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Sasha -



photo: Timothy Saccenti

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interview by Kevin Schoenbohm and Jules Mari

As one of the most famous, respected, and talented artists in the electronica world, Sasha (a.k.a. Alexander Coe) continues to defy industry standards and inject dance floors around the world with his genre-defying productions, remixes, and technologically-fueled DJ sets. And let us not forget his past collaborations with none other than John Digweed - with whom he created one of THE most amazing compilations to date - Renaissance The Mix Collection (recently repackaged and re-released for its ten year anniversary!).

Sasha has now once again broken through boundaries. From design concept to finished product, Sasha has created the "Maven" - a solidly built prototype controller device for the software program Ableton Live. He can now manipulate digital audio during a live DJ set to create a whole new experience for both the audience and himself. What else can be possibly be said, the man is a genius. Recently we were lucky enough to catch up with Sasha during his stay in London to ask his thoughts on such topics as his latest release, FundacionNYC, his newly invented Maven, why he's ditched vinyl, and a host of other goodies.

Tell us a little about your track selection on FundacionNYC.

I definitely wanted to do something that reflected what had been going on in the club for the past few months at my residencies. You can't look at what you've got that month for records, you look at some older stuff that might have been missed and then you piece it together.

How much additional studio production was added to this release as compared to Involver?

It was nowhere near as big a project as Involver. I looked to the window of time that I had before my touring was going to start this summer and I really didn't have the time to take on a big studio production album and there's also a lot of other things I wanted to do. I've been doing some music for CSI, the TV show. I wanted to do smaller projects this year rather than take on a massive one. It's a DJ set and I'm playing other people's records but in terms of additional production, what I'm doing is within the Ableton Live program so it's just, you know, spitting out effects and re-editing stuff and that's basically what I've been doing at my live shows using Ableton Live. It (FundacionNYC) captures what I've been doing as a DJ for the last few months.

Track 10 on FundacionNYC by Holden & Thompson is amazing and stands out from the other tracks in terms of its vibe. Can you elaborate on your involvement in its final sound on the album?

He's an amazing producer, one of the cutting edge British producers. Every time I get one of his records, I'm salivating, I wonder how he gets his sounds, his ideas are definitely coming from somewhere different than most people. I've re-edited it, and played around with the effects and that is about it.

Having used Ableton Live to record FundacionNYC, do you think you could have achieved the same results using anything any other software?

It would have been impossible. In certain points in the album there's four or five tracks being laid on top of each other and squelched and in order to do that, you'd need to be an octopus, I don't think I could've done it without Ableton. The same way I couldn't have made my Involver record without that bit of software. It's just an amazing tool, but at the end of the day, it's just a tool I'm using to play music and for me it's the next step after ditching vinyl and CDs but it won't be for everyone.

You definitely can tell that using Ableton Live in the studio has sculpted the way you DJ. Has performing with that same setup changed the way you do things in the studio?

Absolutely. I went to the studio last night for the first time in a while to work on some music with Charlie May and I got so comfortable using Live. It's a beautiful thing about the fact that I'm DJing with it as well as using it in the studio. Now I'm staying in the same environment where before my studio world and my DJ world were so different and far away from each other. It's great, I'm looking at the same screen that I'm DJing with that I use to write music. We still rewire stuff into Logic and/or ProTools, but I use Live as the front arrangement tool.

Were any of the tracks on FundacionNYC given to you as multi-tracks or are you chopping up stereo tracks?

I didn't want it to get as complicated like Involver so I kind of just stopped myself from requesting multi-tracks. Because, you know, once you've got all the bits to play with, you can't help but mess around with it. I really did want it to be like a DJ set and not have it get overly complicated. We wanted to do something that we did quite quickly to capture the moment.

Can you elaborate on the amount of work that goes into preparing your hundreds of tracks that are going to be used in Ableton Live for your live shows.

Loading things into the computer can be quite a lengthy process especially when you're receiving the amount of music that I do. I get a DVD with about fifty new records on it and to cut it up and get them into Ableton is quite a lengthy process. The preparation isn't about preparing your sets in advance it's about preparing the tools in advance. Because you've got all those things ready at your finger tips then you can be really spontaneous and allows you to think quickly and come up with ideas and throw them in there and make them work. It would be easy to prepare your set in advance and just hit play and I think maybe there's an element of people out there that don't quite understand what's going on with the program and think that's what I'm doing, but that's really not the case.

The sound quality that comes out of your releases is top notch, what is your secret?

I work with great people that help with this. I always gravitate towards certain sounds and certain qualities of sound. I don’t profess to be a fantastic engineer or anything like that, or an amazing programmer. I just work with some fantastic people.

You dumped your ProTools rig?

