We met up with prominent LA DJ Total Freedom, aka Ashland Mines, in Itaewon ahead of his gig at Cakeshop tonight. Name-checked by many as the best DJ in LA at the moment – Interview Magazine even say the best DJ in the USA – the music curator, party thrower and artist had just touched down in Seoul after being in Tokyo. Here’s what he had to tell us.
Your DJ name is Total Freedom. How does it tie in with the type of music you play?
It was a stream of consciousness. I used to be called something else and then I changed it – I didn’t really think about it at all. I think a lot of things work like that creatively for me, just letting go and seeing where it goes. I always think of the name as being a lie but also a good goal not only for my life as a DJ, but for my life in general, and what I can share with people.
You’re renowned for drawing from several genres when playing – your music is very eclectic. Are there any types of music you wouldn’t play?
Yeah, it’s eclectic. There’s tons of stuff I don’t play that I like a lot. I stick to club music for the most part; music that was made for the club or is referencing the club. 5 or 6 years ago I used to play everything together but at this point it just seems like it would be too gimmicky for me to drop in something like Korean folk music. I try to keep it broad, but focused on club music from anywhere.
I heard about the parties you throw in LA such as Mustache Mondays and Wildness. They sound very experimental. The series that comes up time and time again is Grown: the one where you wouldn’t let people dance.
That party didn’t feel experimental to me at all but people think it was. I was just trying to act as natural as possible with the space: a legendary Japanese jazz club. I wanted to do something that would mirror the atmosphere of the venue so I decided to do a house night where people could sit around and listen to music. It was really successful, mostly because the bar is just this incredible place. It’s so beautiful, lawless, and really a rare space for LA. In LA everything is tame; places close early and everyone follows the rules. This bar didn’t care about any of that. Juxtaposed with being lawless, it was also really quaint – like being at your Grandmother’s house. People would be trying to move tables and trying to dance so I would just turn off the music. Especially because it was an after-hours thing people would get so drunk, y’know? Anytime anyone tried to be wild I would just try to can it. It was a hard battle. Young people are stupid. (laughs).
People make out that it was a really avant garde thing to do. It sounds like it was just you being reasonable!
Well that’s what my vision of it was! People acted like it was insane that I turned the music off. The only thing experimental about it is the same thing that’s experimental about any party I do. I’m concerned about the environment I’m using, which I don’t think many people who throw parties think about. I always have a goal or some kind of thing that is communicative. I like being at just a party sometimes, but sometimes you want to have a thought-process behind it.
What are you going to bring to your set at Cakeshop this Friday night?
I’m curious about what everyone expects because I’ve played abroad a lot and people have different expectations and different standards for when they go out to hear music. I was playing in Tokyo this week and it was really funny to me that there was no way to play the new Beyoncé song and have anyone even care at all. If I was in the States this week it would be the only song I’d have to play. Generally, no matter where I am, do a lot of walking across different territories and borders and playing everything inspiring to me.
You seem to collaborate with people a lot. Who have you enjoyed collaborating with the most?
I’m definitely not ranking anything like that but I think my most consistent collaborators are Nguzunguzu and Wu-Tsang, who I did Wildness with. We had lived and worked together in Chicago and ended up moving to LA at the same time. Wu-Tsang is a multi-platform artist who makes a lot of different work but generally outside of music and Nguzunguzu are also multi-platform artists but are also known for their music, for sure. Over the last ten years we’ve done countless projects and I feel like those relationships are still evolving and we’re still working together in different ways. I just did a performance with Wu in January at the Tate.
What else have you been up to lately?
I just came back home from a European tour, which was entirely booked off Twitter. I was going to London for the show at the Tate and realized I should probably do some touring. SXSW just happened, which was a total nightmare. I hate Texas. No, that’s not true. I love Texas – I just hate Texas during SXSW. Now, I’m trying to get work done while on tour, which is kind of hard when I’m in a city I’ve never been to before and want to look around.
Is there anything you really want to do while you’re in Seoul?
I’ve wanted to come here for a long time because of living in LA. LA is so Korean. Even outside of Koreatown, Korean culture is everywhere and I’m very into it. Before moving to LA I never thought about coming to Seoul, but now it’s been on mind for 8 years. I don’t have a checklist but I’m going to waste some time out here for sure.
Interview by Loren Cotter