Rah Beat Style Interview,
Sasha and John Digweed,
San Diego CA,
14 November 2001:
I enter the hotel room just two hours before showtime. Apparently, I’ve just missed room service. Sasha greets me with a kind smile as he leads me to his dinner table. He’s getting his helping of vegetables, asparagus, and then a hearty, blood-red steak. As I watch him eat and we discuss his thoughts, I’m somewhat surprised at how relaxed he is. It would only be an hour after my departure that he and John Digweed would take to the stage at San Diego’s 4th&B to kick off their first US tour together in years. Here was a chance for another type of communication. As they are two pioneers of the proliferation of electronic music, we discuss where electronic music was, where electronic music is, and where electronic music will be.
How is it that you’ve managed to cull such staying power in an industry where everybody and their mother is becoming a DJ? One reader wondered if fame could dilute passion.
Sasha: Ha! I don’t think fame dilutes passion, I think overworking sometimes can. You can get burned out a little bit when you’ve just been touring and touring and touring. It’s very rare that happens though. Most of the time, as soon as you walk in to a club and everyone’s going nuts, you get that buzz, you know. I think that the fact that both myself and John have been in it for as long as we have, there are probably some things that have given us staying power: the fact we’ve always chosen our own route with the music, tried to push our own sound, really believed in what we were doing with our sound, stuck to our guns really. We didn’t cheese out. As soon as house music and trance music started to get really commercial, we didn’t go down that route. Kind of stuck to what we were doing. We believe in it. I’d have no idea what to do in my life if I wasn’t doing this – so you know, it’s not about having staying power. It’s about "This is my life!" I don’t have any other options, really.
John Digweed: I guess it’s just that we started before it was ever really so fashionable. I’m in it because of love. I’ve always wanted to be a DJ, always loved the crowd.
Electronic music in the last couple of years has really gotten pretty vocal heavy. How do you feel about this turn, and where do you think this kind of music will head in the future?
S: Yeah, there’s been some big vocal records, but 80-90% of the music John and I play is instrumental. There has been the odd big one-off vocal record, but personally I feel there is a lot of great vocal music out there. There’s not enough great songs written in the electronic genre.
J: The majority is definitely instrumental. I find vocals with progressive music to be cheesy.
It’s been said that music lawyers might be the end of hip-hop with all of the clearances they require for sampling.
By its very nature, electronic music requires sampling. Do you think electronic music could ever be faced with the same dilemma?
S: You just have to be clever. If you sample something, you just have to clear it. Most people are cool about you sampling if you clear it first. There’s a couple we have to stay away from, usually the major artists. But if you clear the sample early on, you usually won’t have a problem. It’s when you don’t clear a sample that you get found out and get in trouble. That’s what happened to the Verve with Symphony. They took a streamline from this guy, didn’t clear it out, and ended up not making a penny off of it. It was their biggest record ever.
S: Rough. But with electronic music, usually the samples you take can be chopped up and distorted and fucked and re-fucked with that you would have no idea where it came from anyway.
Even if you were to go and put it on an album?
S: Yeah, you recycle stuff. You fuck it around, you play around with it on your computer. You distort it. You pull it around in different directions. There’s no way people would ever realize you’ve sampled their record. A lot of electronic music is about taking little ideas and sounds from other people’s records and completely reinventing them to your own sound. I mean, this is the way we process stuff. You know, we can take quite obvious samples, but once you’ve played around with them in the computer for half an hour, they’re completely unrecognizable.
You use a lot of computers?
S: Yeah, do a lot of stuff on my laptop. A lot of sound manipulations. (There is a knock at the door. Sasha gets up to meet the room-service gent bearing mustard for his steak. I follow him, tape recorder in hand.) You know sometimes it’s fun to create all your own sounds from scratch from the beginning, using analog synths. But sometimes it’s just fun to grab a load of CD’s, and just pull off a load of noises. Just play around with them.
Is there a software you’re using right now that you find most helpful?
S: There’s loads of stuff I use now. There’s Logic, and a great program called Reason. There’s loads of stuff. My laptop is packed full.
I noticed that you have your laptop sitting here.
S: Oh, I just use that one for email. My I-Book’s not very good for sound. I’ve got a G4 Titanium that I use for my real stuff.
