ASHUSInterview with trap artist and DJ ASHUS
28 June 2018
ASHUS , a 27-year-old musician and model from Detmold who splits her time between Berlin and her hometown (and also writes for YEOJA Mag) has just released her single, "IN IT INNIT."
We sat down with her to chat about her new single – which just dropped today – her lyrics, responsibility as a women for other women, the Trap scene, and more:
The arc of the story in “IN IT INNIT” is about a growing understanding that some men only want to work with you if there is a sexual favour in it for them, then finding empowerment from breaking free from these kinds of men. Your lyrics are very personal to you, but do you also feel any responsibility when it comes to songs in general about being empowering for the women who listen to them – for example other women in this same situation in the music or modelling industry?
ASHUS: Yes, I definitely feel a certain responsibility for other women or men out there who are in similar situations that I describe in my lyrics – especially as I also suffered from trauma in my past and know what words can do to/for your mental health – how much power they can give someone and how they can take away. That is also why I try to talk as much as possible with people who are in my everyday life as well as online about their issues, dreams, and goals.
It’s not my first thought when writing, though. Thinking about my responsibility towards others comes while editing my lyrics for the final track. Before that I only want to get the thoughts which clutter my mind out of my head and onto a piece of paper. We all listen to music and have tracks which have literally changed our lives in one way or another because of the words sung to us. I would love to do the same for the people who listen to my music and hopefully help them.
Can you tell me who you worked with to create the track?
ASHUS: I was very lucky to have Black Cracker as the producer for this and some upcoming tracks. He was not only my creative support but also my emotional support in a lot of situations. He also laid the basic beat [for the track].
The video for “IN IT INNIT” features you alone throughout – as the song is quite a personal empowerment track, was this a conscious decision not to include anyone else?
ASHUS: I appear alone because I wanted to have the focus on how the addressed person puts the focus on me as a possible sexual encounter – how the person would be watching me, fantasising about me. Including others in my video would have been a good choice too but is simply not where I could go this time.
The video generally has warm tones and there is a scene with a yellow backdrop – do these warm colours have a specific symbolic meaning?
ASHUS: It is less about their symbolic meaning and more about the mood [the tones] put you in. Everything is kind of sugar coated in contrast to the rather dark lyrics. I guess you could say that it stands for the way we ignore what goes on behind closed doors for the sake of a good show.
Writing can be extremely raw and emotional but also cathartic when it comes to releasing emotions and working through emotional trauma. When it comes to working through your own personal story, how much of yourself and your life (struggles, highs, lows) do you put into your lyric writing?
ASHUS: Everything I talk about in my songs is about something that I have experienced in the past or what I am about to face. I think it wouldn’t be possible for me to talk about anything but that. Writing and then singing about what is going on inside of me is as hard as it is necessary – not only to work through and move past what I have experienced but also to reflect on my own behaviour and to fully understand what happened – to grow. This is the first track I’ve ever actually put out there. Its completely new and exciting and it gives me major anxiety… haha.
Is there a reason why you choose to write your lyrics in English or do you also write some songs in German?
ASHUS: I write my lyrics in English because it is easier for me to bring my opinions and emotions to a point. When I write in my diary I chose to explore the German language in more colours and dive deep into my thoughts and emotional state. I often use this as an inspiration for my lyrics for me to begin with. I want to do everything perfectly and explain my train of thought in the clearest way possible so others will understand and be able to relate but sometimes you have to let all that go and just talk from the heart. The hardest part for me [about making music] was not to feel silly about my writing, to be honest. Sometimes I think my lyrics are not sophisticated enough but I know that I will grow into my unique style in time.
Where do you draw most of your musical inspiration from? (Not necessarily other artists)
ASHUS: What inspires me the most and gets my creative juices flowing are my surroundings. I love to watch people and busy streets. I analyse groups of people and try to draw connections between them. Visuals always inspired me most, even as a child. When I listen to music I always have a scene in my head which tells a story about my emotional state in that moment. I usually get the most inspiration for my lyrics when I am lost in a crowd of people in a club with music that numbs all my complicated thoughts and brings me down to the raw images of my thoughts. Sometimes I take a step back and start writing.
Usually it just hits me. I can’t just sit down and start writing because I have a day off or something. The last time I got a full flush of inspiring lyrics in my head was at a concert in an old factory building. The light was just beautiful and the voice of my friend Marshall put me in a trance. In the country side I can mainly write diary entries or poems. It’s more calm in my mind. Then I use parts of these lines to write my lyrics.
Do you feel like the artists and tracks you play in your DJ sets influence your own music that you produce (and vice versa)?
