Interviews

Loco Dice Spins Eternal at Club Space

Loco Dice
Loco Dice Photo by Gianni Cohen
In the midst of Miami Music Week earlier this year, Loco Dice appears zen at the East Hotel in Brickell. He looks well-rested and crisp, clad in sweatpants, a white T-shirt, and a snapback. But in about 48 hours, he'll face a seemingly impossible task: a 24-hour back-to-back set between him and his Italian counterpart Marco Carola on Club Space's terrace.

Dice's two decades behind the decks should help, but there's no blueprint to prepare for a marathon set. Nevertheless, the Düsseldorf-based producer is ready for the task.

But before the Space gig, several meetings and a muay thai session await him. Luckily for Dice, he only booked two shows during the MMW mayhem. In addition to the extended set at Space, he'll spin at the downtown club's outdoor venue, Space Park, in Little Haiti.

The fact that he's only performing at Space's venues this week isn't a coincidence.

Since opening in 2000, the Eleventh Street nightclub bestowed upon countless dance-music legends the title of "resident," i.e., a DJ employed by a venue to spin regularly for a finite duration. Miami's Oscar G has spun a residency at Space, as did New York City's marathon king, Danny Tenaglia.

But choosing a Club Space resident isn't an easy task.

First, there must be rapport between the club's management, the headliner, and the seven local resident DJs. Second, the DJ needs to be of the garden variety to sway any crowd but refined enough to appease the diehards. Third, and most important, the DJ must keep the audience going.

Dice’s résumé checks all the boxes. "I see Space as my home," he tells New Times. "I called it a residency way back, but now it's official.

"I had a hard time in Germany with the acceptance coming and looking like hip-hop," he goes on. "So I had to play my way up and convince them that what I was playing was good music while being more open-minded and not so stiff. Back then, it was progressive music, and I came from a completely different style."

Loco Dice has held numerous residencies at clubs that have invited him to bring his rough-around-the-edges track selection to the fore, including Ibiza hot spots DC-10, Ushuaïa, and Amnesia, as well as Tribehouse in Düsseldorf.

"His sound is perfect for the terrace," says Club Space co-owner David Sinopoli. "We have our locals, and now we're going to have international talents like Dice and up-and-coming acts from all ranges of sound and size. I think Dice was the start of where we are going. It just shows the club's size and that it's become a home. I think the cosign furthers the momentum."

While many residency gigs require a set amount of gigs during a specified period, Dice's agreement with Space is a bit less stringent. The artist's appearances aren't hamstrung to fixed dates — Dice will be gracing the club's terrace throughout the year, with his next appearance scheduled for Sunday, July 3.

"I don't want to be trapped. I would have a residency in Ibiza if it were the financial side," he admits. "I want to have fun now. I want to go to people who understand me and make new opportunities and think more forwardly. Club Space knows how to do it — I feel like family."

"We have a lot of residents now, but we haven't gone out and said, 'Hey, these people are residents,'" Space co-owner Coloma Kaboomsky adds. "I think Loco Dice is at a very high caliber of the art. He's a mature act, and it came organically, a next step between the culture of Miami and the culture that Loco Dice brings around the world."

"I want to go to people who understand me and think more forwardly."

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Born to Tunisian parents who immigrated to Germany, Dice earned his nickname from watching his grandfather play backgammon, then collecting the dice after the game. "Loco" was attached after his late Ibiza nights in the 1990s.

Standing over six feet tall, tattooed, and pierced, the producer is tightlipped about his personal life. He won't discuss family or romantic relationships and claims the Wikipedia page on which his supposed real name and age of 47 appear are inaccurate. Describing himself as "a kid coming from the dance floor to the DJ booth," Dice blends his experience, musical tenacity, and hunger with street smarts he picked up in cities like Düsseldorf and New York.

His roots are in hip-hop, spinning under the nom de guerre Dice C in the 1990s. He tagged and rapped his way through Europe and toured with Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg via Death Row Records.

Though he found success, Dice edged toward the dance-music scene back when that was a career killer. An early impetus was spinning in Rotterdam with the "bubbling" sound — a hip-hop creation wherein DJs sped up the BPM to make vocals sound mousey and impart a relentless percussion to the beat. The sound blew up, and Dice soon took his first residency at a Düsseldorf nightclub called La Rocca around the turn of the millennium.

"This was the first club to believe in me and allow me to do what I was doing: big hip-hop," he says. "I did my show like a resident: I started with '80s hip-hop, soul/funk, and then slowly to house music and even techno. The people loved it, and I created a buzz as a DJ who could mix up these styles."

So how did a hip-hop DJ transition to techno?

The shift wasn't without obstacles. Here was a branded hip-hop DJ stepping into Germany's minimal-techno underground, where unembellished instrumentals and repetition reign. (Dice once dubbed his style "123 BPM chunky terrace music.")

But hip-hop's and techno's origins are similar in many ways, both having come from oppressed Black communities in the U.S. While these days techno is thought of as exclusively the domain of white, European-bred DJs, its origins can be traced back to Black Detroit artists like Robert Hood, Juan Atkins, and Jeff Mills.

