PHOTO: DANIEL PINEDA
Ashland Mines, better known as DJ Total Freedom, is considered by most underground sources to be the best DJ in Los Angeles—and probably, at this point, in the United States. In LA, he has organized three notorious club nights to date: Mustache Mondays, GROWN, and WILDNESS, the latter of which was recently the subject of an award-winning documentary by Mines’s longtime collaborator, Wu Tsang. As a founding member of the Fade to Mind music label and creative team, he has worked with an extremely wide spectrum of artists, musicians, and tastemakers, ranging from Nguzu Nguzu to Ryan Trecartin to Gang Gang Dance and Jonny Mandabach. The show Mines curated last month at New York’s Suzanne Geiss gallery, entitled “Blasting Voices,” was a testament to this collaborative spirit. With the help of Thunder Horse video, Mines developed an overcompensated stage for solo sound performance, then gave free reign of the gallery to nearly 30 performers throughout July. The project will continue to develop this month, with an affiliated double LP dropping Sept. 1.
On the occasion of Mines’ 30th birthday, we met at his balloon-filled suite in the Standard Hotel, New York. Upon his insistence, the entire interview was conducted while he took a lengthy, albeit thought-provoking, shower.
BEN NOAM: How would you describe yourself and what you do?
ASHLAND MINES: I make environments for humans—fish tanks where fishes can be happy and well fed. Usually this translates into club environments. That’s where human beings often turn to when they’re looking for immediate satisfaction or an escape from the mediocrity of their day-to-day fish tanks. They want to go to someplace crazy and new; the club is just that for me.
NOAM: I have always found it incredible that you attract people to your club nights from vast distances across Los Angeles—all the while you yourself don’t drive a car, or use a cell phone. You just somehow mysteriously appear at a club 20 miles from your home, complete with all your heavy gear and the crowds gathered, ready to go.
MINES: It’s a magical situation.
NOAM: The show you recently organized at Suzanne Geiss Gallery is just coming down. Can you describe the evolution of the “Blasting Voice” project?
MINES: I was working on a song, and I wanted it to start with a poem. The line “Blasting Voice” was a big part of the poem, and then it began to grow. It came to me in a stream-of-conscious kind of way.
NOAM: After you finished the poem, you were asked to put together a double LP that you are calling Blasting Voice for Teenage Teardrops label—right?
MINES: Teenage Teardrops is a punk label in LA, run by Cali DeWitt, who I love to death. He asked me “to put together a compilation of ‘my scene.'” He was thinking of Wildness, like dance music, as my “scene.” It’s like, that music isn’t a scene, it doesn’t even exist! [laughs] The music I play, generally, is made by 15-year-old kids in Portugal that I don’t know and who don’t give a shit about me. But I was like, “Yes, I would love to put something together.”
Basically, I think what he really wanted was a dance compilation—but it’s going to be a really amazing compilation of electronic artists, many of whom performed at the gallery over the past month. It’s going to be really experimental, and it will be released September 1.
NOAM: Have you worked in an art context before the show at Suzanne Geiss?
MINES: I’ve done environmental work with other galleries and museums before, but never to this scale. Never with someone being like “What do you want to do?” and not asking any questions about it, and just letting it happen. That’s never happened before. In the past, I’ve had to compromise a lot on the vision, and this experience has been 100% no compromise. To the point where I’ve been like, “Wait, what? Like, I actually just get to do what I want to do? Really?”
NOAM: How did you choose the artists and performers you curated into the show?
MINES: I curated it based on my belief in everyone involved and their voice. Whatever type of way they use their voice, I really believe in these people’s brains, the way they work, and how they amplify that into the world in different ways. For some people, I knew they would never choose to stand in front of an audience, but I just knew that they could or they should. So I gave them my vote of confidence.
NOAM: Why did you put such an emphasis on solo performance?
MINES: I made a point of making the show about solo performance and not about collaborative work at all. That was based in part on wanting to get out of the club for a moment. Thinking about the club as this experience that provides an escape but at its essence is an egotistical place. From start to finish, getting ready to go to the club, getting yourself ready to be seen, and then going to the club and being seen, and seeing yourself being seen. All within these small controlled environments: low ceilings, veils of fog, moving shadows, and colored lights; it’s really all about feeling yourself letting go.
NOAM: Letting yourself go, but being aware that other people are seeing you let yourself go.
MINES: Yeah, exactly. I am interested in the difference between that kind of egotistical club escape and the escape of going to a football game or a rock concert at a stadium. It is similar, but you lose yourself into spectatorship, and not into this smaller self-involved place. You lose yourself into being on the outside of this one spectacle, and you’re part of this huge group of people who are all focused on that one thing.
NOAM: So you want to turn a single performer into something akin to an Olympic athlete or a full-blown spectacle?
MINES: Athletes or, more like, Beyonce! [laughs] That these people could be strong enough or be bright enough of a light—or loud enough of a voice to fill a whole stadium. The project is basically about that.
NOAM: Does this somehow reflect your own creative transition into more of a solo artist?
MINES: I always feel like—even just eating a sandwich by myself, “Why am I eating this sandwich? Where are my friends?” You know? I want everything to be a collaborative family affair, and, I have something in my head [that] tells me that it’s unhealthy. I wanted to focus on solo performers and solo producers because that’s something I don’t fully understand. I’m always really impressed by people that are just off on their own and not affiliated and don’t care.
NOAM: I am really excited to see what the next stage of the project will be.
MINES: Yeah, we’ve been talking about doing it in some really crazy places! I’m excited about the possibility of developing it further and making it into more and more of a substantial piece. I also mean that it will become more and more of a flexible thing too.
NOAM: How will you apply what you have learned from these solo performances to your own work?
MINES: In Octobr, I am going alone on a big tour throughout Europe. I am going to take a little hint from all these solo performers—”You can just eat by yourself up there”—and just do it.
THE BLASTING VOICES DOUBLE LP IS OUT SEPTEMBER 1. FOR MORE ON ASHLAND MINES, VISIT HIS FACEBOOK PAGE.