In Session: Ayesha - Music - Mixmag

In Session: Ayesha

Ayesha shares a percussive, psychedelic mix and speaks to Nathan Evans about New York club Nowadays, taking your time in the music industry, and her upcoming debut album

  • Words: Nathan Evans | Photos: Karla Del Orbe, Dakotah Malisoff
  • 25 October 2023

Ayesha is hours away from hosting a night at New York club Nowadays, and she’s swooning at the thought of it. “It’s an open deck night tonight, which is a community event that gives Nowadays fans and other DJs in the community the chance to spin tracks on the soundsystem,” she explains when we connect in early October. “Everyone only gets 15 minutes, but that goes by in a second.”

The 36-year-old artist became a Nowadays resident in 2022, and is surrounded by concentric rings of community in New York, where she has been based since 2018. As well as her Nowadays family, she’s part of Queens-based label Kindergarten Records which houses artists like Despina, Sobolik and founder Ma Sha. Speaking from her apartment in Ridgewood, Queens, which is filled with plants and natural light, Ayesha describes Kindergarten more as a tight-knit group than a label, with collaboration spawning naturally from hanging out and sharing ideas. “When you’re friends, you influence each other sonically and exchange ideas with one another,” she says. “It’s that cross-pollination among people who genuinely like each other that is the core of the Kindergarten effect.”

On a wider scale, both Kindergarten and Ayesha are figureheads in the growing Brooklyn bass scene that includes other crews such as SLINK, Groovy Groovy and False Peak and is creating some of the most inventive and mutant sound design in club music today. Ayesha’s own 'Potential Energy' was a breakthrough moment for the scene in 2021, a psychedelic piledriver with contorting electro swirls and percussion that is both booming and hot-footed. Her debut album 'Rhythm Is Memory', fittingly released via Kindergarten, pushes further in the direction of brain-rewiring sounds and rhythmic intensity.

We spoke to Ayesha about her process for forging new sounds for the album, her time spent clubbing in London during the late noughties, and her Goa trance-inspired mix.

There’s a real sense of community at Nowadays. What’s the atmosphere like in there?

It’s unlike any nightlife space that I had ever been to. The lighting design is so forward-thinking, not like any dancefloor visually. It’s a place that’s very intentional about creating a music-centred experience with [rules like] no photography and videos on the dancefloor. I’ve never been to a club that had so much to experience based on your mood. If you wanna dance and zone into a DJ set, you can, but if you wanna be outside on the patio, they also have DJs playing out there all night. They have turntablists and hammocks and bonfire pits and a bar, so it’s a pick-your-own-adventure.

Coming out of COVID, everyone was questioning the “headliner” model and thinking about how the survival and evolution of nightlife would be locally rooted. My residencies feel like safe spaces for me to experiment and test out WIPs because I feel like I have a special relationship with the folks who come out to see me. I think that’s because of a combination of Nowadays building residencies where people come and are ready to go wherever the DJ takes them, and the club valuing DJs who push boundaries. It’s been a very gradual growing of a relationship between me and the dancefloor there and with that has come a greater sense of more confidence and trust in the room.

You’ve said that you’ve been living under a rock trying to make 'Rhythm Is Memory'. How would you describe the process looking back now?

I feel very relieved. The entire arc of the record could be traced over two years, but the intense work of finishing the record was over the period of a year. During that year, I felt the weight of committing to the format of an album. Ten tracks. Ma Sha had a vision for this, and putting out an album on your good friend’s label, those are great circumstances. I can’t imagine putting out my first album with a label that was on the other side of the world and I didn’t have emotional support from.

Is there a specific reason why you wanted it to be 10 tracks? Was it just a nice, round number?

It felt round, but also I started getting paid to DJ in 2013, and I thought there was some strange symmetry there. I didn’t want to have it feel like a cliche, and I don’t want to overstate time as a necessary factor in other people’s journeys, but for me, I’ve experienced so much growth in this decade. It only felt right to stamp that with something.

You’re a shining example of someone who has been more patient with their rise. Pharrell made 'Frontin’' when he was 30!

Preach! This is what I want this soapbox that I stand on to be: take the time you need. I sometimes have that critical voice in my head that says I’m not moving fast enough - no one is insusceptible to that in a noisy industry. I can’t help but move at the pace that I’ve been moving at. A hard part about finishing the record was that I was not taking up opportunities and wasn’t working on any other records. It was hard to commit to that choice [at times].

