Hawtin and Sasha keep crowds up early at Drai’s

Richie Hawtin was all smiles in the booth during his Drai’s set Thursday night/Friday morning.
Sarah Gianetto

You know someone special is playing if I’m rearranging my entire life. For days, I worked to get on night owl mode just so I could manage afterhours at Drai’s. Thursday night graced us with Richie Hawtin and Saturday with Sasha, their sets starting at 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., respectively.

Thursday, June 7 (or Friday morning, June 8): I hear Techno. Er, EDM … er, DM … er, M. At the Artist Panel at EDMBiz this afternoon, Hawtin spoke of the term EDM, commenting, “The press just needs a way to identify what we do.” By the end of the panel, the term had been pared down by Above & Beyond to simply M, because it’s just music.

It’s 2:30 a.m. at Drai’s and I see dancing, but the booth in the main room is empty. Due to Hawtin’s complex equipment setup, opener Drumcell plays from the other room, his music piped through the entire club. Regardless of his placement, people are still dancing, standing and sometimes just staring into the empty booth that will hold Hawtin in an hour and a half.

I wonder what kind of draw he’ll have in a town that has been thriving off fist-pumping commercial house for the past couple of years. My question is answered pretty quickly, as the packed venue is chanting “Richie” and making old-school disco “ooo-ooo”s long before he even goes on. When he finally does, there’s no confetti, no mascot, no glow wands thrown into the crowd, no go-go dancers and no A.D.D. music. I feel like I’m in a warehouse in the mid-’90s. The vibe is fantastic, the crowd super-responsive—whistling, chanting, clapping—and Hawtin is all smiles in the booth. A nearby Drai’s regular tells me, “It’s like a different club!” Perhaps it’s a sign of things to come for “normal” hours, as well.

Sasha hit the stage at Drai's at 5:15 a.m. Saturday.

Friday, June 8 (or, Saturday morning, June 9): I’m back, and I almost feel like a professional owl ready for a set from Sasha, my all-time favorite, who will be keeping me up even later. I have done more drastic things to catch a set from him—driving to California to join a tiny crowd at Metropolis over a decade ago, chasing him down to hand him vinyl at WMC, dancing alone at Space last summer during a bout of severe tonsillitis. People say he is the most boring DJ in existence, because he does nothing entertaining in the DJ booth and plays what a friend refers to as “adult contemporary progressive house.” I figured he would never play Vegas again, and his return is not without challenge: His set can be nowhere near as attended as Hawtin’s last night, since some 100,000 people have now relocated their dance efforts to Electric Daisy Carnival.

When Sasha takes the stage at 5:15 a.m., the side room is still open for hip-hop but has thinned out, and the main room is suddenly packed. Security tells me, “I hear he’ll play for like six or seven hours.” I’m thankful for a protein bar and the kindness of strangers sharing their drinks, but I know I’ll never make it.

The beauty of DJs like Hawtin and Sasha is not only their longevity in the scene/industry, but their longevity every time they play. Sasha has mostly played it deep tonight, but hasn’t gotten as grimy as I personally would have liked. But it could still happen later on. I’m torn: Do I stay to see what happens? I’ve grooved along until around 8 a.m., not knowing when he’ll finish playing or where tonight’s journey will take the crowd. Finally, I’m forced to give up and go home in the blaring sunlight.


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