You Are What You Read

After finishing university with its routine of “required” reading I moved to London to work at a music magazine. To my sheer delight I was surrounded by, inundated with, magazines. All the monthlies I couldn’t afford arrived on subscription: Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Vogue, Details, plus Rolling Stone and a weekly dose of high-gloss, low-IQ celebrity fare from OK! and Hello. Plus unlimited access to Q, Mojo, Mixmag, and Arena which were produced in the offices around me.

With that journalistic goldmine to hand, I got out of the habit of reading actual books. The only two that made the trip from Philly to London were my dog-eared Franny & Zooey and a signed copy of Trainspotting, sentimental relics of my teenage years. Occasionally I borrowed a beach-read from my flatmate, but for the most part I read in 50 to 1500 word chunks of magazine-speak. A couple years later my company launched the future publishing phenomena that was Closer and Grazia, to join Heat in the ranks of the half-million-plus selling women’s weeklies. They were as were as brightly-wrapped as the contents of the office Cadbury Roses tin, and twice as addictive.

Books were passé. They were demanding and required concentration. Why bother when I could get instant fix on every page of Closer? At some point I said, half-joking, that I’d forgotten how to read: “Gossip magazines are turning me illiterate.” It wasn’t far off the truth. My attention span and love of words – honed over 17 years of serious reading – had fallen apart. My exposure to new ideas and information, and my ability to absorb and analyse, was being chipped away by a diet of mental junk food that bloated my mind with vapid nonsense. Realising that I had fallen into the mental equivalent of Supersize Me, I made a conscious decision to read more books.

It was like swapping chips for carrot sticks. Sure, it was good for me, but I had to work at reading books. There was a rhythm and a discipline to engaging with a long piece of text that I had lost. The shiny weeklies winked and pleaded: read me instead. I started rationing: Vanity Fair and Vogue once a month; Grazia or Closer as a Friday treat. Gradually, the diet of full paragraphs and polysyllabic words got easier to digest.

My main excuse for junk reading was the plea of many fast-food fiends: “I don’t have the time/money/energy to get something nutritious.” Turns out that, as with food, cheap and good-for-you is easy to come by if you know what you want and plan ahead. Thanks to Kindle, I have an accessible, wide-ranging selection of books perpetually to hand. But an e-reader is no more necessary to good literary fare than one of those prepared-meals delivery services is to a good diet. The best and most intriguing source of books is charity or second-hand shops. Unlike Amazon, which overwhelms with options and makes you wait for delivery, they offer an instant fix. Browsing the shelves you can snap up everything from the latest best-sellers to arcane anthropological tomes. Second-hand shops gifted me Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, Henry James’s The Aspern Papers and Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington. They’ve introduced me to Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Mead, Anton Chekhov, Alice Walker, and Kurt Vonnegut. My handbag currently contains Hard Travelin’, Kenneth Allsop’s brilliant history of the migrant American workforce, purchased for £1.40 in a Marie Curie shop.

Accustomed, once again, to a feast of words and ideas, I happily turn my nose up at Metro and the gimcrack lure of Closer and its cousins. I still subscribe to Vogue, and occasionally spend an hour perusing magazines at Waterstone’s, but my compulsion to keep up with the Brangelina marriage saga, or to find out who has cellulite/forgot her mascara/fired her nanny is gone. Quitting junk food does a body good – and the same is doubly true of the mind.

Charity Shop Finder (UK)
London Book Swap
Oxfam Bookshop Finder (UK)

Best Vegan Food – InSpiral Review

Brown paper packages are exciting and a little mysterious, redolent of old-fashioned gifts shipped by post. The neat, brown bags lining the shelves of InSpiral Café in Camden, with their tantalising labels and peek-a-boo windows, are especially reminiscent of presents because you can’t tell by looking quite what to expect of the contents. What on earth are “Reishi Crackits”? How do I approach “Raw Superfood Granola”? And isn’t “baobab” as in “Baobab and Onion raw dehydrated kale chips” a bulbous-looking tree?