Read this next: How to have the perfect 24 hours in New York City

Your Instagram story always seems to have clips of you sharing new sounds you’ve been experimenting with. What sort of sounds do you find exciting?

Lately? Very squelchy sounds and very resonant sounds. I’m hearing a lot of inspiration in music released on Voam, or by Piezo or Henzo, and taking note of sound and textures that I find really appealing to me visually, and how I can design my sounds to be visceral in that way. Not necessarily imitating, but pushing the limits of my sound design to hit the body. Sounds for the body, that’s what I strive for.

I notice a lot of bubbly and watery sound effects in your work. Are you a water sign?

I am, I’m a Pisces! I’ve always loved water as an element and how it is embodied in dance music. It’s a very soothing sound and there are so many ways you can represent it musically. I heard Ariel Zetina’s music from about two or three years ago that had some nice water sign energy and watery textures as well. I did a track called 'Downpour' and I remember it was so easy and intuitive to make a track inspired by water. I recorded a [Roland] Juno in the studio, and as I was designing and stretching some of those sounds, it was flowing. I also released a track called 'Swim' on Fever AM

'The Club is a Sea' as well…

Yes! I don’t think I have a literal intention to have water be a motif but it inevitably is because it’s just within me.

You spent time in London in 2007-08 and witnessed such an incredible time for club music and it’s still rippling today. Did it feel like that at the time?

During that time, I was going to so many parties that I just became obsessed with these different subcultures in dance music. I was a student there - if anything, I was hoping that this moment would be defining for me academically! A lot of the students in my cohort were into indie dance: Phoenix, Klaxon, Foals, Hot Chip, Chromeo and Cut Copy. I was really into Ed Banger, bands that did DJ sets like Bloc Party, Simian Mobile Disco, Switch, MSTRKRFT, A-Trak, Diplo, Kid Sister, Santigold, Dim Mak Records, Crookers, Bloody Beetroot, Boy 8-Bit, Boyz Noize. Dubstep, bassline, garage and grime in that time, too. This collision of different genres.

Did it feel like it was separate subcultures or did it all feel connected?

It was all connected to me because I was just a child, in a sense. I didn’t have an analysis of the nuances of the different subcultures, I was just showing up to parties and had an idea of the vibes of different venues. I experienced this explosion of different styles of electronic music all at one time and it shaped me in ways I had no knowledge of. There’s something to be said about seeds being planted.

I definitely knew when I left London that I was now a ‘head’, and had pride in having a lexicon when it comes to who’s out there; who’s making what; what parties are happening; what are the scenes; what’s in my library; what have I found from digging that I can show other people.

Read this next: THE BEST 13 MID-2000S DUBSTEP TRACKS

Yung Singh is playing Nowadays on Saturday. How much of an impact do you think Daytimers have had in bringing South Asian sounds into dance music?

Huge. Of course, we have to give credit to the [‘90s] Asian underground movement in the UK. It was a hybrid moment for South Asian and electronic music, in particular downtempo and lounge stuff, with artists like Talvin Singh.

But Daytimers are instrumental in the articulation of South Asian club music today, right now. And I give credit to that because it’s hard work to love where you come from as a South Asian. To love yourself in this way. I see it as a self-love project because we are a people that are still recovering from colonialism in many ways. I still have days where I still have that self-hatred that might be rooted more deeply and historically in ways that I haven’t thought about. It’s that deeper work of believing in the sounds and culture that you come from and believing that it has a place in dance music today.

Could you tell me more about your In Session mix?

This is a primal after-hours mix. It’s very percussive, drum-heavy, at-moments psychedelic and has some old Goa trance gems in there. I have been loving all the curiosity around trance music [lately], in particular the more psytrance and Goa trance stuff. My parents live in Goa and I’ve been going since I was eight years old. Every year, there’s a big multi-day psytrance festival there called Hill Top festival. Now I’m seeing the crossover of this iconic trance music and that makes me very interested in expressing that side of myself more in my music.

Ayesha's debut album 'Rhythm is Memory' comes out via Kindergarten Records on November 3, pre-order it here

Nathan Evans is a freelance music journalist, follow him on Twitter

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