11 years ago, I listened to Sasha’s Xpander for the first time. I was only nine years old then. It’s been my absolute favorite trance epic ever since, and last night (this morning), at 6:00AM, my childhood song was played by James Zabiela, as Sasha, the genius who created it, stood beside the rising star of electronic music.
Sasha needs no introductions, this 40-year-old British DJ along with his fellow countryman, John Digweed, have made the progressive trance and house scene what it is today.
Zabiela on the other hand, was sent by Mother Nature to tame human technology. Three years ago, James Zabiela warmed up for Sasha in Ibiza, ever since then, the young DJ’s career can be described as a bump-free ride into the stratosphere of electronic music. His brilliance though dates back to 2000, when he won Muzik Magazine’s Bedroom Bedlam award, and best Bedroom Bedlam DJ a year later.
Zabiela’s trademark blend of breakbeat and house, along with his superhuman capability of understanding and manipulating music, have poised him for international stardom. His sets feature tech-house these days, though his breakbeat-house blend remains the highlight of his performances. Zabiela’s philosophy is not just playing a good track, but twisting and warping it as much as digitally and physically possible, making the most of the music, all 100% live.
And just so you know I’m not exaggerating his mastery of technology, effects, loops and turntables, Pioneer Electronics enlisted his help in developing their top-of-the-line piece of equipment: the CDJ2000.
Now back to last night. 51 weeks ago, Sasha and Digweed landed in Beirut. It was the best gig of the year, both to us the clubbers, and them, the DJs (they both mentioned Beirut as their favorite gig in DJmag’s top 100). The balance offered by Sasha’s free-flowing eccentricity and Digweed’s calculated genius, has proven to be a winning mix for 17 years now. Last night though, both DJs are known for their eccentricity and spontaneity, and I was expecting something mind-blowing, and it was indeed.
The venue was the Downtown Outdoors Space area on the seafront facing Beirut Souks. It is a highly customizable venue, which allows greater freedom when it comes to set-up design and execution. The booth was covered with an LED screen that was an extension of a larger screen behind the DJs, with brilliant visuals making the two masters of electronic music warp through space, time, and intricate patterns.
One thing I really enjoyed with the setup this time is a cat-walk directly in front of the stage accessible to the VIP and VVIP areas. Not a golden-cage rip-off area, but a 2-meter wide walkway that did not rob the main arena of the view and proximity, but also allowed the often far-off VIP and VVIP areas to experience the best of both worlds.
Sasha started off the main act, with a 1.5-hour set that lasted till 3:00 AM, carefully crafted to make people move, yet preserve their energy for the magic still to come. At 3:00 AM, the birthday boy, James Zabiela, was ushered in by Sasha, who handed his protégée the decks for the next two hours.
At 5:00 AM, history was made, with Sasha and Zabiela taking the decks together, making beautiful hybrid music simultaneously. I must confess, it exceeded my expectations by lightyears. The breakbeat effects and warps fit in perfectly with the trancy prog synths. A solid hour and a half of experimenting with this duo experience welcomed in the sunrise, with everyone still there, jumping up and down with Zabiela, whom I reckon is the most lively and energetic DJ alive, moving gracefully with his music, his blonde hair lagging behind a fraction of a second.
Zabiela and Sasha interacted immensely with the crowd, with victory signs, smiles, and thumbs-ups being exchanged by the front rows of ravers and the two producers. Zabiela even took a few shots and a clip of the madness with his brand new iPhone 4.
All in all, this was a magnificent event that lasted well into 7:00 AM in the morning. Beirut will always be the first time Sasha and Zabiela shared the decks simultaneously, and those who were there will testify to the magnificence of that combo. The organization and setup was seamless too, with everyone enjoying the event, from every corner of the venue. MixFM’s intelligent mix between the commercial industry and the more underground, down-to-earth one has earned my respect and gratitude, mending any earlier disappointments I might’ve had.
The highlight of the night for me, was when Zabiela was showcasing Sasha’s “Xpander” and wasn’t able to introduce his breakbeat flavor from the first couple of times, shaking his head and focusing, and finally turning Xpander, which I believe was never remixed to a level higher than the original 1999 release, into something even better, with Sasha close behind, amused with what his masterpiece was being warped into.