Fortunately the best way to tackle these questions is to yield to my childlike urge to rip into the (biodegradable, sustainably produced) brown wrapping and devour the contents. Reishi is a mushroom, by the way, and such a potent immune-booster that hospitals give it to HIV and cancer patients. Crackits are InSpiral’s wholefood alternative to grain-based crackers. Made with almonds, a blend of seeds including sunflower, flax and chia, vegetables (carrot, courgette, onion) and seasonings they are dehydrated into satisfyingly nutty, crunchy sheets that are compulsively munchable. I crumble some over salad to add texture; they are equally delicious as the base for an open-faced Crackit sandwich of avocado and tomato slathered with tahini and a sprinkling of chilli flakes.

The kale chips are even more addictive. Neither baked nor fried, these dehydrated crisps are manna for anyone with a savoury tooth – and yummy enough to make me consider buying a food dehydrator and attempting a DIY version. They come in four flavours, each with a distinctive superfood twist. I try “Baobab and Onion” which is satisfyingly onion-y and provides a hit of calcium, iron and antioxidants; “Cheesie Purple Corn” offers all the umami deliciousness of cheese without having ever been near a cow.

Raw Superfood Granola is also a better-than-the-real-thing experience. I scoffed a bag of the “Chocolatey” flavour (there is also “Loveberry”, featuring raspberries, strawberries and gojiberries; and “Banana Greeny” which combines bananas with spirulina and wheatgrass) almost without pause. It is tasty with (non-dairy) milk but really, too delicious to be a mere cereal. I like it crumbled it over frozen smoothies or sprinkled on fruit salad. Straight out of the bag, it is a satisfying alternative to an afternoon dip in the biscuit tin.

One thing I note is the absence of “nutrition information” on the bags. With their abundance of seeds, nuts and protein-rich grains the granola and Crackits are not “low calorie”. But they remind me that calorie counting was invented after we started eating processed rubbish. When people ate simply and out of necessity, food was appreciated as a source of energy and vitality, not viewed as an enemy. The real gift in the brown paper wrappers is that InSpiral goodies make it easy and pleasurable to think of food in a more natural, wholesome way.

Browse and purchase a full range of InSpiral products – including superfoods, raw chocolate truffles and herbal elixirs – at their website.

InSpiral Café review

Snipe ‘Everything In Media Isn’t a Downer’

As I mentioned before, I write a media column for London alternative newspaper Snipe . I’d sort of forgotten about writing this column, but reading it back, I quite like it, and repost it here to prove that, despite my incessent bitching about the evils of the media, sometimes there’s good stuff too — and I don’t even mind admitting it.

Off Fleet Street: everything in media isn’t a downer
Sunday 3 October 2010

For the most part, the media consists of slick sales-pitches. It wants us to buy something, believe someone, serve somebody. Occasionally, however, a piece comes along that offers more than platitudes and does more than prescribe. These magical little moments occur when, and where, they are least expected. Recently, I picked up the October issue of Red for a swift goggle at Vanessa Paradis and came across ‘Why Giving Up Is Good To Do’. A brief, but imminently sensible article critiquing the notion that whatever it is you’re doing, you have to keep doing it till the bitter end. Author Anna Pursglove’s remark that: “The sky… does not fall in when you admit that you never should have done it in the first place or that it worked for you once, but doesn’t any more,” was exactly what I needed to read at that moment.

Other chance encounters have radically altered my way of thinking, have given shape to half-formed ideas, thrown me a life-line. Once, for no good reason I can remember, I bought a copy of Hello! There, in a very small column, lay a quote that still echoes in my head. Tilda Swinton, when asked “Do you take life as it comes or do you try to arrange it actively?” responds: “There are only two questions in life: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How shall I live?’”

