Senser: 20 Years Of Stacked Up

Groundbreaking musical agitators of the highest order, Senser were one of the most exciting bands in the UK during the early 90s. Emerging from the strange and nebulous counter-culture that existed in a peculiar grey area between the outer limits of the British rave explosion and the politically-charged anarcho-punk scene, they stood noisily apart from everything else that was going on around them, hurling scything metal riffs and bruising rap diatribes into the mix, several years before the nu-metal scene exploded and turned those same ingredients into something far less challenging or inventive.

First released on May 2nd, 1994, Senser’s debut album Stacked Up remains one of the truly great records of the rap/rock crossover era. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Senser have remastered the whole earth-shattering shebang and are re-releasing it on 17th November as Stacked Up XX, replete with a ton of bonus rarities and remixes that once again showcase the fearless creative approach that made the band such a huge draw on the gig circuit two decades ago. Still very much active – they released their latest album To The Capsules to great acclaim in 2013 – Senser may be unsung heroes to a great degree, but the music they were making in 1994 still sounds incredibly fresh today. To join in with the anniversary celebrations, we are exclusively streaming a selection of highlights from Stacked Up XX – including The Algorithm’s mind-bending remix of Age Of Panic – and premiering the band’s new video for Age Of Panic (Git-O-Rama Mix).

Meanwhile, we spoke to frontman Heitham Al-Sayed about Stacked Up, those exciting early days and how he owes rather more than expected to, erm, Mötley Crüe… How does it feel to reach the 20th anniversary of Stacked Up? “It feels good! I guess at that point I didn’t think I’d survive until I was 30. I had a feeling I was gonna die before then! I was convinced of it. I thought ‘I can do anything!’ When I was 22 I figured it didn’t matter because I’d been around the world and it was brilliant and music had given me all this and I’d had a good run. But you don’t die! You just keep on fuckin’ going. I never thought we’d make so many records as Senser, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done. The only thing about this reissue is that it takes it back to nostalgia. It was a hard decision, because we’ve spent all our time since then creating new things and developing, but at the same time we just wanted to celebrate it. It was a really interesting start for us.”

How would you describe the scene that Senser emerged from?

“It was a transitional time, I guess. The stuff you’re talking about is really the late 80s, like ’89 and ’90 and maybe ’91, when electronic music and rave music were peaking and maybe even coming down. The huge British wave of raving was over and we were just teenagers, messing around with a lot of psychedelic drugs. No one knew what they were doing so there were no rules and everyone would just try loads of weird shit! Ha ha!”

You were generally viewed as part of the scene where rave culture and underground rock music collided, and yet although you fitted into that world perfectly, you had a big chunk of metal in your sound too…

“Yeah, we were a huge contrast to those other kinds of bands. We didn’t have any reggae or ska, we had no influence from The Clash like a lot of the anarcho bands did at the time. We were into thrash metal! We liked Death Angel and Slayer and Kreator and Celtic Frost, and we were into psychedelic music, fusion jazz and hip hop, like Public Enemy and KRS One. But we loved Hawkwind and dark psychedelic music like that too. So it was a strange time. We were really into underground weirdo music. We just listened to anything we liked. There were a few people on the same wavelength at the time, but not many!”

Given that bands like Faith No More and Rage Against The Machine were taking a similar approach to some degree, did Stacked Up come out too late? Could you have been a much bigger band if you’d released your debut a couple of years earlier?

“We were already on it and doing that stuff, but by the time our record came out, Rage were everywhere… but what are you gonna do? Faith No More were great too. Angel Dust was a really mind-blowing record. Mike Patton’s voice just changed overnight and we were like ‘Where did this guy come from?’ A friend at the time described the album before, The Real Thing, as the Chili Peppers trying to channel Duran Duran! Ha ha! I loved those songs, but then Angel Dust came out and it was something special. Then Rage Against The Machine’s first album came out the year before we started recording Stacked Up. I remember hearing it and thinking ‘Oh, fuck… bollocks!’ But it’s cool, you know?”

Stacked Up was a top ten album in the UK. Was that a crazy time for the band?

“I don’t remember exactly what happened. I know everything we did scored pretty well in the indie charts, but even at the time I was like ‘Ha! The indie charts? Erm, whatever…’ But what happens when you’re number one in the indie charts is that you can play decent sized gigs. Our songs would be getting played on the radio and at university discos, where they’d play Jane’s Addiction, Faith No More and then Senser as well. You’d get Mudhoney or Ned’s Atomic Dustbin too, more studenty bands, but it was all great for us. Things were open enough for something as left-field as Senser to slip through the net.”

**Eject was arguably your biggest anthem. What do you remember about writing that one? **

“It was our first single, yeah. We often finish with it today because it’s really intense. It’s strangely intense. I know I was really influenced by a British hip hop group called Gunshot. I loved the syncopation of what they were doing. I just wanted to do something like that. I loved Gunshot and Public Enemy, but I wanted to do my own thing. There were a few people like Silver Bullet doing that really fast hip hop sound, but we wanted to do it with guitars. I remember suggesting that kind of riff to Nick… and literally about ten years later, my friend Maynard from Tool said ‘Oh yeah, I used to love Mötley Crüe… they were one of the first bands to do those riffs on the upstroke…’ [sings main riff to Live Wire] and I was like ‘Oh fuck! Jesus, you’re right!’ So yeah, Eject is basically the riff from Live Wire! Ha ha ha! I must’ve heard it and it got absorbed somewhere along the line. I do like that kind of glam stuff a lot more in retrospect. We used to laugh at all that stuff at the time and now… well, Ratt is a good band! Great songwriting and I won’t hear a bad word said about them. Ha ha ha!”

What is your happiest memory from those glory days?

“The first couple of big tours when it was just us and we weren’t supporting anyone! We could choose the support acts, so we chose Gunshot and we chose New Kingdom. They were our shows so we had a massive, psychedelic, eye-watering light show and a massive rig… I think it took two trucks to carry it all around! Someone said recently that they’d seen us at a gig back then and not only was it one of the loudest things they’d ever heard, but that it sounded as clearly mixed as the record. Once we could do our own production and we weren’t winging it through a small PA, it was amazing. I loved visiting different cities and people were really receptive. It was just a golden period.”

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.