When we mention jungle, we’re not talking about the variety you mashed it to way back in teenagerdom, sporting a peng Ellesse track-jacket and toting a tinny. No, what we really mean is the sort that’s populated with masses of enormous and verdant plant life, endless species of creatures and colours that blow the whole spectrum apart. The latter is where you’re most likely to find the focus of this exclusive premiere and interview – Bass Sekolah – a genre-defying electronic duo who reside deep in Malaysia’s Berembun forest, an idyllic expanse located to the south of the country’s bustling capital city, Kuala Lumpur (KL).
Bass Sekolah was birthed when beat-maestro-cum-DJ Cee, formerly part of the progressive German bass music contingent Al Haca Soundsytem, relocated to South East Asia and linked up with Malaysian instrumentalist and vocalist Darren Ashley. After touching down in KL six years back, Cee set up a life with his now wife and prepped to take on the creative challenges a new continent would inevitably bring. Following a stint contributing to the capital’s budding electronic scene under the guise of the Redbull Music Academy’s Mr. X Malaysia, Cee and his young family chose to leave the metropolis behind them and instead journey straight for the tranquillity of Berembun, where they built up and now run the Dusun, a breathtaking eco-resort in the heart of the jungle.
Having established the retreat, Cee started running Detour Asia, managing tours for friends and artists playing throughout the region. Immediately, heads such as Modeselektor, Daedelus, Perrea Elswhere and HVOB jump onto the project, booking some additional chill out time at the Dusun to indulge in the jungle’s sensory layers. With things rolling, and many spontaneous sessions later in the resort’s studio, Cee met Darren and the two got cracking on Bass Sekolah’s first single, ‘Lighthouse’, which burst out towards the end of last year on the Swiss indie imprint Mouthwatering Records. The track, a vibrant slice of sun drenched electronica blended with a 2-step-esque bassline and Darren’s soulful vocals, went down like a charm and earned critical acclaim across the board.
Taking inspiration from the aural complexity of their surroundings, the twosome decide to transform the ongoing studio recordings into a fully-fledged concept album, namely The Dusun Sessions, which is due for release this coming Friday. Backed by the Goethe-Insitut, the LP is a collaborative soundtrack that takes you on an atmospheric trek through Berumbum’s mystical soundscape. Working with names including Housemeister, Skinnerbox and EWOTCO, the record hybridises electronic music as we know it, slipping seamlessly between techno-tinged cuts, bass-laden rhythms and haunting samples pulled directly from the jungle. As the tunes progress, the arrangement is flecked with lingering spoken-word style lyricism, all of which add to the spectral flavour of the production. In contrast to Lighthouse, the selection on the album is a lot less playful; it’s a sonic escapade that is probably going to melt your eardrums.
So, before The Dusun Sessions hit the web this weekend, FMS Berlin got access to two tracks off the LP, two of which are yet to be heard, and an interview with Cee and Darren. Listen in and enjoy these loudly, headphones firmly attached.
The story behind Bass Sekolah is pretty damn unique. Cee, what was the initial spur that made you relocate to Malaysia after spending five big years involved with Al Haca?
Cee: It was love. My (now) wife and I were living in a long distance relationship for a little bit. Starting a life together in Asia sounded like the better plan, considering the economic situation Europe was in six years ago. It was an amazing step to take for me. I actually joined Al-Haca end of the 90 so my journey with the project was even longer than five years and I was ready to take my very own big steps. Being in Asia right now is super exciting.
The Dusun sounds like an incredibly sensory place. What first attracted you to life in the jungle and how has it shaped your musical direction?
Cee: The Dusun has always been the weekend gateway for my wife’s family, and when I came to Malaysia they had just started to open it to the public. We then built up this place to what it is now. A small, quiet retreat on the fringes of a big jungle called Berembun. About three years back my wife and I decided to leave the hustle and bustle of KL and fully move there. The jungle is a magical place indeed. It never sleeps. It’s never quiet, yet it calms me down. I love integrating the constant wall of sounds into my musical work. When we do vocal recordings for Bass Sekolah we are always adding the jungle to our works inevitably.
A whole host of electronic artists have come to stay at the resort. Do you feel that the variety of acts you’ve jammed with has added to the eclecticism of your style?
Cee: Oh yes of course. I don’t believe so much in separated genres. I mean, when we do club sets of course we like to follow and commit to a certain sound direction, but for this listening experience we really wanted the music to be as diverse and free as possible.
A lot of the more ethereal samples on your tracks are actually recorded in the forest. Can you tell us about the first time you ventured into the wilderness to listen in?
Cee: For our Daedelus collabo ‘of rocks and trees’ we actually went down to the river to record the stream, rocks and things, but in general we never had to venture off ‘into the wild’ because the way our houses are set up we are constantly in the wild, you can say. We live in open concept houses where you simply can’t escape the wild.
How was Bass Sekolah born? It was after the two of you linked right, but what felt spot on about the concept?
Darren: The idea of making music in the middle of the jungle was half the fuel. But I’m sure there was a spot-on moment when we both agreed on the tones and sound we wanted, be it minimal 808 percussions or warm subs, or traditional instruments. Not the lyrics or the chords but the vibes.
When you put out ‘Lighthouse’ towards the end of last year, were you expecting it to get the reception it did?
Darren: Yes and no. The song did something to me and I knew that some other ears would love this vibe too, so I had high hopes. But the video gained some compliments and comments I never saw coming from parts of the world I never thought the song would reach!
Cee: Writing the song with Darren happened super intuitively, it was fast and organic. We both knew we had just recorded a great song which needs to be heard. I knew we had to make ‘Lighthouse’ our debut release and give it the right place in time and space. I was touched by the great response we received from fans and the media.
At what point did you did you decide to put the Dusun Sessions together?
Darren: Cee had the Dusun Sessions going and by the time I realised an album was being made, we were half way through. I am actually quite honoured to be a part of this.
Cee: Only after I met the director of the Goethe-Institut Malaysia, Mr. Stehle, I knew we could actually make it happen. I mean the musician friends would have been keen to jam and play anyways, but knowing that this will also go somewhere was important to me. Suddenly I had this goal to bring all these people together. It gave us another push without ever having strict deadlines. I always wanted this project to happen quite naturally.
What was it like collaborating with such a diverse group of musicians on the record?
Darren: Such an experience. A freeing one because we weren’t aiming for like hit songs or for that matter a huge composition of some go-down-in-history track. Some of it bloomed straight out of plug and play moments.
The LP takes you on an exceptionally atmospheric journey that transcends genre-categorisation. How did you manage to hybridise such a rich selection into such a soulful and well-thought out arrangement?
Cee: Well, a tricky part in compiling songs into a flow is always: the right flow. It took us forever to get that right. The diversity was a challenge but for the mix we included all of the songs, we also added more layers here and there to link the songs and moods. We do this for our mixtapes and stage sets as well. Spending ages for the right selection, hahaha…
What do you see the future bringing for you guys?
Cee: We will play a lot more outside of Asia and make the jungle grow again all over the planet… I always carry some jungle giant tree seeds in my pocket.
Darren: We will strive on with discovering our version of a perfect embodiment of both organic flavours and pure electronic sounds in our music without the restraint of genre limitations.
Big shout out to Darren and Cee for taking time out to give us the low down on what’s set to be a spectacular release. Represent Lukasz at InitialsLP for being the invaluable Berlin fulcrum.
Words: Alex Rennie