Many artists cite their hometowns as a source of musical inspiration, but for D.C. resident Ayesha Chugh, it was her feeling of rootlessness that fueled her passion for music.
“Most of the time, I think I come from nowhere and everywhere,” said Chugh. “I spent my childhood growing up in very different parts of India and the USA. Because of my disjointed past, I can’t really say I’m from a single city or town, which makes it hard to feel accepted as a local anywhere. I feel like I will always be a cultural outsider in any scene. I think I capture this in my DJ sets and mixes, in terms of the diversity of influences in samples and beats. In my sets you may sense a feeling of rootlessness. There isn’t a single style of music I grew up around that defines my style as a DJ.”
Chugh, who goes by her DJ moniker Ayescold (pronounced “ice cold”), spent most of her childhood moving frequently from city-to-city. One of the few sources of stability in her life was music, and in her free time Chugh taught herself how to play instruments like the piano and guitar. Eventually she began DJing for her friends and family, curating a worldly collection of music that Chugh felt wasn’t getting enough exposure.
“ I wanted to hear more experimental, globally-influenced and forward-thinking music on dance floors in D.C. and the rest of the world,” said Chugh. “I started playing the tunes I wasn’t hearing enough of and wanted to hear more of. These are tunes by emerging producers who we don’t hear enough of. I definitely have a sound or vibe you will feel when I spin, and driving this is a desire to play the tunes that I like.”
After receiving positive feedback from her friends, Chugh took her DJing career one step further and began performing at various bars and clubs in D.C. “Being a woman, I think the barriers to entering the DJ world are definitely subtle,” she said. “When I first started spinning it felt like an asset to be a woman among mostly male DJs, but these benefits pale in comparison to some of the larger challenges I have felt more recently, especially as I more deeply seek legitimacy in a male dominated music scene.”
Chugh notes that the biggest challenge is finding networking resources, which she mentioned are sparse for female DJs. But despite the hurdles she’s faced, it’s Chugh’s unwavering self-confidence that has propelled her rising career.
“Some of my biggest supporters are male DJs, and while I am a woman, I’m aware I exercise privilege over them in other ways. Speaking of privilege, I’m fortunate to be in a situation where, despite all the challenges, I’ve never felt pressure to be, act, look or sound like anybody but myself,” she said. “I’m not sure if this is a kinder city than others (or if it’s me) but I know that these pressures are real for many women in the industry. I know that in the DJ realm it works to my advantage that I am able-bodied, educated and that my sex and gender are on the same page.”
Like her diverse background, Chugh’s music cannot be placed into one category—her tracks range from sexy (“Wild”) to exotic (“Ice Cold”) to introspective (“Underwater Party”), often all within the same song. If anything, the only common theme about Chugh’s work is that it transports the listener to a musical utopia. Travel company El Camino also caught onto this and recently named Chugh as the brand’s official music curator. Not only can Chugh’s music take you mentally to another place, it can literally be the soundtrack to an actual trip.
“Since I already try to approach my sets and mixes as curated experiences, this experience was pretty easy to embrace. On my SoundCloud, I put out mixes for El Camino that [the company] uses to promote trips and the company’s aesthetic. My work with them definitely keeps me thinking globally about my music.”
For next year, Chugh already has several concrete goals in mind that she wants to reach. On top of producing music and performing, she also wants to build a strong DJ collective in the District. Chugh will also start out 2015 with her biggest show yet-performing for the first time at 9:30 Club in February for DCMD’s three year anniversary.
“Now that I have put my ambitions in writing here, I hope I follow through with them.”
Listen to some of Chugh’s work here: