Over a half-dozen or so EPs in late 2012 and 2013, Anderson sounded increasingly mature without rounding out the rough edges of his earlier work: his sound design has only gotten gooier, and his melodies—played earnestly on piano or flamboyantly on mile-wide synth patches—continue to defy easy logic. As the Amsterdam label Dekmantel prepares to release his debut album, After Forever, Anderson unquestionably has one of the most distinctive dance sounds of the last half-decade—a sort of house music that hardly sounds like house music at all.
In the interest of hearing this language spoken in its place of origin, I asked Anderson to show me around his old stomping grounds. So on a cold and fiercely windy January afternoon, Anderson picked me up outside a PATH station in downtown Jersey City. We'd met a few times before through New York's music scene—early in 2011, he appeared on my radio show as part of an Exchange Place showcase—and he didn't seem any different than he did before: a humble, good-natured and supremely laid-back dude. He wore a camouflage jacket and a knit orange cap, in which he'd stuffed his serpentine dreads, and for much of the day he held a to-go coffee cup in one hand and a cigarillo in the other. ("I usually do like five coffees a day," he told me, though it took him the entire afternoon to finish the Swisher, which wouldn't stay lit in the wind.)
I sensed the slew of revered releases and influx of international DJ gigs over the last year had caught him by surprise. "I figured whoever's doing their thing, they'll want to hear some off-the-hook shit, I don't know," he said as we searched for a parking spot near the waterfront. He was grateful, if genuinely bemused, that a journalist would ask to tail him for a few hours. A woman he'd known for years from one of the buildings where he works recently asked if he was that Joey Anderson, to which he replied, "I ain't famous. You've been reading fucking articles!"
We left his car on a side street and ambled east toward the Hudson. The Jersey City waterfront is now built up with high-rise offices and luxury hotels, but the Manhattan skyline still looms impossibly large just beyond them, a miles-long curve that rises slowly from the north before shooting skyward at the new World Trade Center building. When we reach the water, I ask Anderson if the view brings back memories. "I remember when you couldn't walk here," he said. "This shit was all broken docks." Before property developers turned the stretch into a respectable promenade, it had been the sort of isolated, shabby spot city kids tend to seek out to convene unbothered. For Anderson, it was a place to dance: "You could blast your music, and no one was going to hear you."
For years, dancing was pretty much all Anderson wanted to do. Soulful house was all over New Jersey when he was a young teen, and he'd gotten some older cousins to get him into local parties. He loved the music, but he was most taken with the competitive dance battles that would spring up. It wasn't long before he found his way into the circle. From the time he was 13 or 14 through his teenage years, he'd sneak out of the house and ride the PATH to dance in era-defining Manhattan clubs like Mars, Sound Factory Bar and Shelter, where records on Strictly Rhythm, Eightball and Nervous provided an inspiring soundtrack. "You would go to the club and run to the circle, and there would be four or five people who would for six hours go at each other, and no one just jumped in all stupidly—it was respected."
He gestured around the promenade, conjuring the floor at a long-shuttered Chelsea club. "You would see a circle there, and maybe a circle there and there. It was the most amazing thing I ever saw, you know? That drew me to it." When he'd get home early the next morning, his clothes would be soaked with sweat. In another life, Anderson could have been a professional baseball player—his successful amateur team had toured Russia just before the fall of the USSR, and he'd gone to college on an athletic scholarship. "But I was always dancing," he said. "I think that kind of fucked up my baseball career, hanging out at clubs."
The dance style Anderson had grown up with was still underground, but thanks to music videos, it had started worming its way into pop culture by the mid-'90s. House dancing was an especially big hit in Japan, and Japanese tourists started hanging out in clubs looking for locals who would teach them. "If you were popular in the clubs," Anderson remembers, "most likely some Japanese guy was going to ask you." After learning the moves from the source, they'd return to Japan and show them to dozens of students they were cultivating. Anderson had always taken house dancing seriously to a degree, but he saw the potential in teaching it—especially when New York house dancers started making the trip to Tokyo themselves, where they were treated (and paid) like royalty—so he started going to dance studios himself. While he never made a full-fledged career out of it, he traveled intermittently to Japan to dance and taught from the mid-'90s well into the 2000s. He danced his last battle in 2012 at a Strength Music showcase in Tokyo.
On an early Japan trip organized by house dance pioneer Brian "Footwork" Green, Anderson saw a face he recognized from the circles in Manhattan: DJ Qu. They'd admired each other's moves from afar, but Japan was the first place they actually got to know each other. "A lot of times you would see dancers that were into dance, but they couldn't tell you who were the artists they were dancing to," said Qu. "With us, we were into the music as much as we were into the dance." Anderson remembers them bonding over the details—which isn't surprising, given that the music they'd each produce a decade later distills and amplifies the finer points of that era's house music. "That's how we really became friends," Anderson said. "Not everybody gets into the detail."
With the '90s winding down, life took Anderson away from Manhattan's dance spots: he became a father and got married. (He's since gotten divorced.) Qu would occasionally see him shopping for records at the East Village's now-shuttered Dance Tracks, but as best as he could tell, Anderson "had bounced out of the club scene" altogether. Qu remembers Anderson showing up at the House Dance Conference, where Qu held a residency, and it was the first time he and the other dancers had seen him for years. The two stayed connected from that point, and when they bumped into each other at Dance Tracks sometime in the early 2000s, Qu invited Anderson back to his place to play records with him and a couple of friends.
