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".
After several cancelations, including, so I was told, a last-minute parent-teacher meeting (even the DJ demigod of dance has domestic issues to deal with) and some much-needed sleep before he next gig at DC10 in Ibiza, we finally got the chance to speak.
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.”
(Sasha is also the diminutive form of Alexander in Russian.)
He's softly spoken and sounds pretty laid back. Actually, he sounds exhausted. His schedule reads like an airport departure board: Mexico City, El Paso, Brighton, Ibiza, Beirut, Glasgow, Ibiza again, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Amsterdam, Mars. OK, that last one was made up, but that's just September and October and he tours for much of the year.
Originally from Wales, Sasha lived in New York City up until very recently. "I was there for about 10 years, right in the middle, close to Union Square, but I was always traveling. I've been splitting my time between London, New York, Ibiza and countless hotel and airport lounges around the world for the last 15 years."
"I do miss it. New York is great for food, I miss that. I used to hang out a lot in the East Village, there were some great dive bars and hole-in-the-wall places to eat, but most of them have gone now. Everything seems to get taken over by a pharmacy, bank or a Starbucks. I'm still not quite sure why New Yorkers need so many pharmacies."
Just a few months ago, Sasha traded the turmoil of Manhattan for the tranquility of the Mediterranean and the whole family moved to Ibiza.
"There's a lot of things about living in Ibiza that are major pluses, in terms of the quality of life here, and the lifestyle. Obviously, July and August gets a bit crazy, with everything going on at the clubs and stuff, but the rest of the year, it's like a sleepy Spanish town. The lifestyle here is pretty fantastic for children, younger children especially. They get to be outside a lot. It's not the kind of daily grind that you have in London or New York."
Sasha has always proved popular in the US. Together with Digweed, he held a residency at the Twilo in New York in the late 90s (formerly the Sound Factory where Frankie Knuckles had been regular) until the venue closed in 2001. Their 2002 project, Delta Heavy, was a live performance on a scale never seen before. A precursor for today's stadium-sized EDM affairs, it consisted of a grueling 31 date-schedule and was "produced like a rock concert" complete with touring sound, lighting, staging, laser and video production, forever raising the bar for large-scale electronic music events.
These days, Sasha can equally be found in a smaller, more intimate venue as he can in a packed arena. His upcoming New York gig is at the Flash Factory in Chelsea, a relatively new venue that offers “a homage to an era of vaudevillian eccentricity and Victorian decadence" and is paired with Manhattan-priced drinks. With a maximum capacity of around only 800, it represents another attempt to draw an intimate EDM crowd back to the island borough from Brooklyn and hopes to "become a weekly destination for techno traditionalists" although it's had some very mixed reviews.
"I've never played there before, so I'm not quite sure what to expect," he says. "New York feels like a home crowd, though, it's nice to come back."
Depending on whom you ask, the dance music scene is either flourishing or dying. An article in The Spectator in March said, "Under the hipsters’ watch, dance music has become tedious and diluted" yet last year at Coachella, nearly 50 percent of the listed acts came under the EDM category. Regardless of how you personally feel about the music played however, the recent closure of Fabric in London has sent shockwaves through the global club scene.
Sasha, like the rest of us, felt very strongly about this, so much so that he wrote an opinion piece in Mixmag. "At Fabric, the DJs get to dig into the back of their record collections and really experiment. I always do edits for my Fabric nights that I rarely play anywhere else," he wrote. "If Fabric goes it really would be a sad day in music for the worldwide scene and London would lose a jewel in its crown."
Considered to be the world's first "superclub" Fabric first opened its doors in 1999. It was voted the best club in the world by DJ Magazine in 2007 and 2008 and ranked world number two in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Every well-known trance, techno, electro, garage, dubstep, drum and base, breakbeat, house and hip-hop DJ has played there at one time or another. The New York Times said, “a stop at Fabric was a must-do on any clubber’s trip to London”.
"It's a bit doom and gloom at the moment, isn't it," Sasha says. "It's very hard to get a club with such excellence, like Fabric, where they invest so much in sound. It's a sad day for the club scene, for sure."
I saw you play a rare, six-hour set at Fabric way back in March 2001, I say. Do you keep recordings that old, I ask him. I'd give a kidney to have a copy of that.
He laughs and to be honest, it's nice to hear. Talking about Fabric has brought me down a bit and although he doesn't sound down as such, he definitely sounds tired.
"Things change, don't they? I'm not sure if it's changed for the worse. It's hard to say. It's hard to talk about that without coming across as being all it's not as good as it used to be and that's just the last thing you want to hear from anyone."
"It's a pleasure to be able to play records every weekend. Yes, it's unfortunate that clubs are being pushed out, moved out of neighborhoods, but that's always going to happen, unfortunately. Fabric had a really long run and it's deeply upsetting to see it go, but time marches on, unfortunately.
"There's a lot of positive things happening," he says. "It breaks my heart to see iconic venues shut down, but there's a great proliferation of underground clubs, especially in the States. Forward thinking DJs, forward thinking promoters are putting good events on and a lot of money into their underground stages. Things are pretty good. You know, I think it's gonna be OK."
Looking forward to the New York gig, I ask about how he plans his sets.
"It depends. I tend to get a set worked out and I might stick with it for a couple of weeks, just adjusting it slightly...and then I'll bin 80% of it and start again. Nah, I'll keep a lot of it. I might play a couple of tunes I know I've got exclusive access to for a few months. The music comes so thick and fast, you have to move with the times quickly. You have to change your set up, really. Now, I'll do some sets where I play about 95 percent all new music.”
Sasha’s current tour includes venues of all sizes, so he has to constantly change his sets to the vibe and size of the room. More often than not, he’s just one DJ in a line up lasting the whole night.
“It used to be that if somebody went on before you played big records, you get upset, and you felt like saying, ‘Why are you playing such big records?’ Now, it's almost the other way. Sometimes I get to a gig, and DJs are so kind and respectful, that they are playing such deep slow music, and it's 2am in the morning, and you can tell the crowd have just been itching to go off, and they've almost lost energy, because the guy playing before you is playing so deep, and so mellow, it almost makes your job harder,” he says.
“You've got to then almost do your own warm up. Before you know it, it's 4 o’clock in the morning before you've actually got the crowd hooked. It can actually make your job harder sometimes, if someone just plays so deep, and it's always nice to walk in to a club, and the place is bouncing. You go on, and you just try to ride the energy.”
Sasha plays at the Flash Factory, 229 West 28th Street, October 8. Tickets start at $25. His current album Scene Delete is available on iTunes. A 10" vinyl remix of Rival Consoles from that album is available for pre-order now and out October 7.