Breaking out the Big Guns

Posted by Cila Warncke

I have spent the last couple of nights in the very pleasant Mexico City Hostel in the Zocalo district. Somehow this has tipped me into some traveller’s twilight zone and hearing a constant mix of Spanish and European languages has convinced me I’m in Spain.

The only thing that significantly dispels this impression is the sheer quantity of police around the city — all casually armed to the teeth. There are a load of jewellers near by and private security is scattered around, rifles slung across their arms. The Policia Federal have the most impressive kit. They are lined up along the steps of the Palacio Nacional behind riot shields, wearing full body armour that makes them look like Dr Who’s Cybermen. It’s about 20 degrees now, christ only knows how they cope in summer.

These are just two of the perhaps dozen or more different types of police and security walking around with death dealing weapons. It is terribly un-American of me to say, but this always has the opposite of the (presumed) intended effect on me. Gun-toting enforcers of law and order set my nerves right on edge. These dudes make the Guardia Civil look like the Salvation Army…

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Mexico – an Idiot´s Guide

Posted by Cila Warncke

My nearest and dearest have been shooting me dire warnings, sotto voce, about the presumed dangers of travelling in my own on Mexico. Apparently I should be on the lookout for everything from bandidos to human traffickers.

It seems, however, the only real danger is my own staggering ineptitude. Who else, tasked with the not terribly difficult task of getting from an airport to the centre of a very hard-to-miss city would wind up, two hours later, in a different state?

Egged on by a combination of exhaustion and unfounded confidence in my navigational skills I wound up, at 11PM last night, in a bus terminal in Toluca. I´d been trying to get to Zocalo, in the centre of Mexico City. This is misdirection on par with attempting to get from Gatwick to Victoria and ending up in Worthing. What can I say? I wouldn´t have lasted long in the Scouts, or the Army.

Dumb foreigners don´t seem to be a novelty here. The bus driver chuckled sympathetically, recommended a hotel and pointed me to the taxi stand. I was duly delivered to a boxy hotel behind a different bus terminal where I collapsed until awoken by a combination of sunlight and babbling traffic.

I now know Toluca is the eighth largest city in Mexico, the capital of Mexico State, and one of the highest cities in the country (over 2000 metres). It is pleasantly chaotic and, on reflection, probably a less daunting entry point than Mexico City. Where, with any luck, I´m going this afternoon. Provided I have better luck with buses.

Sinner In Me (Villalobos Remix)

Originally published in OWTL issue 47. Posted by Cila Warncke

Sinner In Me {Ricardo Villalobos Remix}

I don’t have space here to explain why Depeche Mode is the only electronic band you’ll ever need, but this remix proves my point. While their contemporaries languish sedately in a bin marked “nostalgia” Depeche Mode is as vital in 2006 as they were in 1986. Jacques Lu Cont made ‘A Pain That I’m Used To’ an essential electro anthem on its release, and now lifelong Mode fan Ricardo Villalobos has turned the melancholic Sinner In Me into an achingly beautiful, minimal, vocal anthem. You don’t get many moments of introspection on the DC10 terrace, but when this got dropped there was a collective deep intake of breath. Dave Gahan’s plaintive lyrics, wedded to an icy backdrop of minimal techno, bear a shiver-inducing poignancy. A fraught mixture of defiance, acceptance, weakness, and longing, ‘Sinner In Me’ wrestles with temptation, redemption, and that fleeting moment when you’re standing on the top of the world waiting for the inevitable fall from grace. There is, allegedly, a 7” promo knocking around… here’s hoping for a proper release


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Exclusive Sasha Interview

Originally published in OWTL issue 39. Posted by Cila Warncke

Meeting Sasha is roughly the dance music equivalent of an audience with the Pope. Even people who don’t know (or care) anything about dance music know who he is. On the other hand, rabid fans don’t seem to know much more – only that he’s a genius mixer, DJ, and producer; that his music can change your life. No one’s quite sure, though, how a shy lad from North Wales became possibly the most recognised, and revered, DJ on the planet. Least of all him. “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t fallen into this, ‘cause I was a lazy twat,” Sasha says, fidgeting with a Marlboro Light.

