Bassface Sascha: German Junglist OG
Ask any of the original jungle founding fathers where their first international booking was in the early 90s and the majority will tell you Germany.
Fizzing in a state of democratic flux at the time, Germany welcomed, encouraged and nurtured all forms of electronic music and club culture… Especially anyone with techno roots. Naturally, as jungle techno was morphing from hardcore, this included the first generation of junglists who leapt at the opportunity.
Meanwhile the country was cooking up some of its own national jungle ambassadors. Guys like Bassline Generation, DJ Redoo a.k.a. DJ Emanuel and Bassface Sascha, one of the most consistent German operators who’s been legit since 89 and still delivers today.
Based out of Mannheim – a city which has a rich history in Germany’s more subversive and leftfield electronica such as the world renowned Timewarp festival – Sascha was responsible for inviting many of the UK lot over for the first time to his club night in the city’s notorious dancehall Milk! and skanking his own musical way through the 90s with a heavily UK influenced sound via aliases such as Mental Bombin, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Smoke Starr, Ghostwrite and many more. His discography is loaded with absolute gems from the soulful sparkles of Perfect Day to the all-out riff damager International Sound.
Not just past gems, either… Collaborating with Feindsoul, he’s just dropped four slabs of barbed and bouncy bassline jungle on Ruffneck Ting, each cut paying direct homage to the label’s proud bass city. Tapping into the heavyweight sound he succinctly captured with International Sound in 2008, the EP carries the type of weight, dynamic and energy that fits across all subgenres, dark to light, organic to tech.
It goes a bit like this…
Marking the start of a new prolific chapter for Sascha, we caught up with him for first UK interview in over 10 years to catch a unique moment in drum & bass history as the seeds for the global scene we know now.
Trace German D&B back to its earliest roots and you’re there. You came from techno before that, right?
Yeah in the late 80s I was really inspired by guys like Underground Resistance and early New York and Chicago house and garage. Then hardcore and breakbeat came into my life and I knew the moment I heard it I had to make it.
Did it come into your life from the UK hardcore or Dutch side of the dance?
The Dutch. They were always using crafty little breakbeats, pimping out tracks with them. Then of course the UK influence and jungle became much more dominant for me and that’s how I found my sound.
German was techno central in those days. How was jungle received back then?
When we started playing breakbeats and hardcore it would have been 89, 90. Right at the start. First the Dutch stuff, like I said, and then I was going to London quite a lot. I was lucky to go to the early Rage parties in Heaven with Fabio & Grooverider and seriously caught the vibe. I went straight to Nicky Blackmarket the morning after and bought as many hardcore and breakbeat records that I could. So sure, when we were playing it to begin with people were confused. They didn’t get the speed of it – hardcore was too fast for them! But we had a night at a club called Milk! in Mannheim, the club where everything was happening at the time, and it was our way of appreciating what was happening in London and celebrate it and put our own spin on it.
Did you keep coming back to London then? I heard you were a serial dub cutter…
Yeah I have fond memories of Music House like everybody else does. Those early times when you’d see all the big cats waiting and chatting away. It was crazy in there – packed with all these influential guys. Getting in there and starting to become accepted and picking up dubs to take back home was a really special time.
Was there any resistance to you being there?
At first yeah, sure. I get it; it’s a UK thing and people wanted to keep it special. But they heard my productions were proper and they spoke for themselves so it wasn’t too hard. It was the sign of things to come – drum & bass wasn’t just being made in London or Bristol any more! But being from Germany helped me pick up dubs because they knew I wasn’t going to be playing the same raves as them. I’d be representing them in Germany and I wasn’t interfering with the UK exclusivity. It worked out quite well for everyone.
What were the first connections you made in the UK?
The first guy we ever booked to Milk! Club was Bryan Gee in 91. We had a mutual friend who at the time was known as The Puppetmaster but is best known as Nils Hess the techno DJ and producer. He was a huge breakbeat guy at the time. He was in touch with Bryan so we invited him over and made a great connection from there.
