When it comes to the darkside of drum & bass in the United States, all roads lead to Los Angeles’ own E-Sassin. Having earned his stripes deep in the techno underground before finding his true calling in drum & bass in the early 1990s, the hard and heavy sounds of E-Sassin soon found their way onto legendary imprints like Moving Shadow, Renegade Hardware, Formation, Human, Thermal, Phunckateck, and of course, his own Sound Sphere Recordings.
Showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, E-Sassin checks in with an exclusive guest mix and an eye-opening look back at his own roots and influences before giving us a glimpse at the heat he’s got cooking in the lab.
Let’s start off with your history as it’s a great one. Am sure not a lot of the new-school heads in particular know that you actually started out on the metal/prog rock side of things!
I started playing the drums at age nine. I’d come home from school and just put on headphones with the radio on and jam to whatever would come on. That right there really helped me get an education on different styles, rhythms, patterns, genres, etc. I also developed a good ear for things. Trying to learn a song in four minutes was a challenge, but the popular ones would play more frequently.
In terms of rock, I really got into the more progressive stuff like early Genesis, Yes, Rush, and eventually put a band together in high school with a few friends, playing kegger parties on the weekends and eventually some gigs on the Sunset Strip. Some metal band we opened for heard my chops and somehow tracked me down and offered me a shot in their group. It was quite different from what I had been doing, to say the least. Tons of energy and showmanship, whereas before I was all technical. Anyway, that changed my direction towards a heavier sound.
Unfortunately for me, after working with several different bands, no one seemed to really want a career in music like I did. They were ultimately just interested in the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. I eventually learned to play the guitar and bass, basically the same way I started the drums, and put myself together a little 4-track recording setup to be able to write and record on my own.
Somewhere in there you transitioned out of rock and into techno! How did that come about and how did you become involved on that side of things?
Yeah, I was at a school for recording engineering and met a guy who turned me on to electronic music and programming music on a computer. It was around 90-91 when I went to my first techno rave with a massive sound system and couldn’t believe it… it was heavy metal electronic music! People were bangin’ their heads to the music! I was like, “I need to make this music”.
I was able to get myself set up with an Atari ST1040 and Cubase and an Emax 12bit sampler and eventually put out a techno album. I was really working in many different styles of electronic music during this time: techno, trance, house and some industrial trying to find “my thing.” I was writing some house stuff with a partner that got the attention of Sunshine Records, who was working with The Movement, and later Skee-lo, and who had just signed the house diva Miranda. We wrote a hit song for her called “Round and Round” and wrote her a few others as well. Co-mingling with the guys in The Movement allowed us to form the group L.A. Rave, which was kind of a Movement side project. The song “Rage of Rave” was climbing the charts and at the time, live shows were the thing, so we put together a show and went out on tour with The Movement.
At what point does jungle/d&b enter the picture and what was it that initially attracted your interest? Any specific artists, labels, songs that you cite as being the ones who changed your path forever?
While out on tour, I got exposed to different cultures and music. It was during this time I first heard jungle. It was pretty much like sped up breakbeat to me but had some manic drum programming and half-time bass lines. Most dance music at the time was looped breaks or four on the floor. Jungle was danceable but had a live feel to it and was more like my early dealings with prog-rock. Being a drummer, I was immediately drawn to the beat programming aspect of it. I knew then that this was the music I had been wanting to create.
I started looking for records and was finding mostly compilations from labels like Moonshine, but eventually started in with the imports from Suburban Base, Reinforced, Juice, Splash, I could go on and on. Early influences on me was stuff from Emotif, No-U-Turn, Moving Shadow and artists like Dom & Roland, Dylan and Ed Rush, among others.
It’s hard to believe Sound Sphere was created almost 20 years ago! What was your vision of the imprint then and how has it evolved over the years? Looking back at the past two decades, I can’t help but feeling that both you and the imprint were continually underrated – what do you think the reasons were for that?
Hard to say. For one, Sound Sphere was one of the first labels in America dedicated strictly to drum and bass, particularly on the west coast. Distribution, DJ support, and the fact that jungle at the time in America was so underground and took some time to develop a reputation, all may have played a part. I finally got my production skills down to the point where I had some material to release, but couldn’t get any label interest in America and certainly not from the UK. I made the decision to start up Sound Sphere initially just to get my music out there, maybe get noticed and signed to some other label, but it continued to grow with each release and next thing I know, I’m running a record label.
