Master Manipulator Keeps It Spinning
Friday, March 31, 2006
Think of British superstar DJ Sasha as the Merlin of electronic dance music. He gathers assorted musical ingredients, mixes them together and then waits for his magic potion to transform an audience.
And the wizard always smiles at the results.
"When you get that build right in the club and drop the perfect record at the perfect time and the place explodes -- t hat's what the job is all about, you know."
As a pioneer in making electronica/dance music a global phenomenon, Sasha knows explosions. It's how he became one of the world's most renowned and popular DJs and, rumor has it, the highest paid. The roots of it all were his club residencies in the early '90s at Manchester's Hacienda and Brighton's Renaissance in England. (Sasha's 1994 "Renaissance: The Mix Collection" was one of the first commercially released DJ albums and remains one of the best selling ever.)
Renaissance is where Sasha met fellow DJ John Digweed. As Sasha + Digweed, they helped take the British dance club scene international, with gigs in South America, Southeast Asia and the United States, where their legendary residency at New York's Twilo became the epicenter of this country's late-blooming club culture.
Such far-flung travels explain the "million or so" frequent-flier miles the 37-year-old Sasha says he has accumulated in the past 15 years.
"It's nuts," Sasha admitted during a recent day off in New York City, where he has had an apartment since 2002. All those frequent-flier miles are pretty much useless, he adds, since they're mostly with British Airways. "They want me to book 18 months in advance, and I don't even know what I'm doing 18 days in advance most of the time! So it's a nightmare. They're just sitting in my account."
At least the flying has gotten easier the past few years. Those endless international flights used to entail schlepping crates of 12-inch vinyl records and CDs.
Say hello to the brave new world of laptop DJing via an iMac G5 and, in Sasha's right hand, not a mouse, but a custom-built, one-of-a-kind controller called the Maven. Over the past 18 months, Sasha has abandoned his old tools in favor of the G5 and Ableton Live, software that facilitates such advanced techniques as mixing multiple sources at once and adjusting their pitch and tempo independently and cutting up and rearranging tracks on the fly.
Sasha had used Ableton Live in the studio for several years but never thought it right for club work. Clubs, in fact, were the last stronghold of vinyl, so when a superstar DJ like Sasha ditched that format, it signaled a revolution in the DJ booth.
"It really is amazing," Sasha says. "I'm almost starting to lose the memory of DJing with vinyl and CDs."