"Every time — even until now," says Dice about the resistance he faces. "Hip-hop comes with a bad taste — I don't know. I think my explanation is that many people like to exclude themselves from hip-hop. People don't see hip-hop as a great musical and political movement with this important history, especially electronic music. I'm hip-hop. I can't change the way I dress; I can't change how I talk. And when you come to a place which is 'clean,' it may sometimes disturb them even though we're the nicest guys. After the whole minimal boom, I started to go back to my roots. I can include the vocals and snippets, I can do more than play two records, and I started to bring the hip-hop music back in; I dropped an album called Underground Sound Suicide in 2015. You can't imagine the hate and shitstorm I got — and now it's a timeless piece."

On the Underground Sound Suicide track "Get Comfy," a burst of laughter boosts the track while club-driven bass takes over and minimal textures hover atop as British rapper Giggs delivers bars in a streamlined flow. The song, which has more than a million streams on Spotify, is one of many examples of electronic music's malleability.
You can also see that malleability during Dice's 24-hour set at Club Space, where the producer is going back-to-back with Marco Carola, a once minimal mastermind in his own right. Assuming you paid the $250 at the door and made your way up to the terrace, you'd be lucky to get a quick two-step in without stepping on anybody's toes. Even the DJ booth is packed.

Still, the crowd is vibing as Carola and Dice drop Johnny Dangerous' controversial "Problem #13 (Beat That Bitch With a Bat)." Later in the set, the crowd moves to the hip-hop-infused track "Take It Over" by Elio Riso & Muter, with Dice waving his hands with each bar spat.

"I mix weirdly compared to others," he explains. "They mix on the one, and I may be mixing on the two or the three. Sometimes I go on the snare instead of the beat, sometimes I go with an overlap tok-tok-tok where you think it's a delay, but it's just me trying to mix. I make sure you know more tracks are coming."

He tugged and pulled at electronic music's limits before falling into the minimal sound.

"When I started with electronic music, I never knew I had this passion for the music," he says. "I was buying it, and slowly I went from this full range of house music packed with vocals and sounds, and soon I started the reduced kind of stuff. But I didn't want to play techno. Techno was too hard for me."

While Dice wrestled with the "minimal" identity, a BBC Radio One Essential Mix by the producer in 2008 turned out to be a red-letter day for him.

"After that mix, I got the 'minimal' stamp," he says, chuckling.

But compared to the orchestral minimalism of Plastikman's "Consumed," Dice's music always sounded beefier and percussion-heavy, with loops running rampant. Vocals, and even Tunisian chants, a callback to Dice's heritage, bounced throughout his productions.

Despite his pushing minimal to its limits, some saw his production as something to admire in the developing underground scene.

"When I was touring with Richie Hawtin, I played completely different. I would tell him, 'Rich, I can't play techno/minimal,' and he would always say, 'That's why I take you with me. Play your music. You're a piece of the puzzle.'"

"When I started with electronic music, I never knew I had this passion for the music."

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By 2006, Dice was releasing music on labels like Hawtin's, M_nus, Luciano's Cadenza, Josh Winks Ovum, and Sven Väth's Cocoon and collaborating with artists like Dubfire for Dice's Desolate label. In 2018, Dice released his debut album, 7 Dunham Place, a seminal work encapsulating his time in New York City and his boundary-breaking ethos.

"I achieved everything I've created with my first album. This gives me peace. There is nothing to achieve more; everything was right," he says. "The meaning of leaving my country, moving to New York, producing an album, and switching from analog to digital — changes me every way."

Dice continues to produce hip-hop through his ongoing "FKD" project, wherein he invites hip-hop artists from London's grime scene to the studio to make music he typically releases for free via Facebook. "The good thing about London's hip-hop artists is that they're open-minded — they go to techno parties," he says.

Even the way Dice carries himself feels more hip-hop, a far cry from minimal DJs' often-stoic body language. He's convivial and sashays, hugs, and high-fives anyone at arm's length. The need for social pleasantries dissipates when he's focused on mixing, however. Dice locks his eyes onto the mixer or his laptop as his head bobs to the beat.

Perhaps because he's gone through the tribulations of earning respect behind the decks, Dice always seems ready to help push young producers to overcome their own obstacles. For instance, the communication between a headliner and resident DJ usually totals just a few words during transitions. But Dice's relationship with resident Ms. Mada (AKA Rachel Tumada) runs deeper. Having opened and closed for Dice countless times throughout the year, she has developed a genuine friendship with her fellow DJ, which recently led to Tumada serving as the opener during Dice's South America tour.

"I originally did all the logistics and handled Dice's contracts when he played at Space," she recalls. "But I don't think it was until my 2019 Boiler Room set where Dice took notice and was like, 'I like when she's playing.'"

Adds Tumada: "He gave me such great advice to stop thinking as an opening DJ — what I play is good enough — and not second-guess my abilities."

"For guys like Dice, who is one of the international residents, it's more about showcasing their different talents all by themselves anywhere from six to seven times a year," says Club Space co-owner Davide Danese. "They represent the spirit and soul of the club. I think it's because we like the music and enjoy being there and watching the crowd develop — and when the artist sees you there and enjoys the music, a relationship forms. The room is as much his as it is ours."

Nearing hour 11 of his marathon set on Space's terrace, Dice is still going strong. The music is not hip-hop, nor is it minimal. It's just good.

"The game changed, and you have to adopt," Dice says. "I'm feeling young again. I see myself as an artist. I feel fresh." 
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Grant Albert is a writer born and raised in Miami. He likes basset hounds, techno, and rock climbing — in that order.
Contact: Grant Albert