Truancy Volume 226: Ash Lauryn

Blending the soulful sounds of Detroit house with modern electronic productions, Ash Lauryn manages to touch on decades of musical history through her mixes. Born and raised in Detroit, the city has majorly influenced Ash’s love and appreciation of house and techno, as well as inspired her to celebrate the city’s rich history of black music through her own artistry. A self-proclaimed raver and die-hard music fan, Ash grew up attending shows in Detroit with her sister, who exposed her to the music of Midwest pioneers like Terrence Parker, Juan Atkins and Theo Parrish. But it wasn’t until Ash left Detroit for Atlanta, where she currently lives, that she first began DJing professionally.

After practicing at home on turntables for three years, Ash became a resident DJ with the Deep South ATL collective, pointing to founder and DJ Vicki Powell as a major musical inspiration, and began playing shows around Atlanta. Since then she has immersed herself in the scene, attending Atlanta’s infamous “House in the Park”; starting her own series of events called “ORBIT”, which has showcased talents like Kai Alcé, K-HAND and Rick Whilite; and headlining her party “Expressions” alongside Stefan Ringer. A lifelong creative force, with an avid interest in theatre, writing, radio and broadcasting, Ash Lauryn has translated these passions into the website “Underground & Black” which offers an intimate look at her daily experience as a black woman and artist. Personal and powerful, Ash’s writings on race, identity and music display a vulnerability and genuineness that can also be found in her heartfelt approach to mixing. She also shares the title “Underground & Black” with her monthly radio show on NTS, which showcases her “candid love for the historical roots of dance music.”

For Truancy Volume 226, Ash Lauryn explores ethereal expressions of house music, for a beautifully rhythmic mix that invites movement and dance. Featuring magnetic vocals and groovy percussion, it’s a perfect illustration of Ash’s intuitive, passionate approach to music. Ash explains, “This mix is pretty much a compilation of some new and unreleased stuff that I’m digging right now, as well as some older stuff that I’ve been dropping regularly in my DJ sets. It features tracks from some of my favourites like Mr. G, Patrice Scott, Javonntte, and Peven Everett. I don’t always intentionally play black music; it just happens to be what resonates most with my soul.”

Hey, Ash! How are you? What have you been up to lately?! “Hello, I’ve been well! Between Europe and stateside travel, September was a very busy month for me. With shows in Paris, Berlin, Atlanta, Washington DC, and NYC, I can honestly say it was my best month yet. Now I’m just focused on keeping the momentum going as we enter into the fall and winter months.”

Do you still discuss music or attend shows regularly with your sister? Who are some of the other women who’ve had a strong impact on you musically? “My sister and I still frequently discuss music, but unfortunately don’t get to attend as many shows together as we used to, being that she’s based in Miami, and I’m here in Atlanta. The last music event we attended together was Movement Festival weekend in Detroit. We didn’t go to the festival itself, but we did hit a lot of the daytime events and after parties. It’s always great to spend time together in regards to music, and it’s definitely cool having her there with me when I’m DJing as well.”

“There are two people who stick out in reference to having a strong impact on my musical journey. First I’d like to mention Vicki Powell, who is a highly revered DJ on the LGBT circuit here in Atlanta, and all throughout North America. She was the very first person to offer me a gig, and soon after an invitation to be a resident DJ with the Deep South collective that she’s been running for the past few years. I wasn’t too familiar with the queer scene here in Atlanta prior to my Deep South affiliation, and can definitely say it has opened a lot of doors for me. It’s also has introduced to me some of the kindest and supportive individuals, so I’m grateful for that. We often discuss things regarding music, and she is always willing to lend me useful advice or direction when it comes to DJ life. She’s one of the most selfless and supportive people I know, and always goes out of her way to help those around her, which has definitely inspired me to be a better person. She’s a mentor to many, and I feel really blessed to have her in my life. Last night in Atlanta she played an incredible old school, disco, and house inspired set that left me feeling incredibly refreshed!”

“Second I’d like to mention Lerato Khathi aka Lakuti of Uzuri Bookings and Recordings who is currently managing my Europe bookings. Although we’ve only met in person once, Lerato has played an instrumental role in who I am today as an artist. I’m actually yet to even see her play live, but based upon her DJ mixes and musical style that she puts out on her label, I know we are of very much the same when it comes to selections. Similar to my relationship with Vicki, Lerato is always willing to offer any type of of guidance or advice I may need. She has been in the business for a very long time, and has an impeccable reputation within the scene. Simply being affiliated with her has gotten me a lot of respect, and she’s continually impressing me with all of the ground breaking things she’s achieved, like most recently bringing Larry Heard to perform live at Panorama Bar for her new event series “Bringing Down the Walls”.”