Sasha

Sasha

Part of his mystique is down to his wariness of the media merry-go-round. Before he arrived his PR runs through a list of the don’ts: Sasha doesn’t do photo shoots; Sasha doesn’t do lists. When he arrives he’s utterly amiable though, only saying he wishes he’d “handled things differently,” in the press, when he was younger. Now, he is professionally friendly, engaging; he makes eye contact, smiles a lot, when there’s a question he doesn’t much like he leans back, chuckles, and subtly shifts the topic.

Luckily, this doesn’t happen often. When we meet, Sasha is about to play his first London gig in over a year (at The Key), and is anticipating his first large-scale set at TDK Cross Central. He seems genuinely happy to be back. “I really do miss London,” he says, settling into a corner table in the Electric, on Portabello Road. For the three-odd months a year he lives in town, he’s based in West London. A handful of his mates are scattered noisily around the next table, downing mid-afternoon beers, waiting for him to finish. His PR team hovers nearby. Clearly he’s taking no chances on anymore slip ups with the press.

Londoners could be forgiven for thinking he’s gone off-radar lately. “I’ve been in America, doing residencies like Crobar and Avalon, and doing regular shows. Recently, I’ve been in New York setting up my studio,” he explains. New York is where he spends about five months of the year (the remaining four are in “airports and hotels”). The NYC connection started back when he and John Digweed were residents at Twilo, playing regular 12 hour sets of banging, dark progressive tunes. Now resident in the trendy (but not cheap) East Village he enthuses about the café culture and the way “on any given night, anything can happen.” Including moving into Garth Brook’s old studio. “It’s a really nice sounding room,” he says, of his new space, “but the last album recorded there was Kenny G’s Christmas album. We hope he hasn’t left any weird vibes,” he says, chuckling.

Sasha imparts this casually, sipping his beer, as if jet-setting between two of the world’s hippest (and most expensive) neighbourhoods were totally normal behaviour for a Bognor lad. Yet he admits when he first moved to Manchester, to try his hand at DJing he didn’t expect it to last. “A lot of my friends were DJs [too].Every winter when January came and the clubs emptied out we thought it was pretty much the end of the world. The end of the scene. All my mates thought it was a two year flash in the pan. My parents were disappointed [in me], very disappointed.”

By a stroke of good luck, as their playground, the Haçiencda (“the Haç” as he still affectionately calls it), sank into a morass of gang violence Shelly’s opened down the road in Stoke, and he landed his first residency. “People were pissed off at going to clubs and getting beaten up. There was nasty shit going on. [Shelly’s] was an hour down the road and it exploded. Even then, though, I didn’t really [think it would last].”

Sasha behind the decks

Sasha behind the decks

Sasha’s career took off and, as the international bookings started rolling in around ’93 and ’94 he thought, for the first time, maybe it would last. The next ten years are well-documented. In 1994 he and John Digweed mixed the now-legendary Renaissance compilation. It’s an album – and a friendship – that has stood the test of time. (In the course of the interview John gets 13 mentions, Sasha’s wife, two.) “John and I have a really unique relationship. It’s great working with John. He’s so professional. The exact opposite of me,” Sasha laughs. They work so closely, he says, that he can’t remember whose idea it originally was to open the Renaissance album with a daring three remixes of Leftfield’s ‘Song Of Life.’ “It worked beautifully together, but I don’t know who it was. When I work with John it’s very difficult to pinpoint after the fact. We lock ourselves in a room and listen to records for a couple of weeks, then we go and mix it down together. It’s very much a collaboration.”

And he doesn’t just mean in musical terms. Though Sasha and Digweed are only playing 10 dates together this year (“and that’s more than we’ve done in the last five years,” he says) he clearly treasures their camaraderie. “He’s a dark horse, I tell you,” he says, more than once, chuckling at some remembered mischief. His stories often loop back to reference his pal. “I’m not very good at travelling. John [Digweed] gets everything into one rucksack – CDs, change of clothes… I end up with two suitcases, two huge pieces of hand luggage. John’s always laughing at me [because] I’m always getting charged for excess baggage. If I’ve been in a hotel room ten minutes it looks like I’ve exploded… clothes everywhere! But it kind of makes me feel at home, a little bit. It helps me keep my sanity.”

