Sasha shows there is life in live dance (and electronic) music

sasha barbican

Sasha is one of the most critically acclaimed DJs of his generation. He regularly plays to thousands of adoring, arm-waving clubbers and has his name associated with a string of famous dance records, as an artist, producer or remixer.

It’s a position that he’s worked tirelessly at for decades… and a status that he’s unlikely to lose anytime soon.

What sets Sasha apart from many of his contemporaries in electronic dance music is a desire to push the boundaries, whether they are personal in terms of what he can do musically or how his music should be consumed.

His double-header in the main concert hall at London’s Barbican Centre, judging by his post-weekend tweet below, probably ticked both boxes.

The two nights of Sasha: re-Fracted were sold out months in advance, such was the mixture of curiosity and eagerness to hear the 47-year-old play “live” for the first time, especially as the gig will featured a chamber orchestra and a “band” of musicians to bring everything life.

Perhaps another enticing factor, apart from the fact this is a man normally who is tucked away in a DJ booth rather than on-stage at one of London’s iconic, classical music venues, which has inevitably lured out a cross-section of muso-types and ravers, was the curiosity associated with wondering exactly how music that Sasha usually creates could be transferred from studio recording to real performance.

The stage set-up was not simple by any means… Four “work stations” (I can’t think of a better word) at the front with various keyboards, laptops and other bits of kit; a small area for the vocalists in the centre; and room behind for the chamber orchestra on one side and the percussionist’s area (he had more toys than anyone else!) on the other.

Sasha and co (the idea for the project came almost a year ago to the day and the team had been working on it, on and off, ever since) split the evening, classical performance-style, into two halves.

The first featured a reworking of the music he composed and recorded for the Late Night Tales-led album of last year, Scene Delete.

After the interval, new interpretations of songs from the Sasha back catalogue.

For a backgrounder on how the project came together, check this podcast with the Babican (he even spruced up his piano playing skills for the gigs with a tutor via Skype).

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I’ve been lucky enough to have witnessed some tremendous gigs this year (Underworld at London’s Alexandra Palace, Depeche Mode at the wonderfully intimate Glasgow Barrowlands, at the Ziggo in Amsterdam and their landmark event in London), but for creativity, invention and for generating an ability to surprise and thrill in equal, Sasha’s re-Fracted was a standout show.

It would be eay to dissect the gig, song by song – but that would miss the point.

This was an event where something new was created – something that I suspect will set a benchmark for how music that sits outside of the convential drums-guitars (sometimes with keyboards) set-up should aspire to be heard.

Clearly a hell of a lot of work (and money, given the dizzying array of tech on-stage) had gone into turning re-Fracted from an idea into something that was not only beautiful to listen to (typically Sasha, slow in building to an eventual burst of steam) but also fascinating to watch.

“Who is playing that bit?”, “Wow, the orchestra is doing the harmonic bass line!”, etc, etc.

The first half passed by in a gentle stream of relatively low-fi electronica, with lead vocals on various tracks coming via the pitch-perfect and melancholic Julia Daske and John Graham (he of Quivver fame).

What became clear during brief moments in the first period and then almost throughout the second, was how eager the crowd was to let go a bit – the meerest hint of some BPMs and a few arms would appear in the air.

Perhaps that said a lot about the old school ravers sprinkled heavily around the audience, but it also signalled how genuinely uplifting and inspiring was the music, especially given it was a debut performance.

Check the reaction as the crowd realised and, let’s just say, appreciated the finale of Sasha’s Xpander.

It is important for gigs like this to take place, to illustrate what a huge slice of innovation and effort can bring to the live music experience.

This didn’t feel like a club-DJ-tweaks-some-knobs-and-buttons-with-some-strings-for-backing type affair.

This was electronic music (not just dance music) on a creative peak.

It was a privilege to see and hear it (and judging by the jubilant reaction of the crowd, many others felt the same).

I hope for everyone else’s sake that Sasha and his team of musicians and collaborators either take it on the road, or play at least few gigs again in the future.

A triumphant event.

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NOTE: Top pic via @martinw_ldnstudio on Instagram.

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