Sasha – Exclusive InterviewAugust 6, 2019
The halcyon days of loved up muddy fields, smiley faces, mixtapes and illegal underground spaces shaped and drove a young talisman on a path that would change his and many others lives.
Sasha literally needs no introduction (but we will anyway). From the earliest days of the Dance Music scene in the Acid House era, he created a sound so unique that it marked him out instantly.
In an era, when ‘real talent’, hard work, persistence, mixing ability, and a good ear got you your gigs, this shy kid from Wales (UK) pushed ahead and became the original Superstar DJ with Mixmag going as far as to christen him the ‘Son of God’. He’s a global icon that helped mould the scene that we all love, a musical revolution that changed the world!
Mike Mannix: Before we dig into the man behind ‘Sasha’; honestly, did you think you’d still be at it at this stage? And are you surprised?
Sasha: When I first started DJing I never thought I was going to make a career out of it. I’m very thankful it’s become a lifetime career. I’m just buzzing that I’m still enjoying it, still connecting with people, still connecting with the music and making new tracks, and still feeling inspired by it all.
MM: Congratulations on your position in our readers’ recent public poll for All-Time Top DJ, how do you feel about that?
S: Well, I was pleasantly surprised and really pleased! Obviously, there are some incredible names in that list so to come out on top was fantastic, and my thanks to everyone that voted for me. Things like this are always a nice ego boost!
MM: Your label Last Night On Earth has just hit its 100th release, celebrating with the label’s debut compilation. What made you decide to release a compilation to mark this moment? Has the label achieved the success you expected it to since you launched it, or has it surpassed those expectations?
S: The label has definitely surpassed expectations, I never really had grand plans for it. It was more a vehicle to put out my own music and sign some interesting artists, help some new up and coming artists to get a leg up. Reaching 100 releases has come around so quick it’s taken me by surprise. We really wanted to celebrate it, and what better way than looking back through the catalogue and inviting some of my current favourite producers to get involved.
MM: Today, it seems you are in as much demand as ever, with a full domestic and international roster coupled with studio obligations. Can you give us some insight and take us way back to when you were a child growing up; what were your musical and social influences? How did they lay the foundations for your interest in DJing?
S: When I was a kid I listened to the radio and I used to record the charts on a Sunday, so I guess my first mixtapes were made with a tape recorder and the radio. I remember my brother being really into electro and I wasn’t really into it, he was into break-dancing etc when he was 13/14. My music taste was quite normal and pretty boring, but I did play the piano a lot; I was learning the piano and learning songs, Beatles stuff etc and classic things, so my music taste didn’t have much of an individual identity until I discovered electronic music really. Going to my first nightclubs and hearing that music on a sound system with the energy in the room… I was just completely captivated by it and completely obsessed with what was going on in the DJ booth, it was kind of an immediate thing.
”I went from not having much of an identity to being obsessed with this thing called house music”
MM: Your seamless blending coupled with key synced mixes set you apart early on in the scene. Was it a deliberate logical approach or a happy accident?
S: I think because of my musical training as a kid I always wanted to mix records together that sounded in key and I guess it was unique at the time. Now we’ve all got programs and gadgets that help us keep things in time it’s a bit easier now, but back then it was something that felt natural to me. Whenever I heard another DJ put tracks together that happened to be in key it used to blow my mind. A lot of the time
”I didn’t plan things out, I always used to try and make things happen in the DJ booth that was spontaneous and accidental,
and that way it kept the whole thing vibrant and fresh. I just felt that was the way DJ sets should be put together.
MM: Can you give any insight into how musically dynamic and momentous an era it was in British musical history when Acid House first broke across the UK?
S: It was just revolutionary really, nobody had heard that sort of music on loud sound systems, no one had been in these nightclubs together with this incredible atmosphere… smoke machines, lasers, it was all very new. I remember going to the Hacienda in ‘87, and there was all kinds of jack, Chicago house music, everyone was dressed quite well, lots of people having dance-offs on the dance floor, there was a dance troupe called Foot Patrol and they were amazing. I didn’t go for a couple of months and then I walked back in and was like what the hell’s happened!
”The whole place was just sirens, whistles everyone sweating, smoke machines, that incredible energy, the music, a complete revolution”
I think the reason why everyone really gravitated towards it was that there was quite a tumultuous political situation in the UK at the time.
Everyone was pretty depressed up North especially, so it was such a great way to get lost in the music and it captured everything at the right time.
”I lucked out being in the right place at the right time, being in Manchester when the Hacienda and the scene in Manchester exploded. A lot of the books that were written about the scene were written by journalists in London and they seemed to miss out how important it was up North”
but for me, everything started with the Hacienda, that energy, that vibe. Every major club after that, Cream, Gatecrasher, everything after that came from the design aesthetic, the way the venue was put together, the way the nights were run at the Hacienda. It’s ground zero when it comes to the rave culture and acid house culture.
MM: You’ve released some stunning albums and tracks over your career. One of your most significant bodies of work in the last couple of years especially was the Scene Delete album on Late Night Tales. This was a foray into something different for you and it paid off, as it was highly acclaimed and reached beyond the dance music world. What was the initial inspiration behind this body of work? And what was key in the whole production process?
S: Scene Delete came together because I’d been working for a couple of years on a lot of film and TV projects. I don’t think I was writing the right kind of music for what people were looking for. We were writing all this music, pitching for TV shows and films and weren’t quite nailing it. After a while, I got frustrated at the process of it. I went back and listened to a lot of it and thought actually this sounds like a record if we did a bit more work on it. That’s actually where the name came from as well – when we decided to do Scene Delete, we had 50 percent of the record already written, then it was a case of working out what else it was going to take to make a finished album.
MM: Can we expect a follow-up album in this musical style in the future?
