Behind the Scenes of the Scene – Backstage with DJ Sasha
Musical legends are usually figures that exist within the confines of an entire generation’s imagination; on the front pages of a magazine; within the screens of a television set; or up on an elaborately designed stage with LED walls smoke machines a barricade of bodyguards and cattle loads of sweaty, screaming, [semi psychotic] fans. Rarely does one find oneself sitting face to face with such a figure, ‘kicking it backstage with @DJ Sasha’ as the twitter post might go, hanging out as one would with an old bud, or a friend. But then again, crazy stuff goes down in Goa.
The Barefoot Festival, Goa was quite under the radar – not many people knew about it, and even fewer people knew that DJ Sasha – The DJ Sasha – was in Goa. As he mentioned later, he had actually been in Goa for quite a while staying at a sort of retreat – consuming only fruits and vegetables, cleansing the soul and the spirit. Interesting. For us Indians, Goa is not exactly a destination synonymous with detoxing – Goa’s the place where one puts toxins into the body – but that’s beside the point. The real point being that DJ Sasha was in Goa, and no one really knew about it. We were, however, over the moon and equally excited to be sharing a stage with this living legend.
Sasha actually began his career playing the gritty sounds of acid house in the late 80’s, but today can’t quite be confined to any one genre (and actually prefers it this way). There is a certain spontaneity to his creative process, a flair for blending different styles of music into his mixes, all brought together by immense technical proficiency and an intuitive connection with his dance floor audiences. Maybe the fact that he was forced by his stepmother to take piano lessons as a kid also helped his music career. His quiet, humble demeanour and totally laid back attitude when he was chatting with us, spoke nothing of what this man has accomplished. Behind the decks with fellow partner in crime John Digweed, these two DJs double handedly shaped the sound of trance music in the early 90’s. And now, here he was, telling us about the vegetables he had eaten for lunch at his retreat.
He spoke with us at length about the old school of dance music DJs – guys like Dave Seaman, Nick Warren, Digweed – versus this new school of superstar DJs – like David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia – and how he feels dance music today has morphed into a completely different genre altogether. I agree with him, in many ways. A lot of dance floor music today is essentially pop music – formulaic, rigidly structured – but “electro-fied” with the use of electronic beats and synth pads. Many popular dance music DJs of today are pure entertainers, there 100% for the dance floor, for the spectacle; the art of beat matching and mixing are traded in for flamboyant hand gestures, stage theatrics and repetitions of mantras like “Put your hands in the air [insert name of country being toured here]”, or “Are you ready to party [insert name of country being toured here]”. In Sasha’s era, it was about innovation, about blending sounds and genres that one would never think to bring together, about experimentation, thinking (and playing) outside of the box – about moving people’s bodies and their souls. Sasha is, and has always been, a sonic storyteller.
In between our conversation, he picked up the phone to give his ol’ bud Nick Warren a ring, who happened to be in India at the same time – playing in Chennai. We laughed about how BT had lost his laptop during the Sunburn festival (sure it wasn’t quite so funny at the time). Sasha’s tour manager Harley was an equally awesome, chilled out guy – excited about being in India, telling us with endearing enthusiasm about one of the festivals Sasha would be playing in the coming months – Camp Bestival (the venue being an old castle from the 17th century – epic).
It was unfortunate that the turnout at the festival did not reflect the sheer status of this iconic DJ, but once the music started, none of that really mattered. His set at Barefoot was dark and driving, and included a little hint of what was to come on Involver 3 – Sasha’s latest album, which he launched on February 13th in London. Sasha did say he wanted to come back to India, for a full on tour – I, for one, am [im]patiently awaiting the day.