Words by Antonio. Photos by Joel. Edited by DJ Ayescold & Antonio.
“I’m just getting used to being interviewed to tell you the truth,” Ayesha Chugh admitted, after our conversation at D.C.’s Looking Glass Lounge. Ayesha, who goes by the name DJ Ayescold, has quickly becomes one of the city’s most popular DJs. Having been on the scene for about a year, Ayes has secured a recurring spot at U-Street Corridor’s Velvet Lounge, while also making a name for herself to audiences at the famed Howard Theatre, 9:30 Club and Art Whino spaces.
I first discovered Ayescold on Twitter, after seeing multiple retweets of her “El Camino Selections Vol. 3” mix. Beginning with the Kali Uchis’s futuristic ska offering “Know What I Want” and ending with lean quatifah’s hybrid-bass track, “Hair Game on Fleek,” Ayescold stitches together Brazilian funk, deep house, breakbeats and other varieties of electronic soul to create her own brand of “experimental bass.”
Through her website bio and interviews online, I learned that Ayes was born in Chicago grew up in India, the Bay Area and Los Angeles, but now calls Washington, D.C. her home. What really intrigued me was her focus on community building and creating an opportunity to make a difference, namely among women DJs and producers. Soon after sending an e-mail asking for interview, Ayes responded quickly and enthusiastically, inviting me to Looking Glass, to chat before she rocked the eager crowd.
DJ Ayescold discusses her rise to prominence in the Washington, D.C.’s music scene, how she and her peers are meeting changing tastes of consumers, and how she’s cutting through the noise to separate herself from the pack.
Q: Though you’ve only been on the scene for so long, you’ve had some pretty high-profile gigs. Why do you think that your profile has so risen quickly in that short amount of time?
AYESCOLD: That’s a good question because that’s something I think about a lot. I think that D.C. is a small city and there is a lot of opportunity for people trying to forge new musical spaces. People are really catching on to a wave of music that myself and a few of my other friends (who are DJs and producers) are experimenting with right now. It’s been around for a little while now, but I think the mainstream is now getting hip to it. They may not know what to call it, but they like how it sounds.
“They may not know what to call it, but they like how it sounds”
D.C. is a small city, and word-of-mouth has a lot of power and it has led to a lot of opportunities. For me, one opportunity led to another. It’s been a butterfly effect almost. But it’s still an enigma to me. Sometimes I’m like man, I must be talented! But when I have an off-night I’m like no, it’s just because this city is really thirsty for some good music. The answer is probably somewhere in between.
^ DJ Ayescold’s newest mix “The Freezer: Vol. 2”
Q: How was your experience at 9:30 Club and Howard Theatre, since those are two of the biggest venues in D.C.?
AYESCOLD: 9:30 Club was really exciting for me. I’ve attended many shows at 9:30 Club, and to finally be on that stage made me feel like progress was suddenly visible. It was a benchmark.
With Howard Theatre, I actually used to live across from the building when it was just a dilapidated abandoned old building. To go from living across the street and observing its reconstruction, to actually spinning there, was just a crazy experience. Two years ago when I saw this run-down building being reconstructed – never did I think that I would ever DJ, or even spin there. It just blew my mind a little bit.
“Two years ago when I saw this run-down building being reconstructed – never did I think that I would ever DJ, or even spin there”
Q: Recounting your living experiences here, what changes in D.C. have you seen firsthand?
AYESCOLD: There’s definitely an emerging class of young creative people of color – many have been doing their thing for a while, but it’s suddenly becoming more visible to the rest of the city, and to DC’s creative elite. This community has been a significant base for me to experiment and grow. I actually started DJ’ing by playing a lot of gigs at Union Arts, a warehouse space off New York Ave. I met a lot of rappers, musicians and visual artists, many who are folks of color. At most bars and clubs I’ve seen people be pretty uncritical about music that DJs spin—most people just want to hear songs they already know. I feel like this young creative class embraces new music, and tunes that challenge musical conventions– and they know what’s up musically and aesthetically.
“There’s definitely an emerging class of young creative people of color – many have been doing their thing for a while, but it’s suddenly becoming more visible to the rest of the city, and to DC’s creative elite”
Race aside, commercial establishments are also getting hip to what I like to spin, and the bottom-line is that there is a bassline you want to dance to—whether it is jersey club or tropical bass. I think that venues are starting to realize that the people who are digging my music are young and creative, and they want DJs who are multifaceted —DJs who focus on creating a wider aesthetic experience. They want to feel some dope shit that they’ve never heard before.
Q: They want an experience.
AYESCOLD: Yeah, they want an experience – they don’t want to necessarily hear the familiar music they hear on the radio or are listening to on their iPod. They see the DJ as a curator, as somebody who’s selecting and showcasing something new and different.
“They want an experience – they don’t want to necessarily hear the familiar music they hear on the radio or are listening to on their iPod”
Q: On a wider scale it seems DJs becoming more important.
