The Nguzunguzu and Future Brown member collides everything from P.O.D. to Rae Sremmurd to Total Freedom in her frenetic Dazed Mix
When I saw Asma Maroof, aka Asmara, back in June, she was manning the decks for an epic, non-stop, four-hour set in the bowels of the Sydney Opera House. True to form, the DJ’s Opera House debut was unconventional and entirely unpredictable, her set ranging from hip hop, hard dancehall, bashment, and Afrobeats all the way through to nostalgic reggae in the form of tracks like Wayne Wonder’s classic “No Letting Go”. When I next catch up with her, the atmosphere is much calmer. But, as one half of esoteric electronic duo Nguzunguzu and a member of Future Brown, Asmara hasn’t exactly been taking it easy this summer. “I'm just finishing my EP right now, maybe even adding some more tracks. I'm in that zone of figuring it out,” she explains from her home in LA.
Along with working on her upcoming record, the last few months have also seen the musical polymath tour Australia, celebrate her Fade To Mind label’s fifth anniversary, play a GHE20G0TH1K warehouse party alongside Venus X, and cut a mix for the MAMI exhibition at New York’s Knockdown Center. Her summer schedule hasn’t stopped there, however. In August, Asmara will be playing at the Sound Museum Video Tokyo for another Fade To Mind celebration. It’s a heavy workload by anyone’s standards, but she’s still found time to commit herself to causes close to her heart. “I've been kinda derailed by the stuff going on in the States, all the shootings,” she says, “I've been going out to the Black Lives Matter protests back to back.” Alongside her undeniable talent, it’s this frenetic energy and willingness to speak out and be involved that sets her apart from so many other artists.
We caught up with the prolific DJ to talk about maintaining her underground legacy and how her beliefs drive her creativity as she delivers a twisted nu-metal Dazed Mix. “I totally went in a whole different direction to stay interested, since I’ve been doing a lot of mixes lately,” Asmara says of the mix, “This one is based of of this viral Vine.”
How do you reconcile being an ‘underground’ artist with being booked to play venues like the Sydney Opera House?
Asmara: I’m not trying to be one of those DJs that you see fitting into that whole world of what a DJ should be, or what the big DJs are doing – I don’t really fit that criteria, so the idea of being underground just works for me. I wouldn’t say the style that I have, or that my crew has, is necessarily what it entails to be ‘underground’. There’s many different ways to skin a cat! But I’m happy with that. It’s what's most natural to me and I like to stay true to that so I can keep it interesting and cool.
How do you maintain your signature style?
Asmara: Honestly, I just do the same thing in every space because otherwise I get anxiety before I play. Sometimes if you haven’t been to the country before, you worry – like ‘oh shit, are these people not going to get it if I play this or that?’ It's the same thing if I play grime in America – maybe it doesn’t go off as much as when I play grime in Europe or even Australia. Regardless of the space, regardless of whether people know it or not, I like to play what I play. I want people to hear something new. That’s always what excited me about the club in general or any space – it's about learning something new. In any aspect of life it's cool to try new things as a listener and as a performer. I never really have my set prepared, I have my tracks but I have random ones that happen to go in a certain direction. Or I stumble across a song where I’m like ‘oh yeah’! I never know which path I’m going down, but that's what keeps it exciting no matter where I am.
“Regardless of the space, regardless of whether people know it or not, I like to play what I play” – Asmara
There have been a lot of renewed discussions about women in electronic music the past few years. How do you feel about that?
Asmara: I just love it. It makes me really happy. In general, more women DJing is exciting because when I first started there weren’t many women. Fortunately I’m from Maryland, and one of the biggest radio DJs, K-Swift, was also in Baltimore. She was very inspirational for me coming into this field and just knowing that women can do it. Honestly, I very much felt like it was a boys’ club and I didn’t feel that welcome. It’s different now and it’s cool. Hearing people like Chippy Nonstop starting stuff and teaching more women how to DJ? Personally, I love it.
But there's also an element of fetishing women. I’m usually pretty sceptical if it’s a man organising an all-female party – I’d rather know who it is before I get involved. There’s definitely been instances where I’ve been booked to do something like that and it’s just been like ‘Oh yeah! Women!’ It’s this thing of them just booking you because you're a woman and you're cute rather than what you play. I don't want to be booked just because I’m a woman. I like to call it how it is and I think that’s bullshit. I think I’m just sceptical of the Paris Hiltons in the game, you know what I mean?
How does being part of an exciting creative community of women inspire your work?
Asmara: I’m so glad you can see that from the outside. As much as we can, we like to work together and encourage each other. Kelela is overseas now, but we keep in contact as much as possible. The same with Fatima (Al Qadiri) and Manara. It’s really inspiring to see how other artists grow. I’m pretty shy with sharing my music, but Fatima is always like ‘You gotta play it for me!’ It just feels good to have a team of women around me and I feel fortunate to have them. Venus has been amazing too. She’s making a safe space for all of us with GHE20G0TH1K. She’s really building this empire. It’s really so great to have a platform where we know it’s going to be family. It’s very exciting for me to watch and I hope we continue to grow and get better and work together, because all of these women inspire me so much. I love working with them.
“I’m not a reclusive artist. I’m a really sensory person so I’m inspired by the people around me, my surroundings, the things I hear” – Asmara
How necessary is it to have that support network?
Asmara: Oh, it’s five billion percent necessary! Everyone is different, but there’s something so important about having that community. No disrespect to men! I’m also very inspired by the men in my life and it’s important to have the balance, but if I only had men surrounding me it would be a totally different story. Working with women is so much easier. There are definitely changes happening in the industry. It’s becoming quite fashionable, which is both good and bad. I don’t think it’s a drastic change – more a slow burn. I’d definitely like to see things change more and see a shift in that paradigm, but I think it will get there and women will continue to thrive and come into the music-making field.
How important is it for you as an individual to engage with things like Black Lives Matter?
Asmara: I wish I were more active as an activist or a leader. I want to do more and sometimes I feel frustrated and limited by what I can do. I don’t know why I do it, but it just comes from passion. With Mustache Mondays (a queer party held in LA every Monday where Asmara is resident) it just happened through community and meeting people. That’s what means the most to me. It’s just being surrounded by good, amazing, inspiring people. That’s what keeps me going and thriving. I’m not a reclusive artist. I’m a really sensory person so I’m inspired by the people around me, my surroundings, the things I hear. There are artists that can live in the countryside and not really see anyone and work, and while I can definitely be a hermit at times, that’s not me. I want to feel connected and it’s very important to me to have that to continue making art.
01. System of a Down – “Chop Suey!” (acapella)
02. Korn – “Twist”
03. Rihanna – “Pose”
04. Deftones – “My Own Summer”
05. Jam City – “B.A.D.”
06. P.O.D. – “Youth of the Nation”
07. Garbage – “#1 Crush”
08. Rae Sremmurd – “Look Alive”
09. Blink 182 – “Adam’s Song”
10. Total Freedom – “Coyote Wap”
11. Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”
12. NA – “Cellar Theme”
13. Linkin Park – “In The End”