Interview: Sasha On Preserving Clubs, Magic Of John Digweed Partnership, LNOE Label Lessons

We chat with the UK dance legend about if there is anything in the works with Digweed, what is in the future of his Refracted show and his favorite spots in New York City.
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Sasha

In the pantheon of great DJs, there are few who rise above Sasha. With a career spanning three decades of incredible dance music, he continues to evolve with his label Last Night On Earth and his recent live show ReFracted.

Getting his start in 1990s, Sasha’s career took off as one of the first superstar DJs. He joined forces with John Digweed to tour extensively around the globe as Sasha & Digweed and released the now infamous Northern Exposure compilations.

Though the dance music industry took a big dip in the early 2000s, he continued to tour extensively and would continue to release new music. He launched his label Last Night On Earth in 2011 and used it as a platform to promote other artists like Joel Mull, Henry Saiz, Kate SimkoFur Coat and of course himself.

LNOE recently hit 100 releases, marking the occasion with a compilation that featured remixes of previously released tracks on the label done by artists who were new and familiar to the label. Some of the names on the 11-track include Fur Coat, YottoVONDA7 and Nicole Moudaber.

We had a chance to catch up with Sasha to discuss the new compilation, his journey as a label owner, the magic of playing with John Digweed, his love for New York City and the future of the ReFracted show.

Catch Sasha playing All Night Long at Teksupport on Saturday, March 23.

How did you pick the remixers for the compilation?

We went back to a lot of people whose records we’d signed already in the past, like Fur Coat, Nicole Moudaber, VONDA7. Then some DJs who have really supported the label, like Radio Slave who was really keen to remix “Cut Me Down.” He’s been doing some amazing vocal mixes recently, like his remix of Charlotte Gainsbourg that I’ve been closing my sets with a lot over the last year. He nailed that. Locked Groove is someone who is doing brilliantly at the moment. I’ve been supporting his music a lot of the last couple of years and he was very keen to work on Max Cooper.

Why did you decide to do this type of a compilation instead of some other type of a release for LNOE’s 100th?

It felt like a great way to celebrate the 100 release, by doing something special – it was nice to look back a the catalogue of releases and show people where we come from, what we’ve been up to and achieved over that time.

Can fans expect to see any shift in the music you drop or how you release music over the next 100 LNOE releases?

Over the next year there’s going to be a lot of new music coming out from me. I’ve been working in the studio a lot over the last year or so, so we’re just in the process of finishing it all. Some of that will drop on LNOE and some on other labels. I’m working on music for the next live shows whenever that comes together too. It’s going to be a big year for releases! Last year I didn’t release a lot as we were so busy writing, but this one will be different. In terms of the label we’re going to continue working with producers we really like, trying to unearth new upcoming talent and break artists through, and looking for music that really fits the dynamic of the label.

What has been the biggest learning curve you have had with LNOE?

It’s been a gentle ride really! I think because we didn’t have huge expectations for it, it’s all come together really naturally. I’ve got such a strong team of people working on it and I trust their judgment implicitly, which really helps. We just sign tracks we’re really into. We turn down a lot of music too. A lot of people think if they write floating arpeggiated synth line it’ll get signed to LNOE; we receive so many tracks where they say they’ve written it for the label and it’s just not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for stuff that has melodic content, but it has to have an edge to it. It has to be looking forward or doing something different to what everyone else is doing. It’s been a real natural growth, and the 100 release really caught me by surprise that we’d got this far so quickly.

How has your reunion with John Digweed for the various back to backs you have done over the past two years felt different or the same this time around?

There’s a special feeling when John and I play together and it’s a really natural fit in the DJ booth, we seem to pull stuff out of each other any play differently when we’re together. It’s almost like it never went away even though we had a long break from each other. It feels the same as it always has done. It just works really effortlessly.

Do you have any plans for songs or mix compilations?

Nothing planned here.

There seems to be a greater emphasis on trying to protect nightlife institutions from rising rents and gentrification, though with mixed results. What would be a few measures you would take to see plus stay open if you had power over laws, urban planning, booking fees etc?

That’s a tough question. What has happened in most cities over the last 20 years, the clubs will move to an area of town that’s not residential and maybe a bit run down and the rent’s cheaper. Then of course once the club moves in, it becomes a cool place to hang out and more places start opening around it, then the rent’s go up and it’s a self-perpetuating collapse. I think the clubs have to keep looking to move, which is very hard! It’s really tough to open a club in the middle of nowhere, and then suddenly you’re surrounded by million dollar apartments or whatever. I’m not sure what the solution is. I don’t know if you can protect it. 

Also, I think clubs tend to have a shelf life and run their course. It’s pretty rare that you get a club like Fabric that’s gone for so long, like 20 years. Clubs do come and go and it’s the natural progression of things. It’s sad to see things close down sometimes but it’s the way the scene moves forward. It’s a difficult one. The same thing happened in NYC, Output moved to an area in Brooklyn where there was nothing and had a really successful run, and next thing they open a tower block or $2 or 3 million-dollar apartments across the road from it and they all start complaining about the noise. Unless the government is prepared to find an area and devote it to nightlife which would be awesome, but I can’t imagine that happening. It would have to be an industrial area away from town that was disused, and even then, somebody will decide to build an apartment block there!

What were some of your favorite places to eat and drink in New York (as a New Yorker asking this question)?

I like a lot of the ramen joints like Ivan’s Ramen, Ippudo, Momofuku. Then some of the more popular places too, I love Katz’s Deli - I know it’s a tourist trap but it’s great! And Russ & Daughters, their salmon bagels are awesome. I love Strip House for steaks. There’s a little sushi joint on 10 called Yuba that I really liked. It’s nothing to look at but I love the sushi in there, they have some really interesting fish. Motorino does amazing pizza. The Italian food in New York is out of this world. I really like Charlie Bird too.

What is the future of your ReFracted show and musical concept? Has the prep and hours for these shows been more manageable compared to the all-night lifestyle of DJIng?

As of now were not sure what we’re doing with the show, we’re reconfiguring it. It’ll be based around new music, so until that’s finished we’re not going to know how to convert it into the new show. The ReFracted show as it was with the strings isn’t something I can tour with, and that’s something that I’m really keen to do. We put so many hours into creating this live show and I feel like we should be able to tour it. The problem is there are about 35 people involved in that show and it’s not feasible to tour with that many people. We’re looking at developing it into something we can maybe tour with and put into a festival even, so it doesn’t always have to fit into a theater type venue. But we learned very much how to build a live set with the Barbican and the Roundhouse events. 

The amount of work that it takes is infinitely more than a DJ set, notably with that many people, the logistics side of things is quite intense. It’s very different to me turning up with a USB stick! But like this last weekend, I’m playing until 7am then catching a 10am flight to the next city, which is physically so demanding. It’s very different. Most live sets are finished by 11pm at night. But I really got the bug from doing those shows and the feedback we got was fantastic, so I definitely want to make sure that we continue to do it and progress with it. 

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