He is a man who likes to stay in the background, a coach when it comes to jamming in the studio with like-minded artists and the founder of Moodmusic. For nearly two decades Klas-Henrik Lindblad, better known as Sasse, has lived in Germany but with his personality and label has shaped and influencedthe international electronic music scene. As Moodmusic just celebrated its 200th release one might expect it to be a label-head-solo, but Sasse rather teamed up with Berlin producers Sandrino and Langenberg under their MKS-moniker to deliver a 10-minute jam with the simple name ‘II’ –the first track in four years by the trio and the second track ever released by them. Shortly after MKS’ second strike Torture the Artist chatted to the ‘heavy drinking party animal’ from Helsinki to gather some insights on the nature and silence loving artists, whose musical approach and perception can best be described with the label’s classic ‘Soul Sounds’ – of course by Klas himself.
Torture the Artist: Hello Klas, tell us something about your day.
Sasse: Hi there! As it’s early January my days start late and end early. Today I’m actually back in the studio working on some cabling and trying out some of the new toys I got in the last several months.
Torture the Artist: How was your start into 2019, and what are your resolutions for the new year?
Sasse: Well, to release a record is always a good way to start a new year, especially when my own releases have been rarer in the past few years. My new year’s resolution is definitely to make more of my own music… Actually, I started some jams towards the end of 2018 and I can’t wait to finish these tunes and put them out.
Torture the Artist: What is the story behind your moniker ‘Sasse’ – the closest word to it is ‘sassy’, which probably doesn’t exactly hit the nail on its head…
Sasse: You’re absolutely right about that! <laughs> My real name, Klas, turned into Sasse at some point when I was 4-5 years old. Since then, all of my friends have called me Sasse and it was kind of a natural progression to use this name when I started to DJ and produce music in the early 90s. So there isn’t really a translation for it. Let’s say it’s a dear nickname that kind of stuck with me.
Torture the Artist: Let’s speak a little about your past. You moved from Finland to Germany in the late 90s; what was the crucial point of why you left your home country in the first place?
Sasse: I moved from Finland to Offenbach/Frankfurt in ‘99 as the scene in Germany was great back then. The now-famous Robert Johnson club started the year before and I got a residency there from ‘99 to ‘05 which was lots of fun. I actually lived twoblocks from the club, so it was like our living room for the first few years. The reason for moving abroad from Finland was pretty simple; the scene was not as good as it is now and I felt I could better interact with artists and labels when living in Germany. But eventually I got bored of Frankfurt and moved to the capital of techno in 2004 and opened up my studio, Blackhead Studios, in 2005.
I played live at Panorama Bar in Ostgut and it was quite a cultural shock to see they way the Berlins partied.
Torture the Artist: What was your most bizarre cultural moment when arriving in Berlin?
Sasse: On New Year’s Eve in 2000 I played live at Panorama Bar in Ostgut (the predecessor of Berghain) and it was quite a cultural shock to see they way the Berlins partied. Back then the clubs like Ostgut and Tresor were not filled with techno tourists like now – it was the real Berlin party scene, and a very mixed crowd as well. It was wild.
Who would not like a heavy-drinking, party-animal from the North?
Torture the Artist: What had been a habit you grew up with in Finland that you had to throw overboard when living in Germany?
Sasse: Nothing really – who would not like a heavy-drinking, party-animal from the North?
I actually ran five vinyl labels back then and most of the early output on those labels were my own productions.
Torture the Artist: What goals, personally and with music, did you have when arriving in Germany?
Sasse: I wanted to push my label Moodmusic, of course, as well as wanting to DJ more than I did back in Finland. Musically, I learned a lot from the early Frankfurt years from Ata, Ricardo and Zip who were very friendly and welcomed me into the crew wholeheartedly. This probably also changed my musical view somewhat and I was much more productive when I moved to Berlin. I actually ran five vinyl labels back then and most of the early output on those labels were my own productions. So I would say my move to Berlin was a very valuable decision for my career and for my music as well.
I’ve released enough 12” for an entire life-time.
Torture the Artist: What goals have you given up on over the course of time and which ones have you achieved?
Sasse: I think I have achieved most of the goals in my DJing and musicalcareer, I’ve played in every continent and I’ve released enough 12” for an entire life-time. I’m also very fortunate to have built a very nice recording studio and furthermore created a second career in mixing and mastering for other talented artists and labels.
Torture the Artist: As you have been living in Berlin for almost 15 years now, to what extent do you still participate in the local subculture and its life?
Sasse: I still go out to clubs sometimes to meet friends and colleagues and check out some of the new talent. It doesn’t happen too often, but I do enjoy clubs as long as their sound system and vibe is good enough. But I work daily with talented artists and great labels in the studio and this gives me more at the moment, personally, than a night out in the club.
