Tchami: “I Knew I Had to Break the Rules”
Given the title “the father of future house” by his legions of adoring fans, French DJ/producer Tchami is one of those rare dance music forces that has triumphantly introduced a wholly original style and character into clubland. The Parisian was the first electronic act to inaugurate the now wildly popular genre with his 2013 rework of Janet Jackson’s “Go Deep”. And his early work sparked a rush of newfangled future house productions from artists who resonated with his groovy and pressurized fusion of UKG and house. Beatport added the genre to its store in 2016, and today, it’s become a well versed and widely known categorization for house music’s high-octane and new-fashioned sound.
Tchami caught his first big break signing to A-Trak’s label Fools Gold in 2013 for his debut EP, Promesses, which he released for free. Tchami rode that wave in unique ways, like always taking to the stage dressed in clerical black and a priest’s collar. The wardrobe choice has no religious connotation, but rather it aims at the idea of anointing his crowds with a spiritual experience.
As a steady stream of remixes and singles continued to rack up millions of plays, his rising production prowess led him to co-produce one of the biggest tracks of 2014, “Turn Down For What” by Lil John and DJ Snake. This major success led the launch of the Pardon My French collective — a supergroup of forward-thinking French producers including Tchami, DJ Snake, Mercer, and the enigmatic Malaa — and eventually the creation of the Tchami’s CONFESSION imprint. Both the collective and the label brought Tchami’s reputation to astonishing heights while giving him the ability to explore new avenues in the studio.
Eager to evolve and refusing to be pigeonholed, Tchami is gearing up to release his debut LP, Year Zero, an album that goes far beyond his future house notoriety. As a classically trained musician with a deep appreciation for classic ’90s house, hip-hop, gospel, and other genres, Tchami’s compositional intrepidity shines through with a whole new light on this collaborative album. With the release of belting and euphoric singles from the LP, like “Ghosts” and “Born Again,” Tchami has skillfully built increasing hype for his debut LP
With the release of his single “Faith,” we caught up with Tchami to learn more about his stage name, working with Lady Gaga, his debut LP, and what his ideal gig would look like once he can retake the stage.
Tell us about how your stage name was first given to you during your time in Cameroon. What brought you there in the first place?
My best friend’s family is from Cameroon. I was invited to spend summertime with them, and we bonded during the month that we had there. One of the elders started to call me Tchami (her family name), which is a sign of deep acceptance in the family. So it stuck with me ever since, and when the time came to choose a name for my new project, it naturally was on top of the list. From the beginning of the Tchami project, I wanted everything to be rooted in truth, so with my friend’s family’s permission, it became my stage name.
How did you first get linked up with A-Trak to release your first big cut, “Promesses,” on Fools Gold?
Snake sent my first EP to A-Trak. I was super happy to see someone outside my friend’s group validating my music. That was a big moment for me.
How would you describe the collaborative energy you share with all the other members of your Pardon My French collective?
We used to share the same studio for a long time, so we would always share ideas and give each other feedback. Before getting anything out, our music had to go through an intense peer validation process.
How did your participation on the new Lady Gaga album for the song “Rain On Me” come about?
BloodPop and I met via a mutual friend. I went to LA to work on the album. They were very open about allowing me to work on pretty much everything, which was great. Amazing energy throughout the whole creating process, which led me to help produce four of the songs in the end, including “Rain On Me.”
Tell us a little bit about your CONFESSION label. What plans do you have for the imprint for the remainder of 2020 and next year?
I am so proud of what we are doing with the label. Building an audience with artists over the years and seeing them grow with us all together. The direction is always the same. Find the best music out there and help artists that share our philosophy. I’m always looking for that special thing that will bring the track to the next level.
You’ve told us that with your forthcoming album Year Zero, we should “expect the unexpected.” Can you elaborate on that point?
I’m always growing. That’s the main thing. The LP is a vast playground that allows me to try different BPMs, song structures, etc.
Can you tell us the story behind the album’s title?
Year Zero can mean a new beginning. It’s my first LP, so I knew I had to break the rules in some ways. It’s what makes it worth it. I chose the name before the pandemic happened, but it resonates clearly with the times we’re currently living in.
Who are some of the vocalists and collaborators that feature on the album? Can you give us a bit more insight into your relationship with these artists?
First, there is Hana with whom I made “Ghosts.” She has an incredible voice. On “Proud,” you hear Daecolm’s voice. We met in London at Abbey Road Studios and worked on another track for the entire session. Towards the end, he played me an acapella that became “Proud” not long after. For the rest of my guests, I’ll let everyone discover them in due time. All I can say is that I enjoyed the creative process behind this album.
How long have you been working on the album? You’ve had to push the release date back a few times, has that been a frustrating process? Now that it’s coming out, how do you feel?
I’ve been working on it for about two years. The album format grew on me since I realized I had a lot of good but unfinished demos. Once it was ready, I began my Elevation Tour, but then the pandemic hit us hard. We had no perspectives at all and were in the dark. So I knew I had to wait a little bit for the album. People listen to music, so even if I can’t be on the road to promote my album, it doesn’t mean I should hold onto it indefinitely. So no frustration, but we had to rethink the strategy.
What’s the festival/party/showcase do you feel you’ve missed this year the most due to all the cancelations?
Definitely half of my Elevation tour dates… I can’t wait to be back on the road to play this album for people who want to experience it live. I would have enjoyed playing Coachella this year as well, but I’m not mad that I was able to spend more time at home.
If you could craft your own perfect lineup for your first post-lockdown event, who would you want sharing the stage with you, where would it be, and what song would you open up with?
I would bring the whole fam with me. It would include a big b2b with Malaa and a stacked Confession lineup for sure. It would take place at Red Rocks, and I’d probably open my set with an augmented version of my remix of Marshall Jefferson’s “Move Your Body“.