Superstar DJ Sasha, After the Star Fades

A 2005 sit-down with the DJ on developing technologies and breaking into the mainstream

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In the late ’90s and early ’00s, a seismic shift occured in the British electronic music scene. After The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of ’94, the country’s enormous illegal rave network was met with such orchestrated institutional resistance that it split into different forms. From this split, the superclub – and the superstar DJ – was born. One of the key figures in this rise was Sasha, the Welsh DJ and producer who, along with the likes of John Digweed, Chemical Brothers and Underworld, and fuelled by a new press-led fervor about British dance music, pushed a stadium-filling, trance-focused sound to the masses. In this ’05 interview from the DJ History archives, Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton talk to Sasha about his now-timely opinions on the development of dance music technologies, and what a birds-eye view of DJ superstardom really saw.

Is the buzz of DJing still the same for you?

The buzz now, or the buzz when I was 18-years old? The whole scene was different then. Everything was edgier and more underground. It all felt like it could fall apart at any minute. DJing at warehouse parties in Manchester, you never knew what was going to happen. That was a real buzz. But I just played in Buenos Aires in an outdoor stadium to 23,000 people and they were going fucking mental. Doing things like my residencies in the States and coming back to play fabric every now and again, it’s still a massive buzz.

Are you glad to see the superstar craziness crash?

I guess so. I was never comfortable on the cover of magazines. Hated it – hated doing that sort of stuff – but it’s part of the game, isn’t it?

There was a symbiotic relationship between DJs like you, Mixmag and some of the clubs you played at. The three kind of fed into each other, so obviously it really helped you and your career.

Of course – I’m the first to admit that. As soon as I was on the cover of Mixmag I suddenly started getting people from Australia ringing me up to book me, and touring the world. Without my covers of Mixmag I wouldn’t have been able to develop my career the way that it has. Of course there’s that relationship.

Am I glad to see it go? No – I’m quite sad about the way it’s imploded in Britain. Some of those clubs were great, even though they did get a bit out of control. It was quantity over quality. There were too many big nights going on and the people who were paying their hard-earned money to go into the clubs weren’t getting respected. There were so many mediocre nights on and so much mediocre music being put out, with everybody jumping on this huge bandwagon. It just got big, fat and ugly and it needed some air let out of its tires. It’s a shame because, in Britain, they’ve just slashed the tires completely. The rest of the world is still buzzing.

Did you ever feel like you were just a marketing tool?

Not really, but I was definitely shocked at some of the figures flying around, leading up to ’00, in terms of money that was getting offered. It was like, “What the fuck is going on?”

Money offered to you?

To me and to other people – you know, these things you hear.

Can you go on record saying what the most outrageous thing was?

The most outrageous thing [that I ever did] was when I turned down £50,000 to DJ for two hours.


As soon as I did it I said to myself, “I’m going to fucking regret this.”

Where was that?

I’m not telling you where it was or who offered me the money but... I was recording my album in Amsterdam. It was my last two weeks of being in the studio and because I hadn’t actually DJed for four or five months, I knew that in order to get my set together and do it properly I would have had to spend a couple of days sorting things out.

What I should have done was just get a load of tunes together, got on a plane, taken the money and ran, but I guess I just couldn’t in my right mind do that. Daft. Really daft. It was an insane time. Every weekend, with the amount of competition between clubs in England, was crazy, and now there are five or six gigs in the UK that are worth playing, like fabric and Tribal Sessions. It’s a shame.

I used to be able to fill my diary up for three months by just touring around the UK – and it was all those provincial places that were really brilliant, like Mansion in Bournemouth. People used to go potty. That circuit doesn’t exist any more, not for this sort of music. I’m sure people there are going out on Saturday nights, but they’re not listening to this sort of music – or, if they are, it’s a local guy that’s playing it and the club owners aren’t paying him £10,000 to fill a club.

But the rest of the world’s still fucking having it, especially in emerging markets like South America and China. It’s exciting to go out there now. I’m on my way out to China in November for my second proper tour out there, for two or three weeks. It was nuts last time. Beijing and Shanghai.

What size of venues do you play?

They’ve booked me into these ridiculous sized venues. I think they were expecting fireworks to come out of my bum or something. I was booked to play in a science museum in Shanghai. I praise the promoters for this tour because the productions were just amazing. I walked in and there’s this huge sound system and amazing stages, but in a completely unfeasible venue. I mean, the science museum had never had this sort of music before.

