This weekend Sasha lays down his 8 hour mandate for A Night With… they don't come much bigger and more refined than this.
Ahead of the weekend's masterclass we caught up with the man himself for a few words on stuff over an admittedly quite good Skype line this time…
So, obviously because it’s a whole 8 hours it would be get a little bit of background. I’m sure you’ve been over a few of these before, but I’m going to try and not bore you too much with them. Can we kick off with about your indoctrination into the culture of house music? You’re from North Wales, only a relatively short drive away from Manchester, when did you first become aware of the culture bubbling up around acid house and the Hacienda?
(Long pause) Sorry, I don’t really like talking about that old stuff. It makes me feel old. I talk about it so much… I just started going out to clubs and I dropped out of school and just started listening to lots of house music and Manchester became a Mecca really. At the Hacienda our lives seem to revolve around Wednesday and Friday nights.
That’ll do. You probably won’t want to go over your first DJ gig either then?!
Is it okay? It just makes me feel nostalgic.
No, that’s fine. It’s only because of this whole 8 hour concept, it’s nice to just have a little bit of background, but I know that you must gone over it so many times and you must be bored of talking about it.
I’m not bored of talking about it, it just makes me feel old and decrepit. (laughs)
Let’s just leave it at then (laughs). Alright let’s move on a little bit. So much has been said about DJs using different formats, the vinyl heads holding firm onto their analogue roots, with the digital innovators using increasingly sophisticated software / hardware set-ups. I know you moved over to using Ableton a few years back and now tend to prefer CDJs. What do you make of the whole argument and what have been the factors that made you change format?
I think it’s a bit of a non-argument really, whatever tickles your fancy you know? If you want to DJ with a trombone and two pick-axes… I dunno, it’s just whatever format you’re comfortable with and you feel like you can get your point across with is what’s good for you. I think for me right now, my situation got so complicated and I got so far away from actually DJing with CDJs. I had a few horrible crashes in clubs and I had to go on to use CDJs and it wasn’t that I didn’t know how to do it, I just felt really rusty. After the second gig I thought, “I’ve really missed this”, so I went back to DJing with quite a simple set-up. I’ve seen people play with two iPads and computers and absolutely tear the place apart and do an amazing job because they’re totally in control of what they’re doing. I just don’t really have any interesting in doing that right now, I’m perfectly happy with just keeping things a bit more simple. I had my experiment of bringing loads of crazy gadgets into the DJ booth and it got more and more complicated with back-ups and all this sort of stuff. And then something goes wrong at a gig and you just feel like a complete cunt. CDJs don’t really go wrong and if they do they’re very easy to fix or replace on the night, whereas if something goes wrong with your controller or your laptop you’re on your own. I had a couple of high pressure gigs where that happened and I just felt like, what am I actually doing this?
Do you think it makes it a bit easier when it comes to selection when you’ve got CDs as opposed to having just a big list.
I still use a computer linked up to the CDJs and I’m always going through lists of music and that’s what you do these days, unless your carrying around vinyl. I think everyone’s got used to the idea of having to go through lists of music, but I spend a lot of time preparing playlists on flights and car journeys. I’ve got used to that way of DJing now. I definitely miss the days of carrying round a box of records for two or three months and getting to know those records inside out and no-one else having those tunes. It was a really wonderful time, but it’s not that time anymore.
Will you be bringing any vinyl on Saturday?
Nah, I haven’t spun a vinyl set in years.
Having been involved since the late 80s, I think you’re in a good position to speak about the current state of electronic music. What do you think of the music of today and the wave of renewed interest for EDM in large parts of the US. I know it’s a completely different thing, almost pop.
