Pushing boundaries: a conversation with SASHA THEFT

In the third read in the Rhythm Scenes Lisbon series, we take a look to the city of Lisbon through SASHA THEFT’s eyes.

Words by Daan Stoop
Photography & creative direction by Brendan Reterink & Noa Koch

In the sunny garden of the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, a bold brutalist building in the middle of Lisbon devoted to the classical arts, you can easily distinguish over thirty different shades of green. It’s mid-April, spring season, and arguably the most beautiful time of the year in Portugal. Everything is fully in bloom, but it’s not summer hot yet. It is in this park that we meet up with SASHA THEFT, one fourth of the non-binary Kaptcha collective, a month after they released their first album: Amphibian Intermission.

Hi Sasha, I wish we had the time to visit this museum, the architecture and surroundings look very interesting and promising. I read on a plaque somewhere near the water that Gulbenkian was really into astrology.
Hi! It’s quite nice indeed, the museum has really cool expositions and shows. A few months ago, there was an exposition on René Lalique and his relationship with glass. It was insanely beautiful, almost like marble. The first time I came here was in highschool. It’s pretty famous, not only in Lisbon but in the whole of Portugal. Gulbankian collected a lot of art. When he died, this institution was founded. And he started a scientific research center. He was a crazy guy, who liked a lot of different dope stuff!

Cool! He strikes me as a guy with multiple passions. What do you study? What excites you?
I’m taking a masters in microbiology, in the Instituto Superio Técnico. I did my bachelor’s in biology but took a year off in between. I needed some time to read, reflect, some time for myself basically. Now that I’ve chosen my masters, I’m really loving it. It’s everything that I wanted and more. The only problem: it’s so much work. Let me breathe, haha.

Since life is getting back to normal after the pandemic, people are getting busy like the old days. Are you drowning in work too?
Close to, haha. But I always like to schedule in some time for other things as well. I recently released my first album, Amphibian Intermission, and got some DJ gigs here and there. I must make time for those things. There was a period where things were sort of stuck for me and I wasn’t going anywhere. But suddenly, things started moving. I just hopped on the train and started going forward. I’m not even looking back anymore, I simply don’t have to. I just keep on going. 

When did that train started moving for you?
There was some sort of click in myself, recently. A realization that I wanted to do something, and not just be. Shrooms helped me reveal a lot about myself, mostly who and what I didn’t wanted to be. It solved the puzzles in my head by showing me pieces I couldn’t see before. Every trip I learnt something new, and it stayed with me. About crying, for example, and letting go of emotions. Bursts of emotions are good pathways to resolve internal struggles.

Is there any connection with your studies? Talking about microbiology gave me this mental picture of you working in a lab.
I want to merge those worlds, my creative and academic side, but it’s still quite contrasting. In a way that I feel like I’m living a double life. I mean, I’m excellent in what I do. A lot of teachers assume I already have work experience, but that’s not the case yet.

After finishing my thesis next year, I’m thinking about moving to the Netherlands. Some friends of mine reside there, and the research institutes in Wageningen are amongst the best in the world. In Portugal, getting a job in the field I’m in is hard. It’s about connections, mostly, not about expertise. That sucks. Because I look the way I look people often say, you’re not in the right place. But, yes I am!

Tell me a bit about the Kaptcha group, the collective you’re part of. What’s the origin story here?
Well, we started as Kit Ket, and organized parties here in Lisbon. The best parties in town, to be honest. In a sex dungeon called Mise en Scène. But because of the pandemic, the venue had to be sold. We didn’t want to move venues with Kit Ket because it’s simply not the same anywhere else. So, we started Kaptcha, an overarching collective and label. Besides my own album we released a compilation last year, xenolith v1.0, with cool artists like Octo Octa and Peach. 

We did it for Casa T, a shelter for trans and non-binary immigrants living in Lisbon. It’s been cool and satisfying because we managed to help them a lot with the proceeds. Of course I love to put out the music to the world. But by doing that helping people in need is an extra. 

