As one of the leading lights in progressive dance music since the early 1990's, Alex Coe aka Sasha's role as a DJ, remixer and producer has been significant and influential. I would be the first to suggest that discussion of his music is best left to writings on club music and dance culture...except, that is, for these particular albums featuring his own compositions.

artist:
Sasha

country of origin:
UK

style(s):
Ambient dance, ambient breaks, progressive house/trance 

decades active:
90's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Airdrawndagger (2002, BMG Music)
  • New Emissions Of Light & Sound (2007, Globe)
  • Scene Delete (2016, Late Night Tales)
  • Refracted: Live at the Barbican (2017, Late Night Tales)

Reviewed by Mike G

As one of the leading lights in progressive dance music since the early 1990's, Alex Coe aka Sasha's role as a DJ, remixer and producer - despite absurd overpraise by zines like Mixmag - has been significant and influential. I would be the first to suggest that discussion of his music is best left to writings on club music and dance culture...except, that is, for these particular albums featuring his own compositions.

In the best of his seamless DJ mixes (e.g. first Northern Exposure album from '96 with Jon Digweed) and on his best club singles (like the 90's progressive trance classic "Xpander") there has always been an element of dreaminess, complexity and subtlety. That's why the understatement on Airdrawndagger (2002), his first full-length debut of original compositions, is not surprising. What is surprising is that he sustains that understatement for most of the album's 70 minute running time, producing an absolutely fantastic chillout record. It's intense but strangely laid-back, epic without being pretentious, complex but always accessible. Uplifting melodies aren't outlawed, just hidden from idle ears. But let's not call it progressive house, trance, breaks or anything else so potentially limiting. Let's just call it modern electronica.

Airdrawndagger is without question a home listening experience. Only about two-thirds of the way through the album on the storming "Bloodlock" does the music reach the kind of dancefloor intensity that resembles a progressive house DJ set. It's also one of the few tracks on the album powered by a 4/4 kick drum. The rest of the music is carried by a variety of broken beats, melodic pulses and rich ambient textures all held together by sound design that's weirdly crisp and soft at the same time. It's also entirely instrumental and, looking back, its modest sales upon release only reinforced the notion that by eschewing vocals the album was one for the underground crowd. Sasha and collaborators Charlie May and Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) aimed high, wanting to create something that would stand the test time. And it has; it remains compelling today, partly because it charted its own path and kept well away from disposable dancefloor trends.

New Emissions Of Light And Sound (2007) is a lush instrumental soundtrack to a surf film. At 37 minutes it's a short album but those 37 minutes are glorious, sighing and surging somewhat in the ambient breaks style of the previous album. It's full of creative syncopations, unusually textured arpeggios and harmonic progressions that don't quite go where you might expect. The melodies are strong yet understated and the sound design reveals incredible depths with repeated listens.

If you like Airdrawndagger then Emissions is also a must-hear, as is Scene Delete (2016) and its live companion album Refracted (2017).  These two albums see his return to ambient dance music and spacey prog after a long period focused on club music and DJ'ing. The latter is a double-length document of his first-ever live show as a musician captured at London's Barbarian arts centre. It’s cinematic, mostly instrumental and superbly executed, the work of finely tuned ears and a fantastic backing band. The midtempo reworkings of his club hits “Belfunk” and “Xpander” are every bit as lush and ecstatic as you might imagine.

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