|Sasha - Profile|
There are DJs who turn up, play records and make people dance. And there are producers who make the dancefloor-igniting records those DJs will kill for. There are very few people in dance music who can do both and Sasha is the leader of the pack. Ever since he rode in on a tidal wave of adoration from the North of England's explosive early 90s club scene, that magic touch has made Alexander Coe one of the most famous, most revered DJ on the planet.
It's because of what he can do with music - the way he can make good records sound better, great records sound awesome, and everything he plays into his own. The way his mixes take elements from across the spectrum of electronic dance, from trance, breaks, progressive and deep house, and create a languidly hypnotic liquid groove. The way his understanding of both melody and momentum can tease, taunt, and en-trance a dancefloor before unleashing a record that will have people not just leaping up and down but bursting with emotion.
Sasha's long awaited debut album 'Airdrawndagger' takes this nose for the dancefloor's g-spot and combines it with the ears for a heartstring strumming melody, a smile inducing hook and dirty great b-lines to create a 69 minute symphony that sounds as wistfully enchanting doing the hoovering at home as it does reaching for the lasers on Saturday night. Like the best Sasha DJ set you ever heard, it has melancholy mixed with euphoria, downtempo introspection mixed with jump n' shout excitement. Thankfully, unlike most albums by hybrid DJ/producer/artists there are no half-hearted collaborations with pop stars, whether faded or up-and-coming, no hamfisted record company attempts to sell the Sasha brand to the general public via cred-hungry indie frontmen or ageing rappers in search of a wider demographic.
With Sasha what you see (or hear) really is what you get - the fact he so transparently believes in the music he's trying to push could well be one reason he incites such devotion in his legions of fans across the globe. Across the 11 tracks, there's the time and space to reflect his love for music that rarely gets the chance to shine in clubs, whether that's punishingly gnarly breakbeats or glittering modern classical film scores. It's a symphony for all ravers that grew up but never grew out of chasing that buzz.
A record of a journey that began, as so many did, in the smoke and strobes of Manchester's Hacienda nightclub and has now taken him to Midwestern stadia where he and his regular partner in beats, breakdowns and frequent flier mileage John Digweed are currently once again bringing house music to the US. Alexander Coe grew up in Hawarden, near Chester in the North of England. At 17 he passed the entrance exam to the elitist Epsom public school, but the young Northerner hated it and left before his A' Levels. He moved to Bangor in North Wales to be with his father, where his stepmother forced him to take piano lessons. At the time, he hated the lessons. But after his first studio session - and this is typical Sasha - he phoned her to say thank you.
In nearby Manchester, the now legendary Hacienda was lighting the torch for acid house. One visit and the young pony-tailed Sasha was hooked. "The smoke machine, the strobe lights, everyone trance dancing, wearing bandanas and smiley T-shirts," he smiles now. "It definitely had a fuck-you attitude compared to the rest of pop music." Sasha and his friends began driving up to the Hacienda every weekend. He moved into a friend's flat in Disley, South Manchester and got himself a telesales job. "I was always late for work, I was always in trouble, I'd always be half asleep until about 3 o'clock." Sales funded his nocturnal activities and a burgeoning collection of acid house tunes. One night the DJ who played in their local pub announced he was looking for DJs for a tour. Sasha stepped forward, and found himself making his debut in nearby Stockport. "I'd never even touched a Technics: I thought the pitch control was the volume, I didn't even know where to plug my headphones in! I'm sure I was absolutely horrendous," he grins now. But he was soon offered a spot on Manchester pirate radio station WBLS. He would rave at the Hacienda until the club closed at 2am, grab his record box from the cloakroom, and head off to the pirate station.
Hacienda DJ and next door neighbour Jon Dasilva got Sasha a try-out at his favourite club: "I played from 11 to 12, of all the biggest records, a cappelas over everything, and scratching. I must have completely ruined his night!" says Sasha. He can't have been that bad: they asked him back. Illegal warehouse raves near Blackburn and acid clubs in Blackpool followed, his soon spot-on mixing abilities building a cult following, but in 1990 it was Shelley's in Stoke-On-Trent that made his name. At Shelley's Sasha refined his sound, mixing euphoric Italian piano house tracks with nasty techno, layering emotional a cappellas on top and adding the in the distinctive drops and orgasmic musical climaxes that have remained his musical trademark. And, lets not forget, in a world where the DJ had too often been bespectacled nerds, here the headline DJ had the looks and charm to match his growing following. In classic rock n' roll style, here was a star that boys wanted to hang out with and girls wanted to get just that little more bit close to.
The first DJ cover star - on Mixmag in early 1991 - the still shy DJ was freaked. "I was so used to going to places and just hanging out. Suddenly there was a stream of people coming up," he recalls. "Of course it's bound to happen. You go to Liverpool and you're the first 'pin-up' DJ and you're going to get shit. Frankly, It still weirds me out." Today he still remains shy at heart. "I'm not very good in social situations where I'm put on the spot," he says. "Like meeting new people, small talk. Just never been good with that." It's this contradiction - the coyness that Alexander Coe has when it comes to being Sasha, that's at the core of the Sasha myth. But the myth was becoming a rollercoaster: In Autumn 1993, a DJ imposter toured Northern Ireland pretending to be Sasha. Flyers would simply list 'The Man Like Sasha'. Rumours of his death began to circulate on a weekly basis. When Sasha opened the first Renaissance night in Mansfield, the flyers grandiosely declared "The restoration of Sasha to the North".
It wasn't just British clubbers that was falling under his spell either: in the early 90s he became a staple on Florida's thriving clubbing scene, later crossing coasts to play San Francisco. For four and a half years Sasha and John Digweed hosted monthly sessions at New York's Twilo club that for many defined the state of the American dance music nation. Now that the club has closed, New York certainly feels the gap. Sasha's recording career started with dramatic remixes that reflected his hi octane but still melodic DJ style. His first solo outing as BM:Ex in 1992 (it stood for Barry Manilow Experience apparently!) and 'Appolonia' established the thoughtful mix of eerie vocals and dancefloor thump that reaches its zenith with 'Airdrawndagger'. Sasha's rework of Madonna's 'Ray Of Light' turned William Orbit's trance-pop production into a dancefloor epic. His 1999 single 'Xpander' remains a benchmark for progressive production, an anthem fellow producers strive to emulate, and clubbers live to hear him play just that one more time.
Sasha has always pushed up and coming new DJs: in recent years, he formed the Tyrant triumvirate with Craig Richards and Lee Burridge, delving into breakbeats and eschewing superclubs for smaller, purer underground nights at Nottingham's The Bomb and London's Fabric. Years ago it meant spotting his now regular partner John Digweed. The pair's Northern Exposure and Communicate mix albums have set a benchmark standard for DJ mix albums. This spring Sasha and Digweed set out on the Delta Heavy Tour - America's biggest, most ambitious DJ tour ever. Taking the production values of a stadium rock show and subverting it for DJs and clubbers. "I had this idea when Twilo shut down," explains Sasha. "'Wouldn't it be great to take this system around the country?' I want it to be a benchmark. We just thought it's time to raise the bar a little bit." The sound system was the same legendary Phazon rig that gave New York's Twilo the best club acoustics in the world. It requires an articulated truck all of its own. With the Chemical Brothers joining them on some dates and a second tour mooted could this become US dance music's Lollapalooza? Watch this space…
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