Featured Artists
Sample Chapter
Sample Photos
Author's Bio
Sign Up!
Book Homepage
Back to Photo Site
sample chapter
Sandra Collins: Trippy Trance & Nonsense
Interview with Sandra Collins by Michael Tullberg, 7/11/98 at the Mondrian Hotel, Los Angeles, CA, for Industry Insider magazine.

Picture yourself on a crowded dance floor. It's hot and steamy, but something's missing: a good collective vibe of crowd unity. Suddenly, the music begins to shift tempo. It's faster, thumping, hypnotic—the throbbing heartbeat of progressive trance insinuates into your brain, getting that delicious adrenaline-endorphin cocktail buzzing in your veins. As the room begins to jell, you find yourself being swept up as the music glides you skyward (by the chest, not the groin), into a higher state of rhythmic bliss and melodic happiness. And above it all, a grinning florescent redhead whose tongue keeps popping out and waving in the breeze. Sound like fun? Welcome to the world of Sandra Collins, the West Coast expatriate now living in New York who's not only one of the best female DJs around, but one of the best trance DJs in America, period. Thriving in a profession traditionally dominated by men, this party veteran and "Blade Runner" devotee has been burning up turntables for the last several years at raves, clubs and concerts across the country, building a well-deserved reputation for her stunning DJing and goofy, outrageous behavior along the way. The hard work is paying off, in the form of Sandra's current once-a-month residency at New York's very happening Twilo, and the release of her very first original record, "Ode To Our/Red", on Fragrant Records. Not bad for someone who changes her hairstyle about as often as most people change their underwear. But although success has always been on Sandra's mind (you don't support the Crystal Method on tour if you don't have ambition), it hasn't solely dictated the path of her career or her life, because Sandra's priority has always been, as she puts it, "whatever comes my way that I think is good for me and I feel good doing."

Sandra began building her dedicated following in Southern California in the early Nineties, building her skills on the party and rave circuits, eventually moving up to residencies at the long-gone Sketchpad in 1992, and the OC's Metropolis three years later. During this time she became one of the major influences in establishing L.A.'s rep as a West Coast hotbed of trance, with her friends and fellow pro-trance cohorts Christopher Lawrence, Doran, Jason Blakemore, and others. When brought together, Sandra and her buds can wring all the energy, sweat and good vibes one can handle, and then some—there are few experiences that can compete with the blast-wave of happiness they let rip through a crowd. And unlike many other DJs who simply don't have their chops down, Sandra has the skill and the confidence to start her crowd off slow, building gradually, slowly feeding the dancers delicious musical morsels piece by piece until the pace and the electricity explode, and everyone is joyfully sky-high on her tunes. Such skills and dedication have kept her high in demand across the country, commanding such respect that she now stays in places like L.A.'s very swanky Mondrian Hotel on the Sunset Strip, where she sits to do this interview before getting ready to head off later that night into the Angeles National Forest, to spin at the mountain rave House Of Dreams. However, as Insider's Michael Tullberg is about to find out, Sandra is already in a playful mood. Is it that Jack & Coke that gives her away, or maybe the new telescopic hair extensions...?

Note: She's been back in L.A. for quite some time now, and is back to her natural blonde hair.

MT: You moved to New York in February of this year....
SC: Wow, you remembered more than I did!

MT: Should I quote you on that?
SC: I don't care! I won't remember it! (laughs)

MT: But you went there for the Twilo residency, right?
SC: Well, my manager lives there. I went there for the Twilo thing, yeah.

MT: How did this come about? Did your manager get that for you?
SC: Um, yeah...well, I've been doing this for a long time, so I guess I had something to do with it, but Pam [Film] also helped out. She books a lot of the DJs at Twilo, so yeah, that didn't hurt. (laughs)

MT: Why did you choose to move? You've been in L.A. for so long, and New York is such a completely different place....
SC: Yeah, that's exactly why I did it. When I moved to L.A., I didn't think I was going to stay here forever, because I grew up in Vegas for about 13 years. I lived in Arizona for nine, and then I moved to LA, knowing that eventually I would go somewhere else, and New York was the place. Either that or London, so it was never a big surprise that I did this, in my own head. I'll probably move again, either here or...somewhere else.