Yeah, it’s electronic pop really. A lot of people make this argument that it’s good for the scene because it’s going to filter down, but I don’t know. I don’t know if David Guetta fans or Calvin Harris fans have any interest in what is going on at a Hot Natured party or a Crosstown Rebels party, or whether they’re even on the same planet. But, saying that, I think the underground is thriving at the moment, especially in the states. I’ve had a couple of really fantastic tours over the past year and I’ve had brilliant times at some small venues and it seems to be alive and kicking. I can’t really complain about it but it’s quite phenomenal the way it exploded. I sort of thought this was going to happen. I remember when we first started coming to the States at the end of the 90s and doing Twilo residencies, I thought it was going to go mental at that time and kick off. I remember Oakey doing the Hollywood Bowl and thought, “This is it”. And then there was this lull, nothing happened. No homegrown talent came along and I was expecting there to be an American Underworld, an American Leftfield, an American Chemical Brothers and all these huge festival acts that were having it around the world. I thought the next wave of talent to come out of the States was going to take it to another level. As soon as the Americans had their own megastars that were made in their own backyards it’s going to get massive and it just didn’t happen. For seven years, around 2003/2004, it dipped. Everyone started listening to hip hop, the RnB scene got massive, but then when the RnB and the electronic world collided at the end of the 00s, that was it. Suddenly you’ve got people like Deadmau5 and Skrillex. The fact that they’re underground heroes over here has made it big, but it had to be commercial and a big commercial sound for Hollywood to get it. It loves its Michael Bay movies and explosions and a lot of that electronic music is like gigantic motion pictures. It is a huge soundscape. And I think it had to be that sound for Hollywood and America to fully embrace it. The underground sounds are far too subtle for it to go so big. I also think that combination of sounds that’s in at the moment, that cross between RnB / rock / pop, it’s a huge, huge sound.
And I guess it lends itself to Electric Daisy Carnival, that 300,000 capacity kinda thing. That’s why it needs the over-the-top absurd pyrotechnics and shit just going off. It all lends itself to that on a large scale doesn’t it?
All the new DJs are doing these huge productions for their festival sets. I think in the beginning people started booking DJs at festivals over here and two guys would just turn up and DJ and they’d ask where the show was. Obviously, as soon as people started sticking silly helmets on and flashing lights and stuff like that it all kind of made sense to people over here and, in fact, all over the world. It’s taken over in Ibiza, it’s everywhere really. I’m not sure how I feel about it. One day I think this is a really good thing and the next I’m not sure how much of that crowd is going to filter down to other sounds. I go backwards and forwards.
I was having a conversation with someone the other day and, like you said, there was just somebody behind a pair of decks or whatever and image and style wasn’t such a massive thing was it? Now it’s just become part and parcel of the whole thing.
Yep, it’s the image. If you get it right, you’ll go from zero to private jets and 150 grand gigs in a very short period of time. It also makes me laugh at the amount of grief we used to get earlier on about how much DJs got paid. Everything now pales into insignificance really. The amount of money being thrown being thrown at new superstar DJs.
What Skrillex gets for a gig is just…
Yep, they’re absolutely coining it. And with absolutely no guilt. In the underground there was always that feeling of, “This is getting too big, too big”.
And now it’s just another, completely off the scale. So, are you based out in America now?
Sort of. Half the time I’m there, half the time I’m in England. I like to spend a bit of time in my studio in New York. Obviously I’m on the road for quite a lot of the time as well.
It’s an interesting city New York isn’t it?
I’ve got family and stuff out here so…
Wicked. You were resident at the legendary night in Stoke called Shelleys at which you used to play the whole night. How long a set was that? Is this eight hour set you’re playing at our night up there with one of the longest sets you’ve played?
Yeah I used to play the whole night, but it was down by two in the morning (laughs). The licensing laws were very different back then, a two and a half hour set felt like it was a very long set back then. But that was in the days when everyone’s records were about 4-5 minutes long, so I got through a lot of music in those two and a half hours. There were no purpose built mixing tool-type records, or anything like that. I guess in my Twilo set days with John (Digweed), we’d play for a long time. We got into doing this very long sets, sometimes 10, 12 hours playing until midday the next day. To be honest in the last 3 or 4 years I haven’t really done anything like that. The longest I’ve played for would probably be at La Mania or at Warung Beach, something like 5 hours? So the 8 hours at the weekend is definitely going to be a bit of a challenge. I’ve got a bit of an idea about how I’m going to make it work though.
Who have been the most important people throughout your career, the people who have taught you the most, helped you reach the next level and who you’ve kept in touch with? Obviously John must be one. Maybe that’s another nostalgic one you don’t want to do…
Yeah, I think as long as you’re in touch with your record boxes you’re fine.
I’ve heard you were getting requests from A+R folk drawn to Shelleys to do remixes before you’d even dabbled in the world of production. I’d be interested to know when you felt you first really hit your stride as a remixer and when you feel you first came into your own as a producer too?
