“To have all of these influences, hip-hop, techno, house, deep house…and it all started with Latin and Tunisian folk. Now I can play within each of those different styles.”
As conventions go, a child with Tunisian heritage who was born and raised in Dusseldorf, Germany and had a penchant for DJing hip-hop and rapping probably isn’t supposed to become one of the most respected names in global electronic music.
Yet that is how life unfolded for Yassine Ben Achour, better known as Loco Dice. He is a permanent fixture in the top 10 of Resident Advisor’s Top 100 DJ poll, clocking in comfortably at number seven in this year’s recently released edition.
His label Desolat is one of the more revered names in the industry. His own production tends to veer into the headier and more abstract side of techno and tech-house (think Aphex Twin in a tuxedo). His DJ sets are vicious aural assaults in the best way possible. And he talks very fast.
Not in an exaggerated, Micro Machines kind of way. He just has a clear purpose behind everything that he says, and that communicative efficiency is an undeniably German trait, just like his refined ear for quality four-to-the-floor tunes.
We caught up with Dice as he is launching a brand new North American tour with full faith in the direction that the American scene is headed.
The Lab 01 Mixed by LOCO DICE // CD1
“People want to combine different styles and want new sounds and so when someone brings something new, the English media pick it up right away and make a big deal.”
So before we get into it, how would you define yourself completely outside the context of music?
The only thing I’m doing is going to football games and watching it on TV. My team is Fortuna Dusseldorf, they’re a smaller league team. Music consumes so much time that this is where I get to relax and hang out with my friends.
You have a Tunisian background, there are Latin and hip-hop influences in what you do. Talk a bit about how your past has shaped your sound.
I’m really happy and proud. It was a journey and I’m really happy with my sound. To have all of these influences, hip-hop, techno, house, deep house…and it all started with Latin and Tunisian folk. Now I can play within each of those different styles.
The ‘90s were sort of the golden age of hip-hip, when you were most heavily involved in that genre. What do you make of hip-hop now?
I’m not really out but I’m out. I’m not really feeling the kind of productions that are happening now, the combinations of sounds being used. The kids don’t know the Lost Boys or Digital Underground or Tupac… well, of course Tupac. But like you said, the ‘90s were the “Golden ‘90s” and everything that came out at that time was just classic. Now when you listen to what is coming out of Brazil or France, that’s where the ‘90s roots are still living. These days, when I see Jay-Z, I’m disappointed by what I’m seeing.
And how about dance music? How has that scene evolved scene you’ve been involved?
If I talk about the US, I was there when everything started, it was the golden age with Danny Tenaglia with the tribal, Sasha & Digweed with the progressive, all being played at places like Tunnel and Twilo. Now the US is the upcoming thing again and very into all the different styles. Before you couldn’t get away with it but now people there are not just seeking the same stuff, now you can go and drop different styles and people get it.
“We respect them because they’re doing their thing and they’re making good money and they have this massive media hype around them. We don’t have the same power but that’s ok. We just want to do our thing.”
South America was huge then and is huge now again. They also love the music and get it down there. Europe is constantly going in circles. It started with house music and went over to techno and minimal and now it’s the deep discoish sound. It’s not that people get bored, but the evolution of dance music is very fast, the way trends come and go. People want to combine different styles and want new sounds and so when someone brings something new, the English media pick it up right away and make a big deal.
What do you make of the mainstream success dance music is seeing right now and do you see that bleeding over into the underground?
I think there will always be a line. I’m not a big fan of saying that our things are underground, or we don’t reach the underground. When I play Space Miami and people dance 15 hours to my music, is that considered underground? But I don’t think the commercial can never merge with the mainstream because they are different sounds and different vibes and different people who want to hear each.
The commercial guys, I don’t think at all that somebody who is into our sound will dig anything from them. We respect them because they’re doing their thing and they’re making good money and they have this massive media hype around them. We don’t have the same power but that’s ok. We just want to do our thing.
Who in the scene do you really admire right now?
I love my crew. Martin [Buttrich], Yaya, Livio & Roby…these people are my inspiration, these are the new kids that don’t have any pressure and can drop whatever they want because they’re coming up and there isn’t this huge expectation to deliver. They’re just doing their music and combining the sounds that they like. This is the true inspiration…it’s why I created Desolat with Martin, to not be isolated. You could see it back in the day with the progressive guys, they never merged with anybody else or created a crew or a group and so they never got excited about anything else. My crew is who keeps me going.
With Martin Buttrich and a few other notable names making the jump to LA, have you ever considered moving to the US?
Germany is my home, where my family is, my whole studio. I feel comfortable here. When I went to New York for a while, it was a nice adventure, but I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t want to do it anymore, maybe just go for a half-year. Germany is where I grew up, where I started, why should I leave this country? I’m privileged and I’m happy and I’m honored to call it my home.
