Legendary Welsh DJ and producer Sasha recently teamed up with U.K. techno stalwart Alan Fitzpatrick to release a new two-track EP titled El Jefe. Consisting of two versions of the title track, the EP brings a stirring dose of melodic techno to Fitzpatrick’s growing independent imprint We Are The Brave.
On paper, a collaboration between Sasha and Fitzpatrick seems like an unlikely pairing. While Sasha has cemented his name as one of the godfathers of progressive house, Fitzpatrick has come to define the new breed of modern techno: dark, minimal, and stadium-sized. Pitting their creative talents together is, at first glance, unexpected.
Yet context is key; the Sasha of 2017 is a far cry from the man behind Airdrawndagger and Involver. Anyone who has seen the Welshman perform in the last few years can attest to his evolution: a growing tendency toward moodier, tech-ier sounds. Such is evident not only in his DJ sets, but also in newer tracks like “GameOvr” and “Out of Time,” which bring a new level of club-focused intensity to his work. His collaboration with Fitzpatrick — who has become a behemoth in the techno world in his own right — can thus be seen as an extension of this new identity.
Like many collaborations, “El Jefe” was born out of an initial impasse. “I had this hook that I’d written and didn’t know what to do with it,” Sasha says. “I was playing around with this idea and I just couldn’t get the sound of it right.”
Having previously discussed a collaboration with Fitzpatrick, Sasha decided to send it over to him. Fitzpatrick immediately responded to the idea, inserting his deft techno touch to complement Sasha’s infectious rave hook. The result is a perfect melding of their respective abilities — a track which can work just as potently in either artist’s arsenal. “Sometimes it just takes somebody to change the kick drum, or put a different groove behind something for it to click into place,” Sasha says.
For Fitzpatrick, the collaboration marks a special milestone. “I have been a Sasha fan for some time,” he says. “You always have at the back of your mind that this is one of the biggest projects you’ve worked on and that adds a certain pressure. But I really enjoyed that aspect of this release and I feel like the uniqueness of it really added something to my creativity and imagination.”
Read Sasha and Alan Fitzpatrick’s full back-to-back interview below, and pick up El Jefe here.
Sasha: Do you enjoy collaborating in the studio or do you mainly work on your own? Personally I like to work with people, I always learn something and the process can really be surprisingly simple sometimes. Like ours!
Alan: Good question! It’s not really something I have thought about to be honest, but now you’ve asked, I’d have to say that most of the time I am a bit of a lone wolf in terms of the creative process. I get my inspiration for the music I make from all sorts of things, but usually not other music. The spark for a track usually comes from a particular emotion or feeling I experience. That could be the result of a conversation I’d had with someone, or it could come from watching a film or reading a book or some experience I’ve had or situation I have found myself in. So it’s all very personal to me which obviously doesn’t lend itself to easily sharing an idea and collaborating creatively as it’s impossible for anyone to feel precisely the same way as I do, and equally hard for me to express a certain feeling in words to someone else.
Sasha: How do you keep yourself sane on the road with the grueling schedules and lack of sleep?
Alan: Balance… it’s all about balance! Over the years I have worked out that certain simple things make a world of difference when it comes to not letting touring become a stress. For example, I always try and travel with someone — my tour manager or my manager or my wife or a friend. Having someone to share the time and experience with (good or bad!) removes all negativity that comes with basically being alone or at least surrounded by strangers all weekend.
It’s maybe not something that people consider about our work, but it can be a lonely experience despite actually been surrounded by people from the moment you get to the airport to when you are in the club. However, the big secret I discovered to coping with the stressful parts of the job is finding time to do normal stuff away from work with family and friends, or making the effort to explore my hobbies. I’ve recently got really into fishing again having not done it since I was a kid and it’s made a huge difference to my state of mind. I can escape everything and just be on my own and put all my energy into something other than work.
Sasha: What was the bravest thing you have done in the name of your DJ / Production career?