We didn’t start till midnight and the party was supposed to go till 4AM. Of course, by 12:30AM, the police turned up and there were guns and riot batons everywhere. “What the fuck’s going on?” All the parties got shut down apart from the smaller ones. When I go back now, we’re going to do much more realistic venues. I’ve never, ever had to do press conferences like I had to do in China. I felt like J-Lo or something: 50 microphones and cameras everywhere.

Did the superstar thing ever affect what you were trying to do in the booth?

At certain times it did – when I toured too much, when it was all jammed together. It became this big, grinding machine. It was never like that when I DJed in Manchester. The furthest I’d go would be Coventry and I’d have maybe one or two gigs at the weekend, so I’d spend all week at home just going through records. I didn’t have a record contract. I didn’t have remixes to do. I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t have any of that sort of stuff. My whole week would be built around the next week’s set.

Once it became this career, all of my free time got eaten up completely and it became much more of a business. It was very important that I deliver the goods every Saturday, but I had much less time to prepare which, for me, is why I embraced the digital side of things. I spend a lot of time sitting in a car, or on a train or plane; I can utilize now all of that once-wasted time to prepare for the next gig. As a DJ who’s constantly touring, I live out of airports.

I’m playing out thinking I’m ahead of these bastards, and then I get the tracklist forwarded to me, virtually record for record, and I’m like, “Fucking hell, how do these people know this stuff? Have they got my phone tapped? What’s going on?” Drives me nuts.

You’re getting your set together in departure lounges?

Yeah, and doing edits in the departure lounge, making sure that each gig has its own special moments: preparing intros for a certain part of the world and incorporating some music from that area; trying to do something interesting and special for each place, which I think is important. People get disappointed if they hear a set that they’ve downloaded off the internet, and then you come to play their club and they hear 80% of what they’ve been listening to in their cars for a couple of months.

One hundred years ago, a stand up comic could do the same jokes for years because there was no TV. For DJs, it’s become like everyone’s watching you all the time.

Yeah, everyone’s watching you. I’m shocked. I’m fucking shocked. Sometimes I’ll play on Saturday night and someone will forward me my tracklist for the entire night on Monday morning, bar about three fucking tunes, and I’ve just got that stuff that week. It’s all brand new music. I’m playing out thinking I’m ahead of these bastards, and then I get the tracklist forwarded to me virtually record for record, and I’m like, “Fucking hell, how do these people know this stuff? Have they got my phone tapped? What’s going on?” Drives me nuts. Well, it’s funny. The good thing about DJing with Ableton is that you can change things around.

Outwit them?

You can slightly outwit them.

Why do you think you inspire such obsessive adoration?

It’s not just me.

It’s not just you, but it’s you in particular.

I definitely get the worst of them. Fucking weirdos.

When I DJed with you at fabric, there was a build-up of 20-year old boys around the DJ booth. Does that disrupt what you do, or are you just used to it?

It is bizarre. When I’m in the club I don’t really notice it, unless it’s one of those booths where they can really get at you. I hate those. I like fabric especially because I can’t see anyone around me and I just get into it on my own. I went through a little phase of looking through the forums, but it’s bizarre. It’s like sitting in a toilet cubicle and overhearing your name, and you’re not sure if you want to listen in case someone’s slagging you off.

Everybody’s got a fucking opinion and you can’t please these people. It’s quite unhealthy. I know a couple of other DJs who used to finish their sets and go straight onto the forums, and I’m like, “What are you doing this for?” It’s soul-destroying. And they used to get really upset by some of the things that were said. These kids are sat there off their nuts after the club, and they’ve got nothing better to do than just sit there and type crap. I have a look every now and again. It’s a good reality check to see where the land lies.

Have any of them stepped over the line and become stalkers?

Yeah. It’s happened a couple of times. It’s weird because I don’t seem to attract stalkers that want to get in touch with me, but they really hassle my managers and my agents and won’t stop phoning the office. I’ve had a couple of people that have invented whole relationships with me who are just bizarre. They haven’t even got my phone number or my email address, but they’ve created this relationship.

What, they pretend they’ve got some kind of business with you?

Yeah. It’s very strange.

You had someone going around Northern Ireland pretending to be you.

That was years ago. He pulled it off, mate. I got to take my hat off to him. I blew the gig out. I don’t know if the promoter arranged for this guy to turn up. I’d just shaved my head as well, the only time I’ve ever done it. I did this complete skinhead when I was on tour, and some kid shaved his head, played the set and apparently walked off with £3,000 or something. No one knew any better until I announced that I wasn’t even in the country.