Who else locally was on it back then in Germany?
The guys I was doing the Milk! nights with was Groover Klein and the club manager and DJ D-man.They both came from the house side and had a big influence on me. Me and Groover Klein were the only guys in Mannheim who had breakbeat records and we’d swap and share a lot of tracks and played together. So he was there and played an important role. The Heinstein Brothers were very influential at the time – Alex The Funky Drummer, Christian, Matt and DJ Redoo a.k.a. DJ Emauel. They had a live thing going on called Bassline Generation and were very dominant at the time. They had a huge influence on the scene and were responsible for getting a lot of people into drum & bass in Germany.
Who else did you book in those early days?
DJ Hype was another key booking in 1993 at XS Club in Frankfurt, Micky Finn around the same time, then Grooverider and Simon Bassline Smith. Suddenly word spread and everyone wanted to come over to Germany. We did a big rave in Frankfurt called Euphoria. It was in The Dorian Gray, a huge underground club that was in the airport itself. It was great; you could land and come straight into the club. We booked everyone – Carl Cox, Micky Finn, DJ SS, loads of guys. And no one cared so much about genres back then – you booked DJs and they all played their thing. You’d have Micky Finn playing after Sven Väth, styles and sound rotating and mixed up and everyone being really responsive. That was a pretty special rave that opened up a lot German clubbers’ eyes to drum & bass.
So fast forward a little to the end of the 90s and your album Different Faces. The 90s was pretty much consistently jungle-focused from your production perspective but this is a lot jazzier and deeper.
I’d always been a big fan of rare groove and soul from the 60s and 70s and the whole sample culture so I wanted to pay homage to that style and that type of art and culture. Also coming from a musical family where my grandma was a piano teacher, my granddad being a drummer/guitarist and my father being a jazz musician it had a massive influence on my musical progression. With that in mind that was the whole intention of my project. My album Different Faces is one I think I do go back to from time to time. I feel it’s aged well. It’s interesting; the longer you leave things, the more you question how you made certain things and surprise yourself. Time can play interesting tricks.
There are quite a few gaps in time in your discography. Big moments – like International Sound in 2008 – but some quieter years too…
Yeah the response was big on International Sound, that was definitely a big moment. But the gaps between releases are down to my job – I’m a sound designer and score writer for TV, radio and movies. So I never left the studio. But with my own labels Smokin’ Drum, machine and Advanced Biosytems wound down I didn’t have an outlet for my own music which slows productivity a little. But the two jobs can influence each other in a way – hearing a certain sound I’ve made on a commercial makes me think of a certain technique for a bassline. And vice versa. It works out well but getting the balance is always hard.
So the balance is strong right now with the Ruffneck Ting EP. Do you guys go back to the early days?
Well I’ve been a big fan of them since the early days. I’m looking at their second release ever on white label in front of me! But I didn’t know them until Feindsoul made the connection to DJ Dazee.
Yeah biggup Feindsoul…
He’s a friend of mine who lived in Berlin and moved to this little town called Frankenthal which is 15 mins away from Mannheim. We knew each other before but hadn’t been in contact then suddenly he moved into my street – pretty much opposite. So it had to be done – we got in the studio and came up with some tracks we’re really happy with. He got in touch with Dazee and from then it went off from there. First on the Xtraordinary League Of Junglists album and now the Worldwide EP. We’ve always loved the Bristol sound so we paid homage to it and we’re really happy with how it’s going down.
Can we expect more on Ruffneck Ting?
I hope so. But first there’s a track called Whirlpool on Liondub with DJ Phlex and MC Soultrain and there will be a video coming with that release. We did a remix of Kumurachi’s Flashback on Audio Addict and I’ve got some tracks coming on Logan D’s Subway Soundz: Klönk and Bulletproof Tank. Last but not least I just signed a track to Serial Killaz. There’s a lot of things lined up, it’s good to be this busy again…