Sasha can be reclusive, shy even, but speaking from his New York studio he’s in a chatty, anecdotal mood. He has much to celebrate. Splitting his time between homes in London and the Big Apple, he’s about to become a father, but is currently busy working on his ‘Involver 2’ album for Global Underground.
Undoubtedly one of the most famous DJs in the world, Sasha was born in Wales, discovered acid house at Manchester’s notorious Haçienda, honed his trade at illegal raves, made his name at Shelleys in Stoke-on-Trent and entered the DJ premier league when he regularly headlined at Renaissance. His highly successful on-off partnership with John Digweed has seen numerous incarnations, tours, events, and mix CDs. But Sasha was never happy with his ‘superstar DJ’ status and was particularly miffed when Mixmag put him on the cover with the tagline ‘SON OF GOD?’ in 1994. He’s always been much happier embracing technology in the studio and his recording output is prodigious, from his Top 20 hits in the 90s to his most recent releases with Duncan Forbes and Charlie May of Spooky, on his own new label, Emfire.
Interview by Thomas H Green. Originally published in Mixmag in December 2007.
What’s this story we hear about you, Dave Clarke and the boot of a car?
We were both playing Creamfields in Poland. They talked us into flying into Berlin then driving. It all sounded great and we were doing 110 mph in a brand new BMW on the German roads. But as soon as you get into Poland it’s all potholes. At the end of the night the BMW Series 7 had magically shrunk to a Mercedes Series 1, the size of a Ford Ka. I walked up and Dave had not only bagged the front seat but reclined it all the way back and was pretending to be asleep. I had to squeeze in the back with his assistant. About half an hour down the road I was so uncomfortable I thought I’d be better off spreading my clothes in the boot and curling up so that’s what I did. I passed out and woke up an hour later and we were in a layby, everyone fast asleep. I woke everyone up shouting, ‘Oi, you fucking twats, we’re going to miss our flight!’
You pioneered laptop DJ sets in the UK. What’s the next step?
I’ve just built a second version of my Maven Controller which I’ve been testing and should be ready next year.
On 15th December you’re playing Ministry for the first time in over a decade for Renaissance. When was the last time you were there?
It was Northern Exposure which we used to do on Mondays. It was full of people dying to get sacked from their day jobs. We elected my good friend Sparrow as tour manager. He traded his car in for an American people-mover that could sleep six. After the Ministry thing we talked him into piling thirteen or fourteen people in the back. He hit a bollard on Hammersmith Bridge, ripped off the front axel and wedged his van in the inbound lane of a main artery at 5am on a Tuesday morning. By the time the police arrived the tailback was a mile long.
How many tunes do you get sent a week?
150-200, with 30 to 40 good ones.
What pop stars were you into at school?
I was a bit of a rocker. I fancied Deborah Harry, loved The Police but my first record was a Rainbow tune when I was eight, ‘All Night Long’.
Your new single ‘Coma’ is faintly reminiscent of Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre. Are you a fan of those early electronic innovators?
Yeah, absolutely. Probably my first experience of electronic music was listening to [Jean-Michel Jarre’s] ‘Oxygene’. I’m glad to see they’re re-releasing Blade Runner [which has a Vangelis soundtrack]. I’ve always been drawn to those cinematic synth sounds.
What are your abiding memories of the spectacular 31-city Delta Heavy US tour with John Digweed in 2002?
It was so much fun I want to do it again. The hangover and fallout was maybe not so fun. It was arranged in such a way that nobody walked away with any cash. It was amazing to go out on the road with that level of production to places like Albany and Albuquerque. The only gruelling part was that halfway through the tour they gave us a five-day break in Vegas and we all went mental. The next few days were really hard as we were battered and bruised from five nights of debauchery.
In Central and Eastern Africa ‘Sasha’ is the name for the part of the afterlife when your surviving relatives are still alive. How do you think your ancestors would view the way you live?
No way! That’s really interesting – thank you. I think mine would be tutting and frowning and wondering what’s wrong with the planet. I’ve had a lot of shows I’m very proud of, like when I played to 23,000 people in Buenos Aires. If I could choose when they looked down on me I’d probably choose those rather than the naughty after-hours.
Are you tempted to write an autobiography like Paul Oakenfold?
Not really, no. That’s something you do when your career is over and you want to look back and pat yourself on the back. I find it quite distasteful, these 23-year-old football stars and B-list celebrities who write their autobiographies and then put out parts two and part three before they’re 25. Maybe when I hit my 60th birthday, if I’m still around and relevant…
Do you think dance music and club culture has ever been successfully captured in a movie?
No. I think they got close to it with ‘24 Hour Party People’, with the whole Haçienda thing. I thought they captured something there but 99 times out of 100, when you see a club shot it looks really silly. ‘Human Traffic’ was great, too, but that was relevant to me. It wouldn’t be relevant if your halcyon days were spent in a field watching Tiësto banging it out.
Is contemporary New York clubland the wreckage everyone says?
It’s pretty bleak, but New York’s always gone through crazy peaks then it destroys itself. What happens is a big club opens, everyone goes mental, someone ODs, and as soon as a club is mentioned in the New York Post it’s pretty much its death knell. Crobar’s gone, Spirit’s gone, Avalon’s closed, the only regular big club is Pacha but it doesn’t have any competition. There’s a lot of smaller clubs that are great – Cielo, Love and others – but a lot are functioning by charging $500 for a bottle of vodka and a table then playing shite r’n’b. It’s certainly not the days of Twilo, or 3000-capacity clubs with queues around the block.
What’s the funniest rumour you’ve heard about yourself?
I’ve been dead in various hospitals a few times these last 15 years. Thankfully, that hasn’t been true.