Total Freedom"No one really wants to be comfortable. I take that back. People are excited by being made uncomfortable."
Interview by Asher Penn
Portrait by Liz Rywelski
Portrait by Liz Rywelski
In the midst of a boom in dance music culture, Ashland Mines, aka TOTAL FREEDOM, stands out. While fulfilling the civic duties any active DJ today- parties, mix tapes and remixes - Mines' output has eschewed convention and genre in favor of new sounds and experiences. Coming to electronic music via experimental noise, Mines approach is dictated by his moniker- exploration, discovery and freedom.
How did you first get into music?
I grew up playing music. I grew up with instruments.
What kind of instruments did you play?
All the kids in my family learned stringed instruments--the Suzuki method. I played cello. Everybody in my family played something like that.
Did you guys ever play together?
Where are you from?
I grew up in New Jersey. I moved to the Seattle area with my family when I was like 16.
Did you go to Olympia and Yoyoagogo?
Yeah I would take the bus.
That was a really good time for that stuff.
Yeah, it was. I was happy when I moved out there. In Jersey, I lived in the country- it was like suburban borderline rural. I had to do a whole lot of shenanigans to go to any show. To see a band or go buy records, it was just difficult. Then I moved to this college town in Washington, there were a few record stores, a few all ages venues. I was so happy to be around that. I had also grown up thinking K records was really cool so I was really happy to be able to access that easily.
I went to some great parties there. House parties with a live band in a living room. Everybody would dance. The scene was really good on a social level.
I would agree for sure.
How did you end up in Chicago?
I went to Chicago on vacation just to visit and never went back. Chicago was way more fun than Seattle.
Were you going to college at the time?
Did you start DJing in Chicago?
I had been playing a bit already.
What were you playing?
I was just playing whatever was cool at the time. I played a lot of weird American folk stuff and noise. That was my general area.
Where would you play?
I worked forever to get DJ gigs. It was like at a show between bands or at a restaurant during brunch. I played at precisely one nightclub in Chicago the whole time I was there. I would put on shows on a small scale whenever I had friends in town that needed a place to play.
There is still an element of noise music when you DJ.
When I started DJing I played noise stuff all the time. Later on it wasn’t a decision to keep it around... it just happened naturally. The the world developed, there were new things I had never heard before that were exciting to me, and I started playing them in addition to other sounds that were interesting to me.
What were the new sounds?
Just stuff I found on the internet. For a while I didn’t know what the internet really was, as far as music was concerned. I didn’t know how to use Soul Seek and Napster really at all. I wasn’t really diving in terms of mining data off the internet. When I finally figured out what the internet was what I saw were all these different access points to music that I had previously never heard of, never seen. That was really exciting to me in 2005, 2006.
Were you sharing your sounds too?
I was participating but only because I felt like it was good karma to do that. I still don’t think anyone has really downloaded anything from those places that I used to publish.
I remember seeing you in one of Ryan Trecartin’s films. How did you meet?
I met Ryan, Rhett and Lizzie by accident at a leather bar. We got along really great, and then they moved to Philly. We kept in touch in terms of being friends and also collaborating a little bit. Eventually they moved back to LA.
I’ve always felt there were aesthetic parallels between your music and Ryan’s.
I am definitely a fan of the music that Ryan makes and the music that Lizzie Fitch makes. I wish there were correlations between our aesthetics that way. I just don’t think I am on the same plane at all. Ryan’s a jazz musician and I am a trash picker.
Was Wildness your first night in Los Angeles?
It wasn’t Wildness but Wildness was the first one I cared about at all.
I just made a lot of choices along the way. Generally before that it was roll down a hill and see what it ends up like. I made choices about who I was doing it with and where and what the goals were for the experience that people would have in there. And it worked.
What were the goals?
We just wanted to give something that made sense in the space- worked with what the space was already giving off. Something that anyone would want to come to but no one would feel completely comfortable and like.
Why not completely comfortable?
No one really wants to be comfortable. I take that back. People are excited by being made uncomfortable.
What was the music like?
We were all playing a lot of stuff and playing at the same time. Me and the other regular DJ’s, Asma and Daniel. I would always bring lots of whatever electronics and stuff to play over the set as much as possible.
It was a weekly party right? I’ve always heard that is really hard to do.
It was a struggle every week. We would walk out of there with $20, and half the time some of us were like, “what the fuck are we doing?” But it was free and the drinks were cheap. We wanted it to be free. For everyone.
