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Ayesha’s fascinating rhythm

With the imminent release of her debut LP, ‘Rhythm Is Memory’, New York’s Ayesha goes further than ever in establishing her status as one of the city’s top practitioners of envelope-pushing club music. The Nowadays resident chats with Bruce Tantum about her music, self-doubt, and the similarities between gardening and producing an album

25 minutes into her 20th May set at Nowadays, the New York club where she holds a residency, Ayesha gets on the mic. “All right, you all,” she announces, grabbing the packed club’s attention. “I’m testing out a new track... I don’t know how it’s going to sound on this system, so bear with me. It takes confidence. This is unmastered — so please, hold your judgement.” She needn’t have worried.

The tune sounds fantastic, its pounding kick providing the platform for an oscillating spongiform synth line that feels perfect for the late hour. After a few more minutes, she checks in with the dancers. “You all fucking with it?” she asks, and the crowd cheers. “Alright, alright,” she replies with a mix of happiness and relief. The track, as it turns out, is fittingly called ‘Buzzz’; it serves as the digital bonus on Ayesha’s debut album, ‘Rhythm Is Memory,’ coming out on November 3rd through NYC label Kindergarten Records.

Dancers and fans of forward-thinking electronics have been hip to her production savvy for a while, starting with her self-released debut, 2020’s ‘Let’s Get Visceral’ (which hit the shops just as lockdown kicked in) , and her inaugural Kindergarten release, ‘Natural Phenomena', a subtle and refined percussion number from later that same year. But as good as Ayesha’s earlier releases were, ‘Rhythm Is Memory’ is a revelation. The album is part techno-centric dancefloor workout, part inner-space head trip, defined by creative sound design and arrangements and accented by dollops of hand percussion.

Photo of Ayesha wearing pink eyeshadow and colourful jewellery in front of a large bush of yellow flowers

From the metal-on-metal machine funk of opener ‘Pre-Dawn’, through the frayed-wire drive of ‘Play’ and the tumbling propulsion of ‘Tunnel Visions’, to the spring-powered vibrations of ‘2008’, there’s a broad spectrum of rhythms, yet it retains the cohesive feel of a producer with a vision. “After a wave of releases that were in an experimental, leftfield club space,” Ayesha explains, sitting in her apartment in Ridgewood, Queens, just a short hop from Nowadays, “I was feeling like I needed to go a little deeper and explore sides to my producer self that I hadn’t yet. This record is an object that embodies a moment, a crossroads in my journey as someone trying to hone their voice and trying to branch out.”

Ayesha’s been DJing for a decade, but releasing an album in 2023 wasn’t at the top of her to-do list. It was the urging of Masha Koblyakova, better known as Kindergarten label boss Ma Sha, that gave her the impetus to get started. “I don’t think I would have made a foray into the world of making an album at this point,” she admits, “if it wasn’t for the circumstances of having a really good friend with whom I felt safe collaborating.”

Yet there was still a touch of nagging doubt as to whether she was ready. “Imposter syndrome is real. Self-doubt is real. I wasn’t sure if I was completely up for the task when she approached me with this idea, but I’ve been making music for a while now, and in some sense, I suppose I was ready. But I needed a spark, a bit of a push from someone excited about the idea.”

During the pandemic, Ayesha took up gardening on her apartment’s fire escape. “I love the feeling of consistent rituals and of growing something, and I saw a parallel between that and my creative process. A lot of honing my sound has been the result of sitting down consistently, almost in a ritual sense, over many days, many nights, many weeks, many months, and going back to the same tracks and the same ideas and trying to see them through to the other side. I mean, I know metaphors can sometimes be corny, but I feel like this metaphor is so accurate — the music is sort of like the blossoming of these seeds of ideas that I tended to over a year.” Not coincidentally, the cover of ‘Rhythm Is Memory,’ designed by Georgii Lazarevski (@je_fous_le_camp), depicts a sinuous vine sprouting a brightly-hued array of flowers.

Ten years ago, the idea of Ayesha making an album, or any music at all, might have been far-fetched, as she was on a very different career path, following a peripatetic youth: Chicago, India (twice), California (also twice, the second time for college), then Washington, D.C., where she earned a master’s degree at Georgetown. “I was trying to climb the international development ladder after getting that master’s, which was very much a degree that was meant to equip me to be a practitioner in the field,” she says. “But I was feeling very much like, ‘Oh, my God, why am I here? Where have I landed?’ I have always been very connected to my creative self, and I guess I had this sort of ennui that crept in after grad school in 2012. I was not passionate in any way about where I was and what I was doing.”

Photo of Ayesha wearing pink eyeshadow and colourful jewellery with trees in the background

So Ayesha made the logical (well, perhaps not) choice — she became a DJ, first learning the ropes in her bedroom and posting mixes online, then getting gigs at art openings, in-between bands at DIY shows, and at warehouses, all through friends. The gigs gradually got bigger; thoughts of international development faded. Finally, she made the move from D.C. to NYC in 2018, financed in part by a job at the music-creation platform Splice, where she still works today. She secured her Nowadays residency just last year. “I’d been a lurker at Nowadays since I moved to New York,” she says. “I was so inspired by their vibe and what they were bringing to life in terms of the community — not just through the scene and the culture of Nowadays, but there is a sound to Nowadays, too. When you think about Nowadays residents like DJ Python and Anthony Naples... There’s an energy that very much influenced me when I started releasing music.”

Towards the end of her Nowadays set from May, as rays of light begin to filter down from the skylights, Ayesha once again addresses the crowd. “The sun,” she exclaims with happiness, “is coming up — it’s crazy! Thank you all for still being here, I really appreciate it!” A few minutes later, the music ends and the crowd files out into the light, a day full of beautiful dreams to come.

Want more? Revisit Ayesha’s DJ Mag Fresh Kicks mix and interview here

Bruce Tantum is DJ Mag’s North America editor. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @BruceTantum

Pics: Karla Del Orbe (@karladelorbe)