Allowing for sound manipulation, it ads a unique live element to Sasha's sets and intrigued by the concept RA's Los Angeles correspondent, Dariography caught up with Sasha to get a true in-depth understanding of 'The Controller'.
RA: It's pretty fascinating the technology these days, that you could think up of making your own custom controller to use with the Ableton Live software and then actually having it made.
Sasha: It's amazing because it was total pie in the sky dream that I had, but I was lucky enough to find the right people to do it. And now the final prototype is almost finished, I had it in my hotel room last week. (Sasha proceeds to show the photos of his controller on his laptop. The custom mixer/controller is larger than your conventional mixer, almost the size of Sasha's 17 inch Mac laptop. It has the regular knobs, cross fader and more knobs who's function, Sasha only knows. It is encompassed by two organically shaped aluminum sides that give it a very distinct, almost art nouveauish look.)
Sasha: The way this came about was when we were at a boat party in Miami at the winter music conference for a preview of the release of Involver. Everyone was asking me for samples of the songs on Involver, I knew how the tracks were supposed to sound finished but I had them in parts, not really finished versions. I went ahead and played 5 or six tracks in Ableton live and I prolonged the tracks as much as I could and that's when a light bulb went off in my head.
RA: And the rest is History. So I guess you don't have to beatmatch with the Ableton right?
Sasha: You don't have to beatmatch, but I definitely miss beatmatching sometimes. The Ableton is not really a new way of Deejaying, it's more like a new different option of a way of Deejaying and live remixing, kind of a 'mashup' between the Dj and the live artist. But in the end what comes out of the speakers is still a Dj set. There's so many things that I've always wanted to do with my Dj sets, but the technology was limited. With the Ableton Live there are a million things that I'm now able to do, like last week when I was playing at Fabric (12/11/04)..... at one point I was playing six tracks simultaneously.
RA: When you get tracks from producers, do you request for samples or finished tracks?
Sasha: I only get the finished tracks, its then me and my team's responsibility to chop up those tracks to make them more Ableton friendly. I used to go into the studio to do re-edits of the tracks given to me by producers, but the problem with that is that you can do a re-edit that sounds fine in the studio, but is not necessarily appropriate for a specific club at a specific time. By doing re-edits in the studio I would essentially have to premeditate that moment that I would drop it in a club. Where as with Ableton, I'm able to re-edit tracks intuitively in the club, at that very moment. Perhaps you want to drop an old track, but you want a new beat or a new tempo, with Ableton the possibilities are endless.
RA: What about someone like your good friend James Zabiela? Most of his set is based on effects and turntablism, do you think he would use Ableton in the same way?
Sasha: I'm not sure that James would be into this, which is alright because not everyone has to switch over to this type of Djing, I don't want the misconception that I'm insinuating that this is a better way for everyone to Dj, everyone has their thing. For me this is merely a tool that has enabled me to find my groove once again. It's a personal thing.
receiving music though FTP from my peers."
RA: I've watched in many of your performances as crowds are flocking around the Dj booth to give you their promo "home produced" tracks in hopes of having the track played by you and subsequently being signed by some big label. If one is to take into account that this takes place where you play around the world, it must mean that you're literally receiving thousands of tracks, what is your process of musical selection?
Sasha: It's full time Job. I listen to everything because in order to stay on top of my game, I have to. Basically you can tell if you like a track without listening to the whole thing. It's definitely a much easier job since the dance music industry's big slump of 2002 which closed down a lot of record labels. At one point I was getting bombarded with thousands of white labels and tracks, it was overwhelming. But since the closing of those labels, the record companies that remained and have since emerged are much more selective of the tracks that they sign, the quality level is much higher which makes it alot easier for us.
I am also surrounded by a network of people who make sure that I stay on top of things, I really can't afford to fall behind...every single show that I play there is so much expected of me...I really can't afford to play dodgy shows anymore. I went through a bad period in 2002/03 when I was just so exhausted, I was playing gig, after gig, after gig, and that eventually takes its toll on a person.
Sasha: Don't get me wrong, I was putting a lot of effort into those shows, but because of the sheer volume of things and being constantly on the road, I was unable to stay on top of the music as I should have. But now, there's a much more convenient system of receiving music though ftp (A communications protocol governing the transfer of files from one computer to another over a network.) from my peers. I have an office in London that is responsible for these things, I get the track, it gets chopped up and sent back and forth, mastered and sent back to me to be played.
RA: As you previously mentioned, you can't afford to play bad shows, how do you manage to stay focused in shows? Things like photographers' flashes right in your face (blinding you), girls flashing you their boobies (perhaps blinding you too), people handing you their cds of their production, satisfied clubbers trying to hand you 'party favors' and people just playing trying to get a piece of you....it seems like a lot of distractions. How do you block all of it out?
