THE STORY OF LOCO DICE - one of the underground dance music community's most acclaimed artists - begins in the German city of Dusseldorf in 1974. Yassine Ben Achour, who was born in the city to Tunisian parents, was first drawn to music by the bravura of hip hop, not the thrust of house or techno. By the mid-1990s, Ben Achour had emerged from the chrysalis of an awkward adolescence, and hip-hop was the sound of his generation.
The sound's "golden era" was in full swing, and before he knew it he had forged a career as a support MC and DJ to big international acts - including Snoop Dogg, Usher, and Coolio. But by his own admission, he wasn't any good. "I was a terrible rapper, but I was successful," he says.
Despite YouTube's treasure trove of nostalgic videos, it's hard to find evidence of Loco Dice's previous incarnation. Whether this is deliberate is hard to tell, but it adds to the man's mystique. What does exist is Loco Dice as the international club and festival DJ. In every clip, he resonates a kind of brooding intensity; behind that lies the bristling energy of a man who loves his trade.
The video clips indicate Loco Dice prefers to party with the regular people, not get stuck in the vacuity of the VIP lounge. His reply is resolute: "Wow, all the time. You'll always find me on the dance floor. Always. You know what it is, it's like after all the years you become successful and you forget the dance floor. You don't feel comfortable, period. All you know is standing backstage with your drink in your hand. All the people I call friends, I get to know them not behind the dance floor but on the dance floor, after my set."
It's rare that an artist who has forged a career in one genre makes the transition so easily to another. While house and hip hop share some of their roots in disco, DJs rarely cross between the two. But Loco Dice did.
"When hip hop became boring I needed something else," he explains, echoing what Q-Tip of New York group A Tribe Called Quest said about "the death of hip hop" at the dawn of the millennium.
"So my friends took me to these electronic parties. I was against it, because I had no clue about it. But then I experienced this one thing: the DJ was playing this music, and creating a vibe over hours. And the people were not requesting music or records - they were just following the vibe, the sound, the mood. This is what I needed, and this is what caught me."
The lure of the dark dance floor had pulled Ben Achour in and there was no turning back. He says he had a lot of house records in his bag in the early days, but just hadn't really realised their significance.
"I was playing a lot of Armand Van Helden, DJ Sneak, Strictly Rhythm, and Kevin Saunderson, he says, "but I didn't think 'Oh, this is house', I just played them. Now I'm older, I realise where it all came from."
Fast-forward to the present day and Loco Dice is older but still passionate. Speaking from the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) in Holland, he comes across as forthright and loquacious, a consummate talker who is charming and headstrong. The first thing he expresses is his relief ("Thank God!" he shouts) at having returned from Ibiza, where he spent four months running the Used & Abused day parties at the club Ushuaia.
He headlined every party, and invited guest DJs to play. The roster was impressive: Berlin techno heavyweight Marcel Dettmann, US icons Josh Wink and DJ Sneak, British mainstays Nightmares on Wax, Jamie Jones, and German progressive king Timo Maas, to name a few. And Loco Dice was at the head of the table, just where he likes it.
But the king likes to keep moving, to see new places and experience new things. So after ADE he hits the rest of Europe before winding up in Hong Kong to perform at Kee Club in Central on November 22. His experience in Asia has been potted, starting with him being kicked out of the Green Mango club in Thailand in 1998 for not playing the right music: "I was playing a lot of West Coast house, and they didn't think it was commercial enough."
Loco Dice says he can't wait to come to Hong Kong. He's landing a day early so that he can see the city, and will do his set at Kee the next evening. When asked if the set will be a famously long one, he says: "I'm excited to play any hour you give me. You will sound completely different to when you play a longer set, but that's the challenge.
"What I deliver depends on the time, on the people, on the location, on the sound system, on my mood. I'm not an artist that comes to show you what I got; I come to perform with you. I need you. I need that connection to the crowd, to the dance floor, to guide me through the night."
And there lies Loco Dice's integrity,his humility. He needs us, the audience, the music lovers. We're just like him. We're human, and he respects that. It's a rare commodity, especially from someone so successful.
It's here that he ends the conversation: "You've got to have discipline, and you should never forget your family or the friends from day one. Don't get lost in the rave or the superstar world." And like that, he's gone.
Loco Dice, November 22, 10pm, Kee Club, 6/F, 32 Wellington Street, Central, HK$300. Inquiries: 2810 9000