|Sasha - Standing the test of time
Dance music today is a far cry from the early days of house music, where little known DJs played underground music in unknown clubs. These days some DJs are world famous, known for their live performances or through acclaim for their studio work, hoping to create an anthem that may still get airtime in five years. Resident Advisor managed to snatch a little time out of a DJs schedule, one of the very few who is as good behind the decks as in the studio, responsible for an album that has stood the test of time so successfully it is about to be re-released 10 years later, is tipped to nominated for the first Grammy award for dance music and who is without doubt one of the most famous of them all... Sasha.
It wasn’t an easy ride for the DJ who got his first taste of house music at Manchester's Hacienda, just as dance music exploded into the summer of love. "The smoke machine, the strobe lights, everyone trance dancing, wearing bandanas and smiley T-shirts, " he smiles now. "It definitely had a fuck-you attitude compared to the rest of pop music. " The first residency was at Shellys, with Sasha quickly building a following through his mixture of piano led Italian House and dancefloor anthems. It was also the meeting of two minds as John Digweed and Sasha joined forces, eventually playing together on five continents, mixing three 'Northern Exposure' albums, selling in excess of 1 million copies.
"Its exciting, getting nominated for a Grammy is a real thrill"
With a Dance music category at the Grammys and a possible nomination, I caught up with Sasha during one of his frequent visits to New York, my first question being the Grammy’s, how they work and of course the impact on dance music. I’m talking to the right man. Sasha was recently chosen to sit on a panel with Jason Bentley, Carmen Rizzo, Victor Calderone and others to discuss the upcoming induction of the new Electronic/Dance Music Album category. Up until the 2005 awards, dance music was sort of chucked in with RnB and Hip Hop, resulting in pop remixes from the likes of Janet Jackson or Madonna being given the award. Not the most serious representation of the years dance music! Involved in the process, passionate about his work and ever the professional Sasha explained more, "now it has it's own category, dance music will be judged in its own right. The thing about the Grammys that make it more real is that it’s voted for by the industry, I think that’s why its so prestigious. It's not based on record sales. Someone can pick up a load of Grammys with only a few thousand record sales, but you know that the week after the Grammys they are going to sell massive amounts, Nora Jones being the best example. Now it’s been separated off into its own category, so you can vote in that category. So the voting will be done more by people interested and who know about dance music, also it being recognized will establish it a little bit further. It’s exciting, getting nominated for a grammy is a real thrill". Grammy nominations will be announced on December 8th, with Sasha being one the acts tipped for nomination.
"What we are left with now is the people who evolve,
who move forward, embrace new technologies,
embrace the scene for what it is"
Times are a changin’ for Dance music; global recognition for the first time balanced against the closure of clubs and the failure of several record labels. Will the commercial success that follows Grammy awards and music recognition, something we’ve all wanted to see happen for so many years now irreparably change the music? Sasha laughs “Where are the glory days? " Oh no, I’m showing my age (which is luckily very close to Sasha’s) "the warehouse parties, when it was only 2 quid to get in and no one knew who the DJ’s were. It was all about the music... that was 1988... a long long time ago, things move on, change, time does march on. They have to change, have to evolve, underground thing’s don’t all stay that way". They were great times, have they those days gone? "Not at all, those underground parties are still where it’s at, it’s still where dance music is breaking new ground. You go to London, and it’s the little clubs that are leading the way, the exception being Fabric and the End. It did really get out of hand leading up to 2002, in 2003 everything kinda just switched around, was turned on its head. Labels went under, a lot of clubs went under, but what we are left with now is the people who evolve, who move forward, embrace new technologies, embrace the scene for what it is. It has opened up a lot of room for young producers and DJ's” It would be kind of sad if it was still the same as 15 years ago. "Yeah, you know we dreamed of it becoming a kind of global thing and it’s happened. Unfortunately when that happens, its the really commercial end that gets recognized". I’m playing Devils Advocate, but its happened to other genres of music, my example of that though could be Britpop, underground following turning into huge commercial success and then it died. "Yeah, but Blur are still making really good albums. Oasis are back in the studio. There’s a whole new wave of talent".
