“I think I'm still in the process of finding my voice as a DJ.”
This is somewhat surprising, coming from Minneapolis DJ-producer-promoter-dancer SashaConda. Not because it’s hard to understand what they mean—DJs don’t always like to be tied to a particular sound or style—but because in their case, Sasha has an identifiable sensibility, both on and off the decks, that’s equal parts mischievous, scholarly, and openhearted.
Sasha plays many regular spots around town—everywhere from Black Mass to Dark Energy to Daddy, at venues like Honey, the Nomad, and Icehouse. Next Wednesday, they open for Russell E.L. Butler from Oakland, as well as locals Lonefront and Berndt at Honey. But Sasha’s monthly party at the Kitty Cat Klub, Cassette, featuring DJs playing entirely off old tapes, may be the best example of that sensibility at work. Hahaha—DJing from cassettes! Well, you know, if you’re of a certain age, tapes were likely the bedrock of your youth, when you weren’t trying to be cool quite yet. So maybe a night of all-cassette DJing would be a night full of music those DJs have a deep connection with—especially a lot of ’80s and ’90s stuff that sold far more cassettes in their day than CDs or LPs. Sounds like fun, right? Yep—and Sasha hoists a giant mirror-ball tape shell over the dance floor every month to make sure of it.
That sensibility was in place almost immediately. “I grew up out in the country in Hudson, Wisconsin, just across the river,” says Sasha. “My weirdo friends and I got into experimental music in early high school and would scour MySpace for bizarre sounds coming from the Twin Cities—mostly post-hardcore, noise, and experimental electronics—to book at our local YMCA on Friday nights. I spent the next four years or so in and around the city's DIY scene, traveling between here and Eau Claire playing house shows and warehouses, until I started touring the country nonstop and eventually landed in Minneapolis full time in 2012.”
Living in “various punk houses—for lack of a better term for shitty run-down houses crammed full of freaks in which parties are thrown and rent is cheap—in south Minneapolis for the past six years,” Sasha only began “actively pursuing” DJing a year or so ago. “I had just called it quits on the label I ran for eight years (MJ MJ Records), as well as taking a break from playing live,” they say. “I found that DJ'ing scratched both the curatorial itch I missed from running a label, and the performative itch I missed from playing music live. When I started going to System and Communion parties I was completely converted to the church of four on the floor dance music, and have been essentially obsessed with it since.”
Hence it was with a real sense of pride, and fear, that Sasha approached their opening spot at Black Mass on January 14, 2018. “I know it sounds cheesy, but when you're a newly minted Minneapolis techno convert who's spent pretty much every weekend for the past year dancing your face off to techno and house, and being inspired by all of the amazing DJs and artists in Minneapolis, and fucking Centrific asks you to play Black Mass—you're gonna freak out a little,” says Sasha. “I've played hundreds of shows in my life, but this was the first time in years I actually got a little nervous and star-struck about a performance.”
Sasha’s set is under 51 minutes, but contains 26 tracks (the full list is on the Mixcloud page). “I think there are maybe two or three points in this whole mix where there's only one track playing,” they say. “From start to finish it’s two to four tracks mixed with each other. When Steve asked me to play Black Mass I went out and bought a deck that could do four-track mixing.” Yet there’s nothing hurried or pushy about it—the opposite, in fact. It seems that the more tasks there are for Sasha to manage at once, the better their concentration.
The set begins loose and giddy—the limpid keyboards of Palms Trax’s “Sumo Acid Crew” early in the set sets the tone—but moves through tougher terrain on the way to a springy Afrobeat groove courtesy of Fela Kuti’s “No Possible (Joystick Jay's Vulgar Discractions Edit).” Sasha ends on a playful note, first with their slightly menacing remix of a Nicolas Jaar track, and finishing with the slumping horns and a sampled Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about orgasms in “AS YOU ARE.”
“I wanted to put something together that felt like it captured everything I wanted to do as a DJ,” Sasha says of the set. “Namely, mixing together different genres, obscure and beautiful experimental music, and really hard-hitting house and techno into something new and fun as hell.” Mission accomplished.
Russell E.L. Butler
With: Berndt, Lonefront, and SashaConda
Where: Honey Mpls
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28
Tickets: $7 adv./$10 door; more info here
Are you a Twin Cities dance-music DJ? Michaelangelo Matos wants to hear your latest set. He writes about recent mixes by local DJs (and DJs making local appearances) every Thursday for City Pages. Tweet to his attention: @matoswk75.