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Sasha: On Vinyl, CDs, Ableton, Grooverider & Venezuela’s Shootings ::

Reported by Tristan Ingram on December 21, 2007

“I feel sorry for the punters in Venezuela because their scene is
probably finished now. I don’t think any DJ is going to be flying out
there to play anymore, I’m absolutely going nowhere near it. I think
if they’ve got those kind of troubles at their parties, it’s just
over, just finished. It’s such a shame. I’ve heard they were pulling
big numbers and the scene was really good.”

Splitting his time between New York and London and routinely
circumnavigating the globe, prog house superstar DJ Sasha admits he
was alarmed when he heard about the recent machine gun killings at a
Caracas rave, adding a new destination to countries he avoids.

“Yes, there’s a list,” he confirms, “But I’m not going into it.”

He’s also sympathetic to Grooverider’s plight, being currently locked
up in Dubai on cannabis charges, admitting he’s had a few scary
encounters with airport officials over the years.

“I once had a really persistent customs officer in New Zealand who was
convinced I was going to crack under his pressure,” he recalls.

“He was convinced I was smuggling kilos of something, because it
didn’t make sense to him that I was flying in for just one night for a
gig and leaving the next day. He couldn’t get his head around it, so
he held me for a couple of hours, went through all my stuff. Of course
nothing bad was going to happen, but still it wasn’t pleasant,” he says?

“I mean every time you walk through customs you have a weird feeling,
but that’s a natural thing for everyone. I just think travelling with
anything on you it’s just plain silly,” says Sasha.

“Though I think when I used to carry record boxes around I used to get
a lot more attention going through customs,” he muses, “Now I only
carry my computer on my shoulder and my mixes, so I don’t stand out. I
think it’s pretty daft to travel with anything.”

Sasha’’s chatting to Skrufff today to promote his new series of EPs
released under his band name Coma, including current single ‘Park It
In the Shade’, released on his own brand new label Emfire. And Coma,
comprising regular studio collaborators Charlie May, Duncan Forbes and
Barry Jamieson, is very much a proper band, he’s eager to stress.

“That’s really the reason why I decided to attach this name to the new
production, I mean; I’ve always been very honest with people about my
role in the studio. I’ve never said ‘I do this stuff on my own’, I’ve
always relied on a team of people around me,” he says.

“It really feels like we’re in a band together and when we work on
tracks it really is a collective effort; everyone has their place in
this situation and we all know what we’re doing, so rather than saying
‘produced by Sasha’ and then listing all that everyone does I thought
it was the right time to pull it together and give it a name,” he

Skrufff (Benedetta Skrufff): “Who does what exactly?

Sasha: “Being specific, we all do engineering, Charlie is an amazing
keyboard player, myself and Duncan just really love to do
arrangements. Though w all have our input on everything we do. Every
track is different.”

Skrufff: Does Coma operate as a democracy?

Sasha: “It is a democracy, absolutely. We don’t really disagree. The
reason why we decided to give us a name it is because our working
relationship is so great. We have a great understanding between
ourselves and it works great. And maybe in the future we’ll do a Coma
album, who knows? It’s something to think about. At the moment we’re
just launching it, and we’re at our second single. I want to get these
two releases out of the way and then see where we stand.”

Skrufff: Do you see yourselves playing live perhaps?

Sasha: “Maybe, we’ll do that too in the future. By creating this
entity there are many options out there.”

Skrufff: How easy were the tracks to make: did they take very long?

Sasha: “Well, I’ve just got my studio team together after a big break
actually. We didn’t work for a couple of years because I’d been
touring like a lunatic. The first two releases came up very quickly,
but the third took some time, some tracks clicked whereas with others
you feel you have to wrestle with them.”

Skrufff: Do you still consider yourself a perfectionist?

Sasha: “I would think so, yes. I don’t think that ever goes away, does

Skrufff: You’re releasing three singles over the coming months whereas
I guess you could have put them all on one album, was releasing an
album ever an option?