S: At the moment we’re working on a different project, but yes I definitely want to get that together at some point in the future.
MM: We hear there is an epic Kolsch collab finally dropping this month, which fans have been anticipating for a while now. Last year you joined forces with La Fleur on the brilliant Forbindelse, the year before with Alan Fitzpatrick on El Jefe. How did the Kolsch collab come about? What would you say is the best part of collaborating with someone on a track, and what is the trickiest part?
S: Working with Kolsch just came together so quickly and easily! We just decided to pass some ideas backwards and forwards and it was done really quickly, and we played it out and I thought wow this is a massive record. I got to sit on it and play it out for most of the year as an exclusive, so yeah. When I did the collab with La Fleur it took a few attempts, different ideas going back and forth, but that one really worked too. Sometimes it’s something that clicks immediately, sometimes we have to play ping-pong together. Unfortunately these days we don’t actually get in the studio together, it’s more a case of sending ideas to each other. I really like collaborating, there’s always something interesting and fun and if you don’t get a release out of it you still learn something.
MM: Speaking of collaborations, you are part of one of the longest-running music partnerships, playing with John Digweed. What do you think is the secret to your joint longevity?
S: Something happens when John and I play together. We click into a gear that isn’t there when we play on our own. We pull things out of each other, I definitely play differently when I’m with John and he plays differently with me. We spent a long time on the road together, then had a bit of a break. Which I think was important. I didn’t think it would end up being for so long but that’s how things go, we both had our own solo projects on the go, and then Nic Fanciulli made us an offer to play at the Social and it just felt like the right time to do it again. We did a test gig at Ministry to make sure we still knew what we were doing, and it was an amazing night!
”Like any relationship things still have their ups and their downs, but I think with John and I, the music always transcends everything, and when we play together something really special happens, and that hasn’t changed over the years”
MM: You’re currently living in Ibiza, somewhere that has played a big part in your musical history. What is one of your favourite venues to play over there?
S: I had a lot of fun playing at Resistance last year, such a great huge room. And great to go back into Privilege, I think Koo was my first big clubbing experience back in the day before it became Privilege. I miss Space terribly too, I haven’t been able to bring myself to go to Hi! yet! Probably my favourite show from last summer was playing for Jamie Jones at Paradise at DC10, probably my favourite solo set of the summer last year, it’s such a special memory.
MM: Can you give us any favourite memories from playing Space?
S: Had some legendary nights there, I remember doing one with James Z and it was mental, it was my birthday and Pepe stopped the music and brought a cake out, that was pretty amazing. I think my strongest memories are from the opening parties, they were always some of my favourite nights of the year.
MM: What are the top tracks that you’ve been giving heavy rotation to in the last few months?
S: SRVD ‘Elevate’… The Chemical Brothers ‘Free Yourself’… Sasha ‘Vapourspace’ (Nicole Moudaber Remix)… Sasha & Kölsch ‘The Lights’… SCB ‘The Cut’ (Locked Groove Remix)
MM: When it comes to producing tracks in the studio, what’s the biggest challenge for you personally?
S: It’s finishing things. I’m full of ideas, it’s very easy to get lost in the studio and noodle around. The biggest challenge is committing to things and finishing projects, which I’m getting better at, but I’ve still got about 50 demos on the go that need finishing. It’s committing to things and being like, right, ok, that’s done.
”It’s so easy to go back to something and constantly mess with it. I’m getting better at finishing something, testing it out, seeing it works then leaving it and moving on to something new instead of going back to change every tiny thing”
MM: What advice would you give the aspiring DJ today / Producer on how to stand out and be successful in an already saturated market?
S: The most important thing you can do these days is make music that can travel the world even if you can’t. If you’re an up and coming DJ getting your first gigs, when you start making music, get it out there around the world. It’s not the only way to build a career though, you can steadily build your audience, such as working as a resident. There are different ways you can approach it.
MM: Even though you’re one of the most successful DJs in dance music history, you don’t really court the limelight. How have you maintained that balance between your personal life and the massive demands of a successful artist?
S: I’m just a pretty shy person in general, and I’ve never really wanted to court the limelight. It’s been something that has been thrust on me a bit and I’ve had to deal with. Especially with the first part of my career; I found it very difficult. But it’s something I’ve got used to now, finally! I keep my head down really.
MM: Is it an exciting time to be involved in dance music and why? If you could change anything about the current landscape what would it be?
S: It’s always an exciting time to be involved with dance music. I’ve managed to get to this ripe age without having to get a real job! The whole dance music industry is something that’s constantly evolving and changing and surprising you. On the commercial side, it’s become so massive, and the underground scene is thriving. It’s a pretty amazing time to be involved in it all. I think getting yourself to a position where you can stand out from the crowd is tough, and keeping longevity as well. You see people who have big moments in their career, then 3-4 years later someone else is popping up. It’s a strange game to play and you have to navigate.
”You have to ride the crests when things are going well and you have to navigate the dips if you want to have a long career. It’s good to constantly look at how you can reinvent what you do, whether it’s in the DJ booth or the studio”
MM: You’re playing in Dublin in March at Opium; how do you find the Irish crowd?
S: I always love coming to Dublin, the crowd is always really up for it and I get such an amazing response it’s always a pleasure to come back and play. There was a little dip in the club scene a few years back and it was a little worrying, but everything really feels back on track now and thriving so I’m really happy to be coming back and playing!
MM: You have a busy year ahead. What’s coming up that you can tell us about?
S: My touring is pretty hectic and full-on really, all the way through the summer. I’ll be at Resistance again in Ibiza; working in the studio; working out what I’m doing with Refracted; it’s a little up in the air at the moment. I’ve got some great UK weekends coming up in Scotland, Manchester, and Derry in Ireland with John.
MM: Nice one Sasha