Dusseldorf-born Loco Dice began DJing in the ’90s, and although his roots were originally planted in hip-hop, he’s become one of the most respected and recognized figures in contemporary techno. An early partnership with fellow techno DJ/producer Martin Buttrich in 2002 led to the founding of Desolat Records five years later and since then it has grown to become one of the foremost labels in electronic music today, featuring a stellar crew that includes tINI, Guti, Hector, Shlomi Aber, and Pulshar, to name a few. Today, the label is commemorates its fifth anniversary with a Beatport Mix comprised solely of Desolat releases. We caught up with Loco Dice to chat about hip-hop, artistic performance, his favorite tracks, and how it feels to be celebrating five years of Desolat.
I read that your love of music stems from your childhood and the culture of Tunisia, where your parents were born. Tell us a bit more about what drew you to start making and playing music?
I grew up with music, like you said. My grandfather was dancing to funk and soul, my father used to listen to Santana. I was playing bongos on the kitchen table while I ate breakfast. Music was an escape to a dreamworld, a fantasy, and, of course, that influences you to start making your own music.
You started out opening for hip-hop acts like Snoop Dogg and R. Kelly. How does the hip-hop scene differ from the electronic music scene, for better or for worse?
It’s a big difference! They’re both hating [laughs], but it’s very different. In the hip-hop world, it’s about the crew—you’re there, you’re hanging out with the homies, it’s all about the brother…it’s a tight-knit community. But with techno, it’s more free because you have so many people listening to the same music but coming from such different backgrounds—you’ve got your electronic-music nerds, you’ve got the goths, you’ve got the hip-hop guys who listen to electronic music, the raver, the gangster—everyone. For me, I try to incorporate both; my music has a sense of both worlds.
Would you say the electronic music community is more open-minded?
A little. But don’t get me wrong, I’m a hip-hop guy from the ’90s… Everything has changed in the music industry, so it’s tough to compare the different scenes. Even the hip-hop community is much more open-minded today—you’ve got trap, jungle, drum & bass, R&B mixed with electronic. Back in the day, you’d drop in a sample from 2 Unlimited [hums “No Limit”] and it was, like, unheard of. Today, it’s cool to sample…you’ve got guys like Major Lazer bringing dancehall with electronic, you know? It’s all so open.
Do you still listen to hip-hop?
Oh, yeah! Once hip-hop, always hip-hop! But the baggies are smaller now [laughs]. It’s been a while that hip-hop hasn’t inspired me, but lately, I’ve really gotten inspired by it for my sets and for my productions. I like The-Game—he’s true old school with modern influences. Once in a while, there’s a Rick Ross track that I like. Jay Z, Dr. Dre, Mike Jones—I love all these guys.
So, you yourself have had some amazing releases over your extensive career—Seeing Through the Shadows is a personal favorite of mine. Can you tell me about your most memorable releases?
All my releases are my favorite. I love “Seeing Through the Shadows,” too. I love “Phat Dope Shit.” All of them have a special meaning for me. They’re part of a time that went by very quickly for me, so it’s nice to have these reminders of those times in my life.
What about a more recent release?
I love “Detox”; it’s a bad-ass track. It was the first track done here, in my new studio. It feels much more raw and dirty than some of my other releases. Everything just feels right about this track. To me, it’s flawless. It’s my favorite track at the moment.
You’ve said that you listen to every single demo sent to the Desolat label, and that you choose artists that do something unique and exciting. How would you describe the sound of Desolat?
I always have artists asking me, “What are you looking for at the moment?” and to be honest, I don’t know. I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that this sound should fit on this label, but with Desolat, we’re open to anything. When we released the Pulshar CD… no one was expecting that. Even we didn’t expect it. And that’s what was great about it. Our sound is of the moment but it will be there for eternity.
Let’s talk about your mix for Beatport. In honor of your label’s fifth anniversary, you’ve put together a mix that will be comprised of all Desolat releases. How does it feel to be celebrating five years?