Do you like playing to huge audiences?

2 Bad Mice - Bombscare

I’ve always struggled with playing in those big arenas apart from the early days, when it was just one big acid house family and no one gave a fuck. You’d play “Bombscare” next to Denise Lopez. It wasn’t split up into all these different genres.

Now I go to those festivals and see how powerful that trance music thing is. You see 15,000 kids going nutty to one of those classical pieces of music with a 145BPM trance beat behind it. It works in that environment, but it’s a million miles away from where the scene came from. The only credible music that I’ve ever seen work in that environment is the Chemical Brothers and Underworld – Underworld especially, they just know how to do it. It’s that stadium sound and they’ve done it without being cheesy. They’re one of the few that can actually pull it off.

What did it feel like when you first walked into the Haçienda and saw all that in action?

I’d been a couple of times before when it was much more like jacking house music, before the acid house thing had kicked in and everyone had gone completely bonkers. There was this dance troupe called Foot Patrol and they used to take over the dancefloor. They’d have dance battles in the Haçienda with early Chicago house music, and people would get quite dressed up for it.

I didn’t go for a couple of months and when I went back, acid house had arrived. The whole place was day-glo and smiley faces. Everyone was doing this trance-dancing dance. My chin hit the floor. The music sounded like it was from another planet. The energy was shocking. I’d never seen a group of people behave like that before.

How much is what you do based on trying to recapture those moments?

My career has been based on my experiences at the Haçienda. The way I learned to build my DJ sets from people like Graeme Park and Jon DaSilva, and the sound of the Haçienda, especially in those first couple of years, the way they used to mix up all those different styles together, was inspiring. That idea of playing a long set, I always love doing that. And building that set towards the big records of the night.

My DJ career took off when the Haçienda went off on a certain route. Graeme Park and Mike Pickering veered off to playing a lot of the American records. The Italian stuff was getting all about big piano breaks, and I loved that. Our sounds went in different directions.

My first year of going to the Haçienda – pretty much religiously on Wednesdays and Fridays – that’s what shaped everything, really. It was such an influential place: the sound of it, the design of it, the whole way it was done; the advertising they used, with Peter Saville’s posters. It was a blueprint for the whole scene as far as I’m concerned.

Were you involved in any of those Blackburn raves?

Yeah. I used to go to them, and then towards the end I started DJing at them.

Was breaking the law part of the appeal?

Absolutely. We were constantly dodging police. Police and riot vans. It got to the point where the police would try to find out where the warehouse was, because if the police could get to the warehouse before the ravers then they could shut the party down. They started sending decoy convoys of 200 people, then the real convoy would head off, get to the warehouse, and then those 200 people would end up getting round there. As long as the party got going, it was fine. It really was dodging the police, especially at Blackburn.

It did feel like two fingers up at the law, but then they brought in the whole Criminal Justice Bill... There were a lot of reasons why [the illegal rave scene] had to come to a stop. The gangsters moved in up there and it just got really messy, really nasty – and quickly, actually.

Did you come down to London at all in that period?

No. I didn’t at all. I missed whatever Shoom was and I’m sure it was as influential to people down here. I guess if you were in the north it was the Haçienda. Down [in London] it was Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold.

Do you think with what you and John [Digweed] did in Twilo, you had a taste of that in inspiring America?

Maybe. I think the scene was already developing. I think what we did in Orlando a few years before – even though we didn’t have a regular club there, just the fact we were going to Orlando every two or three months and doing these massive parties – helped to build the scene. I went out first, then a while later John [Digweed] came out and then the Chemical Brothers. We were some of the first ones to go out there and then it really opened up.

Twilo was more like the jewel in the crown. After eight or nine years of hard work touring the States, to get that gig, a residency in New York, was like, “wow.” At that club as well – which used to be the Sound Factory, it was Junior’s club – where Danny [Tenaglia] had been a resident, and Frankie Knuckles, to get that residency, hold on to it and for it to be so successful was a defining moment.

I guess that maybe did shape things for people that were just getting into the scene. It was such a big huge space, with this low ceiling, enormous sound system and really dark room. Those minimal, progressive, dark records sounded so brilliant in there.