Holds up during the show?
S: I don’t use any computers live. You know, just for messing around with ideas, maybe in the hotel room. You know, I’ll be working on a song, and not have time to finish an arrangement, so I’ll load it onto the laptop and can work on it while I’m traveling.
Let’s switch topics. With all of our talent stateside, you even mentioned that you’re excited to be back in the states, America still seems to always lag behind when it comes to electronic music. You and John started the American touring DJ set.
S: Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, house music came from Chicago, and underground clubs in NY, but Europe and Britain especially, Germany, and the countries that really embraced it had built a culture, really, surrounding it. A whole acid-house, dance music culture. Yeah, it did take a few years for that culture to come back to America and I guess it was something to do with DJ’s coming back to America with their interpretations of what dance music was, bringing it back to the states for that to happen.
J: Everyone always thinks that the grass is greener on the other side. Perhaps there is just greater enthusiasm [in other places].
It just seems to totally lag behind. Everything that comes, comes out of England. Say, for instance, Two-Step, which is just now making waves in the US.
S: Ah, Two Step. Two-Step’s a pop sound, not an underground club sound and to be honest, I think it’ll come and go. Every year there’s the new sound that breaks through and the magazines go crazy over it, but within two or three years, it’s basically disappeared.
That’s definitely what we’ve seen. The magazines have certainly gone crazy over two-step. Some have completely embraced it.
S: Yeah, magazines love to do that.
Alright. Who do you feel are the hottest producers right now, and is there anybody in the business that you’d like to work with?
S: Wow. There’s loads of people. Um, can we come back to that? That’s like asking me what my favorite record is.
[I begin to laugh] That’s actually a question I was planning on asking you! I’ll come back to them both later so that you can think about ‘em.
J: I like Lexicon Avenue. And John Creamer and Stephanie K. Also Tenaglia.
Living in south Florida, I was privileged to have the Winter Music Conference in my back yard. But other than that, we really don’t have many other festivals right now, save for probably the Detroit Music Festival. I’m wondering where you think the best parties and the best scenes are happening today.
S: The Conference IS fun, but I think it’s over-subscribed. It’s just really hard for everyone to get into the clubs and see the DJ’s you want to see. There’s so many people there, there’s just not enough room in the clubs on South Beach. I think that’s definitely a problem. A lot of the clubs are really over crowded. It IS a GREAT week. It’s a good chance to see a lot of people. With the whole industry coming together, I get to see a lot of DJ’s I don’t get to see for the rest of the year. But in terms of the actual events, and in terms of actual fun people have at the events, they’re usually so packed out that it’s a little bit intense. I really miss playing at Twilo. I really miss New York. I’m looking forward to getting back there next week for the end of this tour. We’ve got this new venue that we’re doing there called Cipriani’s which will be fun.
I’ve noticed that you’re donating 100% of the profits from that gig. Admirable.
S: Yeah, felt like the right thing to do.
S: San Francisco. West Coast. You know, LA has really blossomed in the last sort of three or four years. It’s turned into a really great clubbing capital. Um, outside of there, South America is absolutely blowing up at the moment. Buenos Aires, Uruguay, Puenta del Este, Costa Rica, Lima, Peru, um, friend of mine just did a gig down in Panama and he said it was really amazing. So I think that’s a market that’s really going to get fun over the next few years. And then outside of that, there’s so many places. Hong Kong is fun, Singapore... Australia was great. I was out there for New Years last year. I did Bondai Beach in Sydney and then John and I did a warehouse party in Melbourne.
Sweet. Now, you mentioned Twilo. Speaking of Twilo, how do you feel about the closing? And now that it has, will you continue to seek out big venues, or are you going to stick to the smaller, more intimate venues such as those of this tour?
J: I’m real sad. It was one of the best clubs in the world. I have lots of special memories from there, with some very special people.
S: This tour, I’ve been out of the loop for so long, I just wanted to get back involved in the clubs. Next spring we’re gonna be doing a lot of big venues. I really miss playing those big rooms. Twilo really inspired a certain kind of music to come out of me and John. I really do miss having that outlet for the music. And to play for eight hours at a time! We’re basically intending this tour to be a kind of teaser, an intro to the tour we’ll be doing next spring. It’s gonna be big.Hopefully trying to bring the Twilo experience to the rest of America.
