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Cream of the crop

DJ Sandra Collins may rest -- but not on her laurels

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It's early evening, in Orlando, Fla., around the time most people get home from work, and internationally accredited DJ Sandra Collins has just gotten out of bed. When you're an in-demand DJ used to late nights and intercontinental barhopping, any number of things could keep you up all hours: partying, picking through promo singles for a gig, planning a mix CD.

None of these apply to Collins at the moment. Her computer caught a virus, and she was up all night trying to save its contents.

It seems the "glamorous life" doesn't come any more easily for a DJ than it does a well-to-do accountant. After all, it's taken Collins more than 13 years to get to the point where she can play London one week, hit Washington, D.C., the next, and practice yoga on a Florida beach just days later. Not bad for someone who managed to escape the most dreaded of humble beginnings as a mobile wedding DJ.

A kid from the Southwest who started out making pause-button mix tapes in her Arizona bedroom, Collins has come a long way without being dragged far off-track. Though she was turned on to the new wave beat long enough to play drums in high school, club DJing always appealed to her more. Starting out in the late '80s spinning Front 242-style danceable industrial, Collins went through a breaks/nu_beat phase before moving on to a "melodic straight beat" -- what some would call trance -- in the early '90s. But she believes that, over the years, the wrong ideas about her style have been proliferating.

"I don't stick to one genre," says Collins. "I'm all over the place. A lot of people call me the 'Trance Goddess,' and I have no idea where that came from. If you listen to what I play, it's not strictly trance. I call it progressive dance music. It goes from here to there, all over the place. And it's not straight- up trance."

Whatever you call her music, it landed her gigs at major events, including life-changing experiences at an early '90s New York Storm rave and a mid-'90s tour of Australia. The latter trip allowed her to look outside her circle and realize it was constricting her progress. After a few well-planned moves -- both physical and career- oriented -- Collins began furthering her international DJing and recording career.

Collins struck up a relationship with New York's Kinetic Records thanks to her contributions to a volume of the label's successful Tranceport series, which also has featured Paul Oakenfold, Dave Ralph, Max Graham and Quivver. And now she's touring behind the inaugural North American volume of a new Cream-branded, Kinetic-distributed mix compilation series. Only Collins' third mix CD in her 13-odd years DJing, it's the first venture by the U.K.'s highly respected Cream (which organizes European club nights along with best-selling CDs) to establish itself as a high-quality alternative in the American market. For her part, Collins has taken this opportunity to offer an alternative to what is perceived as her traditionally ethereal, ascending, euphoric Big Room sound.

For people used to Collins' live sets, builds-and-breakdowns, or what they might think a Cream- like track listings entails (primarily friendly, commercially upbeat European progressive house), the Cream disc will come as a bit of a surprise. A much deeper listening experience, the slow, steady rhythm of Cream is more trance inducing than it is reliant on the epics most casually classified as "trance." It's a peek at something different, not just valleys and peaks. And it's not for people with short attention spans.

The tracks on Cream were picked from unreleased works submitted after a solicitation from Collins' booking agency, Balance Promote Group. Collins sequenced the disc herself after narrowing down the track selection during car rides and field-testing the music live. And in a touching show of nepotism, Collins included one track, "Derangement of the Senses," by her boyfriend's Voyager project.

She may have had free rein, but Collins set aside any artistic or political agendas and simply sequenced tracks that felt appropriate next to each other. And while she's one of the foremost female DJs in the world, she doesn't feel any need for the sort of feminist agenda that might involve coordinating an all-girl mix CD.

"I try to be a good example for younger girls just by being comfortable, silly and approachable," she says.

Having come all the way from pause-button to Pro Tools, the (hopefully) less-frazzled Collins has plans to work on original productions and take studio lessons. She's also preparing songs on which she will actually sing.

And hopefully she can keep that computer virus-free. With the more-glamorous years that are sure to be ahead, she's going to need the rest.

Sandra Collins spins Sat., Dec. 1, at the Globe Theater, 1599 Memorial Drive. Doors open at 10 p.m. $25. 404-681-3716.

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