MT: How has New York been rubbing off on you?
SC: Um...well, I've had to calm down a little bit over there, because it took me about five years for people to get to know me out here (LA), and my personality. I have outrageous behavior sometimes, and it's just my personality, you know? And I've always been like that, since I was...since I can remember! You know, since I was two! Maybe one, I don't remember when I was one. So I've had to actually go out of my way to act a little bit normal, because people out there are a little bit more serious, and um...they're not pretentious. They don't go out of their way to say something they don't mean. If they say something to you, they mean it, and it's very sincere. So I think that's really cool, and it's...it's not really rubbing off on me, 'cause I'm just absorbing it. Just taking things one day at a time for what they are.

MT: You're working on a new record now....
SC: Oh, I already finished it! It's like...two tracks I did, "Ode To Our", and the other one's called "Red", and it's coming out on Fragrant Records. I got my test pressings yesterday! So I guess it's a matter of weeks before it comes out.

MT: That means by the time this comes out it'll already be in stores.
SC: Yeah, so can update this (interview) if you want!

MT: Yeah, so go buy it now!
SC: It came out three weeks ago, so hurry, run! It's sold out! (laughs)

MT: How would you compare the new tracks to the "Lost In Time" album?
SC: Well, "Lost In Time" was a mix CD, with other people's music, and the record I did was my music. So um...I would compare it as...it's my own work. Not that I didn't mix all that, that's my own work too! But yeah, this is my first record I've ever done. So I'm really excited about that.

MT: ...She says while picking up another drink.
SC: Mmm. Well.... (rattles around the ice in her drink)

MT: How long has the Twilo residency been going on?
SC: Well, it's like, when I moved there, it's not...I haven't really signed a contract yet or anything, but I've been playing once a month since I moved there, which was back in February, and it's been going great. So I guess about six months.

MT: And you do your touring, still.
SC: Oh, yeah! Yep! (laughs) Here I am!

MT: When you're out there, on the road, what are some of your favorite cities to play?
SC: My favorite clubs are Twilo in New York, Nikita in San Francisco, there used to be Metropolis here, before that got shut (down). Um...Vancouver, I love Vancouver. San Diego, I love San Diego. Each place is really special to me in a different sense, but those are the ones I have special friends in, that I really love to go and spin at.

MT: What are the main differences between the clubs in New York and L.A.?
SC: The turnover rate. In L.A., things go on for a little while, and they end. And in New York, the clubs, they've been going for years, and the same DJs every week. It's different.

MT: Is that stability the kind of thing you prefer?
SC: You know what? I like both. I like each city for what it does. If everything was the same, it'd be boring.

MT: So what does L.A. do for you, as opposed to New York?
SC: (long pause) People out here are like nowhere else. I love it. It's just like...it's different. I can't place my finger on exactly what it is...and when I do, I'll let you know! But L.A. is very special. I love it out here. People do things more intensely, whereas you might start somewhere else, they'll grab onto it and do it to the extreme, and I like that.

MT: You were talking about your outrageous behavior earlier. Your reputation has been known to precede you from time to time....
SC: (laughs) Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sometimes it can be offensive, and I...it's good that I'm taping this, so I can go back and remember! But...there's no filter between my brain and my mouth. There's just no filter.

MT: It just comes, (SPLAT), like that?
SC: Mm-hm. And it's all meant in the best way possible.

MT: But it does get in the way sometimes?
SC: Well you know, it's weird. It took a long time for me to be able to kind of get away with it here, because it's just me, it's my true, honest personality, and after about five years you're like, "That's just Sandra". And in New York, people are like, "She's fucking nuts!", and I don't want people to think I'm nuts. At least I'm smart enough to realize the line between it, so I've had to like...I've had to put that filter there! So are you saying I have outrageous behavior? (impish smile)

MT: You were the one who said it first, not me!
SC: (laughs)

MT: When you started work on the new record, did you have a specific idea beforehand about what you wanted it to be like?
SC: No, I didn't. Mm-mm. For the last ten years, I've always loved this music and the scene, and I guess it's ten years of...it all built up. The record has got some things that were pretty big back in '92, '93, like the gated vocals and stuff. But it all passed me up, and I didn't put a record out then, so I was like, "I'm going to fucking put a record out with gated vocals on it if it kills me." So there are parts of the record that sound a little bit dated. To me, I love the song, but it's because there are so many scenes that I've taken things from. You know, I loved this from this year, that from that year, and I'm gonna do it all on one record. And then, um...just so I can say that I did it, look back at it and have a little part of the things that I missed.

MT: So would it be fair to say that the record is a kind of summing up of the musical evolution you've gone through over the years?
SC: Yeah, yeah. And it has a lot to do with what's going on right now, but there are aspects of it there.