Deep South ATL, photo by Caroline Smith

Has your relationship with the city of Detroit and its music scene changed since you moved away? “My relationship with Detroit has changed since I moved in the sense that I have a lot more respect for Detroit now than I did when I was actually living there. It took for me to move away to realize some of things I often took for granted. Things like the thriving music scene, the culture, and even some of the simpler things like the art museums and parks. Oh, and the food too. Every time I come home I make it a point to go to some of my favorite restaurants around town. I moved away in 2006 at the age of 21, and although I had been to DEMF a couple times, and was going to house music events here and there, my life wasn’t completely immersed in dance music the way it is now—otherwise I probably would have never left. I think my respect for Detroit grew so much after I left mainly because of our music scene, and also because I’m a lot older now and I just look at things differently. It really is a beautiful place, and is home to some of the most talented people on earth.”

What aspects of Detroit techno make it such a compelling genre to you? “What compels me most about Detroit Techno is the history of it. It blows my mind that these 3 high school kids starting making this music in the basements and bedrooms of their homes in Detroit, and it somehow touched people around the world, and became a global phenomenon. The way the music makes me feel is also quite compelling. I remember back in the day when my sister and I would turn the lights off, lay in my bed and listen to one of her many dance music tapes. We’d lay there in awe being taken on an absolute journey. My mom used to walk in on us like, “What the hell are y’all doing???” Haha.”

How much planning goes into your NTS shows? Do you have a regular process or is it more intuitive? “I don’t like to do too much planning when it comes to my NTS show, but I definitely like to make sure I have some new or unreleased music to drop in it. Mixing the old with the new is something I’ve always been keen to doing. I typically make a playlist of the new stuff I want to play, and browse through my collection of music for the rest, always keeping in mind to play stuff that flows with the mood of the show, as well as the rest of the selections—so its definitely intuitive is some aspects.”

When did you first start documenting your experiences with music on a consistent basis? Were you writing and/or keep journals as a child? “I started my blog Underground and Black about a year and a half ago, as things in my DJ career started to pick up significantly. I had been thinking about starting a blog surrounding my life in dance music for a while, and once I started DJing the idea made that much more sense. Writing has always been part of my life, publicly and personally, and my grandmother is also a writer, so I kind of feel like it’s in my blood. I wrote for The Michigan Chronicle, my high school newspaper, and had many, many journals as a teen. I couldn’t even begin to tell you the number! Some of them are still in my possession, and it’s kinda cool to go back and read them from time to time—its kind of like stepping into a time machine of your brain.”

Are there any pieces of music or words you’ve read recently that have left a strong impression? Which DJs and producers are exciting you most at the moment? “They weren’t necessarily words I read, but I’m good friends with the legendary Ron Trent, and when we recently got to spend some time together in Atlanta and DC, he offered me lots of words of wisdom about my DJ journey. He talked to me about knowing my worth as an artist, and also about keeping a little mystery to myself in certain aspects. I really look up to him, and it makes me feel good to know that he takes an interest in what I’m doing and wants to see me succeed.”

“I’d have to say Patrice Scott and Waajeed are at the top of my list in terms of producers who are exciting me the most at the moment. Patrice Scott is truly my production spirit animal, and I get loads of everyday life inspiration through his music. Those warm, soulful, and sexy elements are pretty much synonymous with my personal style. Waajeed is awesome in the sense that he started out on the hip hop scene and has made his way into the dance music realm in what seems is effortless. He’s been putting out lots of high quality productions and I’m always looking forward to what’s next with him. To add—Byron The Aquarius, LadyMonix, and Stefan Ringer are also some newer folks on the scene who’ve been putting out quality music on  a consistent basis that get played regularly in my sets.”

What is your vision for the future of Underground & Black? Do you have plans for its evolution or has the process come more naturally? “I definitely have plans for the evolution of Underground & Black, and can say that many of those plans have been happening organically. First and foremost, I’d like to start updating the blog on a regular basis again, as well as sell merchandise. It would also be great to have guest writers featured on the blog. I’ve been putting most attention towards the NTS show, yet still have many ideas and visions for the expansion of Underground & Black as a whole, so all I can say right now is to stay tuned. Who knows, we may even be a booking agency one day!”

Is it difficult finding a balance in terms of what aspects of your life to share on the blog and what you’d prefer to keep private? What is the feedback like from readers? “It’s definitely difficult. Sometimes I feel awkward about being so personal on a public forum. For example, I was feeling kind of down last week and made a particularly deep post that ended up getting deleted a short time later because I was fearful of being so vulnerable to the public. It’s crazy though, because in the short time it was up, I had at least 5 people reach out to me directly thanking me for being so transparent, and saying that they too could relate to some of my struggles. That’s actually one of my favorite things about the the blog—being able to connect with people and share something that’s real and relatable. I never imagined so many people would actually take the time to read my posts, and it feels great getting the positive feedback. That being said, I will continue to document my experiences and update the blog, as long as it feels right when doing so.”