The other constant in Sasha’s itinerant lifestyle is, obviously, music. It always has been, really, but technology has made it instantly accessible, all the time. “I used to check my record boxes, and – especially in the middle of the summer – they’d invariably go missing for a week at a time, somewhere,” he recalls. This sneaky respite turned into a nightmare on the eve the ‘Airdrawndagger’ launch, though. “I was flying back from Ibiza to play [the launch] at Bedrock, and my records went missing. I got back at five in the evening and basically had to go to a record shop and cobble together a DJ set from promos and stuff. It was such an important night for me, and to have that go wrong… I decided to switch to CDs, and from CDs to computer was quick.”

Armed with a Mac laptop and a London-based server Sasha will never have to do a last minute record dash again. “I update my record box every week,” he says, meaning his digital music collection. “I’m constantly downloading music, people send me stuff over Instant Messanger… Before you’d be desperately trying to get decks in your hotel room, now all my music’s on my iPod.”

The trade-off is everyone else has music at their fingertips, too. “Before, you know, I could get hold of a track and I’d have it for a year before anyone else. That just doesn’t exist anymore,” he says, a little nostalgically.

It’s an almost throw-away comment, a statement of well-known fact. But what he’s saying, in extreme shorthand, is the whole system of privilege which helped propel him, and his contemporaries like Judge Jules, Danny Rampling, Digweed, and Pete Tong, to the peak of their fame and earning power, broke down. It can’t have been an easy adjustment for one of the original superstar DJs to suddenly find that being a superstar was no longer enough to keep him ahead of the pack. To discover exclusives he once commanded because he was Sasha, were there online for any two-bit bedroom jock to play with.

The rub being, people didn’t – and don’t – expect any less. Ask if he ever gets tired of being “on duty” all the time, of working flat out to keep up with the onslaught of new music and technology, and he smiles a little. “Yeah, I guess so. But that’s my job. I mean, people expect some kind of legendary set, every time they see me. It’s important that I’m on top of things, and that I don’t disappoint people. You know, it’s hard to please everyone.”

He leans back against the leather banquette, his bright blue eyes narrowing, as he ponders this responsibility. There are several of these little pauses in the course of the interview, moments where Sasha, the musician and music fan, seems wordlessly puzzled, or even a little frustrated, by phenomenon of Sasha the DJ. Unprompted, he says DJing “never felt like a job, it always just felt like a night out, I used to blow off gigs and not really think about it.” As if the pressure of expectations could be dispersed by simply ducking it. But he corrects himself. “Maybe [I did], a long time ago, but the last six or seven years I’ll miss maybe one weekend a year, ‘cause I’m ill or something. I play virtually every weekend of the year, and when you get ill, you get ill,” he says rather vehemently. Then he leans forward, all wide-eyed sincerity. “I mean, if you have your wisdom teeth out and your face swells up twice its size you can’t really go out and DJ, can you?” he appeals.

It’s hard to tell if he’s being disingenuous, or if he honestly feels hard-done-by in public perception. More likely, his is the reaction of a fundamentally shy bloke often caught in a pressure cooker of anticipation. For example, he finds festival sets “nerve wracking.” When pressed for an explanation he shrugs. “I don’t think I play that kind of stadium filling music. I definitely struggle with what to play at festivals. And, um, so many things can go wrong, so many cock-ups can happen.”

Sasha, off-duty

Sasha, off-duty

Thousands of fans who have lost themselves in blissful oblivion at his festival sets might beg to differ, but Sasha likes the paradoxical freedom of “dark and dirty” venues. “You have a play a certain set at a festival, the biggest sound you can muster. When you play for 500 people in an intimate space you can try things out. The crowd will follow you, they’ll go with you.”

This idea of communion is, perhaps, what went missing when MP3s took over the world. Before, people who wanted to hear a certain kind of music had to go to a club, or a festival. Now, they just have to switch on their computer. It is a sea-change, Sasha readily confesses, that left him stranded for a bit. When it comes to production and DJing he does either one or the other. “I try to do studio work on the road, but… well, you’re knackered all the time. I take my laptop and don’t use it.” So, after a self-imposed touring exile of a year, to finish ‘Airdrawndagger’ (“the record label was fine, the pressure eventually came from myself”) he felt disconnected from the DJ scene. “I was kind of lost after that. [In] 2002, 2003 I was treading water. I was a bit unsure of what I was doing and where I was going.”