MT: Is the sound similar to what you put on the last album?
SC: Um, yeah! It's not like, incredibly dated or anything, it's just like...right now. There are just some hidden things in there that are from before.

MT: But is the thing overall still that house/aggressive progressive trance stuff that is your trademark?
SC: Yeah. It has a melodic feel to it as well...hands in the air type, last record of the night kind of feel. But as well as...the intensity of what I play now. Really sick and twisted.

MT: In what way?
SC: Sick and twisted in all ways!

MT: Your live show and your album both seem to follow a certain pattern: slowly building up and not really peaking at a feverish pace until near the very end. Is that the case on this album as well?
SC: You know, what's weird is, in a DJ's set, it's like a story. There's a beginning, there's a middle, there's a peak, there's a—whatever. And in the song, each song is like a mini-set. You know, it's got the beginning, it's got the peak...and it's built up exactly the same way that I spin 'em, like when I'm playing out. Because when I let some of the first few people listen to it (the new record), they were like, "That sounds like Sandra, that sounds like the way she spins." And that's what gave me that, and then I listened to it, and I said, "Yeah, it does". And I didn't mean for it to be like that, but that's just the way it turned out. Um...also, when I'm spinning for two hours, I like to just go to a peak. If I'm playing longer than that, I go to a peak, and up and down, and up and down. It just depends on how long.

MT: A couple of West Coast DJs that you really seem to be simpatico with are Jason Blakemore and Christopher Lawrence.
SC: (smiling) Yeah, they're my buddies. And Doran!

MT: Yeah, and Doran, too. You all seem to really fit well into that whole house/trance vein; you're all on that same wavelength.
SC: Yeah. That's probably why we're friends, too. (laughs) That's probably what enabled us to become friends, is that we were spinning similar...like, Jason Blakemore's not as similar as me, Christopher and Doran, but he's the same in some sense. But that's what brought us all together to be friends, and we all realized we were nice people! Me and Christopher are really, really close friends, and I'm really good friends with his wife as well. Yeah, I dunno...I haven't seen DJs be friends like the way we've been friends.

MT: Are you that close with anybody in New York?
SC: Oh, no. Heck, no, no. Except for Pam, but she's not a DJ! No, nobody.

MT: That's a shame.
SC: Well, you've gotta give it time. I've been there six months, so yeah, that's...I mean, my phone bill is outrageous. I'll call my friend's house like, three times a day, you know....

MT: How do you think your style has evolved over the years?
SC: Well, my mixing's got better! (laughs) Let me see, um...I mean, however I'm feeling at the time kind of comes through my music. (long pause) All the music I've ever played since I've started DJing has got pretty much the same underlying feeling to it, it's just the outside that changes, you know what I'm saying? And if you really listen to all of it, it's got the same "Sandra Sound" in it.

MT: How many records do you own?
SC: (rolling eyes) Oh! Well, last week I was counting, and I got to three and then I quit, 'cause I was like, "This is gonna be a long day!" I don't know! I don't even know now many records my box holds! You know, seriously! Most DJs know how many records fit into a record box....

MT: Right.
SC: ...and I could not tell you if it was fifty records or three hundred, I don't know. So...a lot!

MT: I think you just shattered a lot of peoples' images of you!
SC: No, not at all! I think I'm the fucking weird one! I'm the one that needs some help.

MT: I have to ask you, what is it with the tongue? 'Cause I'm not the only one who's shot pictures of you with your tongue out!
SC: Because I hate smiling in pictures! And I don't try and make any "serious faces", so...you know what? If you talk to me for ten minutes, you see that in my personality, it's like silly, goofy, whatever. It's kind of like, there's no filter there! There's no filter from my brain to my tongue, sorry! (laughs)

MT: How has becoming a DJ and doing it for this long affected your growth as a person?
SC: It's helped me to understand people, and how they react. Well, my whole life is music, so I've really learned how to understand people, how they react to music, what music does to people, um...the whole...I'm very good about...I could tell you that the scene turns over. I can tell you what's gonna happen, 'cause it's almost like, you know when your parents are like, "Oh, that used to be in style when I was...," see, I can say that to each turnover of the scene. I'm like, "now it's gonna do this, now it's gonna do this, now it's gonna sell out and it's gonna go bad for a while...," you know. I'm very smart about that.

MT: You've been involved with it long enough where you can see coming on the horizon?
SC: Yeah! Yeah. I don't know if that has much to do with the growth of myself. I don't know if that's growing, but I've become smart at something, I've gotten good at something. It's helped me to become more comfortable with myself.

