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Herb Sundays 27: Ash Lauryn
The Atlanta by way of Detroit DJ/producer/writer brings tunes "you could catch me playing at home on any given Sunday."
I’ll let the New Yorker’s Michaelangelo Matos kick us off, as he’s a crucial Herb and I can’t do any better:
“Born in Detroit and based in Atlanta, Ash Lauryn is a wide-ranging d.j. whose remit is embedded in the title of her monthly show on NTS Radio, “Underground and Black.” She specializes in house and techno with heavy jazz tinges—a very Detroit feature—and moves afield at will, as exemplified on a recent episode that featured her spinning roots material from Dawn Penn, Bootsy Collins, and Lou Donaldson. Her club sets are similarly rangy, and this open-to-close session should be worth attending in full.”
To put a finer point on it, she’s a DJ (NYC’s Nowadays, Berlin’s Panorama Bar, London’s Printworks), writer (her Underground and Black blog, The Face Magazine, Mixmag, Resident Advisor, etc.), curator, radio host, and producer (her debut solo EP titled Truth, co-produced with Stefan Ringer came out in September). All of this is done to champion incredible music, and to promote incredible black music.
My friend Will Calcutt put me up on (as is often with Will) Ash’s mixes last year. Her 2020 isolation RA mix was picked up by music godhead Philip Sherburne in his monthly column and displayed what makes her sets great: a springy crisp quality but with a fundamental drive and intensity.
For me, the best Detroit-raised DJs ride a line of deep house into techno without picking a lane. It’s just soul music, it doesn’t need to be discussed much further. With pop culture waking up to the charms of Theo Parrish and Moodymann in recent years, genre as a topic continues to erode and the quest for feeling is perennial. Detroit artists and DJs just “get” feel, it’s what makes Detroit Techno less of a style, and more of a mindset.
Acclaimed writer and producer DeForrest Brown Jr. wrote about Ash in a recent Document Journal and chronicles her quest to become a world-class DJ. Over lockdown, her social media shared the process of her deciding to go all-in on DJing.
“The more I started going back to Movement and going to parties in other cities and states, I was just like, ‘Wow, there didn’t seem like there were a lot of younger Black people DJing…I knew all the old school people like DJ Minx and Delano Smith, you know, I knew all those people for a while and followed them, but it just seemed like there was a disconnect with people who were in my age range and younger.”
The photo she sent is also pretty crucial. Some of the records featured in this playlist (Ahmad Jamal, Earth, Wind, & Fire, etc.) are on display but the LP displayed up top is of course Rapture by Detroit’s Anita Baker, which is like the Illmatic (all killer no filler) of Quiet Storm. Promising. And so Herb 27 is composed of “some chill tunes you could catch me playing at home on any given Sunday. The playlist includes some favorites from my youth as well as some stuff I came across later in life.” A welcome inclusion of early Jamiriquoi, Sade (maybe the most herb’d artist, need to check), Deee-Lite, immortal Slum Village and Aaliyah, and the oft-overlooked Change. Let’s Go!
The bigger story for Ash, apart from her clear talent, is the mission to reconnect dance music to its true origins. In a powerful interview with Billboard last year, Kevin Saunderson shared the unspoken but widely shared concern that dance music’s continued commercialization had failed to keep black artists front and center. Ash’s work across mediums feels connected to the bigger story and alongside artists like Brown Jr., Ash is part of a movement to reconnect the story of dance music back to its black roots, not only as a historical exercise but to keep a new generation connected and growing.