The first time I heard about Ashe Kilbourne she was leading a campaign at Wesleyan University to remove gender separating bathroom signs and replacing them with ‘All Gender’ signs. The next time I heard about her was several months later, when a mutual friend of ours posted one of her club tracks on my Facebook timeline.
Hailing from New Jersey and now living in New Orleans, 22-year-old Ashe is a DJ and producer with the shy yet charismatic attitude of a pre-teen with lots of internet friends. She throws herself into new projects, connecting with artists all over the country and approaching people she admires to collaborate with who she’s never met before. The result of this methodology is that Ashe is extremely prolific, coming out with new works on a monthly basis, and is widely respected by her fellow artists (she is cited within a close-knit DJ family along with other young beatmakers like Stud1nt.) On top of her work as DJ Kilbourne, Ashe also plays guitar with the grindcore band Pyka.
An exhausted Ashe had driven directly from working on a new track when we met up to discuss artifice in pop music, and gender normativity in club and grind scenes. Careful with her words, she diligently attributes ideas she shares to those who have mentored or influenced her, specifically citing black and brown club producers. The more we spoke, the more I realized that Ashe occupies a vital space between fighting for material change for trans and gender nonconforming people and being a part of building cultural spaces that make life worth living.
You seem to be coming out with new stuff every month and working with tons of different DJs and producers. How did you get involved in this work in the first place?
When I first getting involved in music culture I was really only exposed to straight music like EDM. Though, this was before EDM was even a thing with a name, we just called it “electro” or something.
Then I saw Mykki Blanco while I was a sophomore in college. That was pretty shortly after I started making music; I think I started feeling more and more out of sorts with the world around that time as well. I feel like that pushed me into finding other music that was less bro-y.
While in high school, I was living in a small town and didn’t have a lot of exposure to different music scenes, artists or nightlife. In college, people who came from cities got me into different kinds of music. A friend taught me how to DJ in our dorm rooms.
Grindcore and club music are super different, not just the music but also the people that are drawn to them. What do you think it is that draws you to these two genres?
My friend False Witness says that he can’t get down with PC music because it is completely devoid of trauma, which made sense to me. I found that club music was really messy and volatile. I got into club as I was starting to feel trans – and that experience also felt very volatile and messy. There was an overlap in my experience and the art that I started to feel drawn to. The music didn’t make me feel okay – it made me feel weird and ugly and sloppy – but it was therapeutic in a lot of ways.
I’m not really into tracks that are cleanly produced and professionally. That’s not satisfying for me. I like slapping things together in a way that sounds sloppy, distorted, and upset.
The two club tracks I’m most proud of making this year are probably “Too Real” and “Don’t Panic,” both of which I made in an afternoon and came from a very raw place in my own creative process. I just asked myself, “What songs have I liked on the radio recently?” and worked from there. They are both pretty short and not necessarily very developed, which are the most therapeutic kinds of tracks to make in my experience.
That’s sort of what the music I play with my grindcore band Pyka is like, too. The songs that I write for my band are really fast and messy, in part because we play so fast.