After an (unintended) leave of absence, our 30 Minutes of Bass Education series is back – and with an extra special unique addition to the archive this week. We recently had the honour of sitting down and having a chat with Jerôme Meyer, otherwise known as the legendary Parisian producer and DJ Von D.
This is the first time in the series the artist we’re paying homage to has been involved in our process – and Jerôme’s gone as far as producing the mix himself. Absolutely amazing!
How did you first get involved in music? Music has been in my life since well, forever. My dad used to have a lot of equipment, like turntables and loads of vinyl records so for me, it started from a very young age. We also had a drumkit, and when my grandfather was around he asked me to play along to the rhythm of the songs on the radio. However, I could only use the brushes, but when you’re 5 years old you tend to misbehave so I used to use the sticks when they weren’t looking!
What kind of music did little Von D play along to? Since it was just music that was on the radio, it could have been jazz, pop-rock or whatever. I still have the snare drum I used to play with. My first musical experience, though, was when my father took me to a Pink Floyd concert. For the first time in my life, I witnessed how bands performed live versions of their hits.
You saw their concert in Paris then? Well, I grew up in Cergy, which is close to Paris. I saw them play live in Nice. When I was a teenager, my best friend was from India, and his older brother was a professional drummer. Because of this, I stuck around playing the drums and got better and better. At that time, it was good I had something to do in my free time, because where I’m from, you either have something to do in your free time or end up on the streets stealing cars or whatever.
Cergy’s L’Axe Majeure
So you grew up in what they call the ‘Banlieux’ right? How was it to grow up there? Yeah, yeah, exactly, I’m a Banlieux guy! You either stick to something or end up getting in trouble there. In my time, I had a lot of older brothers that looked after us. They were not necessarily biological brothers, but brothers in the sense that they cared for the younger guys. They sold hashish and, with the money they made, bought a small studio and equipment: like samplers and the old Cubase, Ataris and analogue synthesizers. I was just with these guys all the time, discovering music – but also learning to play drums even better while learning how to make electronic music. This group of people made a diverse spectrum of sounds: hip-hop, jazz, house, you name it. I was into jungle at that time. It was around ’96 or ’97.
At this point, I was playing drums in different bands, and it was all fun. I got hired and played on stage, but at some point I felt like I wanted to do something more exploring, exploring sounds and music but not in a band. At that time, I made some very weird tracks – very ambient stuff and noise – regardless of genre. I carried on doing that and started living in squats, where I was making music all day long. The music I made was under different aliases in the time before I did stuff as Von D…
My mother was a bit worried about me – because I was a good student, but I never did any homework yet somehow always managed to pull it off to get good grades. I studied at SAE for 2 years, where I got my diploma as a sound engineer. I didn’t learn a lot over there, I already had a lot of knowledge because of my studio experiences, but my mother was very happy to see me doing something with an academic background.
So where did the Von D moniker come from? Basically, I have a friend in Paris who I used to go to parties with. He’s MC-ing now (quite a big name in France) and he’s half English. He joked that when I was talking English I was speaking half French half English, calling me Jean Claude van Damme – the Belgian actor. When he gives interviews, he looks like he’s high and gets pretty deep about simple things. Out of that, he changed it from van Damme into Von D, since I’m half German, so that made more sense. At that time (and now to some degree), I was a big fan of Lemon D and Dillinja and their Valve soundsystem, and Von D had the same ring to it, so it stuck from then on.
Going back to ’96, you were into jungle. How did that happen? You know, it was actually very random. A CD got shipped to my home address by accident, and it was probably sent to the wrong person. The CD was called Illegal Jungle, a compilation of ragga and jungle tunes, and I just got hooked onto it. I listened to that CD for so many years! I was the only one in my hometown to listen to it. From there it progressed, I listened to many different jungle artists back then. Photek stood out though, his album Modus Operandi is probably one of the albums I listened to the most in my life. Nothing can touch that in my opinion; he must have been illuminated when he wrote it. Something very particular happened to him at that time, his breaks weren’t like the jungle breaks other producers were using. I think it’s that, combined with the jazzy melodies, instruments and atmospheres, that makes it such a timeless piece.
This obviously influenced you and led to the creation of your own sound. How did you first discover dubstep? Back in 2006. The same MC I mentioned earlier went on tour in China and came back asking with enthusiasm whether I had heard of this dubstep genre, urging me to listen to it. And so I did, tuning into Rinse FM to discover that Chef was playing. I used to listen to his shows every week, and now he’s one of my best friends. It’s crazy! At the time I didn’t know him, and just listened to his show and Skream’s Stella Sessions.
I was just amazed because I come from a very big reggae background. I’m a junglist, that’s how I define myself. I thought to myself that this (genre) was the new baby of English urban music, so I was like, okay, I love this shit. From that point on, basically, I was trying to follow the genre, but at the same time I wanted to do something different. Because of that, I was trying to work with vocals, with Phephe. The first vocal tune we made was Show Me. I sent it to Chef, he went crazy about it and everyone started playing it, and the rest is history.
