Despite the presence of a screen and many thousands of miles between us, meeting Francis Mercier is disarming in every sense. He is excited and, although undoubtedly seasoned at this kind of interview he speaks passionately about his career and his beloved industry, he is commanding in his thorough expertise, and he tops it off with a devilishly handsome smile.
The Haitian DJ, producer and founder of Deep Root Records is a regular Beatport chart topper and has toured a selection of the finest US and European stages. Emerging from the pandemic with a newfound talent in the production of afro-house, he has successfully expanded his circle and created a new niche. His, and Blond:Ish’s‑an artist particularly influential in his career’s latest turn‑latest single “Sete” is already his top track on Beatport, and has caused quite the stir in the Afro House community. But he’s not here to stay in one lane. Francis is creating his own brand.
Growing up in Haiti, where he very recently gave a very special debut home-turf show, was clearly a huge influence on the artist.
“I went to an international high school and Haiti is an island with so many influences. With French influence, with African influence, and most significantly the influence of the US, I was exposed to a variety of music. I was exposed to American rap, I was exposed to American pop because of the proximity of Haiti and Florida. I was also exposed to French music and African music, given that Haiti was a French colony. Attending an international high school, I had friends from Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria, and obviously a lot of people from the US. From there, it gave me a very broad eyesight on different musical genres, which kind of explains why I’m such a diverse artist. I create different music, I have different influences. It keeps me interested in variety. I think growing up in Haiti has really developed my taste and appreciation for variety.’
The variety he speaks of is not just a buzzword here. He tells me about his early love for hip-hop, the era of Fifty Cent and early Tupac as well as the Creole band King Posse’s take on American pop and hip-hop. His emo and indie phase and his early acquaintance with reggae thanks to his Ethiopian friends. All culminating in the discovery of Tiësto’s early dreamy and melodic electronic music. Tiësto’s early CD series, named In Search of Sunrise were clearly a huge influence on Francis, as he speaks of them as though still enamored. A slow, but present internet allowed him to search the music on YouTube and dream of exploring electronic music live.
The dream came to fruition when, at age 18, a young music-obsessed Francis moved to the US for college, deepening his passion.
“It was something that kept me grounded and positive - when I first moved to the US, I had never seen the winter - you know leaves leaving trees. Music was something that kept me happy and gave me some sort of comfort.’
Initially playing at parties on campus, Francis soon had much greater ambitions. He turned his attention to New York.
“I have a very addictive personality. I was like ‘I want to be a DJ.’ New York is a city of opportunity. If you put your mind to something, you will find someone that will buy into it and give you an opportunity. So, at first I tried to go into some of the best clubs, I think it was Cielo and there was this other club called Sullivan Room, which was a huge club in the early 00s. I was ambitious, I thought ‘I want to try and go there.’ I show up there with my little controller, and I see all these guys with all this equipment and I think “How can i learn this? Maybe I can hire one of them to give me a tutorial?” Long story short, I tried my best, but these mega clubs would be like ‘We don’t know you, we are booking artists from all around the world. Sir, please step outside.”’
He tells the story fondly, as someone who has graciously accepted failures as a part of his journey. Yet, with both clubs permanently closed and Francis now highly sought-after by bookers around the world, there is a natural irony to the story. Nonetheless, Francis - who was still at this point a 19-year-old student with a fake ID ‑ began playing in a cocktail bar and hungrily worked his way into the industry, to then become the multi-talented and recognized artist before me today.
This pattern of determined hustle repeated itself down the line when it came to founding his label, Deep Root Records. He describes its beginnings as a “little collective.” A space for classic house music in the context of a New York enveloped by a large EDM bubble. It was a vision to create something new, as well as a collaboration between friends. The vision flourished and is still flourishing and adapting today, with Deep Root’s album, New York State of House: Sunset Edition hitting no.1 on Beatport’s Afro House chart.
His recent emergence in the Afro House genre came during lockdown. He describes listening to Black Coffee and Night Freak as particularly emotional and captivating, with Antonio Lyons’ remix of Nitefreak’s “My Africa”striking a chord with its powerful speech (Nitefreak is now one of the artists managed by Francis’ new imprint). With the pandemic allowing him time to reset and try something different, Francis allowed himself space to explore the melodic music he had long had a passion for.
“I tried to work with different samples. It was challenging at times, at first I wasn’t very proficient in the genre. The community was really supportive and welcoming. It was a warm experience for me to be able to try something new. Coincidentally, bridging different cultures, which I really love to do, has given me relevance, and people became interested in my music.’
His proficiency in a new genre reminds me of his earlier words, regarding his origins and variety. Yet, on a broader level, Francis’ constant desire for exploration highlights the overarching mission at the heart of his career:
“I would love to be an ambassador of world music, merge cultures, be a bridge between Africa to Europe to the US and be able to represent music on a global scale. I would love to be a household brand that is able to empower small artists and bring new sound to the mainstage, that’s my ultimate goal. You have to give people something different, I want to be able to support, I want to be able to inspire, I want to be able to give back to the community. That’s really my mission statement. Together, it’s more fun.”
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