“DJing always has been and to me, always will be, two decks and a mixer. DJing is sexy, you’re doing something, you’re moving something.”
I can’t be here talking with you and not ask the story behind your track “Pimp Jackson Is Talking Now.”
[Laughs] The story is easy. [Martin and I] had a fantastic track that we had produced overnight. And we’re like… ok, what should we do? The track was produced in NYC but the vocals weren’t. We did this open mic session…I called this guy, his name is really Michael Jackson and I was calling him and I was like telling him the stories about touring in Brazil and all the women there and believe it or not, it was a freestyle conversation…it was all live, you hear me yelling and giving him cues, you hear the phone ring, that as Martin calling…and we came back and decided that we didn’t even need to edit it. It was just one big, long flow.
Pimp Jackson Is Talking Now!!!
Tell me a little bit about the dabbling in photography you did with Martin while you were in New York City for a stint.
The story is this: when we had the plan to go to NYC, we wanted to be as creative as possible. We didn’t want to just go there and do some music. We wanted to suck all the vibe and energy out of the city. I’m not really a photographer but when you come to a city like NYC and you don’t know anyone, you start to work with certain things. I had this cheap camera and I was collecting all of these photos that were just the way I saw New York City. Besides going every day to our living room and producing music, when you go to buy our bagel or coffee or whatever, I would have the camera and I would just snap what I saw. When we did a mini exhibition in Dusseldorf, all these colleagues like Dubfire and a few others really liked it because it was so simple, everyone really dug it.
So musically…what do you want to bring to the US this time around?
What I’m doing every year, there was a time when a lot of my colleagues gave up on the US, thought that the scene was dead. Now I see it, it’s really picking up again, people are getting the music and I’m working for a lot of quality clubs which I always like. Nova Luna in Texas in El Paso for example…it’s just amazing. When I play somewhere like that that I like it, I promote it, I like to come back.
I’m bringing Loco Dice, my crazy sound. I never prepare up front, I mix it up, feed off the crowd. Wherever you go in the world, people just should expect good sound, good vibe and as a DJ, you create this experiment with you and them together. You put some stuff on the turntables and see what happens, where it takes you in this journey together.
As someone with old school roots, where do you stand on digital DJing and how lines are being blurred with software?
DJing always has been and to me, always will be, two decks and a mixer. But we should not deny what is happening these days. I don’t think Ableton has anything to do with DJing. It’s a live program. When people use this program and call themselves a DJ, I don’t get it. To me, DJing is sexy, you’re doing something, you’re moving something. My responsibility is that I’m showing people that I’m still using the two decks and the mixer and even though the music is coming out of the computer, I’m still doing it old school.
I respect Richie Hawtin for what he’s doing, but his thing is a totally different thing, a totally different music. But I can’t do it. I’m a hip-hop kid, I can’t sit behind a controller, I have to move knobs and have the nudges and imperfections because my stuff is a combination of techno and house and having the mechanics of that on display is my mission until the end. But I won’t deny the technology. I don’t want to disrespect. I will always try to combine the technology with the music and still stick to my roots at the same time.
Is the US finally catching up with Europe in terms of the respect paid to dance music?
It’s always amazing to see an evolution. When I started to play in certain clubs in the US, I had nobody on the dancefloor. People would disappear when I came on or I was misplaced with trance people or progressive guys. But I was always a fighter and I always believed in what I was doing and I believed that one day people would understand, people would get the music and what I’m trying to do and they definitely have.
Like you said, I’ve had it happen where I come all the way and people don’t appreciate it because the promoter made a mistake and didn’t promote it properly, or maybe people just don’t know your name. But you can’t be arrogant; you are there to deliver in the end.
You know, you have to have fun. You open up a bottle of Jaeger and you say ok, let’s try to have a good time. It takes time to build something up, it’s not easy. I’m always curious how things are going to be this time around, it’s always different.
You have to give your best, you have to show that you’re honest and you have to give it everything and I think people respond to that.
Lastly, having roots in Tunisia, how do you feel about your country kicking off the Arab Spring?
I’m happy that there’s a movement in the Middle East. I’m really sad that it’s a bloody movement but I’m really looking for a peaceful future and for democracy. The new kids, the new generation, they are the ones that are doing this and the Internet helped a lot…so we’ll see. I see right now in Egypt that it’s just more new bloodshed every day and I really hope they make it through.
How is the scene in Tunisia?
Tunisia has a very healthy, successful scene. I’m very proud, they’re very upfront and they’re very into music. When you have techno parties in a country like this that was ruled by the brutal regime and you have this kind of music and they move hard and move fast, this is a kind of democracy that we contribute to the world as well so it feels good to be able to do that.
The Lab 01 Mixed by LOCO DICE // CD2