Sacha Robotti has come a long way since breaking onto the scene a decade ago. You wouldn’t think it’s that long, mainly because of the exuberant nature of his productions, as part of a beloved duo or when it comes to his own solo path. Whether it’s working with rap legend KRS-1 on the next house anthem that will blow your speakers or remixing smooth underground tech house tracks, Sacha always proves a refreshing approach.
It’s the latter that you will recognise in his remix for one of Germany’s lengthiest music spinners and head of Gold Records label, Rainer Weichold‘s Bamboo 2015. It’s been 8 years since the original came out and kickstarted his DJ and producer career, so it was high time for a new version. The EP includes Rainer’s own version and remixes from Ardalan and Sacha, two of his favourite producers at the moment and will be out Monday, September 21st on the aforementioned Gold Records.
A classically trained musician gone rogue, Sacha’s travelled quite a bit in his youth before settling for Berlin, where he’d always come for the underground parties as a youth. As we’re always curious to find out more about underground Berlin scene before the Internet era set in, we urged Sacha to tell us more about those days, and how, although a core techno lover at heart, he now feels more drawn to the lighthearted side of house music.
LSD: Despite being a trained cellist, I hear you were quite the punk growing up. What was the Belgian scene like and what were your first Berlin rave encounters ?
The Belgian scene as I experienced it was great! For me it was the first contact to electronic music, it meant freedom, love, excitement.. also it was like having a substitute family. Looking back, I think the noise covered up the troubles I had at that time. I „grew up“ very quickly, from one day to the next almost, in 1995 when my mum died and I had a severe bike crash shortly after – before that I was a good little boy who played the cello and was diligent in school. Our household kind of broke apart and I lived without parents as a teeny, restless. I began to roam at night, started smoking weed and taking mushrooms, listening to hip hop, drum and bass and rave music, painting graffiti, and going to clubs. We were a small group of friends who went to places like Fuse, Food, Who’s Who’s, Bulten, and some illegal parties I can’t remember the names of! Often I went to these places by myself, sometimes riding to other cities on my scooter, either just for decksharking the DJ or dancing. Then I got into DJing myself.. I started buying house and techno vinyls and was super passionate about it, even though I didn’t have much money to spend. My sister lived in Berlin since 1989 and I visited her occasionally. Amazingly I got let in underage to my techno mekka there, the Tresor – this club ran one of my favourite record labels back then.
This one time when I was 16, I went up to the door of the legendary E-Werk. The doorlady looked at me amused and asked, after I showed her my ID, „Kid – WTF are YOU doing here?“. I told her I came all the way from Brussels for this, and she was like.. „alright.. get in quick before I make my mind up, BUT DON’T DRINK!“
Another place in Berlin I loved in the mid 90s, was Tacheles on Oranienburger Strasse – a squatted former department store turned into an artists’ paradise. It was quite the adventure, it had a garden with crazy sculptures out of found stuff and huge murals, a real inspirational space.. Haven’t been there for ages though. It’s located in a now very touristic and kind of more wealthy part of Berlin, so I can imagine that lots of real estate sharks are fighting over who can build a Starbucks or „Loft living spaces“ there.
LSD: What are some of the artists that influenced you? Give us three smashing tracks that are ingrained in your headspace from that period.
Three influential tracks from that period: Green Velvet „Destination Unknown“, DJ Funk „Work It“, Jeff Mills „The Bells“. Those guys, their stage presence, personality, and the music are still benchmarks to me! Plus there were so many other awesome artists.. Dave Clarke was a big influence on me as well as Pierre and Deg, all of them residents at Fuse… Blake Baxter, Carl Cox, Sven Väth, Aphex Twin, Plastikman, DJ Sneak, Dave Angel, Ben Sims, Luke Slater, DJ Rush, Miss Djax, Daft Punk, Josh Wink, Daz Saund, Claude Young, Underground Resistance, Joey Beltram, many Belgian DJs of that time.. and many more. I can only thank all these guys for infecting me with the techno bug and house fever haha.
LSD: You began studying architecture but still ended up majoring in music. What has architecture taught you that is still very much useful? (touch on the structure part). What was it like to have one of the original robots from Kraftwerk as your teacher?
