Loco Dice [Interview]

Young American DJs and producers are in desperate need of positive role models. Much of popular electronic dance music has taken a stereotypical, capitalistic turn here. Superstar DJs plaster the fronts of billboards and magazines, putting people that have all but forgotten about the music on a pedestal. Luckily, a few artists have seen the explosion of dance music in a different way, and try to influence the younglings in a much more constructive way. One of these artists is Loco Dice, founder of influential techno label Desolat and one of the 3 members of CNTRL, a tour/lecture series geared towards college students in North America. His message is positive and hugely important – do what you love, represent yourself, don’t be held back by social norms and stereotypes, and never forget about the music. Read on below:

Some of the questions I’m going to ask you today were polled from some of San Francisco’s upcoming techno and house producers, people that would open for you if you were to play a show there. Many of them wanted to know what you think the opening DJ should be trying to accomplish with their set.

For sure 100% being themselves, not trying to copy anything, just being themselves and feeling comfortable while playing. Also trying not to make the people rock, but try to make the people bounce, if you know what I mean. It’s a long night, and 2 or 3 DJs are sharing the night, all the eyes and all the ears are on the first DJ. The first DJ is putting the ground steps for where the night is going. So if the first DJ plays a really cool warm up set, a cool set with different music let’s say, the other DJ can easily take over and bring it to the next level and everybody is more than happy and life is just amazing.

On the other hand, what do you try to accomplish with your headlining set? What do you think the headlining DJ should be trying to accomplish?

First of course is to entertain the people, but also represent himself and what he’s doing and try to combine different styles of music together. At the end, this is how I see things, I come there [the venue], I need to listen to the sound system and see what the first DJ was playing, I see how the vibe is and I adapt immediately. Then I try to work myself through a journey, so at the end everybody had a great time, you know?

Definitely. You guys have been really busy with the CNTRL Tour recently, which is one of the more positive things to happen to dance music in North America in a long time. You mentioned DJs representing themselves – is the tour partly a way to present yourself, the M-nus crew, and what you guys stand for to a young American audience?

I mean I wouldn’t call ourselves M-nus crew, we are CNTRL, but Richie and me both have our own labels and Ean has DJ Tech Tools. It’s a good thing what happened, that we 3 finally came together and said ‘okay let’s do this’. It’s an important thing. It’s not only an important thing in the United States,  it’s also important for us, you know? It’s to go on tour on a bus to do daily lectures and just try to bring what we’ve been doing for twenty years and over twenty years a little bit closer to this young generation. These days you have this EDM blast all over the media, the hype, and everything that has to do with electronic music, they call it now EDM. We just want to say ‘hey, look, there is something behind that, and we’ve been there for many years and we didn’t follow any hype, we didn’t follow any styles, we’re just doing our thing and our thing is music.’ It’s a cool thing, and we want to represent and show you what we’re doing.

It’s been a really great thing, and I think one of the highlights on the tour for a lot of young DJs and producers has been hearing about the way you guys approach new technology, whereas many DJs are very concerned with needing to be ‘old-school’ and sticking to that style. Is this the philosophy you’ve always had?

Oh yeah, man! It’s not always about new technologies, when you appear in one of our lectures, this is a thing a lot of young kids, like you said, are always concerned about – having the latest tools, having the last thing, and we say no! You shouldn’t go and have the latest thing, you shouldn’t go and update your computer all the time! You shouldn’t be like Richie Hawtin or something, you should just be yourself. When you have to pieces or you work with turntables or you work with CDJs and you do it just perfect, stick to that! Then by the time you think ‘okay, now it’s time for a new tool’ then you get the new tool, and this is forward thinking technology. I’m an old school DJ, I use two turntables and a mixer. But also, I use a computer, I use a controller, and I use a program. So, to combine this new technology with what you are doing, this is a great thing. This is what we’re trying to tell the kids – it doesn’t always have to be the latest technology. You can start with little things that you have so in the end it’s about the music, it’s about what you’re representing, and it’s about what you’re doing.

It’s an interesting group you have – you have Ean Golden who is definitely one of the pioneers in terms of utilizing the controller to its full potential. How did you guys get started working with him?

It’s great! He is also coming from the hip-hop and Bay Area deep house and all that stuff, and he’s doing great. I mean, seeing what a wizard he is on these knobs and controllers is inspiring us as well, to see oh! We can do more, we can maybe do a little trick like this and bring them to our sets, and this is what it’s all about. We show the kids ‘look, we are 3 different characters, we are 3 different DJs with 3 different techniques and 3 different styles, but we still can sit together because we are open minded and we try to explore and experiment a little bit how to combine these 3 technologies and these 3 styles together into 1 show.’ That’s the beautiful thing. I think kids love it because they see it’s not 1 DJ comes and then the other plays the same and then the 3rd DJ plays exactly the same, and this is what you have in EDM at the moment, you know what I mean?

Absolutely. From my DJ/producer friends in school on the east coast the response has been hugely positive. It’s definitely a a great thing for dance music here. I saw an interview with you where you said that when you first started DJing hip-hop you thought that hip-hop and house were very similar genres. Do you still see those genres as closely linked today as you did then?

Very very close, even techno these days. When I see the kind of tracks…let’s go back to the ’90s when Timbaland did this track for Aaliyah and he used a 303 line in one of those tracks. By using the 808 and the 303 in a different style you are coming a little close to what we are doing. In those times when Armand Van Helden, or let’s take DJ Sneak, this jacking house, is a form of a faster hip-hop. Katy Perry is doing it, Jonas Brothers, you know what I mean? For me, that’s why it’s so easy for me, because I see them as so similar somehow. Even though they are 2 different genres and 2 different styles. It is very similar. And when you hear one of my sets today, you will say definitely, without knowing it, that I come from hip-hop, yes, this guy, he has hip-hop roots. You hear it, you know?

It’s almost more an abstract connection, I definitely hear a bit of what you’re talking about when listening to your new Toxic EP, what was the process like making that record?

You know it’s been a long time since I’ve produced something, because I was very busy touring, taking care of the artists at Desolat, and I just finished my studio. I built up my studio and I was sitting there and preparing everything and the sounds sounded fantastic! I was preparing some loops, and I had this idea – let’s do this EP straight to the dancefloor. Let’s do an EP with something fresh, fresh sounds, you know? Let me take all the inspiration and feeling I had over the summer and put it in the studio. When my partner Marin came it was so easy to produce this EP because we just had amazing performance, all the machines were running tight, and everything was running just perfect, so this EP was born. I called it Toxic because during the summer all the DJs are talking about ‘oh yeah, when I finish the summer I go on detox, I do this, I do that,” so I was like, ‘you know what? It’s kind of funny because all these things like ultranox and detox, they have nothing to do with the music. When you hear these title tracks you think of a more techno record. I give them black & white, A & B.

You were talking about new gear and setting up a studio – do you have a go-to piece of gear that you use?

I have a bunch of vintage machines in my studio, my favorite machine is the 808. Putting up the vintage machines on the computer is a pain in the ass, so I would really say I love to play around with the harmonizers, or play with my Echo Space, the Roland 101, and these are my favorite tools. Playing with delays, playing with reverbs, I love this, but when it comes about really the biggest analog thing, it’s my mixer. I love to jam, I love to spin around, and I love to DJ in my studio!

Well I’m all out of questions, thanks again for talking to us today, it’s been very informative.

Of course, thank you very much Phil.