Torture the Artist: What aspects of subculture do you find the most important for you, and how do you filter the offers you receive?
Sasse: As I do not really tour actively anymore I can pick up exactly when and where I want to perform. I think I choose the gigs which are either with or by friends, and some that have nice opportunities to see far away places. Or opportunities to enjoy a week somewhere where I would otherwise maybe not be able to fly for a holiday.
The commercialisation of the clubs and the techno tourism is slowly degrading the quality of music in clubs.
Torture the Artist: What subcultural change you have witnessed over the time living in Berlin that you either agree or disagree with?
Sasse: Well, we have had a very big change in the club scene due to the position where Berlin is at the moment in regards to club culture and the amount of tourism it brings to the city. It might be good for the economy and for the young, eager music lovers – but is it good for the city in the long term? The commercialisation of the clubs and the techno tourism is slowly degrading the quality of music in clubs. Add to this the ridiculous festival scene and their copy-cat line-ups and you’ve got a pretty good chance that an alternative electronic music scene will grow and eventually flourish again in Berlin.
Torture the Artist: What artists would have to be on the linup so that you attend the event?
Sasse: At the moments I’m not very interested in going out if I don’t DJ myself. I saw Aphex Twin ‘live’ last year in Berlin. That was awesome although most of the crowd complained for some reason. Did they never go to raves? <laughs> Seriously though, when Finnish acts visit Berlin I enjoy going to check them out. I saw Morphology live last autumn at Tresor which was insane and I’m planning on going to check Mono Junk and Jimi Tenor live soon again.
I’m happy to be ignorantly lost in my own world!
Torture the Artist: What subculture would you like to be part of, if no one could see?
Sasse: I’m not aware of any subculture at the moment that I’m missing not being part of. I’m happy to be ignorantly lost in my own world!
The only thing which ever interested me was to release music which does not have a due-date.
Torture the Artist: You have contributed quite a lot to the electronic music scene as a DJ, producer, label-head and, of course, in the technical field and as a person. You just released an EP titled ‘II’ in collaboration with Sandrino and Langenberg on your very own label, Moodmusic, which marked the 200th release. What has helped you to keep the fire burning for such a long time?
Sasse: It seems that the 20+ years and 200 releases went quite fast in my eyes. The only thing which ever interested me was to release music which does not have a due-date – something you can still be proud of 10-20 years from now. Sometimes it’s hard to not jump on a bandwagon and just cash in, but eventually this bullshit-filter becomes part of your job with the help of friends and family.
MKS as a project is quite a good example of this. It started as a studio jam and there was no pressure to release any of the music. Actually, ‘II’ was started in 2015 and it took 4 years to be released, which for some people seems long, but good things take their time, always. I’m very pleased to see the feedback for the release this far; let’s see where we can go with it.
Torture the Artist: What were your reasons for you initially founding a record label?
Sasse: It was as simple as ‘I’ve got music, I need to release it’. One thing lead to another and eventually we had a functioning record label. Back in the early 90s sending a demo tape was a bit different to now, as media like USB sticks and CD-R hadn’t been invented yet. Most labels did not have emails and Soundcloud was still 20 years ahead. Sending a Cassette Tape as a demo was the usual thing, and sending it via post not knowing if it ever reached the label was a long and tiresome business.
So instead of waiting for answers from labels far abroad, I decided to start something on my own, and with the help from Marko Laine from Mind Records (a local record shop) in Turku, we founded Moodmusic in the spring of 1996.
I think music took us on a journey, and those artists who have something more to offer naturally get well known and ‘big’ in the scene.
Torture the Artist: Moodmusic has helped quite some artists to start their careers, giving them a platform to present their music to a wider audience and gain recognition. Would you say you are sort of a mentor to (younger) artists to gain a foothold within in the scene?
Sasse: I’m very fortunate to be able to work with artists in varying parts of their career. Obviously with the label I had the chance to release lots of artists who were unknown and now are quite big players. But this was never a plan or business idea of mine. I think music took us on a journey, and those artists who have something more to offer naturally get well known and ‘big’ in the scene. This is a natural progression; keep doing what you love and things will pay off.
I like to stay behind the scene, kind of like the man who was never there…
Torture the Artist: What’s a headline you would like to read about yourself?
Sasse: I don’t like headlines, although they help sell you as a producer, DJ or artist. I like to stay behind the scene, kind of like the man who was never there…
Torture the Artist: What were noticeable ups and downs that you had to go through with the label, and how did you overcome the downs but also deal with the ups at a personal level? What actions did you find you had to take in the end?