True I started studying architecture in Edinburgh Scotland and did an Erasmus exchange to Berlin, where I got stuck from 1999 until now. I have a Bachelor, but didn’t finish the full course even after years of studies. But I have no regrets. Not only did I meet amazing people during University, but architecture also made me travel to places like Afghanistan in 2005 where I interned for the EU doing reconstruction work on the boarders to Pakistan and Uzbekistan for 5 months, or Los Angeles in 2003 where I lived in a self-built house on a parking lot in Downtown for a couple of months with two friends. Studying architecture, I learned about the history of cities and spaces and I started to think in different layers and dimensions. Also I learned how to use Photoshop and lay out stuff on paper, I got into art, photography and film, but also and most importantly, it taught me how to conceive a project from more than just one angle. Meaning: for everything we want to create, there’s a process or timeline, modules of thoughts and possibilities. This architectural thinking process can be transferred to other things: to making a piece of music, or running a company, or many other projects you can think of..
Regarding my „Acoustic Communication“ Master you’re asking about – at some point I understood that I simply didn’t have enough passion for architecture.. plus I was busy making music every free second, and I spent way more time in record shops, practising my DJing or fiddling around with Cubase, than attending architecture classes anyway. So why waste my life with something I don’t love? To make it official, also towards my dad who was critical of my musical plans even though my sister is a pianist, I quit architecture and applied for this new sound design course at the University of the Arts in Berlin. I handed in some of my self-released bootleg vinyls and mixtapes and was accepted, amazingly. The main reason I wanted this course, was to have Karl Bartos – who as you say is one of the original robots from Kraftwerk – as my professor. At first I was starstruck and couldn’t talk to him, then I got used to the fact that he’s a person too, actually with a good sense of humour, and we got along very well. It was a small course and in the end, only me and 2-3 others did our thesis on creative music production with him, while the other students created sound installations and stuff like that.
I was just interested in having long conversations about popular music, the importance of visuals, and how to focus on yourself as an artist. Also, since I didn’t have a studio at home, I locked myself into the University at night and used the facilities to experiment with the equipment, the results of which I showed to Karl the next days. I think the most valuable lesson I took from Mr. Bartos regarding music, was to simplify and not to be afraid of getting rid of things that distract from the essential.
I consider myself very lucky to have had this experience.
LSD: ARP or Moog? What does your studio look like now, which pieces of gear are staples? I saw some kinetic sculptures at Atonal, they were basically making electro music out of regular objects like a pair of scissors and an elastic band. Do you have any odd instruments? What software best suits your creative flux?
I’ll have to say „Moog“, as I would love to own a Voyager. But I’m not picky, I like to play with all synthesizers. My basic studio has been in my Kreuzberg living room for the last 10 years and all my music was created there. My favourite pieces of gear I own right now are the Dave Smith Mopho x4, an old Roland JX-1 I got for 100€ from Monte, an Oberheim Matrix 6 that someone gave me for free (maybe because it’s broken), an MFB-522 drumcomputer, a Roland TB-8 and a mic. I love my Mopho, it’s an absolute killer machine and I use it in all my tracks. But I don’t believe that you necessarily need rare synths to make good tunes, it’s more about what you feel comfortable with. Some kids who want to start making music think that they have to spend 10k on state of the art speakers and production gear before being able to make the most simple tech house track. Of course dope equipment will help you to find special sounds – but if you don’t have any ideas or if you’re lazy, all the fancy stuff in the world won’t be of any use. Limiting yourself can actually be an awesome creative catalyst.
Regarding software – I grew up on Cubase, but about five years ago I switched to Ableton because it was easier to share projects. I became quite fast using Live, but tbh it doesn’t matter which program you use, as long as you have fun with it and get results.
Regarding odd instruments – I have no idea about electricity or how to mod gear, but I sample my old vinyl or sounds from the internet and record all kinds of stuff I can find. For instance, great claps can be recorded by smacking your belly, and for crispy snare sounds you could mix the sound of biting into a carrot with the sound of breaking old bread. I have a plastic cup that makes cool cowbell sounds. Anything goes, really.
