One of the things I found most interesting is the fact that Sasha & Digweed are finally playing in an arena. To be able to book an arena is really difficult for any type of band, but for a DJ I think it represents really the beginning of a domino effect where obstacles are starting to be knocked out of the way… people are wanting to sponsor these events, people are wanting to be affiliated with these events. I wanted to specifically come to the Sasha & Digweed event to be able to document [this]—here they are. It’s hanging on the fringes of mainstream America and it’s really starting to creep in.”
—Serena Yang, CNN
“There’s something here in America, with the scene the way that it is… and with the following that John and I have built up over here over the last ten years, I think it’s still in its infancy.”
With every conceivable media outlet consistently expounding on the death of electronic music and DJ culture, the success of 2002’s Delta Heavy tour must have come as something of a shock to anyone still paying attention. The fact that Sasha & Digweed were able to play 35 gigs across the continental United States over the spring of 2002 to a total of 85,000 people adds quite a bit of heft to the notion that electronic music is far from dead in America. It would probably be better to say, in light of the tour’s success, that electronic music has gone aground as an extremely localized and underground phenomenon.
Delta Heavy is not a performance film, but a tour documentary. Certainly, if the very idea of watching DJs blather for an hour while riding around the country on a bus fills you with existential dread, you would do well to skip this disc. But the DVD’s appeal lies less in any specific connection to Sasha & Digweed’s music than a more general study of a snapshot in the history of American electronic music. 2002 is four years in the past as of this writing and it still remains to be seen whether or not electronic music will ever reach beyond the level of local popularity and regain the national spotlight briefly held by artists such as the Prodigy and Moby, but the evidence of Delta Heavy points to the fact that there is a significant market for DJ-based music in the states, even if it has gone mostly ignored by national outlets.
Delta Heavy was an unprecedented logistical achievement for a DJ tour. Typically, DJ tours consist of a dude and a box of records flying from location to location on commercial jets. It’s a cheap and profitable way of doing business, but it means that the artist is essentially at the mercy of the club’s own sound and light set-up. By mounting a tour with the specific goal of shedding the DJ tour’s low-budget reputation, Sasha & Digweed (along with tour founder Jimmy Van M) were staking a claim for electronic music as something more than a periodic underground fad (they even received Clear Channel underwriting, for goodness’ sake—a clear sign you’ve “made it”).
But the preceding years have not proven Sasha’s optimism to be anything more than theoretical. Certainly, the music never disappeared, but it has never made good on the early promise. Perhaps, as is frequently touched upon during the commentary, America is simply too big a country for dance music, which has traditionally depended on local underground success and the cultivation of regional scenes, to conquer on anything more than a piecemeal basis. If there’s one thing this DVD—and the success of the tour in general—proves, it is that the audience is there. But it’s spread out across an immense geographical area and diluted in a hundred different local experiences.
In addition to the documentary, there are a few examples included of the tour’s audio, featuring a few Sasha & Digweed tracks matched with the Imaginary Forces’ distinctive visuals. There’s not really enough, however, to recommend the disc for its musical content. The disc is important more as a curio of a singular moment in music history, another bump on the long road for dance music in America.