Pics by Alfred Gorman
Pics by Alfred Gorman

Subb-an/James A vs Flex/Richard Lee vs James Francis

The Court

Sunday, November 2, 2014

With the summer rapidly approaching, so are the garden parties. Our city lends itself so well to a good outdoor Sunday Session that it’s great to see urban spaces being embraced more and more to host festivities. The Habitat Garden Parties at The Court are one of the best traditions of recent years, with the back courtyard being transformed in a decadent den of dancing delights, and to well and truly kick the season off in style, they had secured the services of one of the true legends of UK house music.

Despite them opening up an extra section off to the side, the venue sold out in advance, and a solid crowd had assembled by late afternoon. It was an older, mature, discerning, but up-for-it crowd, who all seemed to have a tale to tell about “that one time we saw Sasha in….” and were buzzing with excitement, knowing that “the man, like, always delivers”.

Early on in the arvo, local legends James A and Flex kicked off proceedings playing back to back for an hour, before Richard Lee and James Francis stepped up to do likewise, warming up the growing crowd with some smooth house beats that had pockets of people breaking out into lazy dancing, as the afternoon sun spilled through courtyard, with the whiff and promise of summer in the air.

A bonus drawcard for the night was the addition of Birmingham’s Subb-an – the young gun, based in Berlin, has been one of the hot new names on the minimal tech house scene, with a string of solid releases on various trendsetting labels. His formative nights in Birmingham were spent as resident at the city’s legendary Below nights.

Tonight he had the honour for opening for one of his heroes, and he effortlessly guided the crowd for a couple hours through til 6pm. While you feel he had the ability to smash it out a bit more, he respectfully played a solid, enjoyable set of deep, bass heavy house, with sharp strings and synth stabs that got the dancefloor packed and moving, but definitely left room to go.

The Funktion-One soundsystem that had been brought in for the event hadn’t yet been challenged much. But then just after six Sasha emerged, casually making his way through the crowd to the front to take over the reins, wearing a basic black t-shirt and sunnies. Things suddenly got a bit more serious.

There was a tangible sense of anticipation in the air. Given a full four hours to weave his magic, it was a real treat for Sasha fans, with the man often squished into a festival lineup. His particular brand of classic progressive takes time to build and can’t be rushed.

For the first half hour or so he just teased it out, getting a feel for the room and the sound system. Then slowly he started to get to work, each track building in layers and intensity. He wasn’t too animated, wearing dark sunnies the whole time, seemingly immersed in his mixing on the CDJs.

Within about an hour he had everyone locked into his groove. It’s amazing to see a pro at work, such experience. He’d broken things down and built it back up again, got the vibe just where he wanted it, had the crowd following, and then shifted things up a gear.

While he has a timeless style, the thing that keeps Sasha in the limelight is his innate ability to stay on the cutting edge, continually evolving his sound. In recent years on his new Last Night On Earth label, he’s stripped things back and is exploring more of a raw, primitive, tech house vein. In a reaction to the proliferation of EDM, he is taking a step back and returning to the underground from which he was born – with that deep progressive, acid house sound coming back, he’s experience something of a renaissance of late.

Sasha’s music not only hits you in the hips making you dance, it’s that cerebral, emotional element that hits you in the chest that takes it to another level. He knew the crowd tonight was here to party and they wanted the good stuff, so he delivered, giving it to them just the way they like it, deep and hard.

The sound got bigger and bigger, until in his final hour, the sound system was positively humming. Funky stabs of old school, acid house filled the air in the comfortable confines of the Courtyard, complete with smoke and lasers, and high end visuals. Top effort from the Habitat crew to fully deck the place out, transforming the place into an Ibiza-style party oasis.

Towards the end of his set, Sasha had a brief break and allowed Subb-an to step up again for a bit, the young lad relishing the opportunity to open things up a bit more. The two traded off a few tunes, before Sasha took the plunge into some proper heavy gear for his final section, such as the trancey, percussive groove of the Jonny Rock Edit of mysterious track Untitled by Unknown.

Sneaking in one more epic tune before the end, he dropped Reset Robot’s Sausage with a long drawn out breakdown, winding up the crowd to the max, before dropping the beat and watching on with a wry, knowing smile as the crowd went nuts. Sasha has done this before, the man knows exactly what he’s doing and he’s a master of his craft.