by Nadirah Simmons
Music has always been a part of DJ THEaskasha’s life, citing her parents’ unique and eclectic music tastes as influences for her love of the art form. And a quick look at her upbringing solidifies it as a love indeed. As a child she started playing the violin, and then the piano, before joining a visual performing arts program in the 7th grade, where she sang opera and continued until college.
But by the time she was enrolled at Temple University her hopes of being a voice performance major were crippled by transcript problems and the audition process. She took a different route, pursuing media studies and focusing on radio and audio production. A few years later, armed with a degree and the success of numerous gigs, DJ THEaskasha is flourishing as an open format DJ, visual director and art enthusiast.
She has spun everywhere from New York City to Seattle to Miami, toured twelve cities and counting, and performed alongside Just Blaze, Natasha Diggs, Ivy Sole, Kari Faux, and Bri Steves. At the function THEakasha wants people to engage in free movement with every track she plays.
We talked to the THEakasha about her first time DJing, the bittersweet necessity that is social media, and being private while amplifying her identity as a queer Black woman.
Do you remember the first time you actually DJ’ed?
Yes, I was in a DJ collective in Philly and I was their social media girl. And the plan was for me to be their social media guru and they were going to teach me how to DJ. But it didn’t happen, and they added two guy DJs to the group and they were putting them on and not me. But it ended up working out because one of the DJs they added, Astro 8000, really believed in me.
He has a chain of parties called ‘Astronaut Status’ he asked me to open one of the very first ones with a DJ set. The venue only paid him $50 for the night but he paid me $20 and he thanked me for holding him down. He said, “You’re worth getting paid for your craft. Go get that shit.” He gave me my first chance, my first gig.
And now you DJ all the time. What is that feeling like for you?
No matter how tired I am before a set or what struggle I went through to get there, it’s euphoric. It’s this weird unshakable confidence, almost like a freedom!
My biggest goal as a DJ is to encourage free movement. It’s the most natural and healthy thing you can do with your body. Babies engage in it when they leave the womb, but the older we get the less and less comfortable people feel putting themselves in situations where they can engage in free movement…I want the people at [these events] to move freely too. It’s a form of self-care.
Was it hard for you to create your own style to stand out amongst a large pool of people?
That is actually something I’m just now finding to be a challenge. When I was starting out three years ago it was like “okay, I don’t expect to have a big crowd. I want to DJ under people.” But now I’m in a whole new market. I think if I would have stayed in Philly it would’ve been a lot easier to collaborate with people.
But New York is a whole different monster. People will pay you but venues already have their DJs-whether they suck or not. They care about the bar sales being up to par. So me coming to them with my EPK, if I haven’t already built something massive myself or if I can’t bring them more numbers than they’re already doing, they’re not interested.
It’s been challenging and it used to discourage me, but now it motivates me. It’s not just about being on the hottest gig-even though I want to be on those-but also the wave I created for myself.
That’s always the best way to go! One thing that you said that stuck out to me is that venues will have DJs that suck [laughs]. What is a bad DJ to you?
I would define a bad DJ as someone that doesn’t care about the technical skill of being a disk jockey. A DJ that cannot blend records. A DJ that does not care to beat match. I’m not perfect, but you can’t play something at 82 and then cut to a song that’s 115. And some people can get that off and it sounds good. But the crowd feels it when you don’t care about blending or creating a vibe.
When it comes to promoting yourself, we are in an age that is dominated by social media. How important has social media been to you to brand and promote yourself?
I know a lot of DJs that have been in the game ten plus years and have social media because they have to, but their fanbase is organic. It’s real life. I admire the DJs that don’t have to rely on social media. But I also know because I’m a millennial and because of the connections I have, I need it. If it was up to me I would just have a website, but it’s helped me network and get so many of the opportunities I’ve had so far.
Like Twitter for example. I’ve been on it since 2009 and I have seen it transform into such a bitter, evil, hateful place. No matter who I’m following or not following I feel like after a while I get sucked into that. Then you feel like you can’t unfollow certain people because this is how this person gauges our relationship. Or not following someone can ruin a business relationship.
Then you’ll see all of these popping DJs that you look up to and admire and you’ll feel pressured to keep up with what they’re doing. Social media is a real bittersweet thing.
It really is, which is so sad. You can log off or unplug to get away from it, but when you do log back in you’re bound to see something that isn’t positive.
It’s so crazy that you say that. None of that stuff is real, it’s the Internet. But then people will allow that to influence their real lives.
How important is your identity to you within the world of music?
I’m a Scorpio and I am a very private person. I identify as a queer Black woman, and my Blackness is always something I’m going to be loud about. But I grew up in a family where sexuality wasn’t important. Like if I say “I’m gay” they would say “ew we don’t want to know who you’re sleeping with! That’s your business, you’re grown!” It’s a part of my identity and something I’m proud of. I’ll continue to place myself in places around people with similar identities that I can commune with.
As far as me and the world? My identity isn’t important to the world. But they’ll know it and I won’t allow myself to be misidentified-all the way down to how my name is spelled.
Listen to “tee time” below, a five-part mix series of “blended music for lovers in all stages.”