As soon as the club went, that music seemed to lose its place and it didn’t seem to have a home any more. I pretty much stopped playing that sound within six months of that venue stopping. It’s like how certain records just work at fabric and you struggle to make them work anywhere else.

There was also a whole mood change in music around that time as well. Just after 9/11, you started hearing guitars on the dancefloor. It got much more like bootlegs, electroclash came along and the whole sound just became more eclectic.

These big record companies aren’t going to allow some shitty little record from a 19-year old kid in his bedroom to get to number one and knock Beyoncé off, who they’ve invested 10 squillion quid in.

Where would you say America’s at now?

I’m really enjoying playing there at the moment.

Have the new rave laws affected US clubbing?

Definitely. People were scared to be putting those kind of nights on for a while. People might have ditched our kind of nights in favor of hip-hop nights, but I think hip-hop nights bring their own brand of trouble, and in the States especially.

Is America anywhere nearer to embracing dance music on a mainstream level?

I don’t think it ever will. I always said it was never gonna happen and then, a couple of years ago, when the trance thing started to get really big, I thought, “Maybe there’s a chance that somebody like Tiesto breaks into the Top 10.” But even with his remix of the Sarah McLachlan thing, the biggest selling trance record ever [“Delerium”], it still didn’t make an impact.

Delerium - “Silence feat. Sarah McLachlan (Tiesto Mix)”

I think a lot of the problem with America is the slow-moving nature of the charts. You have to have such a battle plan in place to get a record up the charts in the States, and you have to sit on it for so long. In its 12th, 13th, 14th week it’ll start to slowly move up the charts, your record company has to have a whole machine in place to keep going and then you’ve got to do the daytime television.

The whole nature of dance music, though, is about hearing stuff you haven’t heard before. Loving it and slinging it away. When you go to a rock show, you want to hear David Bowie do all his old hits, but the thing about electronic music is that people want to hear the new stuff. They might want a little classic thrown in at the end of the night, just for a little smile, but the rest of the night they want to hear shit they haven’t heard before.

The idea of an electronic record staying in people’s record boxes and on the DJs’ playlists for 20, 30, 40 weeks, which is sometimes what it takes for these pop acts to ease their way up the charts – it doesn’t work like that. It’s gonna need a Prodigy style act, an Underworld style act, but maybe from America, to really take it home. It’s gonna take stars, it’s gonna take characters, and that’s the one thing dance music’s always struggled with. We’re all faceless. We all like to sit in the dark – except for Tiesto. He loves being on the main stage. It will take somebody like him to break it through, but I don’t think he’ll be the figurehead of a movement like it was in the UK.

Everything But The Girl charted in the US.

Sonique - “It Feels So Good”

They did alright. Sonique’s “It Feels So Good” – I think that was a Top 10 record.

Top three.

It was, but it wasn’t the beginning of anything. It didn’t lead to anything else. Even the Prodigy’s album being number one didn’t lead to anything else. It’s all about stars and faces and characters, whereas in England some weird Benny Benassi record with a great video can get into the top five.

That’s the great thing about the British charts. Everyone’s got a shot at it. In the States it’s so much more calculated. There’s so much more at stake. These big record companies aren’t going to allow some shitty little record from a 19-year old kid in his bedroom to get to number one and knock Beyoncé off, who they’ve invested 10 squillion quid in. To go from selling 200,000 copies to selling 10 million copies, you’ve got to tap into that middle America thing and the only way to do that, it seems, is with the power of a big record company behind you.

The internet radio thing is opening it all up. It’s great now that there are all these great little radio stations happening, broadcasting that sort of music, but it’s such a niche audience. It’s not the middle America crowd of people. They’re the people who make or break album artists in the States. I’m quite happy for it to be sitting in the underground and never get to that mainstream thing. It would just fuck it up anyway. Maybe that’s why the scene might have longer legs there. Maybe it’ll last a lot longer because it’s not going to go nuts like it did here.

So what’s all the fuss about Ableton? What can you do with it that you can’t do with vinyl or CD?

The spontaneous way you can re-edit things is just amazing. I had a problem with it last weekend. I turned up in Greece ready to play and we had no power supply. I spent about four hours frantically burning CDs, and I went out and DJed on CDs and it was so weird because a lot of the tunes I’ve been used to playing are only four or five minutes long – I’m grabbing music from lots more diverse sources now – and I don’t realize how short they are. In the computer I can loop them up, stretch them out and turn them into eight- or nine-minutes long [tracks], extending the breakdowns. But when I had to DJ with CDs and the intros were only eight bars, it was really quite all over the place.