"it makes it more exciting, DJ sets that you
predict where they are going to go are boring"
It’s not just the industry around the music that has changed, the music itself has changed over the last 2 years. The music has got far more diverse. “DJs are playing far more eclectic sets, me personally too. There was a sound especially when we were playing at Twilo, dark, long sets, minimal records which worked there, but not anywhere else. People got bored. DJ sets in the beginning were very eclectic. You’d get loads of different sounds in one night, hip hop, Carly Simon, acid house all in one night. That was normal and then it got purified over the last 15 years. People are still responsive to different types of music. " Its great to go out and hear a DJ you associate with one sound play something totally different, it demonstrates their talent as a DJ and shakes things up a bit "Yeah, it makes it more exciting. DJ sets that you predict where they are going to go are boring. Its difficult when I come and play big sets at festivals in countries like Australia, whereas when I play smaller clubs in countries I play in more frequently I can play very different sets and include far more breaks".
"25 years of the Technics deck,
as a medium it has more than surpassed its capabilities"
The varying different forms of technology remain the topic of conversation now. How much do you use technology in your sets? “All CDs and about to switch over to DJ'ing on my laptop, which is taking a lot of time. I’m waiting on the controller as I don’t really like the idea of dj’ing with a mouse in my hand, so I built this controller which I thought would ready for summertime, but has been held up in production. Hopefully I’ll have it ready for the Australian tour. I may have it in my hands next week. Once I get the controller I am going to pretty much switch to DJ'ing with the laptop. What you can do is mindblowing. It takes DJ'ing and turns it on its head. Its DJ'ing for the 21st century! Twenty-five years of the Technics deck, as a medium, it has more than surpassed its capabilities, its served us really well, but there are new tools out there that allow DJ's to almost remix live in a club, which is the ultimate form of DJ'ing."
"whenever I go into the studio I think about making something that is timeless,
I want to listen to my records in 5, 10 years time"
Sasha and John Digweed's ‘Renaissance – The Mix Collection’ is being re-released next month, ten years since the seminal album was originally brought out. Renaissance is still regarded as one of the “must have” mixes and was the first club-based compilation to go gold in the UK, selling 100,000 copies within six weeks of release. The Mix Collection is a key musical blueprint of the golden years of UK dance music, the early ‘90s. Featuring artists such as Leftfield, Fluke, Grace, Sunscreem, Bedrock, OMD, Lemon Interupt, 2 Bad Mice, Kym Mazelle, EMF, Age Of Love and many more. As the 10th anniversary of its original release looms, it will return re-mastered and re-worked. In a music genre that has some of last years tracks already sounding dated, that’s a fairly big compliment by anyones standards. What did you think when you first listened to it again? How did it compare to today? "It is a very eclectic set, there is a diverse range on the album. I guess that’s what the word progressive house was about. Somehow towards the end of the 90’s, it became genre of its own that kind of didn’t really do much, and wasn’t very exciting to be honest and as soon as that started to happen I started to change, to move away from it. Whenever I go into the studio I think about making something that is timeless. I want to listen to my records in five or even ten years time and the fact that this being re-released makes me proud. We re-mastered it in the studio. The technology we used back then was so different. There were a couple of tracks that just didn’t stand the test of time, as for the amount of pops and clicks we found, I mean how did we not notice it before? We really cleaned it up, gave it a lick of paint. It sounds remarkably better." Renaissance – 'The Mix Collection' is being re-released in November.
"all my energy has kind of gone into
converting to the laptop, its a lot of work"
You’re a busy man, work under a grueling schedule, what’s exciting you right now? "All my energy has kind of gone into converting to the laptop. It's a lot of work, building the catalogue up, digging through my record collection. I had 30,000 records in my collection around 4 years ago. Until recently when I had everything databased I was having to buy or borrow an old records if I wanted them for a set. Now I have the whole collection to hand and have been recording stuff and dumping it in the computer. I keep pulling out all these old classics. It’s a trip down memory lane. Some sound just as good as they did back then, others just haven’t stood the test of time. Its really funny how some records are still so great yet others sound so terrible".
Back in 1991 Sasha was the first DJ to make it onto the front cover of Mixmag. In 2004 Sasha is tipped to be nominated for the first Dance music Grammy, Involver has been released to great acclaim and Sasha is preparing to end the year touring for the first time in China (please see www.chinadjloop.com for more details) and throughout Asia and Australia in November. Not too bad for an English lad who blagged his first gig with just 30 records in his bag.