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Artist Profiles :: Sasha

SashaOne of the first DJs outside London to make a name for himself in the aftermath of the acid house explosion, Sasha’s career hasn’t followed the typical path. He’s gone from periods of massive popularity to disappearing from the scene for months on end. The music he’s played has been derided and lauded in equal measure, whilst the music he’s made never quite seems to fulfil its potential. Yet through it all he’s retained a loyal following nationwide.

Sasha grew up in Hawarden, North Wales, but moved to Maidenhead, Surrey when his parents split up. A bright kid, he won a scholarship to an exclusive public school at the age of sixteen, but hated it and only lasted a year. He returned to Wales and lived in Bangor for a short while, but after a few trips up the motorway to the Hacienda club, he moved to Manchester and got a job in telesales. The Hacienda was Sasha’s mecca and he attended religiously for two years, living and breathing the new house music played by Graeme Park, Mike Pickering and Jon DaSilva.

When the opportunity arose to DJ in a local pub on Monday nights, Sasha took it, even though he only owned a handful of records. He graduated to pirate radio, then a few gigs in Manchester, Blackpool and Coventry, before landing a residency at Shelly’s in Stoke. Although he was only there for a year or so, this was where the myth of Sasha was built, his trademark uplifting, piano-heavy sound (he can play piano to grade eight standard) and long fluid mixes setting down the blueprint for what became known as Northern rave.

It wasn’t long before Sasha was playing the Hacienda himself and in an age when there was no such thing as a DJ circuit yet, Sasha became one of the first travelling DJs, criss-crossing the North and Midlands. Even then, when the dance scene had yet to fragment into genres, Sasha had his own unique style and he would often be the only DJ on the bill to play uplifting music.

But the scene did split, into rave and trendy clubbing, so Sasha, unsure as to where he fitted in any more, accepted the offer of a weekly residency at a new night, Renaissance, in the grimy East Midlands town of Mansfield. At the time, the venue was one of the very few outside London with a 6am licence, so with Sasha at the helm and the late opening as a bonus, Renaissance was a success, launching one of the nineties’ most successful club brands.

It was at Renaissance that Sasha began to hone the sound he would become known for, ‘progressive trance’, a kind of hybrid of the new trance music coming out of Germany and his traditionally uplifting style, vocals, pianos and all. It was also at Renaissance that Sasha met John Digweed, then a virtual unknown from Brighton. Digweed, whose style mirrored that of Sasha’s, became a resident at the club and the two became firm friends, forming a partnership that would last until the present day.

It was around this time that Sasha became a front page subject for DMC’s Mixmag magazine. The editor decided to ask the question, "Is Sasha the world’s first pin-up DJ"? The editor at the time – no less a person than Dave Seaman!!!

In 1995, Digweed – who had a long history as a club promoter – launched the monthly Northern Exposure night at The Zap in Brighton, with Sasha and himself installed as the resident and only DJs. Northern Exposure moved to The Old Barn in Kent for six successful months. In fact it was so successful that Northern Exposure went on to tour the UK and Sasha and Digweed signed an three-album deal with Ministry Of Sound Recordings.

Since they met, Sasha and John have DJed together all over the globe. They are especially popular in the US, particularly in the Florida and San Francisco areas, and today hold a prestigious residency at Twilo, New York. Their Stateside success is a far cry from Sasha’s first US gig, at the Sound Factory (the former name for Twilo) in 1994, when unbeknownst to Sasha, resident DJ Junior Vasquez turned down the volume in an effort to ruin his set and the US crowd just couldn’t adjust to his highs-and-lows DJing style.

But things change fast in the fickle world of dance music and progressive trance mutated into ‘epic house’ in the mid-nineties, associated with endless breakdowns, pompous, overblown trance tracks beset by weak vocals. Sasha and Digweed were criticised as the worst offenders. They adjusted their sound as a result, introducing breakbeats and cutting out much of the weaker material, but point out that some of the key producers whose material was condemned as epic house are amongst the most popular nowadays, such as Paul van Dyk and BT.

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