LSD: A friend of mine once said he thinks music should just be a background for people to shake it and have fun. What intention do you have in mind when you set out to do a new track or a remix, what’s the feeling you’d like to stir up in the listener?
When I produce dance music, ideally I want my crowd to feel the same thing when I experience a good track – that tingly feeling with goosebumps on the back of my neck that makes the hair stand up. It can lead to a full on rush similar to the chills, and I can lose my orientation and balance for a moment. I also like to see bass faces when a heavy drop is involved in a track, or feel the ‘physical’ low end pounding stomach and lungs, literally shaking the booty.
When it’s about a more mellow harmonic track, I love to see people dancing eyes closed and being in their heart & mind zone, forgetting their bodies and transcending to another place. If a piece of music or art makes someone enjoy it emotionally just as much as they would enjoy a beautiful sunset or ocean waves, then you’ve done your job right.
When I DJ, I also like watching couples on the dancefloor, especially if I can tell they like each other but haven’t „met“ yet; so if I can, I try to create a soundtrack for them to get jiggy with each other haha.
LSD:I recently read an article entitled ‘Why is Berlin such a slut?’, and a lot of people shared their (quirky yet relatable) answers. What do you think?
Funny thing: I read somewhere that Berlin in the 1920s must have been quite similar to Berlin nowadays. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1920s_Berlin)
I think that, if I was 20 again right now, I would love the slutty Berlin with passion and not leave Kater or Sisyphos for days!
People come here to have the times of their lives. Many are as old as I was when they come here for the first time, some are as old as I am now but still live their teenage dreams – just in a more ‘adult’ way.
They may come from places where there is zero nightlife, where having fun is expensive, where they can’t drink on the street, or where girls get harrassed at night when they walk home. The people may come from places where their governments forbid them to move freely, where they can’t barbecue in the park or hold hands with people of the same or other sex. They may be single and look for adventures in the clubs starting Friday, get laid with three different people until Sunday, and leave on Monday morning to go back to University or to some super boring job. They may try all drugs they can find and have a tattoo done high. They may want to take photos in those black and white photobooths to show off to their instagram friends. They may want to go shopping for vinyls because in their home towns there’s no such thing as a record shop. They may come from other hip places like NYC, Sydney, Paris or London, and gravitate towards the accessibility, freedom and simplicity of Berlin.
The city is in full gentrification mode, and I think it’s going to keep gentrifying until there’s nothing ‘original’ left. But for now it’s still relatively cheap to live here for a European capital, you can still rent an affordable room or apartment if you keep looking, and you can buy beer at the Späti for under a Euro.
You can stand in queues of many fucked up looking clubs with infamous dancefloors and basements for an hour, be excited about not knowing if you get in, or how weird the party will be and OMG there’s a naked person with leather straps walking around and a phone booth where you can openly take lines of coke!!!
All that is the stuff of legends.. when we have a great time, we tell others about it, chatter turns into rumors and a hype starts building. By now the city has such a strong image, that it’s not being sold to the world by word of mouth only, but also by the media as a brand – from Vogue to the Germanwings mag, from TV shows to blog posts on something outrageously ‘Berliny’. Nightlife professions like DJ, promoter, barman etc. became glamorous and transcended into our mainstream conscience. The city even has a famous doorman slash photographer!
I’m lucky that Berlin has been my home for the last 16 years. I moved here in 1999 at age 19, only bringing clothes, turntables and records. I started my career in music here over 10 years ago and in some regards – because I live only from music since then – I ‘made it’ here and turned my passion into a profession.
I am also one of the people who helped to build that ‘Berlin brand’ and in a way, I’m also living off that.
So this is not a talk about „before, everything was better“. All I’m saying is that it’s obvious how the city is becoming, in a way, a cliché of its past underground glory and turned into something that’s heavily capitalised on, with an infrastructure and economy that provides what’s wanted by tourists and partygoers or whoever comes here to ‘make it’ too in the world of music, fashion and art – not only attracting ‘real’ artists and creative types living the „arm aber sexy“ lifestyle (https://de.wikiquote.org/wiki/Berlin 2003 quote by Klaus Wowereit, former mayor of Berlin, party-friendly and openly gay). But maybe also the hip and wealthy who either just want to live that cliché life of the ‘Berlin artist’ or ‘Berlin DJ’ they heard about for a while, or even buy a flat here. Everybody all over the world knows someone who moved to Berlin, no?