Sasha: “No, because they’re all completely different. They’re all club
tracks, but they’ve all got different vibes and energy to them. We
might end up releasing them collectively with some remixes and stuff
in the future but that’s whether we’ll decide to do it with the label.”

Skrufff: The new track is called Park It In The Shade: your production
crew Coma: how much significance do you attach to titles?

Sasha: “It depends. Sometimes it’s just a daft word that fits the
track, sometimes there’s a story behind it. But with one in particular
there’s a story behind it because a very good friend of mine ended up
almost getting arrested outside DC10 in Ibiza. He passed his car keys
to one of the policemen there thinking he was someone who did valet
parking, and asked him to park it in the shade… and he ended up almost
getting arrested! You can imagine what state he was in. There’s where
the story comes from.”

Skrufff: Are you a big car man; have you ever had a Ferrari?

Sasha: “No I can’t drive. I’ve never learned to because when I was
younger I never had the money for a car then, by the time I started
DJing, all my friends wanted to drive me to the gigs. I don’t know,
I’ve just never learned. It’s unbelievable.”

Skrufff: I guess you don’t need it now?

Sasha: “No, I don’t need it in New York nor London, unless I decide to
move back out to the countryside then maybe I’ll have to learn then.”

Skrufff: The press release says you’re ‘paying homage’ to vinyl with
collectors’ editions: how many are you pressing?

Sasha: “I think we’re talking about four or five thousand copies.
We’re definitely serious about providing the record shops with copies
and we’re doing them very beautifully. The printing and the
manufacturing is really beautiful, they are real collectors’ pieces. I
think the people who’ll buy them will treasure them, so we wanted to
do something special.”

Skrufff: What future do you see for vinyl beyond collectors?

Sasha: “I don’t know what the future holds for vinyl, the shops are
getting fewer and fewer, but there are always going to be hardcore
collectors. Many DJs reacted against it as digital has become more
prominent, and I totally see their standpoint. The thing about vinyl
is that as you see it in a record shop you know that it has been
passed on from hand to hand and therefore it must be a loved piece of
music. Instead you get bombarded with mp3 and websites that you feel
there’s no quality control there.”

Skrufff: Many DJs also swear by the sound of vinyl . . .

Sasha: “That’s definitely one of their arguments but I think that’s
bollocks. Sure if you play cheap mp3s with low quality sound and if
you use a really cheap sound card through a cheap mixer, it’s going to
sound absolutely dreadful but If you use high-end equipment, proper
AIFF or WAV files and run them through a decent mixer, you’ll end up
with a pretty amazing sound. I’m not sure if I agree with the whole
vinyl debate.”

Skrufff: Do you still hang on to any vinyl yourself?

Sasha: “Oh God, yes. I would never get rid of my vinyl. Five years ago
I employed a team of six people to go through the lot, categorize it
and put it into a library, so now I’ve got a database and I can find
anything I want. But there’s so much junk there still. I need to go
through it again and throw away most of all those promos I got sent
through the late ‘90s. It’s a mammoth job though, I’ve still got
something like 8,000 records.”

Skrufff: You’ve been one of the highest profile DJs to leap on
Ableton: 2 years on, what’s your impression of it now?

Sasha: “Well, I’ve got really used to Ableton now. I remember it took
me a long time when I first started using it for it to feel like
DJing, but now it really feels natural to me. It’s definitely a steep
learning curve with it though. You can learn how to use it in the
studio, but actually going out and playing live with it it’s almost
like you have to teach yourself how to sound like a DJ again. If you
just push fades and press buttons and stuff like that, you can end up
sounding far too ‘clean’ and not like a DJ. It’s almost like you have
to learn to mimic what you did before when you were playing vinyl and
CDs. It’s hard.”

Skrufff: Do accidents ever happen?

Sasha: “They do, for sure. I’ve had CDJs where the pitch control just
went delirious; all these things happen in a live situation. I’ve had
a few computer crashes too. It’s all part of it.”

Skrufff: Are CDs and CD players set to become obsolete like vinyl?

