Skrufff Interview :: Sasha
I was staying in Moscows National Hotel just before Christmas when two Chechen suicide bombers blew themselves up right outside the hotel. I was in bed at the time asleep, about sixty or seventy feet (20 metres) from the explosion.
Chatting down the line from his West London home, Sasha sounds calm as he recalls the moment he almost got blown to bits on his latest visit to Russia.
The whole room shook, it blew in all the windows of the hotel reception, I think five people were killed in the attack, he continues.
I ended up staying in the hotel room for 24 hours, because they kept setting off little explosions all day; I didnt realise they were those controlled explosions, it really felt like Moscow was under attack.
Global terrorism issues aside (he also narrowly escaped a bomb in Israel the last time he was there) the legendary acid house hero turned definitive superstar DJ is back with a new compilation CD to promote, Involver, which hes just produced for Global Underground.
His first in six years, the CD includes specially remixed versions of tracks by the likes of Felix Da Housecat, Ulrich Schnaus and The Youngsters in keeping with his recently professed interest in the new musical style of punk-house-electro.
Im just distancing myself from that sound that was previously attached to me; that progressive sound that really doesnt hold much interest for me anymore, Sasha confirms.
I keep getting sent all these records by producers that sound like they were made six, seven or eight years ago and theyre not very exciting listens.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Its been six years since your last mix CD, you must get offers every month, why is now the right time for another one?
Sasha: What happened was that the Airdrawndagger album took up so much of my time that everything else went on hold whereas now just felt like the right time to be doing one; Id spent most of 2002 on the road touring Airdrawndagger and wanted to do something that was the next step on.
Skrufff: Youre well known for perfectionism with your DJing and music making, are you similarly particular with mix CDs?
Sasha: Theres a fine line between perfectionism and being slow and a pain in the ass, and deadlines are something I never previously worked well to though now I think Im responding to them really well. The stuff that we did in the last ten days before this mix album was finished; when we were really under pressure, is probably my favourite stuff on the album; they were spontaneous decisions to try things and they all worked. Ive realised this recently that the worst thing I can have is any kind of open-ended deadline. I need to be constantly setting myself mini deadlines within deadlines to get things finished.
Skrufff: You said in a recent interview I love that punk-house-electro sound, hows that affecting your DJing?
Sacha: The nature of my DJ sets is changing from that smooth linear mixing style that we perfected in the Twilo days, when wed be going on for ten hours, playing long, long sets. I dont have a residency like that anymore or an outlet to play that kind of music and, to be honest, that music doesnt really do it for me any more. I liked those dark minimal sounds back then because I had a place every month to go and play them and they really worked at Twilo and it fitted the club. But I think right now, Im playing shorter sets of music thats much more mashed up and eclectic.
Ive got nothing against mixing perfectly still but the nature of the songs means its different. Im also ditching vinyl and CDs to go out on the road using my computer and thats going to allow me to mix anything with everything. Im still interested in pursuing the perfect mix but I think the sounds Im now throwing into that mix are becoming broader.
Skrufff: Have you paid much attention to the electroclash phenomenon?
Sasha: Im always terrified of labels like that, whenever a movement gets a label it usually heralds its own funeral. I think its really exciting, lots of stuff coming out of Germany that has that electro, punky edge; it seems to be very now, even though it has a retro feel.
Skrufff: Armin Van Buuren talks openly of recapturing an early 90s sound, what do you make of that stance?
Sacha: Personally Im actively trying to move away from that style, those records worked at that time but I think its time to move on- maybe Im looking back to 85 instead of 95 at the moment.
Skrufff: In an interview a couple of years ago, you predicted that the UK dance magazines were threatening their own futures by talking up the crisis in dance culture with articles like progressive is dead, what was your reaction when Ministry and Muzik failed?
Sasha: I could see it coming, and it was really sad. Both Ministry and Muzik had always been really supportive of me, I thought of it as a bad situation, full stop. Mixmag appears to be holding on for dear life right now too, you can see that by the way its trying to reinvent itself every couple of months. The fact that DJ and Mixmag were the first two dance magazines and theyre both still standing says something. I do feel that electronic music in general became an over-inflated false economy, there was no way it could have sustained itself, the rate at which it was growing, particularly around 1999 and 2,000. It was reaching a point where some air had to be let out of the balloon (be deflated- metaphor Ed). I dont think the balloons burst but a lot of air has had to be let out for it to survive. And there have been some really unfortunate casualties of that process. Some great labels, clubs and magazines have gone.
Skrufff: how much do you blame the press?