How did it change over time?
Well, it became popular. There were too many people there, which was really good for the bar and really fun for us but really different than how it had started out...which was a lot of fog and 5 people in the room and me and the other DJs being really weird.
What was Grown?
Grown was like the opposite of Wildness. Wildness stopped really abruptly in a way we didn’t plan--it landed on us. I had already planned on doing this new weekly thing. Grown was just a different environment. Different clientele and different management style. It was a jazz club that was really comfortable and cozy. It was sedated and comfortable and chatty--like a party that was based around having conversations and cute girls. That was the idea. Come and talk to cute girls or feel like a cute girl.
That sounds fun. What kind of music would you play?
Classic house. It was all inspired by Zane Reyolds aka SFV Acid. He would bring his equipment and play live occasionally if I could force him into it. Then I would DJ and he would DJ. He had these 2 friends that would come and DJ every week-- really intense vinyl head teenagers. That was that vibe.
What year was this?
2010 I think.
How has the scene for parties like that changed in LA since you have been there?
I am the wrong person to ask. I don’t have a lot of space in my brain and I can’t pay attention to anything unless my friends are doing it or I am doing it really.
I would say things really intensely changed for a large group of people, not just my friends and not just people directly, when the bar where Grown was closed. Basically, everything in LA closes at 1:45 AM and that’s kind of the time everyone wants to go to bed here anyway–it’s special to stay up till 6 AM on a weeknight. You could smoke there... it was kind of lawless but also really clean. Miki’s place was insane, it felt like another planet. I am sure there is nothing like that going on at all. Once that place closed droves of people had to replace that with something. I have no idea what it is, but cokeheads have to go somewhere.
How did you get involved in Mustache Mondays?
I heard from a friend that there was this new party downtown that we should check out. I ended up going by myself. I saw this stripper I thought was really cute and I thought “Shit, I need to work here.” I found out who was managing the party and asked him if I could DJ. I started DJing there every week. That slowly turned into me sideways booking people even though it wasn’t my party.
So it kind of became a hub.
It is the hub for sure. I have to go there tonight. It has been five and a half years that I have been going there every week that I’m in town. It’s also the club where I learned to DJ the way I DJ today.
What did you learn?
I learned to beat match and play dance music for people who want to dance. That was not something I understood or even thought about before really. I definitely got that idea from Telfar. He got me booked for some show with him, the first night at Santos I think. Before that point I would play electronic stuff but never in a way you would assume a DJ does. I didn’t know anything at all about mixing and putting beats together at all.
Whenever I see you play it always feels like a really different set time.
Oh my god, please print that. My biggest fear ever is that people will see me playing and say he’s playing the same set he played last week. I have never prepared a set ever, but sometimes something cool will happen by accident, and will end up doing it every time I play for months. I am always terrified that someone is going to clock me on that.
You don’t prepare for your sets at all?
I try to always have new music to play but I don’t put together a set list or anything.
How much time do you spend looking for music?
At the moment, none. I’m so old and bored by the idea of looking through files on the internet that some teenagers threw up there. I have been doing that so long. Everything I play now is something my friend made or something my friend found and gave me... or something that came from the time I spent on the internet in 2006. I can’t tell, maybe I am in a phase. I think sometimes it is not the right way to act, given my job.
You think that a DJ should be constantly looking for new music?
I am a DJ that doesn’t really make music, so, yeah, I am supposed to be digging. In 2013 I haven’t like, for instance, looked for any new hip hop. It is just not there, I can’t do it.
No new obscurities.
Nothing, not even anything obscure. I don’t even know. Maybe the springtime will bring it out.
I remember your Opening Ceremony mix. You had this Youtube video of this girl singing acapella and you filled it out with beats. I thought it was a really cool way to make music.
That particular song was this B-celebrity, Teyanna Taylor. I am a huge fan of hers. That was something she recorded one morning when she woke up or something. It’s cool that we all have access to those ridiculously private experiences and productions. Dealing with that kind of material is kind of a new thing. I mean, it’s not that new anymore, but it’s still kind of new.
Have you always loved nightclubs?
I don’t know about always, but I definitely do. I see no end in that. It’s like this big mix of different emotions my brain is driven to by being in just the simplest most basic club. Like, just a fog machine and some rotating light, some darkness and a speaker. There is a lot to think about, a lot for my brain to play with.