A few months ago, a nightclub published the text messages from the manager of a well-known French DJ named Jeremy Underground (until recently known as “Jeremy Underground Paris,” which was a much better name). The manager was spouting off with a list of demands for booking his client including a five star hotel with a gym and sauna. And did so in the aggressive, vulgar and unprofessional manner possible.
It became one of those posts that everyone sees – people send it to each other, laugh about it, and the comments are nothing but homemade memes and hotlinks of people linking their friends to come watch the car crash.
I’ve had dealings with a couple of these people before (and got along with them), but the aggro rage of a manager to a talent buyer wasn’t what interested me.
With the story going viral, what amazed me were the people who had no idea who Jeremy Underground is.
I don’t mean fans, or not only fans. I saw countless label owners, acclaimed producers and industry folks with twenty years in the very same field he works in posting proudly – even smugly – that they never heard of this “Jeremy Underground” jerk before.
With apologies for the hit to Jeremy’s ego, there were a lot of them. Jeremy isn’t exactly a household name in the business at large but he runs a highly-touted deep house label which punches way above its weight. He plays around Europe constantly and has been on several excursions to the United States. He’s been on Boiler Room with Kerri Chandler. By most of the markers of this industry, he’s pretty well known.
I don’t intend to pick on Jeremy (really), nor feel superior to those who have no idea of what a really, really good label he has. I grew up going to Gramaphone when it was staffed by assholes, and if we must lament the record store’s demise I really don’t feel bad at all about the extinction of the archetypal record store jagoff that sniffs at your selections and rolls his eyes at how ignorant you are. Because you could go down the comments of these guys’ posts and see that most of the people THEY knew had no idea who Jeremy Underground was either.
And it kept happening. I kept seeing this same scenario play out. A guy from the UK who’s been making deep house and soulful house since the late 1990s proudly insists he’s never heard of Jackmaster. A Chicago house legend with a very active career has never heard of Theo Parrish.
How is that possible? I mean you may not like them or even care enough to formulate an opinion, but how do you work in this industry and, more importantly, DJ internationally and not even know their names?
If you don’t see the bubble, congrats: you’re in one.
This is of course not without precedent. I’ve talked to producers from LA who made music right in the pocket but lamented ever being able to break through with “the fucking New York soul clique.” Chicago, Berlin – we could all be insular gits when it came down to it, believing the rest of the world and whole celestial bodies rotated around us. But the internet leveled a lot of that, with a cross-pollination that came from free movement across borders and the easy exchange of files.
What we have today are bubbles. We’re all living in bubbles, bubbles without names that we can largely define as “Everyone I know, and the things Facebook lets me see from them.” So-called “fake news” about zombified presidential candidates with a papal endorsement is just the most visible manifestation of a culture that has decided to trust the billionaires who sell you to the highest bidder with filtering out the noise and building new walls around us.
And also with curating our scene.
Arguably the bubble has always been there. In the past, it was called an “echo chamber.” But “chamber” implies a room – one you’re free to leave if you really want – and not the entire sheltered, closed ecosystem contained within our bubbles.
The conceit of the bubble is that it really does feel like the whole world is in here. The walls don’t just reflect the sound of your own voice into a chain of echoes: they’re transparent and foster the illusion that the bubble isn’t there.
If you don’t see the bubble, congrats: you’re in one.
Until I began noticing these smooth walls around others, I had no idea how comfortable mine has become. I found myself having to make constant and difficult efforts to discover what’s happening in genres of music that to the laymen are virtually indistinguishable, or at least share far more in common than differences between them. But even the struggle to find new, outstanding records in these genres seemed like it could be evidence that there was “nothing happening there.” The walls of the bubble are reinforced like this. If it isn’t easy or it isn’t in plain sight, it isn’t worth it or it doesn’t exist. You don’t even know the bubble exists until you crash into it. Instead: “Here’s a list of selections based upon Facebook’s analysis of what makes your heart leap. Enjoy.”
The process of breaking the bubbles we live in never really ends, either. Recently Will Sumsuch asked me about Mike City, a producer that has been making records for about twice as long as I’ve been listening to them. He’s no young buck – I knew who he was immediately. But I was dumbfounded. I hadn’t thought of him in ages, and I couldn’t even recall the last time I came across his name. I had no recent memories of reading it, saying it, hearing it or even thinking it in any of the hundreds or thousands of fragmented conversations and chats we read or participate in each day, in real life and on social media.
How is that even possible? Am I really that ignorant?
How could they not know who Jeremy Underground or Theo Parrish is?
My first thought is just that: I’m an ignorant git. My second is that I’ve clearly failed as an editor. My job in this role is to pass on information – to educate – and here were people I counted as readers who were living in the dark.
But I have written about all of those people, some of them multiple times spanning several years. You would think it would have gotten through, wouldn’t you?
Short of walking around with a sandwich board that reads LISTEN TO DEEP HOUSE OR THE FUCKING WORLD ENDS, you can’t break all the bubbles from the outside. I’m convinced, based on my own experience, that the only way to do it is to strike constantly from within.
Because it’s easy to be cool and wear ignorance as a badge and to pretend that the things we don’t know about are the things that don’t fucking matter. “Have I heard of Jeremy Underground? Haha of course not, that sucks.” It’s harder but incredibly vital now to acknowledge the problem.
Something in our culture has gone very, very wrong, and I think this is a very big part of it.