About your own album, Amphibian Intermission, was it a relieve when it was done?
I composed most of the album in the summer of 2021, when there were no parties at all in Lisbon. That period was very tiring and frustrating. I was trying to make senses of things, trying to make dance tracks. But it just didn’t work. So, I started experimenting with things that did resonate for me. After that, it all came together organically. It was an extension of what I felt, how I wanted to be percieved.

I listened to your album extensively. It would work in a club, but it’s also a good home listen I must say…
I played it integral on the 18th of April in Galeria Zé dos Bois, on the release party. Live sets are hard for me, because I produced the album on an old computer with shitty headphones. That’s why I invited artists that somehow helped me shape my mind in the process. What turns out, the tracks did work in a club setting, people actually danced! Me myself, I love to just listen to it on my way to university.

Everywhere in Portugal and in Europe as a whole, clubs are reopening. Can you give me an insight in your schedule? Is there any cool stuff upcoming?
With Kaptcha, we’re organizing a new compilation with the same purpose: gathering funds for Casa T. But this time, the music we want to showcase the world will be more club-focused. We’re also planning new releases and see if we can do parties again. Even the venue Mise en Scène is on the table again, but some difficulties arose because the building got an overhaul.

During the pandemic, Lisbon wasn’t the best place for nightlife. There was almost zero money coming in. The government didn’t even respond to big marches and manifestations. I just don’t get how governments see people in the streets fighting for a cause and then decide to not respond at all.

To an outsider, how would you describe the music scene in Lisbon?
It’s very diverse. We have a lot of different people doing different stuff. There’s a lot of afrobeat, where Príncipe Discos leads the way. And ofcourse a mayor shout out to Saint Caboclo with his Dengo Club parties. He is changing and rewriting the script, with crazy 90s and 00s themed parties. Odete is a cool young performer, writer and visual artist with jaw-dropping sets. Overall, there is a very broad idea of what electronic music is and should be.

The only issue: attendance. A lot of artists are doing cool stuff, but people do not care from time to time. The infamous Mina parties always fill up, but that’s because they’re Mina. Every other party is a gamble. Planeta Manas is a new club, founded by the mina crew. A few weeks back, Steffi from the Ostgut Ton label played there in front of an empty room. Objekt played last weekend and it wasn’t sold out either. Lisbon is the only place where artists like Objekt sometimes wouldn’t play for a full room, I think. Although things are slightly changing. 

Lux Frágil used to have some sort of monopoly on nightlife, but that’s altering. People are looking for alternatives. Places like Planeta Manas try to do it differently, to do something new.

Are there people in the scene that function like mentors, that you look up to in a way?
A difficult question. I can’t speak for the whole Kaptcha crew. I found a lot of inspiration in ketia. She pushed me out of my comfort zone, encouraged me to experiment. My friend Afonso really got me into producing. Oh, and also: Photonz. This fucking person! What a guy! 

Every set he plays, I’m like: how did you come up with that. His music is crazy. And he is such a sweet and caring person, even a bit shy. Definitely a taurus, haha. He cares a lot about the social status of minorities.

I also saw something online about the post carbon collective, an initiative of yours…
Yep, that’s multidisciplinary arts collective I’m involved in. We’re a group of visual and audio artists. And writers. Our main concept is transhumanism, trying to merge ourselves with machines in a symbiosis kind of way. Since machines are more and more part of us. We’re trying to research what AI would sound like. It’s an exploration, a journey.

We’re organised an algorave on the 20th of May, the second one in Portugal ever. It’s an event where people are busy with live coding on their computers. We project it on a screen and try to code music in it as well. It’s fairly experimental, very IDM with a lot of bleep noises. But it’s cool and interesting to watch. The concept originates in the UK, but it’s becoming bigger and bigger. It’s weird, but also very dancy. You just have to put a beat on it!