Although down-to-earth and unassuming, Sandra Collins exudes natural star power. Certainly, that quality is one of the reasons that she's come up from humble beginnings playing hard techno in Phoenix in the early '90s to assembling a résumé that reads like a primer on electronic-music culture itself. In 1998, she was voted Best Trance DJ at the 1998 Global DJ Awards and since then has shared Urb magazine's 1999 Best Female Artist reader's poll award with Lauryn Hill and scored a commercial for Coca-Cola. This past March, at the 2003 DanceStar Awards, Collins took the title of Best DJ.
But awards and commercials pale in comparison to the staggering number of hours Collins has logged live as a club DJ, as well as to her association with some of the biggest names in dance music. That includes tours with the Crystal Method and Paul Oakenfold; a blistering six-hour set at Woodstock '99; and a stint working with Sasha, John Digweed, Paul van Dyk and Carl Cox at New York City's now-defunct Twilo. Most recently, she headlined the ever-growing Burning Man festival in Black Rock, Nevada, in August.
Having already released three critically acclaimed mix CDs — Lost in Time (Fragrant, 1997), Tranceport 3 (Kinetic, 2000) and Cream (Kinetic, 2001) — Collins just wrapped up her latest compilation, a double mix album on Oakenfold's Perfecto (via Thrive Records in the U.S.). Perfecto Presents: Sandra Collins (2003) is the product of two years' work, as well as her first double-CD release.
Although she's known for her wild sets of progressive house, on Perfecto Presents' two discs, Collins is allotted enough sheer track time to branch out and offer cuts that reflect her varied musical tastes. “I don't even necessarily listen to dance music at home,” she says. “Working on this album, I've been listening to hundreds of dance tracks, but when I'm not working, I listen to anything.” But that doesn't mean dance music ever strays far from her daily life. “I realized years ago that my life is a kick drum — my life is a fucking kick drum,” she says. “And all I know is, this kick drum won't get out of my head.”
Like any good DIY DJ, Collins worked on the album at home with an engineer pal. “We're using Pro Tools, but first we're going into Traktor, which is something that'll save us loads of time because Traktor will set the bpm of each track, making it easier to mix and remix them in Pro Tools,” she says. “Working with Pro Tools alone used to be tedious, especially when I used turntables primarily: They wouldn't stay in sync, causing us to make numerous edits. With Traktor, it still takes time, but it's very efficient, and we really like the way it sounds.”
And like many modern DJs, she's undergone a conversion when it comes to format. “Four months ago, my collection was all vinyl and maybe a couple of CDs,” Collins says. “I hated them, and I'd end up not playing them anyway. Then, a batch of music came to me on CD that I just had to play. There must have been 30 songs, and they were all so good. I wasn't going to go out and get acetates for all of them, so all of a sudden, there I was: a CD DJ. Now, maybe more than half of what I travel with is on CD.”
A change in media necessitated a whole new way of thinking for Collins, one that ultimately has her excited about making and playing music. “The first week that I used CDs, it got confusing because I was used to pulling 12-inch squares out of a box,” she says. “That's a process I had down for years. So there I am, looking through CDs, putting them back in the wrong place, looking on all these tiny lists on paper. Which track is on which CD? All that. [Laughs.] But CDs are awesome. You should see my living room: They're wall to wall, all over the floor. I have to be able to see where everything is, so they're all over the place all the time. It's ridiculous.”
In the midst of a hectic tour schedule that lands her in Portland, Oregon, on a sweltering summer evening, Collins sets aside time to browse the aisles of the popular downtown DJ emporium Platinum Records Lights & Sound. A paradise for DJs and dance-lovers, alike, Platinum caters to the scene by stocking the latest vinyl and CDs, selling sound and lighting gear, renting and servicing equipment and more. What's more, it's just a few blocks from the club Level, where Collins rocks the house later that same evening — after dinner and a power nap. Here's what piques her interest:
“Use Only the Drugs”/“Use Only the Music” (Loaded)
Dave Dresden is already well-known as one half of Gabriel & Dresden, and his new collaboration with Ryeland Allison is set to take the pair to a whole new level. They've done remixes of Crystal Method, Curve and Vast. “Use Only the Drugs” crosses over, but it's techno — not hard techno, not, like, bangin' — it's just harder trance. It's got a great sample that says, “Shut up; use only the drugs; be happy.” The other side, “Use Only the Music,” says nothing, so if your mom's there, you're gonna play this side, and if your mom takes off, you're gonna play the other side.
“Switch (Twitch)”/“Switch (Marco Bellini Mix)” (One Little Indian)
A longtime favorite for me, Fluke has managed to stay in touch with my musical taste for years, honoring more hits than misses. Both mixes are good; the B-side is a Marco Bellini mix, one of my current artist likes. The tempos are a little slower than the stuff I normally play. I don't have a lot of records at this tempo; it's probably at 126, off the top of my head. This is a nice groove and falls more on the progressive-house tip. It's dirty and funky with a live-band feel to it.
“I'm With You (Leama & Moor Remix)” (white label)
This is something that I don't think is ever going to come out — other than the fact that I bought it at Platinum! But I don't know if she approved it or not. I think they might be going through doing some remixes. I had this one on CD, but every time I see a copy, I buy it. Then, I can take them on tour or give them to people, whatever. It's very melodic. It falls into the progressive-house vein. It sounds like a banjo in the beginning, huh?
Eargasm (Finger Lickin')
These guys have taken over the driver's seat. I love to listen to their older album, A Plump Night Out, during long car adventures. I swear it could be a comic-book soundtrack. Eargasm graduates from the animated comic theme to teen-angst drama. In keeping with their deep-rooted, adventurous and fun formula, Eargasm is more polished and smoother overall, delivering yet another choice work.
This is easy-on-the-ears progressive house. This is the kind of thing I would play early, or else I'd play it at 6 in the morning — sunset or sunrise, it just depends. I don't believe that formula rules are unequivocal. It's not the kind of thing I'd peak my set with, but it's nice. This could be for the moody DJ on that moody night.
“Spectacle” (white label)
This is my favorite track at the moment and without any discrepancy from the dancefloor. Justin Scott Dixon — aka Friction & Spice, Aria and JSD — delivers nothing short of an amazing production, an up-and-coming colossal floor hit that will have even the fussiest of 'em grinning from ear to ear. This has a signature kick, a rolling bass line and a familiar-sounding gated vocal sample, and Dixon stretches out the elements meticulously, creating tension that leads to an uplifting, Oliver Lieb — influenced synth line that makes the payoff pay the fuck off!