The interview winds down Madonna phones to check on Lourdes, then makes dinner arrangements at the sort iof restaurant I’ll never get near. Her tiredness has given way to mild fractiousness- When I ask her how came up with the name Veronica Electronica – reasong that nicknames are usually thing other people give us – she replies sharply that she did, of course. As if to say, Who do you think did, you dummy? Who do you think needs to make up names for me?
At the back of my mind, I’m surprised that the thought and opinions of the one-time global sex dictator were so comfortingly normal. She subscribes to all that modern conventional wisdom, such as, Everybody’s got to go on their own journey, Everything she’s done so far is what brought her to where she is today, so she wouldn’t change any of it. Her life is better than other people’s in some ways and worse in others. And so on.
Maybe it’s analysis, maybe it’s the pick’n’mix spiritual rebirth of ‘Ray Of Light,’ maybe she’s just over the whole convinction thing. But what else can you do except retreat, when you’ve revealed so much of yourself, even down to publishing a two-pahe black and white picture of your well-combed vagina breaking the surface of a swimming pool?
On the way out, I give her an envelope which was supposed to be my way of breaking the ice. It contains a list of dance acts that Mixmag staff thought Madonna might be interested in working with: Faithless, basement Jaxx, Future Shock, Armand Van Helden, Fergie for a long shot. And just like she did with Orbital CD, she suddenly livens up. “Danny Tenaglia… mmm-hmm… Sander Kleinenberg, Layo and Bushwacka, we’ll find out about them. Who are Cassius? Groovy French people? Oh, we like groovy French people.”
She runs through the list with a practised, enthusiastic eye, and I feel a little ashamed. Because the strangest thing about this woman is also the most obvious. It’s the one we still can’t accept, even though she’s been in this gamne for 16 years, sold millions of records and still holds herself to standards long abandoned by her contemporaries in the pop stratosphere. It’s this: she’s in it for the music.
I step out of Sarm and into a knot of fans who have materialised from nowhere. They’re giggling in the twilight, like they can’t believe they’re really here. Or that she is.
M people: Sasha
Mr Alexander Coe spills the beans on Madonna’s great lost trance epic
THE MAN Like Sasha has just returned from a diving holiday in Bora Bora and he suspects it might have changed his life. “I was floating off this reef with 20-odd black-tip sharks swimming round me,” he rhapsodies. “It was amazing. And the Manta Rays too. Big as an Audi, they are. They could fit you in their mouths.”
Luckily the rare ‘DJ-eating shark’ was away in its breeding grounds, leaving the lord of progressive trance to fill us in on his working relationship with Madonna.
Sasha fact: he used to play ‘Vogue’ in middle of his sets at the Hacienda, back in the day. “It was a fantastic record,” he says. “You heard it and you couldn’t help but be a bit of a fan.” So how did he come from playing her records in the ‘ironic’ slot to mixing them?
“It was William, really,” he says. “I signed a couple of William’s tracks to my Excession label. He was always one of my heroes, right back from when he was doing the ‘Strange cargo’ albums. The Guerilla progressive house sound was always a real inspiration to me, and lots of those ideas are surfacing again. Anyway, he sent those tracks over to Madonna as part of his demo package, and she liked them.
“So I got drafted in. It was really exciting to meet her – I told all my mated about it beforehand. She was such a calm, focused person, so in control of her environment.
She could have taken the Celine Dion route and gone for horrible ballads, but she really pushed herself.”
The result was a series of new versions – of ‘Substitute For Love,’ ‘Sky Fits heaven’ and ‘Ray Of Light’ – which relocated Madonna in the giant, rolling, ten-minute soundscapeland of ‘Xpander.’ By the time work began on the current record Sasha had been promoted to the small corps of producers making, rather than remaking, the music.
“She and William had cranked out lots and lots of stuff but it was mainly downbeat,” he says. “I wanted to do a real euphoric, 135bpm, classy trance record – I’d love to hear Madonna’s voice in that environment. She was in the room next door doing voice and the guy I work with, Charlie May, and I started work on this track next door. The reason it didn’t get finished was more a metter of time than anything. She and William had to finish vocals on the existing tracks. I was really pleased with it, though. I may use it myself or maybe we’ll get it onto a Madonna record in the end.”