“You have to put yourself out there and you have to put the groundwork in. I’m involved in a couple of DJ agencies and I find it bizarre how quickly DJs go from being completely unknown to becoming stars. One minute they’ll be playing for free and handing out free CD’s, the next they’re demanding penthouses at the Four Seasons.”
Speaking down the line from New York, superstar DJ Sasha sounds distinctly grumpy as he ponders the current state of DJ culture.
“People like myself and John (Digweed) and Carl Cox have put in years of playing for virtually no money, before things started to turn around,” he continues, “ I guess a lot of people are getting into DJing not because of their passion for music, but because they see it as a vehicle to make money and become a celebrity quickly, so they want a piece of it.”
He’s also got harsh words for money making ageing DJs refusing to step aside, suggesting a curious detachment from his own position of one of dance culture’s highest paid and elevated celebrities of the last 20 years.
“I really do believe that electronic music isn’t going anywhere, it has to evolve to survive and there has to be new DJs coming through, there has to be 18 or 19 year old kids behind the decks at clubs and we’re still waiting for that next explosion of DJ’s to come through,” he continues. “It still seems like the big DJs are all the ones who’ve had a stranglehold on it for quite a while.”
Superstar DJ talk aside, he’s chatting to Skrufff today to promote his new mix CD Funadacion, an Abelton assisted collection he’s uncharacteristically put together in just five days, in marked contrast to his usual practice.
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): The fact that you mixed it all together in five days, was it an easy project?
Sasha: “I just wanted to include the majority of the stuff that went down well at the residencies I’ve been doing in New York and LA. I have been using Ableton live for studio production work for over a year and a half and later on I started DJing with Ableton. DJing and producing with the same piece of software has brought everything together, whereas before my studio work and my DJ work would be totally separate.” That’s why it was quicker.”
Skrufff: Now you’re using Ableton, does that mean you don’t make any mistakes? Is it possible to?
Sasha: “Actually you can make many mistakes on that too if you’re not concentrating on what you are doing. Any activity forwarding technology has aspects that will make the actual job easier, but others that will complicate things. Cell phones and the internet for example, were supposed to make our lives easier, instead I find that they are just complicating our lives now.”
Skrufff: I often hear from DJs who insist on plying vinyl only or are really vinyl obsessive . .
Sasha: “Anytime there’s a leap forward in technology, you’ll find people who’ll resist the changes. There are certain clubs that still only have vinyl decks. DC10 I think doesn’t yet have a CD player. In the end, it’s just one way of playing music; it’s a tool, a way of manipulating sounds. I don’t care if it’s coming from a computer, off a needle, or whatever.”
Skrufff: The joke they always say is ‘I don’t want to look like I’m checking my email’, how do get round this?
Sasha: “I’ve built my own controller for Ableton. As a tool it’s very much hands on, and pretty much everything that’s on the computer screen I can manipulate with a controller which looks very much like a DJ mixer, but it’s covered in buttons. I think anyone that sees me playing on it will realize that what I’m doing involves quite a lot of work.”
Skrufff: How do you find your tracks generally these days?
Sasha: “I look in many different places, I have a ISP Server set up, people upload tracks on it, and I download them from the Internet. I try to find tracks wherever I can.”
Skrufff: You are based in New York, am I right?
Sasha: “I have been for the first half of this year.”
Skrufff: Do you go to record shops still?
Sasha: “I still buy loads of vinyl. 70% of the music I buy is still on vinyl, but things are definitely changing in that direction because of the download sites available these days. “
Skrufff: How many new records in a typical week are you picking up?
Sasha: “Between fourteen and eighteen a week typically, though some weeks you’re just bombarded with music. When I was putting this album together I seemed to be getting a hundred tracks a week, other weeks it’s more like thirty or forty. Since I’ve started playing in a digital format, I’m definitely turning through music at a much higher rate. When I’m in airports or planes, I use that time to test things out on my laptop and play around with the tracks. I’m much faster in organizing my music in this way, rather than when I was just using vinyl. With vinyl you need to get your boxes together, then go away and tour. Sometimes if you are away on tour and have a box of records sent out, you have to find a pair of decks, or borrow a pair of decks, or go to the club early and listen to music. It’s definitely become a lot easier for me now that I’ve actually got everything on a digital format.”
Skrufff: So many people are moving to Berlin these days, have you spent much time there?
Sasha: “Not really. I don’t feel an affiliation with Berlin. I don’t play there very often, but I know there’s great music coming out of there.”
Skrufff: What made you choose New York?
Sasha: “Personal reasons (abruptly). I’ve had a connection with New York for years with Twilo and I have many friends here. It just felt like the right time to do it.”
Skrufff: I know a lot of people see Twilo as representing the last golden era of New York clubland, how do you see the scene there today?