Sasha: I dont hold the press responsible though they definitely could have been more nurturing. Many of the editors of those dance magazines have now gone off to other magazines that are nothing to do with dance music, theyve got their jobs and theyll always be able to write, though I think the responsibility lies across the board; clubs doing too many nights, DJs playing too many places, DJs themselves not nurturing the scene at home and spending too much time abroad. Im guilty of that, my club circuit went from touring round England for three months without playing the same place twice to only being back in the UK for two or three weeks in the year and playing in Japan and all those other places. The worldwide scene suddenly exploded and our circuit got so big, the idea of playing a club in the UK every month became almost unrealistic.
Skrufff: James Zabiela said recently that the dance music depression was good for him as it allowed him to play in the smaller venues which the bigger DJs couldnt play because they were charging too much, have you been cutting your DJ fees in recent years?
Sasha: My fees have always reflected what the market has offered, Ive never gone out and chased huge money though when it came to things like New Years Eve in the year 2000 the money that was being offered was insane. When it comes to playing a little club I charge much less. For example, when I played at the Bomb (Nottingham) Im pretty sure I was paid whatever James would have been paid. Ive always adjusted my fees accordingly and tried not to price myself out of the market. Though of course, when things were going crazy between 1999 and 2001, yeah, there was lots of big money around and of course, Im not going to turn it down, am I? I definitely feel that since the recession or depression kicked in, some DJs have actually had their best years. Look at Sander Kleinenberg or Steve Lawler, how theyve come through in the last two years, theyve really done well, and someone like James (Zabiela) has shone. And all the trance guys seem to have prospered since 2000. It seems like the small clubs and the huge stadiums are still healthy, its the middle ground, those 2,000 to 3,000 capacity venues which have really suffered. Though the ones that are still there are still brilliant. Fabric is still one of my favourite places to play in the world and I absolutely love my nights there.
Skrufff: Farley Jackmaster Funk talked to skrufff recently about the almost addictive pressure that came from being the number one DJ in Chicago in the 80s, is that something you can relate to?
Sasha: I think I exert more pressure on myself in that hunt for evolution and perfection than anyone else does. The danger of being at number one is that you get complacent. What happened with me was that I piled so much work on myself I ended up taking on so much that I was unable to give enough attention that each part of my work needed. I was doing too many gigs, backing them up back to back and stretching myself too thinly so I ended up being exhausted a lot. This year I feel like Ive got my balance back. Last year was difficult because I ended up feeling a bit lost, not really knowing what sound I wanted to play, how I wanted to do it.
Skrufff: I understand youre now based in America, in fact youve got a slight accent (an American accent?; Fucking Hell!) are you spending much time in Florida?
DJ Sasha: Im moving to New York soon so Ill be splitting my time between London and New York.
Skrufff: Whats your take on the RAVE act and the anti-club drive going on in the States?
DJ Sasha: I think its had an impact but the main places its effected has been the kind of events I turned my back on playing anyway. I went to a couple of candy raves and I really hated what I saw. It really was disturbing; I dont think the kids cared what music was being played, they were just going out and getting wasted. I turned my back on that scene in 96/ 97. Theyre the parties that have been hit the hardest though unfortunately the RAVE Act has also affected some clubs in cities too. Its fortunate in the UK that when they brought in the Criminal Justice Act to combat the travellers parties, they could have used it to close down a lot of clubs, but they didnt. In the States they have, theyve flexed that muscle. In some cities it has torn the ass out of the club scene, which is shit.
Skrufff: They closed down Sound Factory in New York just last month with the act . .
DJ Sasha: The thing about New York is that they can always find a reason to close your club down if they want to, as soon as theyve got you in their sights, if something happens at your club that draws attention to yourself then your days are numbered. Theres plenty of small print they can use to shut your club down, you need a shit hot lawyer to stay open for a long period of time.
Skrufff: The immigration regulations are incredibly tight in the US these days, do you have a Green Card?
DJ Sasha: Not a Green card I have an O-1 visa, an entertainment visa, which Ive had for eight years. An O-1 visa is a special visa for an entertainer or an athlete so when you go through Immigration theyre usually quite interested to find out what you do. When you say youre a DJ theyre usually quite nice. Generally, though, the security measures travelling round the States have become insane, its just not a very pleasant experience to be travelling round America in a plane right now. If a place is close enough, Ill take always take the train these days.
Skrufff: Are you thinking twice now about where for play, for example, gigs in the Middle East?
Sasha: I played Dubai just before Christmas, Israels a place Ive been wanting to go back to though have felt it just isnt right to be going there. I used to love playing Israel. I was there the night before they blew up the door of Pacha, I was DJing at TLV the night before and staying at the hotel right opposite Pacha. They blew the door up which kind of flipped me out. I am considering these issues more, also in certain places in South East Asia, somewhere like Jakarta. Ive been there, just after 9/11 though Id probably have to think things through before I went back there again.
Sashas Involver is out now on Global Underground.
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)