I’ve only scratched the surface of it. People who use it much more as a live performance thing really start to get into the snippets of sounds, and the cut-and-paste element of it. That’s when you can come up with some really interesting stuff. You’re almost writing and composing little hooks in the club and creating. When I was DJing with Josh Wink, he made me play a lot more cut-and-paste. He was looping up bits of his set over the top of my bit, sampling bits of mine. We were throwing things backwards and forwards and it became this wall of sound: just from snippets, instead of playing whole tracks. There’s so many different ways to approach it.

The problem is that its interface is very much a studio interface. Its not very user-friendly. I’m used to it, but it took me a good four or five months of practicing every weekend before it started to feel like DJing. For the first few months it didn’t feel like I was connected to it. I can understand that might scare people off a bit. I hope Ableton will listen to all the advice on the forums and come up with an interface that’s much more DJ-friendly. They’re still quite off the mark.

The important thing about technology is when it becomes transparent. Like a CDJ1000 – it took two nights for the thing to become transparent. You don’t have to think about it any more. You just reach over and that button does that, and it’s just transparent. Ableton took a long time before it became transparent and you still have to focus on it. What I’ve realized in the last month or so is that, for a while, I was just doing pure Ableton sets and it’s so draining on your head. Every point in your set you could go a thousand different ways, and it’s quite daunting.

Isn’t that the problem with digital DJing in general – you’re paralyzed by possibilities?

I had a couple of weekends where I didn’t have time to load up my computer, so I was going 50/50 between the computer and playing a couple of CDs, and I found that my sets sounded more vibrant that way. When you’re focusing 100% on that computer it can be quite taxing on your brain.

Just navigating all those tunes. With records you’ve got all those extra cues: the sleeves, the colours, the labels.

Well, CD to records is another thing. That’s a whole other argument. Looking through a record box, you get shapes and colors in your head. Looking through a browser at names of records, you really have to stay on top of what things are called. I mean, I know what my records are called now. Three or four years ago, I never remembered the names of tunes at all.

When I’ve seen you DJ, your box looked like you’d just tipped it in from a dustbin and then tipped it out again to start. There’s stuff everywhere, stuff not in sleeves... Have you had to alter that?

Yeah, absolutely. It forces you to be a lot more organized. But it means every time I play out it’s different. I can play different styles of sets for different clubs and not just go on tour with the same box of records for two months. Now I’m getting a DVD of new music every week. That’s 40 or 50 tunes that are going into the pot. It’s allowing me to be a lot more on the ball and play new music all the time, and also it’s really fucking important the position I’m in. Because sets get leaked on the internet, you get slagged so much if you play the same record over and over. There’s definitely a pressure to deliver something new and exciting every time you play out.

Because of the way you get so scrutinized...

Right. The fact that I can log into my server anywhere I am in the world, download [music] straight to my laptop and be playing out that night with new music. Before, if I was on tour for a long time, I’d have to get sent a box of records from London and make sure that I had access to a set of decks. Now it’s like, stuff goes straight onto my iPod and I’m in a taxi listening to new music and sorting things through. It’s definitely allowing me much more freedom to be spontaneous and throw new music in because I know it, rather than testing stuff out in the club.

Those kids don’t sit there going, “Oh, he’s mixing in key.” The only time your mixing is noticed is if you fuck up. Mixing in key is like being able to kick a football if you’re a footballer.

What do you say to people who say DJs should play vinyl?

I see their argument. My girlfriend really loves vinyl. She’s constantly having a go at me and I see the attraction to it. I’m not sitting here saying this is the only way forward. It works for me and I like it. I also really enjoyed playing this weekend off CDs, when I was stuck without the computer. At the end of the day, it’s DJing.

Someone might have heard me a year ago playing off CDs and then hear a set off Ableton and think Ableton sucks, but maybe they just don’t like the music this year. It’s just a format of playing records. It’s not the only format. I think Ableton may well be superseded by another technology in the next six months. Pioneer might come out with something that looks like the CDJ1000 that’s got some hard drive in it and loops stuff up automatically. Who knows? As the technology moves forward, I’m just embracing it.

