Sasha opens up about the making of ‘Involv3r’
As dance music enters a new era of global prominence, its first magazine pin-up seems well situated in his elder statesman role.
There’s not much that hasn’t already been written about Sasha and the enduring impact he has had on the scene. In headier days with partner John Digweed, the Welsh DJ/producer pioneer paved the road to dance superstardom with his iconic albums and marathon extended sets, conquering America during its first rave wave in the process. The blueprint he helped establish remains revered and replicated by a new crop of artists who are far too young to remember the rise of Renaissance Records.
But a prime reason Sasha is still regarded as a living legend is his uncanny ability to adapt to shifting sands of the dance music scene, evidenced by his continuously evolving sound and early embrace of innovative software like Ableton Live. The latest incarnation of his groundbreaking Involver series, released this week on Ministry of Sound, is a testament to his unique appeal.
Sasha once described the Involver concept as a “fusion of mix album and production record,” but such technical terms do not adequately capture its artistic feat. Each Involver release is a cohesive artistic statement that represents far more than the simple sum of its stellar remix parts. On third-installment Involv3r, Sasha weaves a lush sonic tapestry that is best likened to a 12-act opera, supported by a seamless progression of sampled singers who share its proverbial stage.
Sasha seems pleasantly surprised when I declare Involv3r my favorite of the trilogy, citing its masterful use of melodies that echo the emotive qualities of his handpicked vocal lines.
“When I make music I always go to that melancholic mood, ” he says. “Really beautiful evocative melodies. That’s the music that kind of tugs my heartstrings when I listen to it, and it’s the kind of music I really go towards when I’m DJing. I guess it’s only natural it’s the kind of music I’m going to want to make.”
Sasha describes a varied creative regimen in constructing the album, replete with healthy doses of the trusty Access Virus TI synthesizer he affectionately calls his “weapon of choice” and less healthy doses of jetlag. His haunting reinterpretation of The XX’s “Chained” came together after he reached out to the band about remixing his favorite track off their latest album. The ethereal “Shoot You Down” began as a scrapped remix for another band that featured singer Kicki Halmos transformed in an “incredible” eight-hour vocal session.
Some of the variance in approach can be chalked up to a series of unrelated events that forced him to move between four different studios to finish the record. Hurricane Sandy hit New York in the middle of the sessions, stranding the production team in the flooded Big Apple. The loss of a laptop at Madrid’s airport also set the back the sessions immediately upon their relocation to Ibiza.
“I felt that on this record there were many situations that disrupted the workflow,” he says. “It was what it was I guess, it wasn’t an ideal situation at all. And that kind of gave breed to us kind of questioning ourselves a lot.”
Looking back on the process, Sasha also recognizes where his perfectionist tendencies may have gotten the better of him. He describes “wasting” a month repeatedly mixing tracks that didn’t need to be meddled with, unnecessarily creating seven or eight versions when the first one ended up being the best.
“A lot of the stuff we do just gets lost anyways, its just sort of an obsessive thing I’ve got going on,” Sasha says. “Once you nail the bass, the kick, the hook of the track, all the rest is kind of sparkle dust that we put on top. Sometimes we just layer stuff up you wouldn’t be able to hear, then I’ll go back to the session and be like ‘this is an amazing sound, why don’t you have that louder?’”
This appreciation for attention to detail shaped his decision to include beatless versions of the tracks in the official release. After electing to master the drums and musical elements separately in order to more easily assemble the final mix, Sasha became enamored with the ambience of the beatless tracks.
“We were like ‘wow this is beautiful, we got to do something with these,’” Sasha says.
“I think that’s the version I listen to more now. You can hear all the details in the background, all of that sound design stuff that gets hidden in the main mix.”
The prolific producer and his team composed nearly 40 different pieces of music for the album, many of which remain unreleased at present. Sasha hinted that fans wouldn’t have to wait too long to hear Involv3r’s outtakes.
“I was listening to it the other day and we should have made a double album,” Sasha says almost wistfully. “It’s just one of those things, the record needed to be finished and there’s a lot of stuff that’s left on the cutting room floor that we’ll use.”
For all of the landmarks and legendary performances that comprise his storied career, it’s surprising to hear Sasha say he never expected to be a star.
“My limits when I started out were Manchester, Liverpool, Blackburn, Birmingham, I wasn’t even DJing in London very much,” he says with a chuckle. “To see it go all over the planet, to be DJing in Lima and Buenos Aires, and going out to Asia to play in Tokyo soon, it’s pretty crazy.”
For now, Sasha is focused on his sold out Miami Music Week performances, which include a Thursday sunset cruise on the Biscayne Lady, a Saturday pool party at SLS Hotel, and a closing Sunday performance at SET.
Asked about the future of the scene he helped establish, Sasha eschews the role of oracle.
“I can’t see the future. The only thing I can be sure of is this: dance music is here to stay. Every time you think it’s done, it evolves. No one would have predicted dubstep taking off in the US or drum and bass in the UK. People love dance music, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”