Alan: It’s actually something — being brave — that I feel is really a big part of why I have been able to even have a career playing and making music. Obviously music, and the arts in general, is a very competitive industry to work in, particularly when it comes to actually making a living from it. You have to stand out from the thousands of other people who are also trying to do their best to make a connection with an audience through their creativity. Whether it is via the music you write, your performance as a DJ or even just your personality. It can be super demoralizing when some music you have poured your heart and soul into basically gets ignored by the entire world. This job does have a habit of testing your strength of character at regular points for various different reasons.
So, to pick out one particular action or decision is tough. I guess I’d have to go right back to the start of my career when I was holding down a full-time job with an insurance company while at the same time leading a double life releasing records regularly and flying off to play gigs maybe one or two weekends each month. The point at which I did actually quit my job and put all my time into DJing and writing music was just after my first child was born so there was that added pressure of being responsible for keeping a roof over my family’s head. So yeah, that felt pretty bloody brave at the time. Thankfully it’s worked out, otherwise I wouldn’t be calling it brave, I’d be admitting it was actually a bloody stupid decision ha!
Alan: Honestly, before we started work on it I had no idea how this collaboration was going to turn out, but I couldn’t be happier with the results. Was there a specific point in the process that you first began to feel that we were really on to something?
Sasha: It was strange how the track came together. I had this hook that I’d written and didn’t know what to do with it. I was playing around with this idea and I just couldn’t get the beats right, or the sound of it right, I felt like it wasn’t going to work at all, and then I felt like I couldn’t finish it. After we talked about collaborating, I thought ‘right, I’ll send that hook over to Alan.’ When you sent it back, you’d basically sorted out all the things in the track I was really struggling with!
Sometimes it takes someone else looking at something you’ve done to make sense of it. There’s a lot of stuff I have on my hard drive where I know there’s something good in there, I just can’t figure it out myself. Sometimes it just takes somebody to change the kick drum, or put a different groove behind something for it to click into place.
Alan: I’m looking forward to celebrating 10 years of releases and DJing in 2018 so I’d love to get your advice on how you have kept setting goals and renewing your passion for performing over the course of your career?
Sasha: I think the most important thing is to constantly try and reset what your upper limit is in terms of your goals. As you go through your career you think ‘oh it would be amazing if I could play that festival, or get a gig there, or work with that artist’. What I found sometimes though, is if you set yourself goals and you achieve them, you can feel a little bit lost afterwards. I think the key is to constantly have an eye on something ahead, even if it’s something completely unrealistic in your current state of mind. It’s really important to reach for the stars basically!
Alan: We Are The Brave… and I’m a massive admirer of how brave your RE-FRACTED: LIVE concept is. What were the most surprising challenges you faced while putting the shows together, and what was the biggest lesson you have taken away from process?
Sasha: Logistically, I was way more intense than I ever really imagined. I knew it was going to be a complicated mission but some of the day-to-day logistics involved in putting that kind of show on were just so intense, like ordering all the cables etc. Luckily I had an amazing team of people around me to help with all that.
I think the biggest lesson was when I decided I was going to play live piano onstage. It was almost an impossible goal, as I hadn’t played the piano since I was about sixteen. But I set myself this deadline and was like ‘I’m going to walk out onstage on May 20th and I’m going to play’ and I set myself a goal that I had to deliver.
I learnt that if you push yourself to the very edge of your capability, you can achieve those goals. It’s good to really stress yourself out when it comes to pushing yourself. The same applies to if you’re an athlete and you’re training, you want to get to the very edge of your capability. I felt like with the Barbican I was pushing myself right to the edge, but once I got to the edge, a whole other world opened up. I can sit down and play the piano now really comfortably.
It’s easy to get into a comfort zone when you’re DJing, working on your sets and going through the motions, so I always appreciate when I see DJs pushing themselves, using different technology in the DJ booth, just trying to find a new way to express themselves. I always admire that.