MT: You're talking about when you get behind the turntables?
SC: No, in general, every day when I wake up in the morning. I feel really comfortable with myself. It's a very peaceful thing, and I've become very peaceful with myself because of it.

MT: Talking about behind the tables, explain this to people who are not DJs. What is the feeling that you get when you get behind those tables, and you've literally got the crowd at your fingertips?
SC: Oh, God! I'm just very happy. I mean, that's why I started DJing. I was on the dance floor one day, and I was just in it. I was looking at everyone, and I was like, "Oh my God, holy shit." You know? And now when I'm DJing, I'm creating that. I'm just...I'm doing my job, you know, and it's just like...I won't get sick for ten years after that! It does something to you—you are carried by other peoples' energies. When you're creating that, they're all there and their energies are focused on you and the music, and it just feels like a carpet ride.

MT: Yeah, but at the same time, the music is blasting out through those speakers and back into the crowd, so it's almost a kind of symbiotic thing.
SC: It's just amazing.

MT: A lot of artists now, like the Crystal Method, BT and David Holmes are starting to do a lot of film work. Do you see yourself going in this direction?
SC: (nodding vigorously) Yep. When I first got into this, I wasn't thinking about the future or anything like that, just doing it. And then one day, I thought that I'd like to be DJing, and then make music, and then eventually go into soundtracks. And I think before all this happened, I think that was the way things were gonna happen anyway. It's like someone being an actor and then making movies...it's just something that's just gonna happen, and that's how you carry out this career.

MT: So this is something that you definitely want to be doing.
SC: Oh, yeah.

MT: What particular soundtracks have jumped out at you?
SC: "Blade Runner," of course! Not very many, and that's why I'm looking forward to doing soundtracking. Soundtracking isn't as good as it could be, and I'm very surprised that's it's not as...there's been a few movies that I thought were good as far as the soundtracking, but not as many as there should be. You know, I can't wait for our music to like, start taking over. Not dissing anyone else's music, but I think trance is so thematic, so movie, you know? So I can't wait.

MT: One of the things I thought was really good (albeit ironic) was the opening scene in "The Replacement Killers" with the Crystal Method, where Chow Yun-Fat was blowing everybody away, and the song that's going is "Keep Hope Alive".
SC: Oh, man. "Keep Hope Alive".

MT: Just a little bit of irony there, with Jesse Jackson preaching while Chow Yun-Fat is turning people into human Swiss Cheese!
SC: (laughing) Where do you come up with these expressions? Yeah, I'm proud of the Crystal Method, they've done a lot. They're like, in every movie, aren't they?

MT: What are the kind of parties that you really like to play? What's the ideal kind of place to plunk you into?
SC: A place that's small enough to have everyone's head in the right place. Focused on the music so it's like, all from me-to-them and them-to-me. Um...I dunno, everyone being happy dancing. But as far as...just being small enough to where everyone's focused in the same room. Not like a huge rave where everyone's like, on carnival rides, and the DJ's secondary—not even secondary, they're just there to fill in the empty space.

MT: So you don't like playing those big mega-parties?
SC: Yeah. Well I mean, I've done them. Some people are on the speaker having fun, so if you can make a few people happy it's fine with me, but I like having a whole room into the music.

MT: One of the things in your Mixmag bio was where you listed your best and worst experiences DJing, and you put under both your set at last year's "Dune", where somebody fell over your turntables.
SC: Yeah, and it happened at "King" too, it happened to me twice!

MT: What was it that happened, exactly?
SC: OK, I'll give you my first one. It was "King", I'm spinning, and out of nowhere...I mean, I'm looking at the record, and this guy was like, right here, and onto the tables.

MT: He just fell, splat?
SC: Yeah! Is it raining people or something? I didn't see him come from anywhere else, he just came from above and landed on the decks. And I feel bad that I did this, but without even thinking I just grabbed him by the shirt and just threw him...and he went far! And I went right back to what I was doing, right back into...'cause he probably, I'm sure he didn't mean to. Or maybe he did, and if you're out there I'm gonna...! No, he probably didn't mean to, and I felt bad, but I went right back into it. I was so focused, it was just...like (snaps fingers) one second! At "Dune", it was a little bit hard to be focused when the turntables were lying on top of me, practically, and my records were in the dirt.

