Al Haca Sound System — Avatars of Dub
INTERVIEWED BY VELANCHE STEWART FOR MUNDOVIBE
BY VELANCHE STEWART
Sometime in 2001, I was given a CD-R that featured a track from Microfish meets Stereotyp (it was eventually released through Sonar Kollektiv). While I was quite familiar with Viennese artist Stereotyp (his album “My Sound” was quite a different take on dub at the time), I knew nothing about Microfish. Apparently, I needed a bit of an education…especially after MCC (aka Christian from Microfish & Al-Haca) alerted me that an album from an outfit known as the Al-Haca Soundsystem was forthcoming.
In October 2003, I received a promo copy of Al-Haca’s long-playing debut for Different Drummer called “Inevitable.” After listening to the whole album from the get-go, it reminded me of the time Stereotyp impressed me with cut-up bass, dubby sounds, intense toasting, and an overall production quality that made me realize that these guys had done their homework. Of course, I wanted to find out more about Al-Haca, so I’ve asked Christian to appease to my curiosity. He (and co-horts Arnd & Alex) gladly obliged.
And as for Microfish, well…let’s just say they are in hibernation for the moment.
How did the Al-Haca form?
Christian: Well, the whole thing started in 1993, when Alex and, back then, 2 other dudes, got together as a loose soundsystem formation. Reggae and dub was always a focus for them, besides other alternative musical influences like punk, even disco, electro or whatever. Dub, and the use of dub effects, was used as a connecting link. The rise of UK dub (The Disciples, Rootsman, etc.) was always quite important for the Al-Haca crew. Regular nights at the club called “Cafe Quarks“ were organized by Al-Haca, but back then nobody thought of producing music under the name Al-Haca.
Can you brief us on the members of Al-Haca?
Christian: Nowadays Al-Haca is formed by Alex Pehlemann, Oliver Weisse, Arnd Wollmann and me, Christian Schwanz. Alex and Oli are the main soundsystem DJs. Arnd and me are the producing part behind it. We started producing music together about 4 years ago.
The group is apparently renowned for its dub parties. Can you share for us outsiders who haven’t been to an Al-Haca gig was it’s like?
Christian: It’s great of course.(I had to say that…) Most of the time, we come bring one of our featured MCs (RQM, Ras T-Weed or Farda P). It’s important for us to create a solid connection with the audience. We love to do full stops in between to see how the crowd is lovin’ it. The MC is the entertaining guide through the night, guiding the crowd and the DJ. His comments might change the vibe from a certain spot to a completely different style. If our MC feels like hip-hop, he can order some…if you know what I mean. The link is between the crowd and the soundsystem. Besides that, we love effects like reverbs, long echos, little samples, pushy delays or dub sirens. Our own productions are always embedded within the DJ mix. We wanna have fun at the shows, so we use the soundsystem idea to choose the most fun or characteristic instrument for a certain song; this will either be played by Arnd or me. So its not like a full concert, but also not like a plain DJ set. It’s in between…it’s alive.
What are your impressions of the dub scene in general?
Alex: As far as I see it, there are quite different dub or dubby scenes out there. There´s no dub scene as such. Dub as technique, and spiritual sound feeling nowadays, is used by almost all modern (electronic) styles of music. There´s dub house, as well as pretty conventional (but still bass-kickin’) UK dub, or post-techno reggae as produced by Rhythm & Sound… or open minded freestyles as on Different Drummer.
When & how did you join Al-Haca?
Christian: I joined Al-Haca about 5 years ago. I was controlling the effect section and I did some toasting and little MCing.
Arnd: I produced the Microfish thing with Christian before, and we found Al-Haca the perfect frame for the deeeep bass thing.
Alex: I´m the last original member…
The album “Inevitable” seems to take the best that dub has to offer. The sounds of bass are in the right places, the dub influences are there, and the toasters are top-notch. Give us a little backround, if you would, about the making of the album.
Arnd: The album was planned to cover a wide range of sounds that we´re into right now. The next album might sound totally different. It should work on the dancefloor as well as back home in your hi-fi stereo. So we tried to give it the flavour of one “orchestral“ piece with several parts; the songs, you shouldn´t see it as a list of tracks but a fully arranged composition. That´s why we work with preludes and interludes.
Christian: Oh, yes, indeed, it’s fun time.
What’s been the reaction to the album so far?
Christian: All reaction I got so far from friends and related musicans were very good. There is also some good promotion going on. I don’t really know anything about sales so far, but the reactions from my close people are more important anyways. I always want my people to give me some critical opinions on this release, and I’m all glad to have such a close relation to people who actually listen to the album quite alot. I didn’t expect such feedback…I love it.
You are part of an outfit known as Microfish. Can you tell us about that one?
Christian: I started releasin’ music under this name 3 years ago on Jazzanova’s Sonar Kollektiv [label]. I got to know Alex from Jazzanova about 4 years ago. We booked him for our club back then. You need to know that we come from a very small town called Greifswald, close to the Baltic Sea all the way up in Northeastern Germany, close to Poland. Luckily, there is a little university in our town and about 9,000 students live here. Still, if you don’t organize parties yourself it’s not gonna happen. There is no scene. You have to create the scene. So we had this little club thing going on. I gave Alex a demo CD of Microfish, and two weeks later he called me up. Soon after, we released our first 12“ on Sonar Kollektiv. Because of Daniel Best from Sonar Kollektiv, I got to know Stereotyp and we got this great remix from him, which was released on our first 12“. I also sent a demo to Richard from Different Drummer and he loved the Microfish sound, but Alex was quicker. Later, I figured it would be great to use Al-Haca also for productional output, and I offered Richard a first 12“ and now we finally did the album on DD [Different Drummer].
I know that Microfish has previously collaborated with Stefan Morth, aka Stereotyp. Now Al-Haca is teaming up with him on a new album. Sounds like a wicked mix!
Christian: You gotta love it! The first 12“ using the name “Stereotyp meets Al-Haca“ will be released on Klein Records (Vienna) in January and the new album is also scheduled, but I shouldn’t say too much about that. Our focus will be the dancefloor…dancehall meets club, if you want. It’s big fun for sure! The first 12“ is featuring Lady Saw, Alley Cat, Hawkeye and this great Viennese guy called Shagon. It’s a bomb.
Asides from the project above, what’s next for you?
Christian: We have to finish a few radio sets, remixes and a track for Pressure Drop’s One Eye Records. [At the] end of November and December, we will be touring ([locations will include] Germany, Switzerland, Austria and a gig in Budapest, Hungary). Besides that, we will continue building up our little promotion, artist pool and booking thing called Ostudio. This will keep us busy for a while. Of course, more Al-Haca stuff for DD will also come soon.