Sasse: The biggest challenge we went through as a label was obviously the big change in the format of music from the early to mid-2000s. When vinyl was selling well it was very hard to accept the early days of digital, and also to financially make through these hard times. Luckily, Moodmusic never had a big infrastructure; it’s still more or less a one-man show. As my mastering and mixing business started to pick up, I was more than glad to give some more responsibility to my label manager Balthasar Egger (aka Foreign Guest). Today, the label is in the best situation it can be; no one expects anything from us, but we can release whatever we want and we can financially survive.
Torture the Artist: ‘II’, as mentioned before, was produced with Sandrino and Langenberg. The track sounds like it emerged from a jam-session involving the three of you as it has a continuous and constant flow. How did the formation process for how the track come about, and what was your approach in producing a track together?
Sasse: As you are rightfully saying, this was purely a jam, created in just one night. Actually, the arrangement is the same test mix we did through my mixing desk whilst producing it. Only later did we realised we didn’t save the arrangement. Therefore, the one take was in fact the best take. So we met a few times in the studio and opened up a beer each, taking whichever one synth was nearest to you and started to jam. I remember Max laying down the bass line with the Jupiter 8 and some chords with a Sequential Sixtrax when the magic started to happen. Sandrino was directing me with the drums – I think most of them are Roland CR-8000 mixed with some EMU SP-12 samples. Most of the ‘effect’ sounds were me going through a bunch of presets on the Sixtrak while recording. We just cut them up and had our synth layers done.
Torture the Artist: It took nearly four years for you three guys to produce the follow up of ‘Rough Trade’. Was ‘II’ the only track you did together this time or are there more to follow shortly?
Sasse: ‘Rough Trade’ came out in a time where all three of us were seeking some kind of new musical inspiration and roughness around the edges. Releasing it on vinyl only was very important for us, and also the fact that there was no label was a decision we all put a lot of weight upon. As there was no pressure, we didn’t ever feel that we had to go to the studio to finish some more music. ‘II’ was just the second jam, and since then we have not had time to do a third one yet. I hope we can make it in 2019.
Sandrino is definitely the forward player – a visionary who sees the big picture and knows when to run to the top for the goal.
Torture the Artist: If you were to compare the three of you with football-players, what position would Sandrino, Langenberg and you play, based on the characteristics each of you has in the studio when producing together?
Sasse: This is an excellent question. I would like to see me as the coach – like a producer or director. Langenberg I think is a predestined mid-field player, as he is one of the most talented musicians I know; if you throw a synth at him, 5 minutes later he has churned stuff out which you never thought would happen. Sandrino is definitely the forward player – a visionary who sees the big picture and knows when to run to the top for the goal. I think we would make a great football team indeed.
Torture the Artist: What’s an artist that you would like to work with in the studio, and why?
Sasse: Pat Metheny would be a dream come true, or Lyle Mays… or Chick Corea… but I don’t know what I could offer in this constellation <laughs>. In electronic music I do like some of the pioneering artists like Carl Craig and Juan Atkins.
One thing you learn when you get older that it is harder and harder to make good music, so the only way to make this happen is to try harder.
Torture the Artist: How much does the music you produce and what you are currently into differ from the music you enjoyed during your teenage days?
Sasse: Due to my mixing and mastering occupation I rarely come to make music nowadays, which is a pity. I try to make some days ‘my own’ by closing emails and social media and just concentrating on my music, but those days are a bit rare currently. I’ve realised, though, that when I finally get on a roll, I’m in the same flow as when I was 20. One thing you learn when you get older that it is harder and harder to make good music, so the only way to make this happen is to try harder.
Torture the Artist: Generally speaking, what’s a track of yours that significantly advanced your career, and what are the reasons for this?
Sasse: I think it must have been ‘Soul Sounds’ on Moodmusic, which was released in 2004. Firstly, the great Dirt Crew remix was a huge hit back then and some consider it ‘the classic’ on the label. Secondly, my Freestyle Man Original Mix on the A-side was a bit of a game changer for myself with the acid influences and a bit tougher beats. I think ‘Soul Sounds’ kind of gives a good picture of what raving in Berlin back then was like.
And having the vinyl only re-release on Raum…Musik, and having my original mix accompanied by new versions from Ricardo Villalobos and Dorian Paic was, for me, the biggest respect someone could musically show me.
There is nothing better than silence.
Torture the Artist: What music or tracks do you listen to when trying to get away from electronic or club music in general?
Sasse: I love to listen to silence – just nature and some wind is fine for me. I do love more experimental music on labels like ECM, and lots of soundtracks, but there is nothing better than silence.
Torture the Artist: If you could borrow someone’s identity, who would it be and what would you do?
Sasse: Captain Ramius from The Hunt Of Red October – actually, it’s all about Sir Sean Connery. Who wouldn’t want to be him for one day? Preferably sometime around the early / mid-70s, driving a convertible Alfa Romeo in the Scottish highlands! <laughs>
Interview by Holger Breuer