By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
You've heard it before: a huge, airy, electronic beat that crashes against your ears while massaging them with plaintive, heartbreakingly soft melodies. It seemingly raises and lowers with every song, taking you on a journey of peaks and valleys, and speaking to you truths and reconciliations. It is a sound known by many names -- trance, progressive house, electronic dance music -- and associated with a handful of internationally known DJs, including Welsh producer and remixer Sasha.
So it comes as a surprise when Alexander Coe, the man behind the Sasha myth, who has remixed huge dance hits for everyone from Madonna ("Ray of Light") to Maria Naylor ("Be as One"), turns out to be frustratingly uncommunicative as he tries to conduct a phone interview during a hectic drive through London traffic.
Not that he would tell you where he was going if you asked; over the course of a brief conversation, he hesitatingly reveals few details about himself, then flashes, "You're asking the most broad questions, man. I don't have fucking four hours to listen to you.
"I'm sorry," he says, realizing what he's just said. Give the man a break: Two days from now, on June 17, Sasha will be en route to Chicago for the start of a 12-date tour in support of his latest mix CD, Involver. These dates begin only a few days after he completed a handful of spot shows around Europe and Britain, and he's scheduled to embark upon a more extensive European tour after he returns from America. And in September, he plans a move to New York. "I've only got 10 minutes to talk," he admits. "I don't really have time [to talk about my career] without going into a four-page document."
Sasha is probably more comfortable when he's working instead of talking. An artist biography on his Web site, www.djsasha.com, reveals that he remains "shy at heart" in spite of his "hero" status. (DJmagazine, the influential British dance-music monthly, ranked him as the No. 4 DJ in the world.) "Like meeting new people, small talk. Just never been good with that," he's been quoted as saying.
There's an audible sigh of relief from Sasha, then, when the conversation turns away from his personal life to the making of Involver. It's more than a standard mix CD; he remixed all 10 of its tracks, creating a hybrid between his own production skills and pre-existing dance-floor hits such as Felix da Housecat's "Watching Cars Go By."
"It's halfway between an artist album and a mix compilation," says Sasha. "Rather than mix two pieces of vinyl together, I tried to take all the separate sounds to all the tracks [and recombine them], and it allowed me to mix the tracks together on a much deeper level."
Sasha recorded Involverin Orlando, Fla., earlier this spring. On the opening track, he strips London pop duo Grand National's "Talk Amongst Yourselves" of its raging rock backbeat and fresh guitar hook; slows down Lawrence Rudd's vocals ("Talk amongst yourselves while I try to figure out"); gives the song a new, darker bass underpinning; and converts its melody into a moody keyboard tune. The end result is like an electronic dub version of the original. In contrast, his remix of UNKLE's "In a State" is less radical; he merely adds some echoing effects, mutes the rhythm track, and slightly tweaks the melody, making the track sound more ambient.
"Each different track takes a different approach. You just have to work out what you're going to keep, what you're going to add, and what you're going to throw away," Sasha explains, adding that his next album will probably be another mix/remix hybrid. "Sometimes the core elements of the track are really strong, but maybe the beats aren't something that really work for me in a club way, so I'll just change the beats."
As creative as Involveris at times, it's not a full-fledged artist album. For someone who first rose to prominence at the start of the '90s, Sasha has a remarkably slim discography of original music. In 2002 he released his debut album, Airdrawndagger. Don't expect a follow-up anytime soon, however.
"Writing an original album takes over your life, really. I want to do something that's a bit more fun. Remixes are a bit more fun," he says. Perhaps, like an essayist (or, worse, a music critic), he's more inspired creatively by what goes on in the heads of others than what goes on in his own.
Sasha also has a 1999 EP, Xpander, and numerous 12-inch singles such as "Scorchio" and "Higher Ground" to his credit. But what he's really known for are mix CDs such as Global Underground: San Francisco and Global Underground: Ibiza. Made for the best-selling "Global Underground" series, in which DJs record two-CD mixes "inspired" by cities around the world, these two titles stoked Sasha's reputation as a superstar DJ.
Over the past decade, Sasha and his longtime musical partner, John Digweed (known by their fans as Sasha & Digweed), have been one of the most beloved -- and reviled -- teams in dance music. A mix CD they recorded together in 1996, Northern Exposure, as well as other key compilations such as Paul Oakenfold's Tranceport, fueled trance's explosion on the international club scene, where it supplanted house music as the genre of choice.