The Atlanta-based, Detroit-rooted DJ keeps it underground and black.
Ash Lauryn is on a mission. Over the past couple years, she's become one of America's hottest new house music exports, but her purpose extends beyond her own burgeoning career. Simply put, the Atlanta-based, Detroit-raised DJ keeps it Underground & Black. It's the name of her NTS show, as well as a refreshingly honest blog on the triumphs and travails of navigating the dance music world as a black woman. She also throws a Movement weekend party in her native Detroit under the same banner. And it is an apt description of the music she plays. As she says in the following interview, "About 90 percent of the music I play is black American music, and I wouldn't have it any other way."
The Atlanta DJ, who will play the RA Front Yard at Helsinki's Flow Festival this weekend, leads her RA podcast off with Rick Wilhite and plays music from Ron Trent and Scott Grooves along the way—but she is just as concerned with the uplift of a new generation of black producers. Her mix spotlights younger artists like Stefan Ringer and Jay Daniel within a continuum of soulful, melodic dance music. Her DJing as well, fits within an impeccable tradition that includes Detroit's Marcellus Pittman and fellow Atlanta-via-Detroit house head Kai Alcé. In Ash's hands, classically-rooted dance music feels both timeless and modern.
What have you been up to recently?
As of late I've just been grinding for the most part, working my 9-5 on weekdays and staying busy with DJing and travel on weekends. Right now I'm gearing up for my fourth European tour, where I'll be hitting up London, Berlin, Helsinki, and Amsterdam. I've always felt kinda weird about calling these excursions abroad "tours" or whatever, but this time around I've got some pretty solid stuff in line, so it's safe to say it is indeed a tour.
How and where was the mix recorded?
The story behind this mix is a funny one because I had the due date three months prior to it being due, and (as always) still waited until the last minute to record it lol. I also ran into just about every technical issue under the sun my first couple takes. Long story short I eventually got it right, decided to switch out a few tracks, and that was that. The mix was recorded at my boyfriend Stefan's house, who is also a DJ. I like recording at his house opposed to my apartment simply because I can play louder at his place. It was recorded on two XDJ-700s, one Technics SL-1200MK2 and an Ecler NUO 4.0 mixer.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
There wasn't too much of an idea behind this mix besides me just wanting to showcase what a typical Ash Lauryn DJ set consists of, which pretty much the old, the new, the soulful, the deep, the dark, and whatever else. To be honest, about 90 percent of the music I play is black American music, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Speaking of which, I have some of my absolute favorite producers included in the mix, so big ups to Patrice Scott, Kai Alcé and Ron Trent (to name a few), they are definitely some of my biggest inspirations. Also sending love to Detroit's Ladymonix who also has a track featured in this mix—make sure to check out her label Frizner Electric for that heat!
You were raised in Detroit, but you've been in Atlanta for over ten years. Can you tell us about the climate for underground dance music in the deep south? How does Atlanta's scene overlap with Detroit?
The climate of dance music in the south is a lot more prevalent than one would think, well, in Atlanta at least. Events like House In The Park have really put us on map in reference to house music, but we also have plenty of other events going on just about every weekend as well. Atlanta is a city full of transplants, so best believe there are plenty of folks from Detroit, Chicago, NYC and beyond who are all a part of the dance music community here. Depending on what style you're into, there's a little bit of everything for everyone. The queer dance scene is also thriving, thanks to crews like my DJ collective Deep South and my friends over at Morph, who also throw queer parties. Atlanta definitely has a love for the soulful and vocal vibes, which is an aspect of living here that has definitely influenced my sound. I also want to note the dope scenes happening in nearby Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee. Flavorless of Chattanooga and the Teknox crew of Knoxville consistently throw quality parties with sick bookings that are definitely worth checking out if you happen to find yourself in the area.
I think one way the two scenes overlap is by the sheer amount of "old school" black folks that are still active on their respective scenes. Being that I've been gone for 12 years now, I sometimes feel a little disconnected from the new Detroit scene, so I don't exactly know all of the ins and outs of the current scene there. Nonetheless, I try my best to get back as much as possible to stay somewhat in the loop with what's current. My parents still live there as well, which is nice—they love attending house music events with me when I'm in town, it's really cute.
Underground & Black is a blog, a Movement afterparty and an ethos. What do you hope to accomplish with Underground & Black going forwards?
In terms of the future of Underground & Black, I basically just want to keep expanding. There's the U&B NTS radio show of course, which has been an amazing platform for me to express myself and showcase the music I love. Then there's the blog, which I'd like to get more consistent with again. I'd also like to continue to throw parties. That being said, there will definitely be another U&B Movement event next year—if all goes as planned it's going to be an annual thing. Another plan is to step up my "merch" game when the timing is right. I sold out almost all of my first batch of t-shirts, it was a great feeling.
Another vision that I have for U&B that I've never spoken publicly about is perhaps starting a booking agency one day. I'd love to get to a point where I could help other black artists get work the same way many have helped me. My current booking agency for Europe, Uzuri Bookings, was started by a black woman, and that really inspired me and this idea. Right now I handle all of my US bookings, and without a doubt, it has been somewhat of a crash course in this field, so yeah, maybe one day—you heard it here first!
What are you up to next?
In terms of what’s next, I'm basically just working towards DJing full time and quitting my 9-5 job. Things have been going extremely well in terms of music, and I feel really blessed to be where I am right now. The job transition is coming sooner than later, and having that vision and dream keeps a motivational fire under my ass every single day! Cheers to the future. <3