Qu, Anderson and the friends—Ruben Candelario, AKA Nicuri, and David Salazar, AKA David S.—established a regular meet-up at Qu's place, where they'd play records late into the night. "We knew that Exchange Place was an area in Hudson County, and we was exchanging records," Anderson explained. "It's a good name. Signifies Jersey." When he reconnected with house in the 2000s, he felt alienated by the direction it had taken—"It was a lot of vocals… I mean, it was cool, but I was like, all night, where's the deep atmospheric stuff?"—but Qu and the guys were putting each other on to a strain he could connect with. And though Anderson had been collecting house for years, the sessions were where he learned to DJ. "Just watching and learning and discussing," Anderson said. "'Yeah, you fucked up that mix, you've got to learn the count system.' Friendly, but shit like that."
One morning after an Exchange Place session, they stopped off for coffee, and Qu told Anderson he wanted to get into production. "I didn't tell him, but I thought he was crazy, because I didn't know anything about how you start producing," Anderson said. "Then he started playing a track in the car, and I was like, 'What's this?' I'm in the back of the car, and I hear that energy"—the peculiar bump of a Qu track—"and he was like, 'This is the one I did!' From there, I was like, holy shit! It had the energy that I felt was missing."
Qu got Anderson set up with some software and a computer, and Anderson went from there. Following his Exchange Place contributions, he set up Inimeg (Gemini, his astrological sign, spelled backwards) in 2011 as an occasional outlet for his own music. Sometime in 2012, other labels started hitting him up for tracks, which he happily provided. By the end of that year and into the next, Joey Anderson was ubiquitous—and as weird as ever.
"Let's get gas, 'cause I don't want to start pushing this bitch."
I'd hoped we'd drive by Zanzibar, a critical spot for Anderson that, with its membership cards and Richard Long soundsystem, had been Newark's answer to the Paradise Garage. In typical New Jersey fashion, the roads nearby were snarled in a construction project and the ensuing traffic jam. With daylight fading fast, we hopped in the car and cruised through parts of Jersey City I'd guess hadn't changed nearly as much as the waterfront: motels, repair shops, churches and apartment blocks, all a bit sooty and lived-in. As we worked inland from the Hudson, Anderson played a mix CD he'd recorded for the Japanese label Yygrec, where he blends from disco to Sound Factory Bar records to dark, shifty cuts on the edge of techno. I imagined that if you played every record on the mix simultaneously and brushed some Hudson County grime into the grooves, what came through the speakers might sound like a Joey Anderson track.
I asked Anderson how he'd describe his productions and the sort of sound he's aiming for. "You know, on the dance floor, as a dancer, you need—almost as if no one's watching you," he said, cryptically. It's an interesting take on music we often see as a means for socializing. "For a period we couldn't find that anymore. Then deep became a word—you don't know what the fuck is 'deep' anymore. What the fuck is 'deep?' You got cable, you press for the music channels, put 'deep house,' and you start hearing some…" He trailed off, but I knew what he was getting at. "Deep" sort of works as a catch-all for what Anderson makes, though cuts like "Above The Cherry Moon," an unsettling vocal cut (featuring his girlfriend Ebony Ugo) and "Press Play," an atypically anthemic piano bomb that Ben UFO featured on his Radio 1 Essential Mix, are subterranean enough that "deep" hardly seems sufficient.
"'Deep' to me is like the human condition that you don't talk about," Anderson continued, "that you hold in forever until you are in front of that right person. So it is a very hidden thing that's only expressed around certain people in the right conditions. It's not the everyday thing—that's what deep is for me."
Being able to tap into that part of himself is what makes being a producer so meaningful to Anderson—the pleasure isn't "just slamming a beat," he said. "I like the old stories, [of artists who] could tell a story behind the song. I was working with someone the other day, and he was running beats and was like, 'Yo, I think this is slamming!' And I was looking at him like—it's not that it's not slamming, it was just—I thought it didn't have a story in there, you know?"
He hadn't intended to make an album—I sense he's still wrapping his head around having a venerable Dutch label pitch him the project—but After Forever allowed him to excavate even further than he had before. "I think it's dealing with feelings that I had during a certain number of years on different things in my life. I have a tendency to always—no matter how the track is, I have a tendency to humanize the track, make a song related to some kind of human experience." He dedicated the album to his two daughters and says we can hear them in "certain notes. The styles of the notes are bright, I felt."
Anderson lives in a comfortable apartment on the first floor, with dark-painted walls and air thick with incense. There's a glass case by the kitchen with photographs of his daughters and from his baseball days, and he's framed some of his recent records and hung them around the space. One corner of his living room is dedicated to his music—shelves of 12-inches line one side, and synths and keyboards line the other. He booted up his studio computer and double-clicked a Reason file from the cluttered desktop. "It's pretty much the same as it's been," he said of his creative process. "It's just engineering-wise, I'm focusing on that more. That was my goal going into the New Year, to get more into the sound-engineering side of things, the more technical side." He presses play on the session and fills the room with something essentially Joey Anderson: warm, winding, midnight blue and melodically obtuse. Earlier, he said he listens for clarity when he's writing hooks, and as the track played I was struck by how wonderfully different his definition of "hook" is from most people's.
As I leafed through some of Anderson's records, I told him that I had a hard time naming other producers he reminds me of—there's an obvious affinity with DJ Qu and maybe Bobby Konders if you want to dig back, but that's pretty much it. I said that he certainly isn't a dead-ringer for Kerri Chandler.
"There's a rule as you grow up in this area: you can't copy people, you have to be original. So I think I'm driven by that—you can't copy the exact style as someone's production. You have to show what you can do with it. You know, all these things which were going on in the '90s—the style, the creativity, also my crew—all of these things play a role. I take pieces of that that inspire me. I take a little piece and turn it into something."