Sasha: “I think New York is always turning itself over and reinventing itself. Yes, there’s dips and peaks, but I hate that kind of talk, people looking back at ‘golden ages’.”
Skrufff: Where’s the golden club at the moment?
Sasha: “I’m not sure. Right now, one of my favourite places remains Fabric in London. I think that the media has shunned the electronic music scene in England in recent years, and partly for good reasons. The sheer volume of absolute shite that we had to put up with around the year 2,000, in terms of musical output and terrible parties, was such a million miles away from what the scene was built on in the early 90s It all got a little out of control, people got bored of talking about it and the explosion of R&B and hip hop that followed was because it was the next generation’s sound.
Skrufff: Almost all of you guys seem to be playing every single weekend, touring the world, playing two/three gigs a weekend….
Sasha: “I try not to do that. I will do three or four shows a week when I have an album coming out or other promotion going on, as I need to be in many different markets in a short space of time, but it’s not my favourite way to do things. I’m most comfortable doing a Friday and a Saturday night and I try not to do midweek shows. I also try not to pile my weekends up unless there’s something very special happening. Sometimes, in the middle of summer, you might be offered three or four shows in the same week that all sound fantastic; maybe a festival on Sunday in Serbia or a Thursday night in Athens, and it’s difficult to turn those gigs down.”
Skrufff: You’re playing Exit this year in Serbia aren’t you?
Sasha: “That’s right, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Skrufff: Do you see dance music/electronic music as being a genuine force for change? Do you see it as more than entertainment? The Exit festival has a very political subtext.
Sasha: “There are definitely certain parts of the world where dance music it’s become huge because it has also been embraced as a cultural movement, like it happened in Argentina. This did happen in England too, but it’s not the same now because the scene has shifted mostly to clubs, there are exceptions though, the last Creamfields event in Argentina had 50 or 60,000 people attending. These huge events are not just electronic music events they are also cultural. Creamfields was also a cultural event, the biggest one on the calendar, but in the UK things have definitely changed and these are no longer seen as cool events to talk about.”
Skrufff: You’re doing London, SW4, in August in Clapham, coming to do a gig like that do you have a different mindset, as opposed to doing Exit?
Sasha: “I had such a great time there last year, that I’m really looking forward to it again. It was a beautiful day out in the sunshine, I was playing when the sun was going down and there was a great atmosphere. It was great for me personally to do a gig like that in London as I hadn’t done those big open air shows in London before, it’s great to have that lined up. I’ll have a different mind set in terms of the music I’ll play there, a completely different mindset than if I was going to Fabric for example.”
Skrufff: Bomb The Bass star Tim Simenon was recently acquitted of date rape charges, have you come across people trying to set you up or anything like that?
Sasha: “God, I hope not. I’ve never had to deal with anything like that. I don’t think I am on the celebrity radar enough to warrant that kind of attention hopefully. If I walk into a nightclub, I guess anywhere in the world, people will recognize me and I would get attention, but it’s very rare that outside a club I get noticed or bothered. I like it like that to be honest, I couldn’t possibly handle the whole ‘C’ list celebrity bullshit that goes on in the UK.”
Skrufff: Do you meet many of these people doing gigs or being in a backstage area these days?
Sasha: “To be honest, I don’t know. In LA a lot of the English actors living out there will come down and hang out, but these days I don’t. In London in the mid 90’s, I used to hang out at those kinds of bars, but not anymore.”
Skrufff: Do you see a point where you are going to step aside from DJing?
Sasha: “It’s difficult to say. I can’t imagine touring the way I do when I’ll be 40 or 45. I’ll probably do what Danny Tenaglia did, find a city, settle and do regular things. Though traveling is something I really thrive on, I also find it quite exhausting. Having gigs back to back, when it’s airport, hotel, club, airport, hotel, club, airport, hotel, club, for weeks on end, it definitely sends you a bit insane. I can’t imagine keeping that up in the future, but whether I’ll stop DJing completely I don’t know yet.”
Fundacion is out now on Global Underground.
Sasha DJ Dates:
02 II Muretto, Venice, Italy
08 Columbia, Berlin, Germany
09 Exit Festival, Serbia
15 Glade Festival, UK
16 Air GK, Birmingham, UK
28 Space , Ibiza, Spain
29 GGG, Stratford Upon Avon, UK
31 GGG, Ireland AUGUST
04 Space, Ibiza, Spain
05 Dance Valley, Amsterdam,
06 Dance Valley, Amsterdam,
06 Colors, Glasgow, Scotland
11 Space, Ibiza, Spain
13 Creamfields, Andalucia, Spain
18 Space, Ibiza, Spain
25 Space , Ibiza, Spain
27 SW4, London, UK
28 Tribal Gathering, Manchester, UK
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)