LessThan3: When did you make the connection between rap and techno as dance-friendly sounds?
It was always with me I guess. When I was a hip hop DJ, I was a big fan of Inner City
. I didn’t even know back then that they called that house music. To me, those were soul and R&B records. Then later, I had the American Strictly Rhythm
records, the soulful house stuff from Armand van Helden
and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez
, Masters at Work
; I liked those records too. Then, in 1998, when I became a house DJ, because I loved those classic tracks already, I was prepared.
LessThan3: As someone with experience behind the microphone, in the studio, and behind the decks, what skills did you take from your time as a vocalist to aid your work as a DJ and producer?
Yassine: It’s all about being an entertainer and talking to the crowd. As I DJ, I talk to people through the music [that is selected]. When I dropped the mic and became a DJ, it was a big transition. As a hip-hop DJ I was using the microphone a lot. However, with electronic music, the idea of talking through music by creating moods was brand new. I was banging the shit out of it for two or three hours when I was doing house music. It’s all about the jams. However, as a house DJ, I was playing four and five hours, and the club owners would say, “hey, I need an hour of silence so that people can drink.” So, you play reggae and soulful things. That was a great learning experience for me.
LessThan3: The name of your new album is Underground Sound Suicide. That’s certainly provocative, and it begs the question–why did you choose that name? What statement about dance at the moment were you attempting to make?
Yassine: I think that even though it’s a powerful title–that’s why I chose it–it can’t be taken too seriously. This word “underground” is in my ear so much lately. A lot of people–especially in the United States–are using this word as a genre of music and a movement. Underground exists everywhere. There are underground photographers and actors; everything has an underground scene. You go to a friend’s house and a bad ass guy is playing music for five people–that’s underground! That’s where “underground” starts for me. I just want to see people not be so serious with the word. It means so many things to so many people, and so many people are using the word that its real meaning is being killed.
LessThan3: There are still people who feel like your sound is “underground,” though. What do you feel has allowed you to remain “underground” after so long?
People say to me, “hey man, you’re killing the underground.” I don’t get it, so I decided to use that as the title of my album. I mean, let’s break it down. When you’re a newcomer, you’re really hot from the “underground.” Everybody wants you. Then you get a name, and you’re not cool anymore. It’s a normal thing. At the end, what speaks for you is the quality of your music, the quality of your persona. I’ve been in the game 20 years, so I think I’ve stayed very fresh.
When I look at the dancefloor, I still attract young kids, girls, and older people. Then, I get them out there and I surprise them by dropping an old school record, a B-side from whatever label and I get that “you played this?!?!?” That’s the beauty of it. I’ll never drift away from something like that. For me, the cycle is great. I’m creating a lot of hype for myself again with this album. I’m everywhere. I’m hoping that people will rediscover something on the album that they weren’t expecting. The first single was Get Comfy, which isn’t for everyone. I think people will listen deeper and find things that they’re into though, and in liking those singles more than say, Get Comfy, I become underground again to them. It’s definitely a cycle.
LessThan3: You mentioned Get Comfy, which features UK grime emcee Giggs. There’s a definite rap and hip-hop flavor here–what was it like putting together that single in particular?
I didn’t really know Giggs
, but I follow grime–which for me is just “UK hip-hop”–and have for awhile. When I started listening, I was expecting it to sound like speed garage. Back in the day, So Solid Crew
made garage, which was also soulful house. I’m not jumping onto a movement. I’ve been listening to this music for a long time. I know Dizzee Rascal
, I know all of these big names. Then I discovered Giggs, and I was like, “his voice!” He’s amazing. He’s got that secret “thing.”
On Get Comfy, I didn’t want to be obvious and use a US rapper. I wanted A$AP Ferg and Busta Rhymes to spit on other tracks on my album which didn’t work out, but I was very happy to meet Giggs. One night while I was in London, I met someone who had a connection to him, and when you put two hip-hop guys together, things just click. I played him the album, and I played him another track I wanted him to rap on, but he heard Get Comfy and was like, “this is the one.” The same night, we worked on the beat, then he sent me a WhatsApp message of him rapping on it, and it was done. It was perfect. I’m really glad and proud that I made this record with Giggs.
LessThan3: Speaking of rap and production, Just Blaze is featured here, too. He’s got a much more diverse ear than a traditional rap producer, so we wanted to ask foremost, was he already aware of your material, and as well, what was it like working alongside him?
Yes! He knew about my shit. It felt good! I’m not that guy who’s like, starstruck. I mean if like, Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino talked to me I’d get a little bit nervous, but with musicians it’s like, we make music, I’m a fellow musician, I know how it is. Of course I give Just Blaze all of the respect. With Roc-A-Fella and Jay Z he created something, some of the blueprints for hip-hop.
Ultra set up the meeting with me and Just Blaze. I was looking to get Busta Rhymes on a record and Just knows Busta, so they realized that while I was in New York, Just was in Harlem in the studio. They suggested that I drop by and hang out with him. While there, I played him my album, and he found a few tracks that would be good for Bus. He liked the album overall and told me he knew of my old work. He then played me some of his new stuff, and then we looked at each other like “we need to go to the studio.” That’s how the collaboration happened.
LessThan3: If we were going to describe your sound to an American pop and rap loving fan, what producer and emcee would I use to best describe your sound, vibe, and live sets?
Yassine: If it’s a producer, that’s easy–it can only be Timbaland. Way back, Timbaland was the one who really started using this electronic sound. The Aaliyah albums had 303s and small acid house lines. From modern artists, I’d say A$AP Mob because I’m bouncy, deep sometimes, and I always try to stay fresh. I guess I can’t choose 2 Live Crew because they don’t exist anymore, right? I mean, Miami bass is great!
LessThan3: Outside of your album, what excites you the most about music right now?
Yassine: When music hits me, it’s great. I’m open-minded and like fresh sounds. It can be anything. Damian Marley, Skrillex, anything fresh and kicking. Records for the club need to drive and entertain me, open my mind somehow. Like I said though, on my playlist, I have everything. I love listening for unique kicks and stuff. I don’t want to be too nerdy, but if the sound is kicking me somehow, touching me somehow, it feels like a job well done. That’s the most important thing.