MT: What happened in this case?
SC: He just...OK, I found out the story. He was leaning up against the speaker, and I guess he didn't realize it moved, and then he fell. But from what I saw, he came straight out of the sky, onto the decks! The turntables fall completely over, my records are in the dirt, the mixer is bent, all out of shape...and I just thought, "I remember this from somewhere. This isn't the first time for me!" So it's just very odd that that's happened to me twice, but those were also two of my very best parties. The vibe was just incredible. It's weird, it's very ironic.

MT: It is weird, 'cause I know what you mean about the vibe, especially with "Dune", 'cause the last one....
SC: Yeah, Mother Nature and the dust!

MT: Yeah, for four hours there was this massive dust storm that just blasted through.
SC: Yeah, that's too bad.

MT: But the thing is, after it let up at about 4:30 AM, the people just got completely into it.
SC: Yeah, they'd been waiting a for long time for "Dune." "Dune" in the past have been very special parties, and they can't help it that the dust took over that night. It's too bad.

MT: Well it took over the night, but when the sun came out and the dust storm had gone away, everybody was just recharged, you know?
SC: Yeah. Well, where are you gonna go? You're out in the middle of nowhere, you gotta… MT: I remember that console was completely covered in dust.
SC: And imagine the DJs' records!

MT: Yeah, I have pictures! At one point they had to halt the sound to put heavier needles on....
SC: I heard they were looking for quarters, nickels, dimes, trying to weigh the needle down. That would just be a nightmare.

MT: Where do you see electronic music now going in America? Especially with last year, electronica being hyped as the "next big thing", with Crystal Method, Prodigy....
SC: Yeah, I think definitely it's going to start popping up in movies, video games, MTV and all that. Um...and that'll take that wherever it may take it. And there will always be other styles of music in this underground scene, like trance and stuff that is a little bit over the commercial peoples' heads. Know what I mean? It'll still be underground, and it won't go anywhere, it won't go that far. But maybe one day, maybe in a few years, but there will always be like...there will always be something feeding me.

MT: What's your favorite "South Park" episode? Or do you have one?
SC: Oh, I have all of them on tape! Let's see...I dunno! I don't think I have a favorite episode, I think I like just little parts. Yeah, there's like a favorite part, maybe. But in whole episodes, there's always like, boring parts, and there's always also funny parts. I like when they go into Big Gay Al's Big Gay Animal Sanctuary!BR MT: (laughs)
SC: Yeah! He (Big Gay Al) goes in, and the music goes on!

MT: "Do you like to dance?"
SC: Right, "Do you like to dance?" And he goes.... (laughs) "I'm super, thanks for asking!" I like it when he walks in the disco, and all of a sudden there's that dancing dolphin!

MT: Right, the dolphin!
SC: And when he walks past the (gay) lion, and the lion goes, "Ro-ar!"

MT: "Ro-ar!"
SC: "Ro-ar!" I think I rewound that 100 times once, "Ro-ar!", "Ro-ar!", "Ro-ar!" But I'm a fan of "Dr. Katz". I'm a "Dr. Katz" freak.

MT: It occurred to me that the "South Park" theme could be slipped into a rave mix very easily.
SC: Oh, yeah! It could be like, some gabba song or some happy hardcore. Something very fast. Something very...not in my style, but it'd be fun to hear it once.

MT: So what does the immediate future hold for Sandra Collins?
SC: Another drink!

MT: (laughing) No, that's the very immediate future!
SC: Oh, you mean like tomorrow? Another record, a mix CD, um...Twilo. Oh, they called me to do Sarah McGlaughlin's...the Lilith Fair tour.

MT: Really?
SC: And I'm not gonna do the tour...oh, but let me say something first! The Fragrant (Records) Tour! (laughs)

MT: Plug, plug!
SC: I know! The Fragrant Tour...and the Lilith Fair thing. I'm doing the wrap-up party in Vancouver, which I'm really excited to do. Basically their last tour date, they have a party, August 31st. I'm really excited about that.

MT: What's the Fragrant Tour?
SC: It's me, Christopher, Doran, Deep Sky, um...and it's going all over the United States, in August. It's before the Lilith Fair thing, which is why I can't do that tour. It's all through August. It's gonna be fun, 'cause there's Christopher...you know what's funny? We're all on the same label! That's really cool to be totally good friends with everyone on the label. We're all gonna get along...or we're gonna fucking kill each other, I dunno!

MT: Where do you want to go from here?
SC: Just forward. Whatever comes my way that I think is good for me and I feel good doing.