To be honest, I needed something to help me in my DJing career because I got to the point where I was a bit – not bored, but lethargic. I wasn’t feeling too inspired in ’03. I’d spent the whole of ’02 touring my ass off and not really enjoying it and in ’03 I was scratching my head, wondering what I was going to do. That was when I discovered Ableton. It’s given me a massive shot in the arm and I’m really enjoying playing out again because I know I’ve got a new armory of tunes, especially when you’ve got old stuff in there that you haven’t played for years that you can suddenly chop up and mix perfectly with new records.

Is this a revolution? Is there going to be a real split between people who use things like this – studio techniques live – and people who don’t?

I think it’s a huge change. Not everyone’s going to embrace it. But what it will mean is that people are going to start getting used to hearing these kind of sets in clubs, and they’re going to start demanding it. If you turn up with vinyl and start train-wrecking mixes, you’re gonna get hammered for it. With DJs like James Zabiela coming through, who are really embracing the CDJs, sampling stuff live and really turning a DJ set into something more than just playing two pieces of vinyl, it means that the crowd are going to start looking for that sort of stuff.

I’m approaching this from my angle of having DJed for the last 17 or 18 years. If you give this new technology to an 18-year old kid who’s gonna approach it from a completely new angle, that’s when fireworks will happen. That’s when the next sound, the next generation of what a DJ performance is, will come through. It won’t come from me. It’ll come from some 18-year old kid who’s sat in his bedroom right now, who’s downloaded it from the internet and approaching it from a different musical sense.

Ours is probably the last generation that thinks of music as objects. Teenagers now don’t have that, so someone with that conception and this equipment is going to be a very different DJ.

Absolutely. They’re going to approach it a very different way. Bring it on. It’s exciting. But still there are certain DJs who spin records and are mesmerizing to watch: Carl Cox, Jeff Mills. I can’t imagine them switching over to a keyboard and a mouse, but I think that the technology, the interface of it, will catch up.

Someone will come out with an interface where you hardly have to look at the computer. It’ll be all in one box and that’ll be that. In five years time, computers in DJ booths will be completely normal. The idea of having 10,000 records on a hard drive sounds daunting to us now but in five years time that’ll be the norm. Everything that’s ever been made will be cataloged in the DJ booth.

It’s gonna be about taste and programming and that’s the thing I like. It takes out that whole thing about “Ooh, he can beatmatch, isn’t that amazing.” Maybe in ‘94 or ‘95 – when we started doing those really long, seamless mixes, and everyone would be stood around the booth really buzzing on the fact that you’re holding mixes together for ages – but that doesn’t happen any more. Those kids don’t sit there going, “Oh, he’s mixing in key.” The only time your mixing is noticed is if you fuck up. Mixing in key is like being able to kick a football if you’re a footballer.

This software takes it out of the equation. It takes it back to your ability to program a night: where to drop a specific record, sourcing your music. I’ve started buying records from all these weird and wonderful record shops and I didn’t do that before. It doesn’t matter if I’ve only got a two-minute piece of music – it’s going into the computer for me to stretch it out and utilize it in my set.

It’s blurring the line between production and DJing.

I think at certain points in your set it can get like that. If you’re doing a 45-minute live set and you’re approaching Ableton like that, as a hybrid of a DJ set and a remix thing, then I think you could do something exciting. Playing in a DJ Shadow sort of way, grabbing snippets of other people’s records. But you could only keep that up for 45-minutes or an hour maximum or your head would be fried. When I play a six-hour set, it’s only really in the last hour or so when I start getting five or six channels going. For most of my set, up until that point, I’m just playing a track after a track.

Will it help convince people that the DJ is an artist?

I think this goes some way to maybe separate the men from the boys. People who are into that producing side of things are going to gravitate towards this. For people that aren’t interested in it, I don’t think they’ll find it useful. It just blows my head off sometimes when you have these spontaneous ideas and you grab an old record, layer it and mix in an old classic.

It seems like it’s given you the buzz back.

It has, absolutely. I was in a bad state in ’03. I think I’d achieved a lot of goals I’d been heading towards in ’02: touring the states with the Delta Heavy thing, releasing my album; a lot of things happened in ’01, ’02. I got to ’03 and I was, “Right, what the fuck shall I do now?”

I definitely spent the summer of ’03 treading water musically, not really knowing what to do with myself. And that year was a big breakpoint for electronic music in general, too. We’d been talking about the internet a few years beforehand, but ’03 was the year when the music industry took its first kick in the nuts, especially for electronic music. “Where the fuck is this going? What are we doing now? How’s this going to develop?”