Yeah, it's like the arms race, that thing. Every year they completely upgrade it and you've got to spend another thirty thousand pounds … #@$% that… I kept up with it for a few years, but after a while, it was like, you know what? For the kind of music that I make, the quality of Core Audio in Macs now is great, sure you can tell the difference between that and the latest high-end ProTools rig, but it's not far enough to warrant to pay a huge amount of money every year to upgrade your system.

The market's saturated with plastic controllers of low built quality for obvious reasons and yet you painstakingly developed a controller that looks like a mini SSL console for DJs.

That's the whole reason I wanted to develop the Maven controller was to build something that had this kind of build quality. The plastic ones do their job but they don't feel that great. For someone to actually put something like my thing (Maven) into production it would be so prohibitively expensive that once it reached the market, there's no point in doing it. I really just built it myself, for myself, and I'm really happy with how it feels and how it looks. It really means a lot to me and it's really done its job. Once I started using the Maven, the Ableton program really opened up to me DJing-wise.

How close were you working with Ableton's engineering team while developing the Maven?

I definitely got to advise them. I showed them drawings in advance and talked to them a little bit but really we did most of it on our own. I've got a friend who's an electronics buff and we did a lot of research on the internet, working on the basic layout and components and kind of rendered it so that it looked great and then finding a place to have the aluminum side tubes cut out. We had a guy who does custom motorbikes make it. It was a big process involving a lot of people and a lot of research. It was pretty much all consuming for nine months. But we turned it around in nine months. But most companies trying to get a product from drawing board to finished model usually takes them about eighteen months.

Can you describe other benefits of having the Maven, like say, portability, etc.

It goes over my shoulder now, my hard drive and my computer over the other shoulder. This version of the Maven's a little heavy but the next one will be half the weight. I never have to worry about my records going missing on planes again which happened numerous times in the last ten years. More importantly because I'm in digital format it means I can connect to my server in London and there's new music being uploaded there all the time by different people and I can go there and download it and drop it into my iPod and be constantly sifting through new music and I really think the turnover of new music in my virtual record box is a lot faster than what it was when I was using vinyl. It's definitely helping me keep my sets fresh. You've got so much down time in airplanes and in airports and that's the time I utilize the most to go through music.

The diversity on all of your releases shows how open you are to the many styles of house and electronic music. What would you say are some of the contributing factors that keep you breaking the mold.

I guess I'm always looking for that next thing. This year it was the Ableton thing. I always try to stay open-minded and keep my ears open. I don't think I've been a purist kind of DJ that plays one particular sound. I've always tried to listen to what the best music is out there each month and incorporate that into my DJ set. That means listening to a lot of music outside of straight dancefloor stuff.

As far as the critics asking, "why Sasha's using beat-matching software?" how do you explain to them the benefits of what you're doing with it?

It's not a beat-matching competition. Maybe in the early days when people first started doing seamless mixes and mixing 'in key' it used to really prick people's attention. I think those days are long past. I think everyone's aware of what beat-matching is and any time people notice it is when you #$% it up. At the end of the day, it's about the music you choose and the way you program it. Like with any leap forward in technology, it makes certain things easier, but it also complicates issues as well. Before, if I used to put on a record, and only have a handful of records that I knew would fit after it because I could only fit a certain amount of records in my records box. Now with my digital setup, I can go to a hundred or more different places so you do have to stay focused on where you're going with your DJ set. I've had nights where I've tried to be far too ambitious and far too creative and lost the dancefloor. This happened especially when I first got hold of the Maven. I was messing around like a kid with a brand new toy. You've still got to keep the groove going you've got to keep people dancing. You don't need to be playing six clips at the same time, it's fun to do that stuff and I definitely get a buzz when I start layering stuff but a lot of the time for the first two hours of my set I will be just running two or three tracks and treating like a record deck and going from track to another playing whole tracks rather than re-editing stuff. The great thing about Ableton is that the re-editing is so subtle and that people don't realize what's going on. Causing confusion is good.

What will Sasha be doing in ten years?

Good question. I can't imagine that I'd be touring the way I do now. I definitely think I'll still be involved in music, making music, I can't imagine I'll ever do anything else.

What do you do in your spare time?

When I get spare time which is very, very rare, I like to do really normal stuff. I like to cook food for my friends, hang out at home, watch football, soccer as you call it in the states and that's pretty much my spare time.

To the thousands of your fans, what would you like to say to them?

I'd definitely like to say thank you to everybody who supported me over the winter period at my residencies. I'm kind of sad to see them come to an end. But for people around in Europe and the rest of the world, I'm really looking forward to getting back there over the summer. I'm looking forward to the next three weeks of tour we've got coming up to promote the CD.

Much respect and many thanks to Sasha for taking the time for this interview.




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