I finally had to back off in 2001 and reevaluate the goal/direction of the label. Recently, I launched SoundSphereMusic.com with the entire back catalog, and a few new and previously unreleased/hard to find tunes. I’m still considering the future with the label but I do have a big project on the horizon for this summer.
Of course, all of that is changing as you continue to move forward in the new year. Talk a bit about the direction you’re headed in now and any plans you have for the imprint. Throughout all the ups and downs of d&b you’ve always had an uncompromising sound and vision – for those who don’t know how do you describe the E-Sassin / Sound Sphere sound?
Well, as I said, I have a project that will surface this summer but that’s about all I can say about that right now. Other than that, I have been working in the lab, redefining my sound. You are right to notice that I have always stood my ground musically. I stayed true to my style and sound and to drum & bass. For those that don’t know, I’ve always been on the darker, heavy, hard, aggressive style. Must be the metal and rock background which, people have told me that my music reminds them of, so I guess it’s in there somewhere.
Death and darkness have always played a part of your persona and your music – what is the attraction for you and how do you see it merging with drum & bass as an outlet in particular? Since you love your metal – how does d&b as an evolution of your own sound – why d&b and not say, house or techno?
To be honest, I think it harkens back to my metal roots. It’s really just another style within the drum and bass genre. Some people are into the real neuro, jump up, liquid stuff, or whatever. Different strokes for different folks. I like it heavy, dark and evil sounding. That’s what gets me off and motivates me musically. Not that I’m a dark or evil person, it’s just my way of expressing myself through art, that art being music.
As for other genres of music…I did have a run in the techno genre, as well as house and trance but, drum and bass just clicked with me. Like I said before, I was drawn to the drum programming. It was so intricate and required some expanded knowledge of music that I felt it was something not everyone would be getting on board to write.
You’ve been doing lots of remix work lately as well. I loved what you did last year with the Dom & Roland contest, turning out not just one but two versions! Talk a bit about what other remixes have been kicking around for you and/or are on the way and give us a general sense of what your process is so that all the heads out there can transform their own remix projects to another level.
First off, thanks for the support on the Dom & Roland remixes. I really like doing remixes. It allows me to deconstruct what someone put into their track, how they arranged it, what sounds they used to do certain things, etc. I’ve recently completed remixes for Psyborg out of Texas, a tune called “Virus Farm” available now, one for DJ Eternal called “Face of God” due out April 3rd, one for the Dissected Culture label, a track called “Foo Fight” and another one for the Black Hoe label in Hungary, Peter Kurten’s “Cybertron”. Both of those are still to be scheduled for release.
Basically, my approach to remixing in to maintain the integrity/identity of the track. I want people to be able to recognize what tune it’s a remix of. Keep the important stuff and add my kind of flavor to spice it up. I kind of look at it like, “If I made this track, how would I do it”.
You have a big show coming up this Thursday at Respect, you’ve been knocking it out in the studio, you’ve just signed to a new agency – hit us with the details on all the exciting news and what’s behind this new surge of inspiration!
I’ve been laying low for too long. I have been really inspired recently with some of the music that is coming out. Stuff from Maztek, Phace, Mefjus, State of Mind, and on the heavier side, Katharsys, Gein, Counterstrike, Machine Code, Sinister Souls, all doing some nice stuff. I’m happy to be writing again and playing out as well.
Respect is one of the best clubs around, and has been for more than 16 years. It’s always an honor to play there. I did just get linked up with the Cypher Talent Agency @ cyphertalent.com (formerly Bad Chemistry), who has some great talent on their roster, including Tech Itch, Skynet, Symbl, Counterstrike, B-Key, Smyla and Gein. I’m looking forward to working with them and getting to see some old friends throughout this country and elsewhere. I was also talking with Gein about some possible collab work, so we’ll see what happens with that.
We’re stoked that you are hitting us with a guest mix, especially for those outside of Los Angeles who won’t be able to witness the smack-down this Thursday at Respect. Let us know if there’s anything else we should be looking out for from you in the near future!.
Yeah man, I just wanted to give a quick taste of what to expect from me at the clubs. I’ll definitely be rinsing some of my new tracks this Thursday for sure so if you are in or around the LA area, be sure to make it out to Respect this Thursday. You can keep informed on upcoming releases and projects through Facebook and Soundcloud. Thanks for taking the time to chat and I hope you enjoy the mix.