The software came along, I grabbed hold of it and it showed me a way to move forward and stay interested. It’s not like I was bored – how can you be bored getting flown around the world and playing gigs and stuff – but I was looking for something.

The cultural role of a DJ: you’ve seen it change from being someone who doesn’t get paid very much and does it for a laugh, then become this huge thing, and now it’s coming back down to earth...

It’s come down to earth in this country. I would understand if you don’t travel how it would seem. From this point of view, standing in this country, it looks like its all turned to shit, but I travel and it’s fucking vibrant everywhere.

You don’t get a sense that it’s changing? It’s still on a high everywhere else?

It is on a high, yeah. It might not be that frenetic madness that was happening around ’00, when there was ridiculous money being offered and everybody was fighting each other for gigs, but it’s still keeping me really busy.

What’s the most preposterous treatment you’ve ever had as a DJ?

I think getting flown around in private jets is ridiculous. That’s happened a couple of times. It’s nice, though, when people roll out the carpet for you.

Didn’t you have a police escort somewhere?

Yeah, I’ve had police escorts in the Philippines. That was brilliant because the traffic was literally not moving for 30 miles, and we got into the town center in 15 minutes when it would normally take two or three hours. I wish I could request one of those everywhere I went.

What are your ambitions now?

I don’t know. I’m scratching my head about that at the moment. I always had plans to move into production and film scores, that sort of stuff, but I’m not sure now. I spent some time in Los Angeles and I don’t really see myself living that life. To become part of that whole film world, you have to live there and it changes people in a really weird way.

There are the famous Nick Gordon-Brown sleevenotes where he sets you up as an artist. How did you feel when that happened?

I think that unless you’re making your own records, or doing remixes, it’s very difficult to put your hand up and say that’s what you are. But if you’re making your own records, producing your own stuff and getting into these new technologies – where you can be doing your own little re-edits and remixes of songs in the club – it’s still a difficult argument to call yourself an artist, I guess. But, again, you are putting so much into it. It is a real creative expression. I do think what DJs do is a creative expression. It is art, it is an artform, so I guess we are artists, but I wouldn’t really wanna be standing on a soap box shouting about it.

Where do you think the whole trance sound has its roots?

Cygnus X - “Superstring (Rank 1 Original Mix)”

It’s an amalgamation, isn’t it? Without those British crowds to egg it on, I don’t think it would have quite got to some of the lengths it got to. But it had to come: Superstition and Eye-Q records in Germany; “Superstring” and a lot of that stuff was a blueprint for it.

There was some really funky trance records that came out of Holland in the mid ’90s. It wasn’t that sound, but it had that element to it – that combined with that German sound, and then with the British edge to it, throwing these ridiculous breakdowns and drum rolls into it. A lot of it had to do with DJs suddenly starting to travel. I think that trans-migration had a lot to do with it.

Paul Van Dyk once cited you as a primary influence in what he was doing in Germany, but I guess what he does now is quite different...

Musically, we were very close around ’94 or ’95. We used to play together at E-Werk and even though he played a lot faster, we used to do back-to-back sets. It was only when Paul started playing at Gatecrasher that his sound just went off into that area and that whole trance thing kicked off.

Are there any interesting little scenes that you’ve come across in your travels? Or are we headed for global homogenization?

No. If anything, that homogenization is causing more of these underground pockets to happen. Little fucking after-hours parties in Mexico City that are just amazing: energy levels through the roof, dirty and seedy. That’s where I have the funnest times. It’s all stuff that’s off the beaten track, stuff that isn’t written about. Those illegal warehouse parties in the beginning, that’s where it all came from.

So you’re conscious that when you go to these places there’s always something very underground and very different?

If I’m doing a big party, I guarantee there’s some dirty little afterhours going on afterwards and it’s some local DJs playing wicked shit I’ve never heard before. It’s healthy, it’s thriving, it’s out there.

That kind of outlaw attitude, it’s embedded in dance culture really.

It’s the real shit. Those after-hours parties you hear about that are unannounced or unadvertised. They’re the things of dancefloor history and folklore, but they’re still going on and they’re really important. The commercial end of it will live and die by its sword, and we’ve been witness to that in the UK, but that underground thing is still going on. You go to the east end of London any Saturday night and I guarantee there are loft parties going on, with fucked up acid house music playing. Strobe lights, smoke machines. Everywhere.

This interview was conducted in July 2005 in London. ©

By Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton on July 14, 2016

On a different note