What stood out about Show Me and other productions is the sense of soul inside the dubstep sound. Would you say this was linked with your experience as a live artist, playing in bands? It is not something I control, but I guess I brought the more human feeling with the use of more live instruments. I’d say Show Me was (for me) more of an R&B tune than it was dubstep, but it got big in the scene. I didn’t expect Chef to play it at all; I thought it stood too away far from what people thought was dubstep. Nowadays, people still see it is a classic to them. I never expected to fly on planes to play tunes all over the world.
The period in which dubstep went international signified a change in the music, a change in what people perceived as dubstep. Artists were suddenly big stars. How did you stay true to the sound and true to yourself? It’s very simple to me. I’ve always made music because of the love for music, and I don’t expect anything from it. Even when I was making money and traveling with it, it didn’t change me. I come from a very humble background, my family was not necessarily the richest, and it kind of keeps you with both feet on the ground. When I’m writing a tune, and I don’t feel it in a deep or special way, the tune is never getting released or will never be finished. So even though I could have gone into the more commercial (brostep) kind of music, it wouldn’t have been me. If I just keep doing me, I stay honest to the music. Music was never a career plan.
I try to remain humble and so do my friends. When I’m back home in France, the people still know me as Jerôme. When I go to the UK it’s obviously a bit different because I make tunes with the artists, but they are still my friends. When I’m at Silkie’s it’s like family, we eat together. It’s not a business; it’s a family thing. I met all the people involved through Chef, it was – and still is – kinship between a bunch of guys who love the music.
Your music has always been defined as a more soulful take on dubstep. Is it hard to stay original when people associate you with that? I like people to know that I make other stuff as well. When I make a tune, I could make it sound like a new version of Show Me, but as an artist, I want to stay ahead of this. I also make harder tunes.
Like Phantom?! Yeah, exactly. That’s the specific thing I like to achieve. I love the sound of Lemon D and Dillinja’s Valve, where they have a very soulful intro and then it drops into a crazy bassline thing. It’s what I try to achieve with Von D. I wanted to combine deep atmospheres with heavy basslines. It’s not in a sense that I copy, but it’s in the same philosophy. What’s crazy is that they contacted me and now we’re friends. They are like gods to me.
When Chef picked you up, you did some remixes for his label Sub Freq Records. One of our all time favourite remixes of yours is the one you did for Mr. Lager (Four Leaf Clover). How did that track came to be? That’s actually a crazy story! At that point, I was living in Berlin. I was all by myself and promised myself I’d make it a party. The night I did the remix, I took a bath, drank some beers and smoked a spliff in the bath, so I was pretty wasted by the time I started making it. I remember waking up asking myself “what the fuck had happened last night?!”, and saw the computer with Cubase still running. I played it again, and I had shivers, like, “wow, this is deep”!
Most of the Von D material is at 140bpm. Will this stay the same or will you also make tunes on other tempos? It’s funny that you ask, because I just came back from recording my third studio album. It was recorded in a castle (for the people who’d like to know – it was in Chateau Vanderbilt). That album is called Castle Life and has a lot of tracks at 160bpm, but to me it still sounds the same; it’s what Von D stands for. The album is very musical, soulful, with a lot of acoustic and vocal influences. This album is mainly at 160, but I’m already back on 140 sound system music, which is a bit more eyes down. It’ll follow soon!
What can you share about the album? It came out on Château Bruyant (a French label) in October. They’re a label that pushes diverse sounds – they used to release harder stuff. Guys like Habstrakt, Tambour Battant and Niveau Zero have released on it.
The mix Von D did for the series shines light on his take on the dubstep sound. It highlights a different side of the producer, showing his importance within the spectrum of dubstep. The mix catalogues the development of Von D as an artist – in near parallel with the development of the genre.
With releases on imprints like Argon, Boka Records, Black Acre, Disfigured Dubz, Sub Freq and Lutetia Dubz – not to mention his forthcoming release on Tribe12 – Von D is undoubtedly one of the artists who shaped our dubstep sound. Big up Jerôme!
Click to DOWNLOAD (76MB)
- Von D – Analog Sound [dub]
- Von D ft. Warrior Queen – Moon Eclipse [Black Acre]
- Von D & Riskotheque – Like A Bird (VIP mix) [Disfigured Dubz]
- Von D – Phantom [dub]
- Von D – Try Me [Lutetia Dubz, 2014]
- Von D & Silkie – Fryst [Lutetia Dubz, 2014]
- Von D – Imagination [Lutetia Dubz, 2014]
- Von D & JB – Kush [Subfreq, 2013]
- Von D ft. Asher Dust – Kiss the Sin [Lutetia Dubz, 2014]
- Von D – Wicked Pharaoh [Subfreq, 2013]
- Chef & Bluesy ft. The Ragga Twins – Ganja Party (Von D remix) [Subfreq dub]
- Youthman – The Gate (Von D remix) [Under Pressure, 2013]