A chance to speak to Sasha is hard to come by and it’s easy to see why. Mostly it’s because he’s seldom in the same city for longer than 24 hours, but also because whenever he does have spare time, he spends it at home, which is now in Ibiza, with his family. Certainly one of the biggest names in clubland, Sasha has also probably been around the longest. He began his career playing acid house dance music in the late 1980s in venues around the North of England. By the early 90s he was producing his own music and remixing other people’s. By this time he was considered a headline act and would play in front of crowds of tens of thousands at organized, outdoor raves around the UK. He was offered a regular place in the rotation at Renaissance in Mansfield and began releasing singles. In 1993, Sasha partnered with fellow Renaissance DJ John Digweed and history was made. The two released a triple CD mix album that also featured tracks from Leftfield, Fluke and 2 Bad Mice. Mixmag ran a cover feature on Sasha with the tagline “Son of God?” and he was well on the way to becoming the first official “superstar DJ”.
First things first, what should I call him, Mr Sasha? Alex? (His real name is Alexander Coe.)
“Nobody really calls me that. My mom always called me Sasha from as young as I can remember. I didn’t even know that I was Alexander until I was a bit older anyway. I’m not sure exactly where it comes from. Yeah. It’s always been Sasha. Certainly not through any Russian or Eastern European heritage.”
Is it true you were forced into taking piano lessons at an early age?
Yes, I had a difficult relationship with my stepmom in my early teenage years. I started out loving playing the piano when I was younger. It got harder and I had a teacher who was fairly hardcore and my daily piano practice became a battleground between me and my stepmom. It would be used if I’d done something wrong.
She’d always said to me the moment I hit 16 I could stop. So, when I got to my 16th birthday I thought I’d never touch a piano again. I’d done my grades and done pretty well. Two years later I started DJing and I was invited into a studio where there were keyboards everywhere. I thought, ‘oh, I know how to use these!’ Later on in life I thanked my stepmother very much for pushing me so hard.
Was the piano the only instrument you were playing back then?
I tried a few other things like violins and saxophone, but I didn’t really connect with them.
When did you feel music was your path?
Well, it was discovering house music in Manchester when I was 18 years old and going to the Hacienda and hearing acid house and gospel house. Experiencing all that incredible music for the first time was like seeing the light really. I thought I had to be involved in it somehow. So I started collecting records. The first gig I did I was the proud owner of 25 records! I now have about 50,000 records and god knows how many MP3s.
Where do you keep the records?
They’re all in a storage unit in Florida from when I was living down there. I was going to move them here to New York but the storage here is insane. So, once every two years I go down there and dig stuff up and make a trip out of it. It’s unfortunate. It takes up a lot of space and to store the records in New York or ship it back to London would be very expensive. I’m not sure what to do with it.
I’ve read somewhere else you went through tough times, money wise, making ends meet in your early music DJing years. What was the driving force that helped you continue along your musical path?
Yeah, in the really early days gigs dried up a bit, and I was contemplating having to get a real job. Luckily I started to get booked again. I had a knack of being in the right place at the right time. I ended up moving into a block of flats where one of the DJs from the Hacienda lived, Jon DaSilva. He took me under his wing and I started DJing with him. Then I started to build a name for myself. It all came from there really.
You started off on an Atari ST? Were you using Notator?
Yes, I was. But, my first few years producing I got put in a studio with a great production team and my role was just to turn up with my record boxes, play loads of music, get ideas for sounds and get them to program the sounds and I’d be there arranging it. It was very much like I was in the producers role and not programmers role. So, I was never hands on with the Atari.
It wasn’t until later on around 1995 when sounds started to change and I began working with people like BT and they were programming these insane sounds which I just couldn’t get out of my production team. I’d been making records for 5 or 6 years by then, but I knew it was time for me to really learn how to get the sounds I wanted.
I bought an MPC3000, a computer with Logic, a JD-800, a Mackie mixing desk and a load of outboard gear. A lot of that I’ve let go of, and I’m pissed off I did. Some great little units there. I started producing stuff on my own. The first year my output was very low, but then things started to pick up speed and I started collaborating with Charlie May and then things moved on from there quite quickly.
When DJing I know in the past you’ve used vinyl, CDJs, Ableton Live with a Maven controller. What are you using now?
I go between using rekordbox with USB sticks to using Traktor in HID mode so I can use CDJs. I like to use CDJs as controllers whether I’m using USB or the computer really.
Have you ever been tempted to go back to vinyl?
No, I haven’t done a vinyl set for close to 10 years now. And I’m not really tempted to be honest. I understand where the purist DJs who use only vinyl are coming from, but I’ve spent 15-17 years playing off vinyl, so I’ve kind of proved I can do it!
There’s also the convenience factor too?
It’s more about staying organized and on top of music and I’m constantly on the road. I have horror stories about losing records and boxes of records when being transported to sets. So, just getting hold of the music quickly and being able to download music in your hotel room quickly is useful. I don’t know… digital, for me, is the only way at the moment. Using CDJs and controllers still feels like I’m DJing!
Everyone has his own opinion on it and I don’t think anyone’s wrong to be honest… apart from those DJs who have their whole set recorded and they’re not actually doing anything. That is wrong!
In terms of your studio production what’s your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of choice?
I use Ableton Live primarily in the studio. My engineer and producer I work with (Dennis White from ThermalBear) likes to use an old version of Cubase on a PC. He loves the sound of it and he knows it inside out. Whenever we’ve got tracks that are almost there he’ll load them into Cubase and we’ve got a summing mixer and things will definitely add that extra 10% of production that we can’t actually get in Ableton Live.
He just knows the old system inside out. We keep trying to get him to upgrade so we can ReWire into it, but he just won’t do it!
Are you using outboard gear too?
We’ve got quite a bit of Moog stuff. I’ve just got hold of a Sub 37. I did the Moog Fest last year and as part payment for the gig they give you a great deal on gear. So, I bought a couple of racks, Moogerfooger pedals, an old Taurus II which is my absolute favorite. I’ve got one of the first ARP 2600. It’s a blue one. I’ve had it completely restored. It sounds incredible. We’ve got a couple of cases of Euroracks that we wanted to mess around with. Then for processing we use a lot of plug-ins like Soundtoys. I love their sound. We like FabFilter. We’ve got the Eventide Orbit which sounds amazing which we have set up with a controller and make it fun to mess around with sounds.
Are there any collaborations you’re involved in you’re able to talk about?
Um… well, I’ve got a few things on the boil but I don’t really want to talk about it as I find that can jinx stuff sometimes!
What tips would you share with emerging producers and DJs?
Well, the one I said earlier about really learning and mastering one piece of equipment, whether that be Reason or Ableton and not trying to spread yourself too thin is important. Choosing your weapons is important. I went through a stage where I had so many plug-ins on my computer so I opened them up, checked out some presets and then closed them. Last year I went through and cleared loads of them out. Now, I’ve got a stripped back system by keeping the ones I use. It’s helped with the creative process because I’m not overwhelmed. It’s easy to close a plug-in when you’re not getting what you want immediately rather than sitting with it and getting into it.