Those few words flashed like neon amidst the pages of consumerist nonsense and celebrity gossip. That was the first, and I think the only, time I’ve seen a philosophical question on the pages of a weekly glossy. I tore out the page, folded it up and stuck it next to my passport; it comes out when I start to drown in details need to be reminded that ultimately life is a creative act of self-definition.

Interviews can offer sublime moments. American style mag BlackBook ran a Q&A with Chrissie Hynde that has become a fixture in my scrapbook. In it, the great Pretender levelled on the ridiculousness of competitive consumer culture, saying: “I left the States when I was 22 [because] 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, and I thought, that’s not for me.” Later, she remarks: “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 philosophy to join someone else’s.” Hallelujah. “I just tread my path and stick to the plan,” is a sentiment worth digging through hundreds of hair tips and restaurant reviews to find.

Media is in a bind. The more people are exposed to radical ideas about self-realisation, creativity and shunning consumerism the less likely they are to spend time and money to gawp at TV presenters and philandering footballers. Luckily, media can be delightfully self-defeating. The powers that be want to sell, sell, sell (ad space, ideology, whatever) but they sometimes do good despite themselves.

Channel 4’s Faking It is a case in point. Though it unapologetically light entertainment, it conveyed the message that—given determination and the proper training—anyone can do almost anything. The sugary reality TV format coated the sharp political truth that most people are constrained not by inherent inadequacies, but by social and educational opportunity.

Ultimately, for all its absurdities, media can still be transcendent. There is a line in my favourite book—Franny & Zooey—in which the narrator refers to: “the rising of a truth, fragmentary or not, up through what often seemed to be an impenetrable mass of prejudices, clichés, and bromides.” Such moments of truth are rare in the popular press, but thankfully not yet extinct.

Running to Stand Still

Posted by Cila Warncke

Blogging is like exercise: addictive, once you get the hang of it but dangerously easy to leave aside when life gets hectic. There is little to say about my several weeks’ hiatus apart from: stuff happened. Mexico. London. Ibiza. Plans made and then unmade for journeys to Ireland, the States, Mexico again. There were patches where I was seriously considering going to the nearest airport and buying a one-way ticket on the first flight to someplace I’d never been before. I got a little caught up in the idea of someplace new. A succession of adventures, coincidences, gin & tonics and long conversations with friends nudged me into the realisation that the ‘someplace new’ I need to explore is Ibiza – and my own motivations.

Home to Ibiza

Home to Ibiza

Jumping on planes is A) more fun than jumping off them and B) only very occasionally an antidote to chronic discontent. I tried it with Mexico and couldn’t, at the end of 14 weeks, figure out why the hell I hadn’t learned anything there. Why I had come back as bored and irritable as I’d left. A few weeks rattling around in the Mediterranean sun, making fantastic new friends who kickstarted my brain from its tropic slothfulness into frisky, if somewhat tentative life, suggests that my problem wasn’t where I was but how I was thinking. Somewhere between Ibiza, E17 and Merida, I completely lost my bottle. Not that you’d have noticed, necessarily. I was still walking around spouting opinions, still capable of summoning enough bravado to actually get from E17 to Merida, but there was something missing. The best lack all conviction.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, how I wanted to live or who I wanted to be. I was stumped. Then I got the following advice from a smartarse filmmaker:

Whatever you decide, feel good about it. Feel amazing about it. Feel as if you couldn’t have made any other possible decision. As long as you do that, everything will work out exactly as it should.

When I started to think like that suddenly the stubbornly wedged pieces began to fall into place. The decisions I fight the hardest are usually, in retrospect, as easy as falling over. It’s like standing at the top of a high dive. Turning, fretting, pawing at the board to buy time. Praying for a heavenly waterslide to appear. It never does. So I jumped. And my fear-hazed, pinched-in little world bloomed. There is much to be determined, questions to be posed and answered, work to be done, but it’s okay because life is exciting again.

