Barely a week goes by without some muso or other declaring the death of the mix CD. And you can understand why, given the proliferation of free mixes that pop up like pop-ups each and every day on the worldwide web. Once every four or so years, though, all that changes, people forget to argue and unite in appreciation of the form once more. Why? Because of the arrival of the latest 'Involver', Sasha’s ongoing compilation series that is more akin to an artist album for the way each track is wholly re-worked, tightly stitched into a greater whole and unmistakably imbued with the very real musical personality of the man behind it. Even for a man of Sasha’s experiences and resources, though, the latest edition, 'Involv3r' (out now) has been a greater challenge than ever before.
“This one was particularly hard,” he says through a constant blizzard of text message tones, Skype alerts and email beeps from his winter home in New York. “I had a lot of curveballs thrown at me throughout this record. At the beginning of the year we struggled to get licensing sorted on a few things, but once we got the No.1 on Beatport [in Autumn 2012 with Sasha’s remix of Hot Chip’s ‘Flutes’] everyone we asked said yes. It was really funny, that record served a purpose in opening doors for us and sorting stuff business wise.”
From there things snowballed, and the 'Involv3r' process, which started more than 18 months ago, began in earnest. Unfortunately, though, so did the misfortunes. Along the way there were lost computers, engineers arriving in New York to help on the album in the midst of Hurricane Sandy-induced chaos, and more besides.
“We had to move studio four times,” Sasha recalls. “The problem with that is you start to find a different sound in each one, then you want the previous stuff to sound like that, so we then went back and started mixing some of the stuff that was already finished, which we probably shouldn’t have touched, it’s a bit like chasing your own tail.“
The ‘we’ that he refers to is the team assembled to help complete this master opus across two continents, three countries and studios including those belonging to Café Mambo in Ibiza, Sasha himself in New York and the famed Red Bus studios in London. First to join the team was Ibiza resident and one half of Deepgroove, Grayson Shipley, after having an important hand in that Hot Chip remix. Then came Josh Grant from New York who “did a lot of the analogue stuff, programming, engineering, atmospheric design and processing”. So what of the results?
'Involv3r' feels epic, purposeful and poised throughout. Rinsed with a subtle-but-dramatic sense of euphoria, it takes carefully curated and segued steps through a disparate clutch of source material (as is often the way with these mixes). There are tracks from electronic acts like old prodigy James Zabiela, Benjamin Damage and Doc Daneeka, but so too is there room for Foals, The xx and downtempo Swedish band, Little Dragon. Importantly, they make for comfy bedfellows without so much as the slightest jar from the first stirring string to the final notes two hours later. In fact, the soupy transitions between tracks are almost as delightful as the tracks themselves.
“I flicked through it [for the first time since finishing it] last weekend,” he says half reluctantly. “I'm happy it’s done, it sounds really good. A lot of the analogue sound and programming with analogue synths give it a certain sound, and I'm proud of that. I had some old vintage synths I got reconditioned in time for this and bought some things off eBay. They really gave the album a different direction, sound-wise. When I'm writing, I do it all on my Polar Virus. A lot of the time we’d write sequencers on that, then double them up with the vintage gear.
“I usually try and simplify things, I like sitting at one synth to try and get the meat of a track done. I think you need to master a few things, then you can make music. I went through a stage of thinking I didn’t own enough plug-ins, but then you just end up with banks of them that you never use, just flicking through presets. I like sitting at synths because you sit there and carve the sound; you make it work. The problem with software is that you can constantly find another preset that might be better, you end up flicking through menus a lot and I find that to be a bit of a waste of time. I mean, a lot of my first records were done just on an MPC with one synth!”
BRIDGING THE GAPS
The album was originally pencilled in for release last summer, but Sasha just wasn’t happy with it, reporting he felt there were too many bridging moments, too much filler. As such, a lot of it was reworked, with important road tests along the way to help get some perspective on the music away from the confines of a studio. “I test out mixes in the club, two or three together, to see what works, then you can put that to bed and find other bits that work and piece it together like that. I always knew I wanted Foals at the end of the record because it’s such an epic tune, I knew [Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeka’s] ‘Battleships’ had to be track five — there are certain things you set in stone so the pace is right and you can build around [it].”
Anyone who has caught Sasha live in the last year or so, then, will have been treated to a number of sections of the mix, something which those planning to attend the 'Involv3r' tour can also expect. But that’s not all you’ll hear, because for Sasha, the art of DJing and keeping himself enthused is about offering up exclusive and new music.
“I went through a phase where it seemed impossible to have exclusive music. You’d play a load of new music on Friday night and the next morning people post up 95% of the tracklist and you’re like, ‘How did they do that, I only got that yesterday?!’” Looking ahead, though, that won’t be a problem for two reasons: one is that there are plenty of new tracks and remixes that didn’t make it onto the final two disc collection — all to be used in the coming months — and second, there's the ongoing success of his ever more influential Last Night On Earth imprint, which has released a wide range of music from Sasha himself, James Teej, Simon Baker, Ejeca, My Favorite Robot and many others, both digitally and on vinyl, and always with a carefully considered artistic unity.
“It’s really grown nicely, the artists have really delivered the goods and it’s grown in a cool way. We have a backlog of music that we are working out how to release. The thing about it is the label isn’t there for monthly club bangers and Beatport hits, it’s not why I set it up. I just feels nice surrounding myself with young artists and upcoming producers.”
This talk of young producers and upcoming acts leads onto a discussion of the Stateside EDM explosion, at which point Sasha reminds us he’s seen it before, first hand, when he used to do stadium tours with John Digweed and full-on production a decade or so ago. “Thing about that movement is that it’s massive, arena-filling; it’s a massive thing. It’s music of that generation, but I’m not sure how many people who go out and hear that would be interested in seeing more underground DJs. They seem to be totally separate.”
What’s not totally separate is Sasha and Ibiza. Though plans are not yet confirmed, he admits to being intent on returning to the White Isle in some way once again this summer. It might be at Ushuaia, or it might be somewhere else, but for the man who won our Best Of British Lifetime Achievement Award back in 2012, it doesn’t seem to matter. “I'm having a brilliant time DJing,” he beams before reeling off gig highlights in Sydney, Manchester, Peru, Lima and countless other far-flung territories. “I really enjoy it still. I know where I sit in the food chain and I'm enjoying playing music as much as ever.”