Maybe that’s where the „slutty“ part of your interview question kicks in? – the moment when the city’s sex appeal and image is being used for cashing in?
LSD: I had a sincere wtf moment when seeing the new airberlin poster. What’s going on in your pic?
Haha so you want me to comment my no brainer Photoshop moment I had on instagram. Ok what you see here, is my face pasted on an Airberlin poster, with the claim: „so berlin since 2015“. The original says „not established since 1978“ and shows a young attractive tattoed redhead posing. It’s the new AB advertising campaign which you can see everywhere in the city. Why I actually took 10 minutes to make this? First of all – because I enjoy photoshopping things out of context.
But also, because I thought it’s a lame move from AB to suddenly ride that pseudo edgy „Berlin-ness“ to become some kind of a new cool airline. The main targets of this campaign are probably the „Easyjetset“ – a word that basically coins party tourists or party professionals who’ve been flying Easyjet to get home from Ibiza or from Barcelona to Berlin etc. (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=EasyJet+set , book about it: http://www.amazon.de/Lost-Sound-Easyjetset-suhrkamp-taschenbuch/dp/3518460447 ).
I don’t have beef with this clientele, or the way individualism and so called anti establishment have made it into the mainstream. I guess I just didn’t like how blatantly marketing people used the image of Berlin to sell us something that in reality has nothing in common with this image. Let’s remember.. this is an airline; one of the least sexy and most polluting things ever – and it’s not only used by people who go from Berghain straight to the airport, but also by people of all ages who want to pay less for flying around the world. Not sure what the AB chocolate hearts they hand out after each flight have to do with a campaign that’s, in my head, saying something along the lines of „look at me, I gaze down upon you with unbelievable arrogance because I’m of superior hipness than you“. This shit just doesn’t fly with grumpy 35 years olds like me! Haha anyway, good work AB for making me worked up about this. I wouldn’t actually mind the campaign if AB hired actual stewardesses that look like their poster girl. Tease and deliver, this would be unusual for sure. AirSuicideGirls.
LSD: Where do you stand in relation to the cliché of the 50 shades of black in Berlin? What’s your take on how popular electronic music (EDM?) is becoming in the world?
My approach to music was always with an open mind, and to me the creative process is more important than living a certain lifestyle according to an image that represents some current definition of the moody Berlin expat cool. Even though I’m a DJ and techno lover since the mid 90s, own my share of vinyl records, have lived for the ‘underground’ and counterculture, love a good party and trust me I’ve seen and done a lot of those in 20 years haha – I could never define myself solely by going to specific bars and clubs, consuming certain drugs because that’s what you do, dressing in a certain style, or being into stuff that’s en vogue right now, like tats or riding fixies for instance. Not hating on either of these things btw., it’s rather the combination of them that create the cliché you’ve mentioned in your question.
It’s just not in my nature to sync with groups that perceive themselves as an elite – especially not in terms of electronic music. Maybe because I take the oldfashioned PLUR mantra quite literally.
I also don’t think that taking a stance against digital Djs or bashing EDM for destroying the niches ‘we’ created, is worth losing nerves and time – even though I don’t like the way most controller DJs play, and haven’t yet heard an EDM track that didn’t make me sick. These are not ‘our’ niches anymore! If you can speak of ‘niches’ now at all.
There will always be a music genre that’s hated because someone is exploiting it to make money. The same goes for all the Guettas, Aokis, Kanyes, Skrillexes, or any artists who have been bashed for selling out. It’s not called „music business“ or „music industry“ for nothing.. This is a game of Capitalism, it’s a reality that tends to make us jealous and greedy. Instead of falling for that, we could just be more creative and less opportunistic and insecure, and give positive alternatives.