Well I had a run of remixes in the middle of the 90s where I was pretty much in there. There was one year where I did about 20 remixes, I was in there. It was a production line. But I got very bored of that and I also felt like I never had any time to experiment with sound because we were always going into studios with deadlines. We never really had time to experiment. I was hearing other records that had such incredible sound and I never had time to make those sounds. So I decided to take a step away from the remixing thing and build my own studio and try and learn how to produce, but that just took such a long time. I didn’t really know what I was doing and that’s why my output went from being very prolific to being virtually non-existent for a few years. Production-wise I don’t know where I really hit my peak, I guess around Xpander and Airdrawndagger. Hooking up with Charlie May was a huge thing for me, he taught me so much. Then working with Junkie XL and Jazz from Evolution and all these amazing producers. I’m so much better collaborating than I am just working on my own. I can work on my own, I’m just really slow and I get really bored of tracks. I’m so much better with a little group of people and things get done quicker.
So he was probably the strongest influence on you in terms of production?
What were you using to produce when you first started out? How’s that changed? I know it’s a boring thing the whole software/hardware debate, but has it made it easier for you to make music?
I started off using an MPC3000 and doing virtually everything on there just with a sampler and then I had a couple of synths. I had a JD800 which I used and then after Airdrawndagger we just ditched all the analogue stuff and got right into doing everything with software. Just recently I’ve got back into doing everything with hardware again and just been buying loads of modular synths online and building these weird little setups. I bought a load of old synths off eBay and I’ve got a really lovely analogue studio set-up right now, which I’m really happy with. I’m getting such a great sound. Probably the one keyboard that has been the single constant for me in the past 10 years has been the Acces Virus. I use that for writing and producing, everything really.
A lot of people talk about analogue, it has that organic feel, things go out of time and they just feel like…
A lot of the time I’ll write a line on the virus and then I’ll transfer it to the analogue side of the room and start tweaking it and modulating it with different things and it turns into something completely different. You always get surprised by what comes out the speakers, it’s often, “Wow, that sounds amazing, I didn’t really plan that”. Whereas with digital synths and with soft synths you kind of have to think of the idea first and then try and find it. It’s very rare you get surprised, whereas with the analogue side of things there’s stuff to tweak and you’re always playing around with it. You feel like you’re really moulding a sound. With soft synths you’ve only got one mouse to click on, so the tactile side of things isn’t the same. I’ve got an ARP2600, which is a beautiful old vintage synth, and every time I sit in front of it, it delivers something weird and wonderful that I wasn’t expecting.
You’re not just clicking boxes. When you’re doing something straight on a laptop it’s all patterns, there’s almost no margin for error.
I guess not, no.
When I interviewed Weatherall last year, he was saying he would make stuff on a computer, but if he can’t get that sound he’d record it onto a tape and then put it back into the computer.
Yeah I’m always processing stuff using outboard gear and then recording it back in. It does something lovely to it. The difference between analogue distortion and any sort of plug-in is massive.
I’ve got to ask, when is Involver 3 due to drop?
Urrrm, I don’t know. It’s really close. We’ve worked on about 50 fucking tracks for it. It’s not through lack of trying that this album’s taking too long, we had some problems with licensing earlier on in the year. Some of the key tracks that I wanted for the album we just couldn’t get clearance on, so we were left with half an album or just the filler tracks. It just wasn’t up to scratch really, which is why we pushed it back. The tracklisting is 90% there now, with some of the mixes needing a bit of tweaking, but it’s really close. You’ll get to hear a lot of it on Saturday.
Who are you working with on that?
I’m working with a guy called Grayson Shipley, who’s in a project called Deep Groove. I got a lot of work done over the Summer with him, he’s amazing. And then just a few people over the last few months. I’ve been working with a guy called Josh Grant in New York, Baz, who did the past two albums, was involved a bit for a while. But since I’ve been working with Grayson it’s really taken it’s shape and its sound.
So we’ll be hearing quite a bit on Saturday, wicked. Finally, as is customary we always ask everyone who lays down an A Night With… to pick 8 tracks to represent each hour of their A Night With…
Coming… very soon! (Editor)
Sasha plays his A Night With… this Saturday 10th November @ The Loft Studios, 77 – 81 Scrubs Lane, London, NW10 6QP