Sasha: “CDs may become obsolete, maybe their days are numbered but not
in the immediate future anyway. With every advance of technology
something else gets left behind. Who knows what machine they’re
working on at Pioneer right now?”

Skrufff: Switching topic, Grooverider is currently in a Dubai jail
after being busted for cannabis, Nick Taylor (Prana) served 3 months
in Bali recently for coke: is it becoming more risky for DJs
travelling (have you noticed yourself being targeted more by customs?

Sasha: “No… I think when I used to carry record boxes around I used to
get a lot more attention going through customs. Now I only carry my
computer on my shoulder and my mixes, so I don’t stand out. I think
it’s pretty daft to travel with anything.”

Skrufff: You chatted to us a while ago about hearing a bomb explode
when you were in Moscow: have you had any similar adventures?

Sasha: “No I haven’t, but I have been staying away from war zones.”

Skrufff: Writing in DJ mag’s top 100 issue last month you said “A lot
of minimal music is self-indulgent music for people to wank off to,”
why do you think it got so popular (a lot of wankers out there?)

Sasha: “I don’t know, I think with all kinds of music, all the genres,
you have people who just copy, who are not innovators. I know it’s too
self indulgent for me to say that, it happens in all genres… I
obviously had a bee in my bonnet that day.”

Skrufff: what did you make of the DJ top 100 voting scandal?

Sasha: “I thought it was hilarious. I thought it was so blatantly
obvious in the previous years that someone was fiddling with the
numbers; there were DJs there that you wouldn’t ever imagine to be in
the top ten. I mean who? Where? What? But no one ever really said
anything. There were just so many DJs there, that nobody had ever
heard of, who were in the top 50. It’s one thing getting your mother
and all her friends, everyone you know to vote for you… someone might
even have two email addresses, but when you start setting up servers
and blasting the voting, well that’s another story. I thought the guy
who voted himself number one DJ, the Chinese guy… that was hilarious.
He could have just sneaked two or three thousand votes to get to the
top 20 or 30 but I think on the first day of voting he put down
something like 100,000 votes! I thought it was really funny that all
those people got busted. Nothing to do with me though, I knew nothing
about it. I thought that was a load of bollocks as well.”

Skrufff: What activities do you take to gather votes?

Sasha: “Personally? When this voting thing kicks off I always send an
email through my website to the people who subscribe to my newsletter
and just give them a gentle reminder that it’s that time of the year
again, but that’s about it.”

Skrufff: what do you make of new stars like Justice, Boys Noize:
Simian Mobile Disco etc: has new rave bring back any memories of your
old rave days?

Sasha: “I think they’re great and especially with that sound you’re
talking about there seem to be a real character and a real identity to
those acts. That’s wicked. It’s just great. Any time there a new sound
like that that comes along and it gets jumped on… I just think that’s
the whole reason why dance music might go through peaks and troughs
but it never goes away, because it always eats itself and then spits
out a new sound, then it gets massive and then that eats itself and
spits out something else. Dance music has always done that. Most of
the great genres in dance music are amalgamations of previous sounds.”

“I play their music, sure. If there a good mix about… at the end of
the day, I’m not really a purist. If it’s a good record I’ll play it.
I don’t care who’s made it. Some of the sounds they are using in the
New Rave have definitely brought back memories. It’s like going back
20 years with those air horns, crazy keyboard stuff. There’s
definitely an energy there that comes from the past. I’m not
incorporating much of that stuff into my sets though.”

Skrufff: When were you last in Chester/ Manchester: still friends
with any clubbers from those days?

Sasha: “I was in Manchester last September, I was there for the
Hacienda exhibition so I went there to play on the opening night which
was brilliant, because I bumped into all the Hacienda’s old heads that
I hadn’t seen for a long time. I also went to Chester where my mum’s
still lives, so I go there quite often. My football team is from that
area as well, so I try to get there as often as I can. But mostly I
bounce back between London and New York, where I’ve got my businesses.”

‘Park It In the Shade’ is out now on his own new label emFire. Click the lkink to listen

Benedetta Skrufff (