There are DJs who turn up, play records and make people dance. And there are producers who make the dancefloor-igniting records those DJs will kill for. There are very few people in dance music who can do both and Sasha is the leader of the pack. Ever since he rode in on a tidal wave of adoration from the North of England's explosive early 90s club scene, that magic touch has made Alexander Coe one of the most famous, most revered DJ on the planet.
It would be an understatement to call Britain’s Alexander Coe a DJ pioneer. As Sasha, he had led dance music since the late '80s and has built a legacy that few, if any, DJs will ever match.
You could say that the world first noticed Sasha when Mixmag made him their cover star in 1991. It was the first time a DJ had ever been featured on a magazine cover. In a lead article titled Sasha Mania: The First DJ Pin-up?, a journalist wrote, "Whereas there have been plenty of star DJs before, Sasha is the first to be so successful precisely because of his DJing."
Two decades on that statement still rings true. For all that Sasha has achieved - the seminal mix albums, the rock star tours, the enduring club anthems - it is his groundbreaking DJ moments that truly built his career. And there have been so many of them.
Take 1994's 'Renaissance: The Mix Collection', the triple CD that Sasha mixed together with his longstanding DJ partner John Digweed. It was the world's first commercial DJ mix CD and is now considered one of electronic music's greatest ever recordings. "The first Renaissance CD really put myself and John [Digweed] on the map," says Sasha. "It was the first time anyone had done a properly packaged mix compilation."
Two years later Sasha and John Digweed produced another dance music milestone, the mix CD ‘Northern Exposure’, for Ministry of Sound. "That album was a chance for John and I to do something that was more about head music, a mix for after the clubs had finished," Sasha says. "I don't think anyone had done that before." There is also the not so small matter of Sasha's definitive 1999 mix CD, 'Global Underground 013: Ibiza'. It is, quite simply, the best-selling DJ mix of all-time.
However, it is not just his decisive mix albums that made Sasha a global star. The British DJ has always been known for his magic touch behind the decks, ever since he began spinning records in the late ‘80s. It is an intangible quality – his extraordinary ability to light up dancefloors and entrance crowds – that made Sasha the original superstar DJ.
His habit of breaking new clubland boundaries also helped. He was the first DJ to tour America like a rock star. Delta Heavy, his 2002 USA tour with John Digweed, saw the duo embark on a gruelling 35-date bus tour with a full stage show. The mammoth gigs – in warehouses, theatres and arenas for crowds of up to 15,000 - made them household names in a country that was only just waking up to dance music.
Sasha’s revolutionary 2004 album 'Involver' also broke new ground. The mix CD, which consisted entirely of Sasha’s reworks of tracks by other artists, was his first major work after moving to a digital DJing platform. It defined his new DJ style - mixing at a molecular level. Indeed, he was so far ahead of the curve when he adopted the software program Ableton Live for his club sets that he had to design a custom controller, called the MAVEN, as no suitable technology existed on the market.
Sasha has never stopped pushing the frontiers of dance music. Today, he is excited by his new audio-visual show V_rtek, a large-scale DJ production that sees him perform whilst surrounded by huge L.E.D. screens. Every sound he plays is synchronised to animation and visuals, which provide a mesmerizing visual and sonic assault of the senses. “I use V_rtek when I want to make a big statement,” says Sasha. “We plan the shows meticulously, and there’s no hanging about with the music - it’s like the last hour of one of my five hour sets when everyone is already going bonkers. I re-edit all of the tracks that I play just for the set.”
Sasha has taken his explosive V_rtek show to major festivals like Big Day Out, Coachella, Glastonbury, and Good Vibrations, not that he is particularly concerned with reaching a mass audience. His regular Never Say Never events at Ushuaia, an under-the-radar beach bar in Ibiza, are a perfect example of his desire to remain rooted to dance music’s underground. “At Usuhaia in the summer of 2010 I got to cultivate a sound that I really loved,” he says. “The music was more of an after hours sound, very melodic and blissed out, and with it being at Usuhaia on an Ibiza beach, it felt very summery. It’s a sound very close to my heart, but at same time I still love the big sound of my V_ortek shows.”
This duality - this conflict between two sounds - has always existed in Sasha. For every headlining, peak-time set he plays at a major dance festival like Creamfields or South West Four, there is a five-hour Sasha journey at London’s Fabric, Tokyo’s Womb or New York City’s Cielo. “I’ve always had two sides to what I do because I’ve always tried to straddle that line,” he says. “When I was resident DJ at Twilo in New York with John, I was also resident at Fabric as part of Tyrant with Craig Richards and Lee Burridge, and no records crossed over those two residencies. At the time, I felt fully stretched musically and that’s when I really honed both sounds.”
What epitomizes Sasha more than anything though, is the fact that he never really fully jumped into the mainstream. “I never went for the commercial jugular, despite many opportunities,” he says. “When I made my name in the ‘90s doing piano break remixes for pop artists, I didn’t feel satisfied artistically and I chose a different path. That doesn’t mean to say that I wouldn't be open to working on more commercial music, but I’d much prefer to remix an Arcade Fire or a Radiohead over a 50 Cent any day.”
Sasha's magnificent dancefloor records overshadow his pop moments (notably remixes of Madonna, Seal, and D:Ream). His four-track EP ‘Xpander’ from 1999 is undoubtedly the zenith of his production career. The ambitious 11 minute lead track – an intoxicating mix of dark hypnotic melodies and spine-tingling trance – was voted by BBC Radio 1 listeners in 2011 as the third best dance track of all time. Sasha’s other famous club anthems include ‘Scorchio’, his 2000 collaboration with Underworld’s Darren Emerson, and ‘Wavey Gravy’, the hit single from his 2002 debut album ‘Airdrawndagger’.
Sasha’s debut longplayer is also considered by some to be one of electronic music’s most underrated works of genius. The 11-track opus played like a mystical voyage through the dark and beautiful side of dance music. As it moved quite brilliantly between poignant breakbeat, moving melodies, and deep four-to-the-floor grooves, it captured both his immense studio talents, and his ability to segue multiple genres, electronic rhythms and sounds into one epic piece of music.
Sasha will soon become a curator of quality dance music too. After a brief record label experiment (EmFire), Sasha will launch his own imprint this year called Last Night On Earth. The label will be Sasha’s home for supporting exciting new electronic music talent and his new solo productions. And surely, Sasha being Sasha, the label will be a resounding success.
How to explain his Midas touch though? Well Sasha answered that 20 years ago, in that first Mixmag article: “Seeing my face in a magazine is great, but the DJing is what it is all about”.