Trends come and go in cycles – the deephouse pop will fade out of the mainstream exactly the way tougher beats will fade in. And out. Maybe guitars will be the shizzle in 3 years again. Does anyone remember the band Justice? They were so huge for a short time in almost all the clubs a few years ago. And now, people who were hardcore Ed Banger fans dressed in neon, wear 50 shades of black and pretend that all they ever were into is techno, even though just 4-5 years ago they had no clue this genre even existed.
LSD: Given that hip hop is in your blood – tell us – have you seen Straight Outta Compton? What do you think of the album? Give us some hip hop, r&b gems that you get down to.
I haven’t watched the movie yet to be honest. But I listened to the album, and I don’t think it’s as bad as some people say it is. I’m not a fan of autotune, so I rather skip those songs – but some of the beats on that LP are so heavy and funky I can see myself bumping them in a lowrider on the streets of LA. It’s never fair towards an artist to compare their new album with their old ones. Granted, „2001“ was a masterpiece, but that was 16 years ago! In the meantime Dre revolutionized the „consumer headphone business“, making a billion or two. And even though he’s been known more as a business man lately, he’s still a producer and music lover.
LSD: Can you tell us a nice place you like in berlin – for food, hanging or a venue? whichever you feel would be ok to disclose.
My two favourite places in Kreuzberg are near my house – the first one is Marheineke Markthalle. I’ve been a regular there for ten years. It’s nothing special per se, but it feels a bit like home and it’s one of those old Berliner institutions. I go there quite often to eat something when I return from travels and have nothing in my fridge. I know some of the people who work there, and it’s fun to watch these „real Berliners“, like workers or retired people of all colours who talk that Berliner slang and come there in the morning to get Mettbrötchen, Currywurst and what not. Another favourite place of mine is my local café, the by now very trendy A.horn just across the street from my house. I think I’ve drank about 5000 cappuccini there in the last 3 years and made them lots of business. I try to hold all my meetings there so I can either sleep or work longer in the studio before showing up.
LSD: What’s the deal with your #theshining series? It is as creepy as it is mesmerizing.
This is just this idea I had a couple of years ago when I came back to my hotel after DJing, smashed and smelling of the club. The hotel hallway reminded me of the movie „Shining“ with Jack Nicholson – especially that moment when the boy rides on his tricycle and the weird twins appear. There’s a creepy vibe in those lonely hallways at night, you can barely hear any noise except for TV programmes in the distance, or someone having sex or an afterparty of some kind. I made it a habit to photograph the hallways of the places where I stay, and put them up on my socials. It’s a nice collection by now! Wish I had started earlier though.
LSD: Coffee, green tea or club mate?
If I drink club mate, I can’t sleep for days! So green tea or coffee for me.
LSD: If you lost your glasses before a gig, would you still be able to play?I was short sighted as in: I couldn’t see anything further away than half a metre.. so losing my glasses would have been a drama. But a couple of years ago I got my eyes lazered, so this isn’t an issue anymore!
LSD: Tell us about your upcoming remixes and Dirtybird camp bash. For this summer, I’ve remixed four tracks and I’m very happy with how they all turned out! Two of them have been released recently: Riva Starr „In My Soul (SR Remix)“ on his label Snatch Records and Thabo Getsome „The Sound (SR Wobbly Remix)“ on Marcel Knopf’s label Clap Your Hands.
Upcoming now is the remix of „Bamboo“ by Rainer Weichhold, a track some of you might remember from around 2008. And finally, I’m excited about my work for Fidelity Kastrow: „Full Moon Falcon (SR Bird Of Prey Remix). She’s a resident of Sisyphos in Berlin and this is for the club label, Sisyphon. Catch my set at the release party tbc!
This autumn, I’m SO EXCITED to play at the Dirtybird Campout in Silverado California! It’s going to be three days of campfire tales, lakeside shenanigans and late night dance-offs in Oak Canyon park. Dirtybird has been my favourite label for the past 10 years, many of my friends and favourite DJs and producers will be there. I’m so happy to be a part of it, it’s going to be epic!
LSD: As for an even farther future plan, when will the robots take over the earth?
They’ll take over sooner than later if we continue to destroy our planet!