AYESCOLD: Yeah it’s blowing my mind to tell you the truth, how much love there is for DJs in this city. And I had no idea this existed until I started spinning.
It’s well known in our culture that DJs get a lot of love, but there’s something about this moment that feels like people are increasingly looking at DJs like they’re looking at other artists. The divide between the performer and the DJ appears to be narrowing. I think this brings a lot of power and creative freedom to our work, while also making it more of a challenge.
Q: I’ve read that you played piano and guitar. Did you ever think about being in a band or were you ever in a band, before DJing? Is that something you still want to do at some point?
AYESCOLD: I’ve never thought about that before – being in a band. Frankly before I started DJing, I never saw myself performing musically at all, even though I play the piano and the guitar, and grew up doing recitals. DJing is very different from being in a band, too. It’s definitely more of an individual experience in terms of the creative process, and it makes more sense for how I function. I value my downtime and have to often isolate myself to be good at what I do.
I definitely don’t see myself in a band going forward, because I believe the DJ has a role to play and I definitely want to keep doing it for a while.
“I value my downtime and have to often isolate myself to be good at what I do”
Q: You’ve talked about the industry barriers for female DJs. What do you think needs to happen, even now during this DJ Renaissance?
AYESCOLD: Personally for me an obstacle to developing more as a producer is access to resources in terms of technical resources (e.g. hardware) and informal knowledge about producing music (the stuff you don’t learn on Youtube).
Looking at my peers, especially my male counterparts, their learning process has benefited a lot from informal networks and friendships with folks who have studio access, and other producers and DJs. Since these spaces are male-dominated, I see it as a brotherhood kind of thing. There isn’t as visible a network of women who are owners of studios, producers and DJs for me to organically tap into. Although this is something that myself and a few friends have been trying to build.
“We need to think about changing the system by booking more women, so more female DJs are encouraged to grow their skills, and ultimately more women are inspired to be DJs”
In terms of our options for the immediate future, we need more women DJs in the city that are visible on line-ups (at venues and music festivals), and who are killing it. DC needs to see more upcoming women DJs on large bills for commercially significant gigs. Maybe the promoters or organizers of these shows will say they are just booking folks based on their talent, but they fail to see the bigger problem—which is there aren’t enough women DJs in this city to choose from. We need to think about changing the system by booking more women, so more female DJs are encouraged to grow their skills, and ultimately more women are inspired to be DJs.
Q: What are some things you could work on?
AYESCOLD: There are so many things I want to work on, and right now I have little time to do it. I definitely want to work on incorporating vinyl into my DJ sets. There’s some fundamental knowledge that any DJ should work with, and that is being able to DJ with a turntable and a record. So I’m trying to incorporate more of than into my routine. Spinning a lot of the more electronic music, I haven’t felt as much pressure to work on turntables.
I also want to work more on making my own beats – and prioritizing the time to do that. This summer I’ll have to hibernate a bit and make it happen.
Lastly, I want to get better at marketing myself. Right now I’m just doing me, and trying to communicate this authentically to the people who see me. Moving forward I want to be more intentional about my brand identity.
“There’s something that could be said for being able to communicate your vibe easily to people, and for people to understand what you’re about musically and aesthetically, upon first encounter”
^ DJ Ayescold “El Camino Selections Vol. 3” mix
Q: That’s funny because that’s what I was just talking to Joel about the yesterday. He was asking me about my brand and, I know what it is, but it’s different when you have to explain it, and have to communicate it to other people, without going through a half-hour conversation. So you have to cut through the noise.
AYESCOLD: Cutting through the noise! Yes I think that’s the theme tonight. But I’m also thinking about being more intentional, not only through my personal choices but also who I work with, where I spin, who I collaborate with. Part of me is like, alright I’ve only been doing this for a year, so why should I have any standards for that, but at the same time, I think there’s something that could be said for being able to communicate your vibe easily to people, and for people to understand what you’re about musically and aesthetically, upon first encounter. With this said, there is something cool about being enigmatic, and people wanting to figure you out. I’ve really worked hard on my web language. The “About Me” [section] – I’ve revised it so many damn times, to parallel where I am, and what I do and it’s always going to be a work-in progress. Next week it will probably change.
Q: Where will you be in 5 days, 5 months and 5 years?
AYESCOLD: In five days, I’ll probably be recovering from a hangover after DJing at Velvet Lounge the Wednesday night before.
In five months, I want to do a little bit of traveling. In five months, hopefully I won’t have a day job… I want to go back to Los Angeles, Brazil, Southeast Asia, and I need to go back to India. But right now I worry that if I leave for more than a month folks might forget about me… : )
I don’t know if I can say where I’ll be in five years, as even a year ago I didn’t think I’d be DJing… I would eventually like to move back to the west coast, but D.C. has shown me so much love that I’m not sure moving is wise at the moment. With this said, I feel like D.C. has a ceiling for DJs and people trying to grow beyond a certain point in their careers. The infrastructure appears to feel limited after a certain stage in DJs and producers’ careers.