I don’t know [laughs], it’s crazy! I think back to how this all started, in a dark loft somewhere in Williamsburg. I had two tracks in my pocket—one by Danny Ocean and one by Dubfire, music that didn’t even fit together, and now you’re telling me we’ve done five years? That’s crazy! I’m really proud of this label, and happy that the fans and the people who love Desolat see it like we see it. Even after five years, we’re not there yet. We still have so much amazing music to release.
What was the thinking behind each track selection?
There are always certain tracks you just can’t fit into your sets. These are the kinds of gems I save for my compilations or mix CDs; I have a folder on my computer that I’m always adding to, I’m always collecting so that when it comes time to put something like this together, I have a lot to choose from. These mixes are like puzzles: I need a beginning, a middle, and an end, and I work around those three points, almost like a production. I take a long time to decide exactly what I want, but once I know, I sit down, and the mix is pretty much done.
The mix is a combination of bombs, singles that never had a follow-up track or album, sounds that didn’t fit anywhere else, all of these great, lesser-known releases that make Desolat what it is.
So, do you think the mix’s story is a reflection of your journey as one of Desolat’s founders?
Of course! With every track, you can be sure that it had some kind of importance to me at some point. Whether I was jamming to it in my car or I had it on my iPod, every track has a relation to us—me, Martin, and Vladimir [Ivkovic]—or to the whole crew. That makes them all so precious.
Care to share a favorite from the mix?
[Laughs] I love them all but if I have to pick, but the first is tINI’s “Room 305,” because I was sitting in the car when she recorded our driver in Philadelphia for the vocals in that track. I remember the whole ride from the airport to the hotel, so when she sent me the track, it was so funny and so special, very personal to me. The other is Shlomi Aber’s “Mancha,” because it sounds different on every soundsystem, every time you play it, it’s so unique. But to be honest, I love them all!
I’d actually like to talk a bit about the rest of the Desolat family—Martin, Guti, tINI, Hector, Shlomi Aber, etc. What’s the dynamic like behind the scenes?
When we created the crew, we were thinking in a very hip-hop mindset, just a group of like-minded people that fit well together, producing music that fit well together. We’re all similar, but we’re very unique and very different and we all inspire each other. You don’t see that in other labels as much, you know—crews will dress the same, produce the same kind of music, share files. We don’t do that, we don’t share files [laughs]—we keep them to ourselves because it’s that competitive energy that fuels each artist’s passion. The temperature is very high when we’re all in one room. You have to fight your way in Desolat—it’s always a challenge, even for me, which is really cool.
So, that spirit of competition is something that affects your label’s output, in a good way.
Not so much the label’s output, but the artists’ output. The label never tries to profit from the artist. When we released tINI’s first album, no one really knew who she was—she was more than underground. It was a risk. Same with Yaya. That’s the history of Desolat. All these artists understood that when they’re given a chance like that, they have to step up, and keep getting better. When you play with a crew like Desolat, you’re always getting inspired.
I want to talk a bit about performance. You’ve mentioned that you enjoy playing longer sets. What’s going through your mind when you’re behind the decks? At what point in your set do you start to feel most at home?
The first half hour is always a little rocky; I have to find out what the environment is like, what the people are like, what the soundsystem is like; I have to find out what I’m working with. It’s a big responsibility! Then, it clicks and you just play. The crowd follows you. After about three hours, even those people who were holding back at first, they surrender; they’re like, “Okay, show me! Show me what you got!” [laughs] I never look at the time, I just judge by the feeling.
Do you have any pre-show rituals, any good-luck charms?
I say a quick prayer, and I hit the stage. Sometimes I’ll have a shot of tequila to loosen up [laughs], but from one show to the next, people think it’s so easy for us, but being up there, alone on stage, it’s a bit scary sometimes!
I’ve noticed that despite making the move to techno in recent years, you continually draw on the more classic house and hip-hop references that fueled your earlier work. How has your sound progressed over the years?
I was experimenting with a lot of stuff when I made the move to techno. My musical career is very cyclical, though, because I’ve come back to the some of the sounds that I started with. It’s a mutation, but it all comes from my love of hip-hop.
So, what can we expect from you in 2013?
The same bullshit that I’ve been doing the last six years! Maybe even a little more bullshit! I won’t change, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing: trying to make all our dreams and ideas a reality.