Original ‘Superstar DJ’ of the 1990s and prodigious hedonist, Sasha has become something of a pacified elder statesman of rave in recent years. Having played residencies at the Hacienda in Manchester, the Sound Factory in New York, and in countless Ibiza mega-clubs, there aren’t many DJ booths that haven’t seen his unique blend of pulsating progressive house, ambient interludes and euphoric trance.
Yet, his latest project, 2016’s Scene Delete LP, moved away from the club and into the neoclassical-cum-electronic space of the concert hall. A sprawling work taking reference from Steve Reich, Nils Frahm, Jon Hopkins and others, it was recently reworked for performance with orchestral backing at the Barbican. The Barbican dates were the first live performances of Sasha’s lengthy career, and we caught up with him to speak about relearning the piano, avoiding ‘90s nostalgia, and timeless melodies.
Ammar Kalia: How did the Barbican project come about?
Sasha: After I made Scene Delete, the label Late Night Tales suggested to me that I should do a live performance of it at the Barbican. I’d never done a live show before and I had no idea where to start! Around the same time though I went to the Barbican to watch Nils Frahm play and it blew me away. Obviously, I can’t play like he does, since he’s a concert pianist, but the way he mixed electronics with acoustic instruments was inspiring. So, last October I agreed to do it and the tickets sold out so fast, we’ve spent the last six months building the show out of nothing!
“I went to the Barbican to watch Nils Frahm play and it blew me away.”
Ammar: You played material from your back catalogue as well as from Scene Delete?
Sasha: I felt that just performing Scene Delete wouldn’t be enough, so I started digging into my back catalogue. I went through a load of my old music and listened to the melodies; hearing some of those tracks I was surprised at how many strong ideas there were that we could reinvent for a live show. It was fun to cherry-pick those moments from the past and rework them.
Ammar: Producers like Goldie and Pete Tong have recently collaborated with the Heritage Orchestra to rework their back catalogues – have you been influenced by those performances at all?
Sasha: Lots of people are taking apart electronic work at the moment but I didn’t want it to feel like a ‘classics’ show, I wanted it to be something new and fresh.
Ammar: Does the concert hall feel like a natural environment for your work?
Sasha: It’s a very different feeling to DJ-ing and I don’t know where it’s going to take me but it definitely feels like a natural progression. This project has been the hardest and largest one I’ve ever worked on but I think it’s going to be the beginning of a whole new trajectory in my career.
“This project has been the hardest and largest one I’ve ever worked on but I think it’s going to be the beginning of a whole new trajectory in my career.”
Ammar: Will you be writing live in the future then?
Sasha: Now me and my studio team all have our own setups of keyboards or drums or synths that we can play, that’s how I’ll be writing music from now on. It’s almost gone full circle because the setup I’ve created for this show is similar to what I had in my first studio: a drum machine, a couple of synths, and a piano. I want to start writing from performances, then going back into the studio and reworking it, rather than sitting in front of a computer and writing on a screen. This method is about jamming and playing live with each other, it’s about catching that feeling of a performance.
Ammar: Would you want to go into creating soundtracks and more orchestral arrangements also?
Sasha: I’d love to! A lot of people say the show sounds very cinematic, but the composers in that world who are at the top of their game are Hollywood machines, working twenty-hour days knocking out film scores and I’m not sure if that’s where I want to go with it. All I know is that the next big project I do after this will be approached from this live angle, which I’m very excited about!