Sasha: I don't really mind the girls showing me their boobs or the party favors and free tunes, but I hate the photographers ...(Laughs). No, seriously though, when I get to a club I feel as though things are way too chaotic for me to concentrate around the booth, I simply ask to have it cleared off. But most of the time I just concentrate and get into my zone. This is another benefit of Djing with the Ableton live software for me, nowadays I'm able to relax, get comfortable and find my groove alt quicker, once I've found that groove I'm in my zone and I can begin to have fun. Overall, I like to have people and my friends around the booth having a good time, It makes me feel like I'm part of the party too. Sometimes I'll have the gigs where the Booth is situated high up on a stage on display and away from everyone, that type of set up is okay if it's a short set. But if I have to play a 6 or 7 hour set, I prefer having my posse around me and being close enough to have an interaction with the crowd.
RA: I guess the energy that you're feeling probably translates itself to the energy of the set.
Sasha: Definitely, If I'm feeling isolated or dislocated in the room, it's more difficult to read the energy in the room. If I pull off a wicked mix, I want to be able to turn around and see and feel the reactions of my friends to it, I need to feed off of this interaction, it brings me closer to people.
RA: If we were to try and map your musical evolution throughout the years, you went from Xpander which seems like a young, carefree and crazy version of you to Airdrawndagger which is much more mature, sophisticated and elegant sound...
Sasha: I just listened to Airdrawndagger once again the other day and it feels very sad and melancholic.
RA: Very reflective... could it have some psychological meaning behind it?
S: Yeah, I don't know what that means, but it's weird when Charlie [May] (Charlie may is one of Sasha's production partners on Airdrawndagger) and I get in the studio and spend a lot of time there, we tend to gravitate towards that more Melancholic sound. Involver is an evolution of Airdrawndagger but there are still some remnants of that melancholic mood, the second half of the album is much more upbeat though.
nerdy computer route, I've found a way to
put the smoke screen back into the experience."
RA: Different people have different perceptions of you based on what they see and hear, some think you're an out of control party animal based on the Xpander days, some see you as someone who is setting new standards with Airdrawndagger, and then there's the present perception with Involver, where it' like "Sasha: the magician" . Obviously people will think what they like or what they think is ultimately irrelevant, but there's definitely a mysticism about the new album. Involver is mystical in its content with the variety of sounds, genres and tempo, and mystical in the process of its creation. The method of mixing it with Ableton Live where sounds come in and out and tempos change seamlessly, it is the ultimate form of Djing.
Sasha: I don't know about the 'Sasha: the magician' part of it ... (laughs) But that's something that Deejays used to have when the scene was coming up in the 90's. There's was something 'magical' about the performances. Then everybody and their uncle suddenly got a pair of decks and figured it all out, and the mystery that made the shows interesting slowly disappeared. I feel that even though I'm taking the techy, nerdy computer route, I've found a way to put the smoke screen back into the experience. I get people sending me tracklistings of the shows that I played, or they post the on message boards online, but none of them are getting it right. But these trainspotters really amaze me in their endeavors and their general accuracy.
RA: I wonder how they do it, or why they would spend their whole night trying to recognize tracks that have yet to come out.
Sasha: Yeah, it's amazing that I play a record one night and the next day the opener Dj has a copy of it. But ultimately these trainspotters are not the most important people in the club, the most important people in the club are the ones who came to dance, have a good time and have big smiles on their faces. Basically Ableton has enabled me to recreate that smokescreen which brings the magic into the experience. If that magic is revealed and we don't have that smokescreen, people lose interest simply because they are no longer surprised.
RA: There seem to be different forces that drive people to buy dance records and go to clubs and it's not always simply for the love of the music. Some go to clubs because it is the 'cool' thing to do, some people can't tell the difference between you, Tiesto and Carl Cox, which kind of reveals the fact that they are not listening, some come out to do drugs and be elevated and I guess some come out to trainspot. And last but not least some come out because they love your music, dancing and the atmosphere. How do you feel about this mix of people being out on one of your nights?
Sasha: I think that in order to have a good club night, you need to have a good mix of people. That's why I love clubs like Crobar (NYC) and Avalon (Hollywood), they have a healthy mix of people of different tastes, different races, different interests and styles which make it enjoyable and relevant. I don't particularly enjoy playing to just one kind of people. The mix of people is something really special.
RA: It seems like you live a hectic lifestyle of life on the road, how do you deal with all the pressure and what is it that drives you to go on?
Sasha: When I'm on the road, life is really a mess, you lose touch with friends. But overall I don't feel any pressure. As long as I'm out traveling to all corners of the world, meeting amazing people and seeing amazing things, I'm pretty happy and this is what drives me. It all balances itself out when the tour end and I get to go home to cook my own food and get back into touch with old friends.
RA: Thanks so much for taking this time out of your hectic schedule to let us know what you're up to. Good luck on the tour and residencies mate!
Sasha: Nice talking to you too.
You can catch Sasha on his current residencies in Los Angeles @ Avalon, Hollywood and in New York @ Crobar, NYC. Tickets for these and more info on Sasha can be found at DJ Sasha.com.