Welcome to Paul Brown Boxfit, an archetypal combat facility in the heart of downtown Toronto. It's just past the break of dawn and mere hours before the summer's final iteration of Electric Island, the city's all-star concert and picnic series. Standing across the floor from me is the headliner, a bonafide titan and self-styled 'house and techno Kung Fu master': Loco Dice.
Martial arts have long been vital to Dice's lifestyle. Taking a seat to expertly wrap his hands, Dice reflects on being an adolescent of Tunisian origin in Düsseldorf, as well as growing up in Flingern, which Dice tersely describes as a "very bad" neighbourhood. "This is how all the kids start when you think about it," he explains. "Those were my teenage days, I was around 16. I was lucky I had a big family, good cousins—a strong team around me and everything. But it's just like how you always grow up watching Kung Fu movies and karate and all that stuff, right?"
At the time, Dice was hanging with a lot of the older and bigger guys. "They were never heated in their head. They were always calm and thinking before they took any action," says Dice, reminiscing upon the qualities of the guys he looked up to. Soon after, at his friend's behest, he began studying Muay Thai—Thailand's most celebrated full-contact sport. "It was the hardest thing," he recalls, "that I had to learn and train hard."
Since no warmup for in-ring action is complete without skipping rope, we get right to it. Developing a rhythm synced to the blaring west coast hip-hop beats in the background, Dice continues to turn back the clock to the first time he walked into a gym: "I was excited, I was nervous. It was also in the first training session I had real contact," he tells me as his feet bounce off the floor. "You are so shy because it's not the street. You don't know who the other one is."
Dice says his initial experience started with holding the pads, then learning the clinch—a requisite grappling hold in Muay Thai. "That was the first body contact. And then you figure out the respect. You can't go wild. You have to take it easy. It's the same in football, you cannot just go and plow the guy down. We're one team, we're training together."
However today we aren't here to practice the art of eight limbs—so dubbed for Muay Thai's combined use of fists, elbows, knees, and shins—rather the sweet science known as boxing. Dice wants to enhance his striking technique. Instructing us is a former Canadian pro champ and Floyd Mayweather sparring partner, Mario Lechowski. A no-nonsense sort, Mario has trained me for amateur fights in the past. He puts us straight to work, running a series of intensive punching drills on the heavy bag.
This isn't a photo op for Dice. Lacing into the bag with one powerful blow after another, he's here to crush it. His jabs, straight rights, hooks, and uppercuts are precise. When Mario tells him how to improve a combination, Dice listens and adapts. It's no different than in his career. "A lot of people in music are new in the game and they think they are already at the top, but it takes a while. It's nothing but learning and more learning. There's never enough," he insists. "Every time you enter a stage, you absorb something new… there's always a fresh challenge."
While Dice still classifies himself as a student, few would disagree that the techno superstar long ago became the teacher. One need look no further than his stewardship of the Desolat imprint. In past THUMP interviews with label favourites like Guti, tINI, Hector, Livio & Roby, and Pulshar, Dice's ability to provide them all a platform to evolve into individual stars in their own right formed a recurring theme.
As we alternate punishing rounds on the mitts, Dice makes it clear that his intention from the beginning was to roll with a "strong" gang. "I don't want followers, I want leaders," he exclaims. "It was hard to teach those kids. To say, 'Look, don't ever put this in your head that there is an ego thing, but you have to understand that I'm the boss. I'm the headliner. I'm the one who is above you.' So they knew they had to work hard to be on that level where I am. They all understood and rolled with it."
Dice doesn't only guide the acts he develops in managing their careers, but in how to carry themselves as artists. For Dice, this is how you gain footing in the movement. "You become someone; you create a legacy. It's important. I'm so proud. They are continuing what I started with them in their own different ways, without having that Loco Dice stamp. That's why they are so successful." I'm starting to see the parallel between Dice and the wise Shaolin Grandmaster types from all those vintage Kung Fu movies he was raised on. It's a fitting comparison under present circumstances, as Dice is the ultimate mentor and sensei.
To wrap up the workout, Mario orders us to fuck around with some freestyle defense routines that further highlight the stylistic disparities between boxing and Muay Thai. It occurs to me that while so many great artists have played back-to-back with Dice, here is my chance to go punch-for-punch with him. How many music journalists can claim that?
Amidst blocking each other's controlled assaults, Dice opens up about releasing his forthcoming Underground Sound Suicide on Ultra Music, a far more mainstream outlet than Desolat affords. Part of the strategy harkens back to his guru-like methods. "I told all my artists that I'm going this way with a very commercial label from the Unites States because I want those doors to be opened for us. So, I'm going to put myself out there," he insists. "I'm not changing my sound. I will do it my way. And when I sit for the video and television interviews, then I can plug their music. 'Did you hear this Pulshar album? Listen to it!' I'm never pushing myself."
does diverge from the minimal form of 7 Dunham Place, Dice's 2008 debut LP. But he has no fear, he isn't scared about losing status or alienating fans. "I think the people who follow me will still follow for exactly this reason. You can only reach another place by trying things out." The disc's concept is a journey through the whole world. "My feelings, everything that inspires me. And it's mainly going back to my roots, like hip-hop. I felt that with this album, the circle closed. I'm more mature. I'm ready to deliver something that was always in me but I didn't know how." Dice smirks, then launches a high knee my way, which I raise my forearms to guard. He's a beast, no doubt.
The final bell rings and we exit the squared circle. "I knew very early my attitude was not one of a fighter," the legendary DJ admits. Cooling off, Dice returns to the punching bag and gets into a ready stance. "I'm not hungry enough. I don't possess this killer instinct in my head. I have maybe 60% of it." With that, he unloads a pinpoint roundhouse kick that goes off like a shotgun blast. "But I understood this was something deeper for me. It could help me to relax, to learn more about control. It could help me to recognize more about my body."
"The control to sleep before the gig, the control to stay awake, to move forward, to stay healthy," he says enthusiastically, "and just also to get your shit together. It all comes from this authority."
As our gruelling session draws to a close, we emerge from the dark shadows of the cavernous gym to the gleaming Toronto streets. "I like how you move. You're very solid," Dice remarks about my own technique. "Just sometimes you get sloppy." I rattle off one halfhearted justification after another—It's hard to stay in shape during the summer! Too much partying! You should see me when I'm preparing for a fight! "That's no excuse," he cuts in. "I'm on the road at least 150 days of the year. You're very good, bro. Don't let yourself down. Stay sharp."
This is Loco Dice. A man of great discipline, skill, instruction, and guidance. Techno's modern-day Shaolin Grandmaster.
'Underground Sound Suicide' will be released on October 30 through Ultra Music. You can pre-order the album by clicking here.
Read more about Coach Mario Lechowski's Counter Punch Promotions by clicking here.
Loco Dice is on Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud Desolat Music Group is on Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud Ultra Music is on Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud Elif Rey (Photography) is on Facebook // Twitter // Instagram
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