But luckily technology giveth, as well as taketh away, and the advent of Ableton gave Sasha a fresh perspective. “When I grabbed hold of Ableton I was so hungry to go and DJ again, I was hungry to be out there, playing.” So he did, taking to the road in the States, all over Europe and South America (where, he says, they have the best parties in the world) and dates in the UK including his Fabric residency, which came to an abrupt end last summer. Ableton, it seems, finally allowed the crowd-pleasing DJ and the perfectionist producer to work in some kind of alliance. Instead of locking himself in the studio for months Sasha can edit on the fly, showcasing his mind boggling musicality in a more direct way, satisfying his own creative urges and the audience’s insatiable appetite at the same time. “If I do a boat party in Miami, or a festival in Budapest, or a club in London, I can deliver something special. Five or six years ago I’d have a particular set I’d play, and it would evolve and change, but it would be slow, using a computer allows me to create a unique set every time I play.”

It’s a benefit that cuts both ways, as his newfound technological freedom allowed Sasha to record and release a brand new mix album in one night – thanks to Instant Live. This pioneering setup records, masters, and mixes live shows as they happen, meaning fans can walk out of a venue with a legit, properly packaged live CD at the end of a gig. Sasha’s management company set it up, and – remarkably – pre-licensed 60-odd tracks so he could pick and choose what to play on the night. Though he enjoyed it, the recording (at his Fundacion closing party at Avalon in LA) wasn’t exactly plain sailing. “At the beginning of the second CD my computer spazzed out on me. I guess ‘cause I was under pressure I wasn’t thinking straight. Normally I’d mix in a CD and reboot my computer but I thought I could fix it by fiddling with it”, he grins, miming slapping a keyboard. Hiccoughs aside, he is happy with the finished mix, and looking forward to getting to work on a studio album, proper. “I spent six weeks moving stuff and finding my way around [my new studio]. I’ll be going back in January to work on the follow up to ‘Involver’. It’ll be half DJ mix, half remixes, with some of my own productions.”

First, though, there’s the rest of the year to get through, and a string of gigs including TDK Cross Central, and Space, Ibiza, where he’s playing for We Love… since the demise of the Viva parties he co-headlined with Steve Lawler last year. Sasha is still clearly unhappy the night failed to take off. “It was launched badly. I think [the promoters] just assumed with me and Steve it would be a hands-down success,” he says, which seems like a fair analysis. Unfortunately the Sasha and Steve magic wasn’t enough to keep the night afloat. (By the end of August the headliners, including Sasha, had stopped turning up and there were only a few hundred confused looking clubbers wandering around the cargo hold of Space.) He’s philosophical, but disappointed about it. “It was humbling. It taught everyone involved a lesson. I would have liked for it to work out ‘cause you see Erick [Morillo] and Carl [Cox], they’ve both got established nights now, they’re just brilliant. Maybe next year we’ll think about doing something,” he concludes, brightening.

For every Viva, though, there’s a Southfest. Where, last December, he and John played to a screaming horde of 23,000 clubbers in Buenos Aires. “It started raining and nobody left. It was the most amazing atmosphere.” An online video clip is more illustrative: sheets of rain pour past the camera lens, Sasha – sporting film star sized aviators and a huge grin – pogos behind the decks, caught in the flashes of a blinding light show, the crowd stretching, literally, as far as the eye can see. “I felt like a rock star that night, it would be nice to relive that a few times,” he says, laughing.

TDK Cross Central won’t deliver 23,000 delirious fans, but Sasha is back in full, optimistic flow, happy to be home, excited to play for the “educated pests” (as he calls them) of London clubland. “I like festivals where you have a lot of bands and live things, it’s a bit more eclectic. It brings a healthier mix of people together. You can’t just turn up in London and play any old set. They won’t accept that. It’s challenging. But, you know, I love a challenge.”


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Stop The Killing In Gaza – Join Amnesty Campaign

Amnesty International are heading up a letter-writing campaign to demand the UK back an immediate humanitarian truce in Gaza.