ASHUS: I definitely think that this happens on a subconscious level. My sets usually have something cinematic to them – some sense of drama which I incorporate into my tracks as well. As I put my sets together in little pieces, I have a build up and a story to it. I mix different genres and tempos too. When I play live I usually just go by heart and mood in this very moment, which can sometimes add another level of weird to it. I think you can feel that in my tracks too. Black Cracker has a very good sense of what I want to express with my music.
Not a lot of people take into consideration the fact that DJ-ing and producing are two different disciplines with different and overlapping areas of focus. Not all DJs are music producers and not all music producers are DJs. What unique strengths do you think you bring to your DJ-ing as a producer? What unique strengths do you think you bring to your production as a DJ? (For example, do you structure your tracks with the wider thought of how it could be worked into a set?)
ASHUS: I think you start to see and feel music in a different way once you start DJ-ing or producing. Even when I am in the club, I think of other ways to incorporate the track into others and I do the same when I am working on a track of my own. Everything needs to have a flow to it in one way or another. It is not just lyrics and it is not simply sound. It is a whole spectrum – a world – a scene which has to move you on various levels. A lot of people might say I don’t have technique but I have to go with my gut when I DJ and not only by bpm or genre. It wouldn’t be possible for me otherwise. So, yea when I play live sets I deconstruct a track while playing and do the same with a single track in terms of my own music. Everything needs to be in contact and in flow with its surroundings.
In the music industry – especially in the world of DJ-ing – women are gaining a lot more presence. Still, there seem to be times when women are hired based on their gender not their ability to DJ and other times when the opposite happens – a female DJ who is talented is reduced to only her looks. What are your personal experiences in the industry and thoughts on this problem as a female DJ and producer?
ASHUS: I can totally agree with this. I especially had this issue when I started out as people weren’t taking me seriously when I was asked to do a gig or at the gig itself. As a lot of times the people who book you are still male. They tend to see the female artists as they see women on the street – potential sex partners. And sadly enough, through that a lot of them lack respect and professional behaviour. Some wouldn’t even know what kind of music I would play, spelled my name wrong, or wouldn’t listen to me when I would want to talk to them about things regarding the gig. All I would get was, “Oh you look so cool, we love your style.”
One time I was at a party where I was not playing but knew some of the folk there. At some point, random dudes started playing and messed up completely. The sound was awful and I knew something was about to break if nobody said anything or helped them out. Well, I tried. I told them how they had to fix it over and over again but only got some smiles and laughter. So at one point the speakers gave out. One of the guys came up and suddenly they were all ears. It is messed up stuff like that which makes me speak up for myself and be very clear about what I want and do not want, though.
You DJ often at St. George which is well known in the Trap scene in Berlin. We have spoken about the misogyny inherent in trap music, which is also arguably linked to the fetishisation of WOC – most notably black women. Can you talk a little more about this?
ASHUS: To me the Trap scene feels a lot like home. It’s raw and open about a lot of issues at the same time. There are a lot of different styles and types of people to it and I wouldn’t want to lose that at any point of my life. As much as I love this scene I also feel lots of anxiety when dealing with male individuals, who often tend to overlook the female individual as an actual human being but rather superimpose onto them an image they have created for them. It may be the bad bitch with the mad attitude and a style I envy or the submissive, yet booty shaking great dancer… it rarely goes deeper than that.
But that’s not all there is to it. As I got to know more and more women in the scene, I found myself surrounded by a lot of incredibly strong women, who knew exactly what they wanted and wouldn’t be played with. I am very happy that these women are getting a bigger space for themselves in Trap music and the club scene. Sadly, a lot of men I’ve met wouldn’t see or acknowledge [this shift] and would still reduce them and me to the way we look or the way we look while moving to the beat. Oftentimes a man’s value would be rated higher than a woman’s. I had to listen to a lot of disgusting things while sitting backstage somewhere with men whom I thought would be more intelligent than that. Meanwhile, other women would throw themselves at men for their style, influence, money, or fame.
I think we have these issues in all kinds of industries and musical genres. It is just handled more out in the open in Trap. As it comes to fetishisation of the black female body, I can definitely say that a big ass will get more attention than the woman carrying it.
When you are not writing lyrics and working on music or DJ-ing, what are you up to?
ASHUS: I also model, write, and work as a PA for a Italian-based designer. I get bored too easily doing just one thing.
What can we expect from you in the future? What are you currently working on next?
ASHUS: BIG THINGS! haha… I am focussing more on music, am working on an EP and finding my voice in my tracks. This was my first time creating my very own and I want to explore where I can go from here.
Text and interviews: Rae Tilly
Photographer: Johannes Erb
Stylist: Yuliya Maltseva
MUA: Hendrik Gebhardt