Ever since Mixmag speculated in the year 1994 that Sasha may be a descendent of God, the producer and DJ has remained one of dance music's holiest deities, and for a good reason. The man, whose born name is Alexander Coe (of Nazareth, obviously), has ticked off most of the proverbial boxes a clubbing legend could check—an era-defining club residency, the world's first commercial mix CD, a pioneer of digital DJing—but it's his forthcoming album for long-running downtempo mix CD series Late Night Tales that displays at even nearly 50 years young, he still has some tricks up his sleeve.
His first album since 2002, Scene Delete (out April 1 on CD and 3xLP), flexes Coe's affinity for minimal compositions, and sees him collaborating with Radiohead member Nigel Godrich's band, Ultraísta, British artist John Graham, as well as ThermalBear, on a variety of tracks built more for your headphones than the peaking dancefloor. While most LNT compilations have an artist act as crate-digger, choosing tracks they love that fit the lounge-y ethos of the series, Sasha's contribution features purely original tracks. Along with premiering a mini-mix of the album, we caught up with the artist over email to hear more about his affinity for ambient music, whether you'd ever find him in a 90s chill-out room, and how important it is to try something different in one's career.
THUMP: You said in an interview with Billboard that you often yearn to make music that's more downtempo, while producing more of what you usually release. Where do you think that desire comes from?
Sasha: I've always liked to put ambient and melodic sounds into my club tracks, even though they're subtle and not always audible, but I always try and find a way of getting that in there. I find myself gravitating to a lot of that kind of [downtempo music] when I'm not working. So working on that kind of music, without beats in, didn't seem like that much of a stretch to me. It's not like I've gone from making acidic techno to making music for an orchestra. So really the Scene: Delete album is not that much of a departure from a lot of my previous stuff. You can trace parallels all the way back to Airdrawndagger and Northern Exposure. There's a sonic link to all them.
Was the album at all influenced by chill-out rooms you encountered during the UK rave-heyday?
[Laughs] I can't say I spent that much time in those rooms to be honest. I was far more interested in what was going on in the main dancefloor. And if I wasn't DJing I was probably close to a big set of speakers somewhere. The music from back then, like the original ambient music that came out of the British rave scene, was such a wonderful movement: The Orb, KLF, the Weatherall stuff. It was such an amazing period of music. And it had this psychedelic, dub influence and people weren't scared of sampling anything. There was a copyright-free, anything goes attitude. I had many post-club experiences lying down and listening to the KLF's Chill Out.
How is your approach in the studio different—emotionally and technically—when making more ambient-leaning music versus club tracks?
You spend a lot of time, when you're making club music just trying to transport yourself on to the dancefloor, whereas when you're writing that spaced-out, melodic music you allow yourself to drift off and go with the mood. With that sort of style, I think it is quite influenced on how you're feeling that day. If you're going into a dark space or feeling euphoric, you can really allow the music to go with your moods. For example, some of the stuff on this album was actually written for projects that didn't happen. There was a movie we'd written parts for; it was a very dark film with lots of bodies being buried in the desert, very violent, so we'd written this very dark music to it. So we pulled out a lot of the darkness from the music for Scene: Delete and added melodies.
How important do you think it is for an artist to flip the switch and try something totally different than what people have come to expect?
I don't think this album is a million miles away from what I've done previously. The beats are different, the flow is different, but it feels like a natural progression from the last music I did and for where I'm going next. There's really nothing on this record, where people are going to go, "WTF? That's not Sasha!" It's sometimes risky for artists to step out of their comfort zone and try something new—it can work or it can backfire—but I don't feel like [this album] was a risk. Once I knew it was going to come out on Late Night Tales, it gave us this umbrella under which we could work. It was only half done when we first presented it to them, but once they came back to us and said, "OK, let's do this as an original album", it gave us the impetus and direction to make the record we did.
Do you listen to ambient music a lot in your spare time?
I do, especially if I've been working on club music a lot in the studio. I like to put [ambient] music on, just because it helps me clear my head out. Any of that hypnotic, ambient music, to me, is just like club music, but without the beats—it's almost like techno without the rhythms. It helps me refocus my brain a bit and it also helps me get rid of the tune I've been working on all day. Sometimes the music you're working on can get in your head and you feel like you're dreaming about it. It's usually a good sign that you're making a good tune but it can also drive you a bit mad.
Do you plan to play some of the tracks from the album out in a live setting?
There are no plans to do that right now, but it could be something that we do in the future.
Interview conducted by Bill Brewster