Tattoos – More Than Skin Deep

Posted by Cila Warncke

It seems there is a segment of the population who think women who have tattoos are white trash hos. I refuse to take this personally since, on principle, I disregard the opinions of people whose IQs are lower than their waist measurement.

Tattoos 1 & 4

Tattoos 1 & 4

Anyway, I love my tattoos. They each have a very specific and personal meaning and I remember with what is, for me, uncanny clarity the situation and circumstance of each one. My first was 6 March, 2000, my bestest friend and biggest crush Andy’s 21st birthday. Partially out of bravado, I think, I went to Camden Town with my friend Miranda and had an Aquarius symbol tattooed on my right shoulder blade. It cost £55. I was petrified, but I survived. That night I went to Andy’s birthday drinks wearing a hot pink Oasis vest. I have no idea if he noticed my tattoo.

Giddy with my own courage I went with my friend and drinking buddy Lucy to get my second, at the end of term that year. We went to a place on Berwick Street, Soho, that was roughly twice the size of a phone box. I went first, getting an infinity symbol tattooed on my left hip. It was a blazing hot day and I remember looking over at myself in the mirror. I was literally as white as a sheet, sweat pouring off my face. Agony.

The next time the impulse took me was back in Philadelphia, the following autumn, during my final year of university. I persuaded my two roommates to come to a dingy little tattoo place on 43rd and Chestnut. They were good middle-class girls and didn’t take long to refuse to get involved with ink and needles. I wanted a tiny crescent moon on the top of my right thigh. It was a Saturday night and the parlour was full of West Philly hoodrats, goofing around. I had to drop my trousers and sit in the middle of all that, trying to look nonchalant — which at least took my mind off the pain.

After that I eased off. Three seemed like a nice number and I didn’t have a blinding urge to get any more work done. Then I moved to Ibiza. Surrounded by gorgeous bodies adorned with stunning tattoos I started to crave another. One of my all-time favourites is DC10 DJ Tania Vulcano’s tattoo. She is one of those striking woomen who don’t mess with makeup, hair fripperies or, heaven forbid, dresses. She’s always in jeans and a tee-shirt, with just this fabulous tattoo around her right elbow. I wanted one too. My first mission to find the right artist didn’t go well. Inkadelic is the dudely tattoo parlour of choice in Ibiza, where I met Luca. I told him what I wanted and his reaction was: “if you were a big hairy lesbian I might do it, but I think you should have something more feminine. How about flowers?” I could hardly speak for scraping my jaw off the floor and, needless to say, never went back.

Then I happened across an article about Tahiti Tiki Tattoo founder Sandra. She talked about the spiritual and emotional significance of tattoos, how each one she creates is designed for the individual. Curious as hell, I wandered up Calle de Virgen one night, about 1AM, and leafed through her booklet. Unlike Luca who was rude, combative and arrogant from the moment he opened his mouth Sandra projected tranquilty. Ibicenco tattoo parlours at 1AM are inherently hectic, but hers was a sacred space. I felt safe, welcome and understood.

A couple of weeks later I went back for the tattoo, equipped with a mantra to get me through the pain. It’s a line from Lawrence of Arabia

“The trick is… not minding that it hurts.”

Armed with this wisdom, I lay down, took a deep breath and let the needle sink in. After about five minutes my hands went numb. After half-an-hour I started shaking involuntarily. Sandra very calmly told me to relax; somehow, just hearing her say it helped. We talked about Ibiza, about her daughter, about tattoos. Then, before I’d dared hope, she said, you’re done. I walked the two miles home in the warm Ibiza night, elbow sweating in clingfilm, goofy on adrenaline and pride.

This was more than a tattoo, it was an achievement; my gift to myself for surviving my first summer in Ibiza, for daring to leave London and everything I’d called my own for five years to start somewhere new. Sandra designed it on the spot, drawing freehand onto my arm as we talked. The pattern unites Tahitian symbols for freedom and creativity. It is my badge of courage — and an invocation for the future.