Does your immediate environment inform your track selections? Do you change the focus of your DJ sets depending on the city you play in? “Environment plays more of a role in my track selections than the specific city I’m playing in. When selecting music and making playlists for upcoming gigs I try to imagine the vibe and environment of the establishment. I had a lot of fun selecting tunes for a bayside gig in San Diego I had a few month’s back, and it definitely differs from music I would select for a club gig—you won’t catch me playing 140 BPM Techno at a beachside gig, that’s just not appropriate for the setting, lol.”

What were some of your early experiences at House in the Park like? Has the event changed over the years? “I started going to House in the Park in 2010, and those early experiences I hold close to my heart. I have way too many experiences to name them all, but the first year I went I was with my sister, and man, we had to have danced the entire 8 hours of the event. I honestly could barely walk or talk when it was all said and done, but wow, what an experience! It’s colorful, it’s soulful, it’s happy, it’s family, it’s friends, it’s music! House in the Park truly is a phenomenon that I think everyone should experience at least once. My parents were in town a couple years ago and decided to come along, and even they loved it. It’s cool to have a family- and kid-friendly House Music event because this music is for everybody. The event honestly hasn’t changed too much over the years, besides the number of attendees, it’s grown by the thousands. It’s great to see such a big festival keep its authenticity over the years, because we all know with today’s corporate shenanigans that’s often a rarity.”

Would you say that house and techno now play a greater role in Atlanta’s dance music scene compared to when you first moved? “Most definitely. Our scene has grown and evolved in many ways over my years of living here, and I’m just happy to be a part of the process. I’m also noticing an interest in dance music by a lot of the younger kids, which I find very refreshing. From daytime events, to club nights, to after hours’ spots, there’s pretty much things to do every weekend. I can’t say exactly what caused the growth, but I look forward to see where things go in the coming years.”

How has organizing and headlining your party “Expressions” impacted your career? What has been your greatest learning experience within the music industry? “Expressions doesn’t actually require too much organizing, as its 95% of the time just myself and my partner Stefan Ringer playing. He makes the flyers, and I do the admin stuff like getting the date from the venue, and setting up the event pages online. We used to DJ a lot together at each others’ houses prior to me DJing professionally, and I thought it would be awesome to have an event that showcased just the two of us.

In the beginning I knew it was a cool idea, but I didn’t realize it would turn into such a popular event that people look forward to. Expressions has impacted my career in the sense that I now have an event to call my own. I think it’s important as DJs to continue contributing to the culture in whatever way we can, which often includes hosting events in the city you live in. It’s also the only event in Atlanta where I feel as if I can truly express myself as an artist and play whatever I want without having to worry about the crowd response.”

“I’ve had several learning experiences within the music industry that are all relevant, but one of my greatest learning experiences thus far is to simply be yourself. I feel like nowadays people try so hard to be what the internet tells them is “cool”, that they lose sight of their own individuality—which in my opinion, is the exact thing that makes someone “cool”. I try not to pay too much attention to what everyone else is doing, I rather focus on perfecting my craft, and playing the music that I think is good. Just because RA said it was the “best mix of the month” doesn’t necessarily mean I think it is, and just because everyone else is playing Techno doesn’t mean I have to. I definitely attribute some of my success to the fact that I’m just my damn self, and there’s a need for more of that in the industry right now.”

“I’ve also recently learned a lot about knowing your worth as a DJ. Example: you don’t have to accept every gig that’s offered, and you also don’t have to agree to every guest mix or interview that’s offered. I’ve gotten pretty selective about the things I attach my name to as of late, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with that. If my name is on it, trust and believe it’s something I care about and truly want to be apart of.”

Are there any upcoming shows you’re particularly looking forward to attending or playing? What are some of your aspirations for the next year? “I’m playing in San Francisco next month at The Stud for the Mixed Forms series, and am definitely looking forward to that.  They say it may be the last one, and I’ve only heard good things, so it will be cool to get to experience it. I’m also playing Thanksgiving Weekend in Detroit, so that should be cool too—just hoping my Mom doesn’t invite 20 family members and friends this time…lol. In terms of aspirations for the next year, I’d just like to continue touring stateside, and in Europe. It would also be nice to make it to South America, oh and Africa too! I’d also love the opportunity to have my own Underground & Black DJ residency somewhere here in Atlanta, which I know will happen sooner or later.”

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Taylor Trostle