in Town as one of his their hit singles Kerri immediately lights up and registers dropping a sample of it in his sets. We trace his connections to these shores which date back to his great grandmother who was a Magee from Cork.
“Don’t ever do this cause you will love it and it will kill everything that you’ve ever wanted and worked for”
“Sir Henry’s in Cork really started it all for me here – Greg, Shane and Stevie G. I remember it being a sweatbox and never playing in a DJ booth after there cause it shaked so much. We’d do the infamous three day party too.
I never did any drugs, I never smoked. I want to make sure I get to the next party. Some people can handle, but I never had any desire to do it and a lot of that came from my father who was a DJ and I watched how insane he was. He used to take drugs in front of me and said one day, ‘We have an addiction problem in our family,’ and he was saying don’t ever do this cause you will love it and it will kill everything that you’ve ever wanted and worked for. He was telling this to me whilst doing it but it scared me so bad. I was like, you’re destroying your life. I’m a 13-year-old kid watching you. He fell one day coming from a party and was in the hospital for a while. I think that’s the thing that changed him. He DJ’ed too up until he passed away, we did parties together. It was a family business. I was more his Dad now that I think about it.”
Kerri’s dad Joseph died suddenly after being hit by a truck near his home back in 2016.
“I got to do everything I wanted to with him apart from one thing. He had never been to the circus which meant he had never taken us to the circus. That’s the only thing I didn’t get to do with him. Everything we shared and talked about. Nothing went unresolved.”
I point out that the life of a DJ can often be incongruous to the life of a parent but Kerri assures me it was never that way for him.
“In actual fact I took a year off when my first child was born. It was always the best feeling coming home and I would always take them every place I could. They would pick a place where they could have a base every year.”
In a classic Grogan’s moment, photographer Brendan Duffy who I know asks if he can grab a stool, recognises me since he has done work for the magazine before, and in turn Kerri. He reminds him he photographed him in the Propaganda club in Moscow almost 20 years ago. Kerri later recollects Nina Kraviz being a dentist when she went to interview Kerri at the club and stating how she wanted to be a DJ. She’s global now also. Brendan sticks round for the chat.
Spaces and Places his latest album pays tribute to his favourite clubs across the world with tracks recorded in them capturing the essence of the venue. Sir Henry’s and District 8 both feature alongside Watergate, Lux, Printworks and many more. I ask what makes a club.
“Honestly it’s the people. It’s still a matter as to who is coming and part of the party. You have to make sure everyone feels welcome and you are not an exhibit.”
Brendan and Kerri go off on a little deep dive into cameras and what they own. It turns out Kerri has an extensive collection and they both thrill about B&H Photo Video store in Manhattan.
“I take photos whenever I feel I need some inspiration. Originally I was an intern in a television studio and did a lot of camera work and thought me about framing and lighting. The craziest photos for me were the ones I took around 9/11 and the Twin Towers. It was across the street from me and always fascinated me cause when I was younger I wanted to be an architect. It was always on the skyline. I used to go down and skateboard around there. I met the Japanese engineer of it (Minoru Yamasaki) and knew they built it in three sections. I was seeing people fall from the windows, looking at it thinking what the fuck just happened before the second one comes down. Every day I was watching it burn and smoke outside my window.”
We discuss how the eerie after effect and I wonder how it contrasted with the pandemic.
“It was way worse. With the pandemic it felt like a plague that came to town. I moved to the woods – the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. It was the most peaceful thing ever. I thought we had blue skies. I saw a deer for the first time. I turned the car around to do a U-Turn and the police came. I said, I’m, sorry. I never saw one like that.”
I use this as an opportunity to, perhaps awkwardly, make the big jump from deer sightings to race relations and politics.
“I never really got into the political thing. On this planet there are really nice people and assholes. I’m not a political person. I’m not saying I don’t care but I don’t follow it. I just want people come see me, forget and be happy when they leave. I’m an entertainer to set your mind free and figure out what is going to be good for you right here, right now.”
We switch it back to the evolution of club scenes. I raise the issue of the disappearance of venues in our club scene (Kerri was scheduled to play a 12 hour set at Jam Park on the St Patrick’s weekend 2020 which turned out to be the first Covid lockdown). I ask him if he feels the destruction or conversation of club spaces feels more acute here.
“It happens so much, you get used to the cycle but the minute they come back you are going to see a huge surge. All of the clubs I grew up with are gone.”
He references the likes of Zanzibar, Club 88, Shelter, 1018 (the Old Roxy), Paradiso. He recollects going back to Cork to see where Sir Henry’s once stood and ended up picking up a leftover brick and bringing it home with him. He references collaborating with Tom Misch and the “great” Gabriels as well as connections with Whitney Houston and Queen Latifah coming from the same place as him – Newark, New Jersey, before returning to his dad and his roots.
“He gave really bad advice but one day he told me, ‘The squeaky wheel gets the oil.’ If you don’t say something nobody’s gonna know what you are up to. If don’t try, no one is going to know. I was like yeah if I don’t put myself out there I’ve already made the answer as no, so I always took that approach to things.”
His Irish connections go back to (his great grandmother) who he remembers as “the funniest woman I ever knew…I have the most beautiful collection of letters I have ever seen in my life. I found all this stuff in my Dad’s apartment when I was clearing it out. The penmanship was amazing, she was talking about the life they were going to have together (with his great grandfather who he believes was posted in Honolulu at the time).”
“I can tell you where I bought every record when I see it. I can have three Gil Scott Heron’s ‘Winter in America’ and know one I got in Germany, this one in Japan. When I get files I can’t remember a damn thing.”
And when it comes to the digital sphere, Kerri is on it.
“I was always into computer games and virtual stuff. I was doing that stuff years ago. I did this virtual club for Resident Advisor and Asahi a few years ago along with Honey Dijon and DJ Nobu. We each got a virtual aspect of Tokyo and did DJ sets with spatial audio.”
He goes on to show us YouTube videos and then jumps on to his reel-to-reel tape and hologram live set recorded in London’s Roundhouse last year. This squeaky wheel is getting oiled.
Words: Michael McDermott
Photos: Sean Breithaupt