My most recent tattoo is another of Sandra’s masterpieces, done in spring 2008. Once again, it’s an affirmation of what I choose. This time, borrowing the lyric ‘like a rolling stone’ from Bob Dylan. Only, as it’s an Ibiza tattoo, it had to be in Spanish. Sandra’s first languages are French and Italian so we spent a week or so settling on the right translation, eventually agreeing on: ‘rodando como una piedra.’ It’s a literal, rather than a literary, translation but the sound and feel and freight of it is exactly right.

Sandra creating tattoo 5

Sandra creating tattoo 5

Kat was visiting at the time and sat by me, bless her, for over an hour while I went pale, fidgeted, gnawed a lollipop stick to a pulp and talked utter nonsense to take my mind off it. When it was done I had that now-familiar rush of delight. It’s dangerous to get addicted to the adrenaline hit, but I’m hooked on more than that. My tattoos are precious because they mean something. They remind me of where I’ve been, how I’ve felt, what I love, who I am and what I want to be. For me, at least, a little ink goes a long way.


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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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Clash: Deaf Stereo

Originally published in Clash

Deaf Stereo

Deaf Stereo


Deaf Stereo has been percolating ever since Luke, Will and Ben met at Westminster Uni on a music course, at the turn of the millennium. It was four years before they had a name and an idea to go with it. “We decided to stop playing stuff we thought we should, and play music we wanted to listen to,” they explain. The music they wanted to play, if their first single is anything to go by, is solid, grooving beat driven indie pop. Disco biscuits with a side order of Jack Daniels, say.

“We’re into bands like the Chemical Brothers, Underworld… we like the peaks and troughs of dance, but we also wanted proper songs,” says Barney, who describes his role in the band as doing “keyboards and laptop stuff.” About a year ago, they completed their set up, with fifth member, Tom, the handsome, clean-cut drummer.

Sitting in the trendy bowels of the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, it’s Will, who plays bass, who keeps up the steadiest stream of patter. A series of wry asides from behind a hand rolled cigarette. “Would I ever sail a giant effigy of myself down the Thames? Shit. If I were as big as Michael Jackson that’s the least I would do. I’d have a whole set of them.”

Ben, (guitars, backing vocals) is small, dark, thoughtful. He takes on the philosophical questions. Or rather, turns questions philosophical. If you had a band uniform, say, what would it be? Luke (singer) runs a hand through his beautifully cut hair and says, “That’s something we’re still thinking about.” But Ben launches into an earnest and articulate explanation of the dangers of embracing style over substance. Absorbing this, Luke effortlessly readjusts his stance on the issue. “We happy wearing what we wear. No one’s told us to change anything yet.”

These small, subtle realignments happen more than once. Not in a deliberate presenting-a-united-front kind of way, but in a fluid manner which suggests long practice in accommodating each other’s ideas and opinions. Disagreements are minor: Barney prefers Addlestone cider, while Ben is happiest drinking mojitos. Will predicts a Dire Straits revival to general eye-rolling. When it matters, they’re in perfect sync. They want the right songs on the album (“we have a reputation as a party band, but we have some slower songs too, we want to showcase that”); they like the same venues (Koko and Fabric, where they played a riotous 3am gig); and perhaps most importantly, they all know what they want on their rider: “You mean when we have a rider? We’ll have as much as we can get! We got sandwiches when we were at Brixton, that was great,” Luke says.

So far, they’ve humped their equipment through calf-deep mud to play at Glastonbury last year. They’ve written a raft of songs which will somehow have to be whittled into an album. They’ve learned to party on backstage freebies because “we can’t afford to go out unless we’re playing.” They’ve been given some good advice: “Get a job, sort your life out, stop wasting your time,” Will guffaws. And what advice would they give someone following in their footsteps? Ben and Will catch each other’s eye and chorus, “Get a job! Stop wasting your time!” They all laugh.