Terrific! But that was tried this summer, and met with problems. Take Creamfields for instance, which had to be canceled.
S: We’re not talking that big. That was a festival. John and I are gonna be hopefully touring 5-8000 person venues, not Creamfields. They might have set their sights way too high.
S: Yeah, there’s lots of things like that. Like Coachella.
Yes, I went to that this year. It was fantastic. I actually felt that it could have lasted three days. I was running around trying to catch a glimpse of everything I wanted to see.
S: That’s what festivals are about. You don’t get to see everything. You usually find a spot that you like, and chill out there. Trying to see everything is a pointless exercise.
Just a couple more questions. First, what do you like about playing in a duo, and what is gained or lost versus playing solo?
J: I enjoy vibing off of each other... The buzz. We really enjoy challenging each other with the different mixes.
S: It’s just a great experience DJing with John. We have a trust and a respect and a comfort with each other that we don’t really have to worry about where each other’s heads are at. It just feels right. The same way that sometimes I’ll DJ with somebody, even though it’s the same kind of music, it might not flow. With John it just flows, even when we haven’t DJ’ed with each other for months and months. We get on the decks and it just works. We support each other. I can’t really put it into words. There’s just something there.
Chemistry. (But then I realized that he might not have used that word because it truly IS something bigger than that.)
S: Uh-huh. (And he continued to munch on his dinner, seeming totally content with the way he had described the relationship, and perhaps a tad annoyed at my eagerness to name that which might not be nameable.)
So you started together in '93 at Renaissance.
S: Yeah. We met through Renaissance. Our first gig together was actually in Hastings, for the very first Bedrock birthday. It’s just a long enduring relationship. Hasn’t really had many bumps in the road. I could see it lasting a long time, still. We both enjoy doing our solo things, but there’s something about when we play together that just, I don’t know, I think we both just enjoy having each other in the DJ booth, buzzing off each other, you know.
Even with the superstar designation you’ve been awarded, you know, I asked you moments ago where the best scene is – maybe once this gets printed, based on your word, South America could blow up even more. How does that feel? Are there still things you strive to achieve? I’m sure, being an artist, that you constantly feel a need for improvement in your work.
J: I would think our goals to be similar to any regular band’s.
S: Yeah. To be honest, this year, I’ve had to put my DJing to the back of my mind, working on an original artist album. I’ve really focused on that goal this year, and it’s really close to being done. That’s my immediate goal but once that happens I don’t know where it will take me, possibly to another area; I don’t know. But I’m really looking forward to once my record is finished, for me to actually be able to go back on the road and have all that energy that I’ve been devoting towards writing music and spending that time in the studio, I want to devote that energy back to DJing again. I can’t wait to get back to South America, back to the far east, being in America on a regular basis. You know, this album has just really pulled me away from DJing, but it’s been a great experience.
When does the album come out?
S: Don’t know yet. Hopefully next year.
Alright. Can we come back to the hottest producers now?
S: I’ve just been working with two guys, Charlie May from Spooky that I did Xpander with, he’s doing some really amazing stuff at the moment, collaborating on my album. And also Tom from Junkie XL, he’s been doing some amazing stuff. I’ve been in the studio with him. So they’re two that I’m really buzzing off at the moment.
Finally, what are you listening to right now?
J: I’m listening mainly to Bedrock stuff. I get demos all the time, new DJs, up and comers, people shopping me their records. So I spend most of my time separating the wheat from the chaff.
S: I’ve got the Royk Sopp album, which is really cool.They're a Scandinavian band. Kind of poppy, house-y, disco-y, interesting. Kind of on the Gus Gus tip.
Moments later, I watched the stage with excited anticipation as I knew that the two DJs were both psyched and primed to be the masters of the crowd, together again, at long last, in the United States. Sasha and Digweed played to a packed house, bombarding each and every ear with their mainly colorful, but still at times dark, high progressive states combined with the slow throws of downtempo house. That night’s cranial invasion seemed more than welcomed as the crowd appeared to thirst for more than the almost five-hour set would deliver. Yet when the night came to a close and the sun began to peak at us from just around the corner, we realized that our musical thirsts had been quenched – if only for the time being.