There’s fuck-all else I can do about it, so I wrote:

Dear Rt. Hon David Miliband MP – Foreign Secretary,

Dear Foreign Secretary:

The slaughter in Gaza must stop.

Britain looked the other way while the Nazis systematically killed the Jews; it now looks the other way as Israel systematically murders Palestinians. Two historical wrongs do not make a right.

“There is no way anyone with a conscience can sit on the fence about this. Not when Israel has killed over 500 people in the Gaza Strip in the last nine days. Not when they’re bombing houses, mosques, cemeteries, markets and government buildings. Not when their fearsome armaments are rolling through the streets of crumpled little island of misery and despair. Not when Israel is blocking humanitarian aid and cheerfully condemning to death hundreds – potentially thousands – of innocent civilians.

There is only one word for this: genocide. Or if you wish to luxuriate in the awfulness of it, two words: ethnic cleansing. Israel is systematically annihilating Gaza’s Arab population as surely as if they were marching them into gas chambers. What does it matter if your family dies beneath a cloud of Zyklon B or is blasted to bits in an airstrike? Either way, your family is dead and the horror and tragedy of it will live as long as anyone has memory.

It sits badly with me that Israel uses the tragedy of the Holocaust as a ‘get out of jail free’ card for its human rights abuses. This is a nation that since its inception has made a practice of state-sponsored terror as retribution. Understandably, there was little objection when the Mossad hunted down Nazi war criminals. However, there is no justification for the West giving Israel carte blanche to murder civilians. ” from http://irresponsibility.wordpress.com

I call upon you to use your authority to demand an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire to allow vital aid to reach Gaza, to evacuate civilians, to help claw back precious human lives from the brink of hell. All I can do is write, speak, complain, protest, and I shall.

You, sir, can act. If you fail to do so the judgement of history will not rest lightly upon your head.

Sincerely,
Cila Warncke


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Mika & Anna-Bell Elope… Almost

Posted by Cila Warncke

Anna-Bell, Anna-Lena & Mika

Anna-Bell, Anna-Lena & Mika

I am utterly enchanted by the news story about sweethearts Mika and Anna-Bell (six and five years old, respectively) who decided to elope to Africa, armed with cuddly toys, a pink lilo and big sis Anna-Lena as a witness.

“We wanted to get married and so we just thought: ‘Let’s go there,'” said Anna-Bell.

Her beloved added: “We wanted to get on a plane and when we arrived we wanted to unpack the summer things and then we wanted to go for a bit of a stroll in the sun.”

Could anything be more sweet and solemn? Mika and Anna-Bell sought nothing more than warmth, sunshine and each other’s good company. It seems a much sounder basis for a relationship than the usual grown-up motives for getting hitched (security, possession, paternity).

I hope for their sakes Mika, Anna-Bell and Anna-Lena don’t give up their dreams in the face of dreary adult recompense (they were given a tour of the Hanover Police Headquarters as a consolation prize for the interrupted trip). If they can hang on to their spontaneity, affection, spirit of adventure and indifference to ‘can’ts’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ they are sure to live joyously.

Women Who Rock: Chrissie Hynde in BlackBook

Posted by Cila Warncke

Chrissie Hynde is a true star; a voice crying in the wilderness of contemporary culture where where Cheryl Cole is a “national treasure” and Britney Spears is a slave. In a just world her interview in the Icons issue of New York style bible BlackBook would be printed in leaflet form and scattered through the streets, or reproduced on billboards in city centres.

Chrissie Hynde (from BlackBook)

Chrissie Hynde (from BlackBook)

The first utterly brilliant quote is her frank analysis of the fucked-up-ed-ness of American consumer culture: “This is why I left the States when I was 22. I saw that I was going to be trapped into buying a car so I could get to work so I could pay for my car.”

Later, she elaborates: “It’s an indignity that one has to become part of a system; it’s forced upon you. And it’s not a good system. It’s an evil system.” Yes sister!

Her comment on relationships is perhaps the most heartening thing I read in 2008: “I don’t think I’ve ever been defined by my relationship with anyone. I just tread my path and stick to the plan. And if anyone wants to come along and be part of it, that’s fine, and if they don’t, fair enough. I’ve never left my philosphy to join someone else’s.

Hear that? That’s what a free woman sounds like.