DJ Ash Lauryn’s dance music essentials

Words by Ash Lauryn
Illustrations by Luci Pina

From the start of her house music journey in Detroit to the festivals, DJs and films that inspire her, Ash Lauryn explores her relationship to the genre’s Black roots

If you listened to one of Ash Lauryn’s mixes without any context, you might think it was a recording of a house set from 30 years ago. The Detroit native and Atlanta-based artist’s sonic palette pays tribute to the history of the genre – think classics by Roy Ayers, Larry Heard and Norm Talley – while weaving in sounds from a new generation of Black artists. “Black music is what resonates most with my soul,” says Ash. “And I think it’s important that this music be embraced and played as much as possible.”

In 2017, she created her blog, Underground & Black, as a way to further preserve the Black origins of dance music. It’s a treasure trove for anyone wanting to dig into the roots of electronic music: you’ll find references to Detroit’s first techno club, and more formative cornerstones interspersed with Ash’s personal reflections and honest takes on the state of modern dance music. 

Even though the blog has been relatively quiet over the last few years, Ash has expanded its central tenet into a party series and monthly NTS show of the same name. Here, exclusively for DICE, she shares the places, people and sounds that have shaped her understanding of dance music. 


Agave was a trendy Mexican restaurant and bar in Midtown Detroit where my journey in house music began. I’d previously been to a few raves with my older sister, but stepping foot into Agave was a turning point for me: the start of my house head era. On Sunday nights, they featured the Detroit Beatdown crew, which consists of DJs Mike Clark, Delano Smith, and Norm Talley – all local icons, then and now. The music was soulful, deep and full of life. A few tracks I became familiar with at Agave I later found, purchased, and began to use in my DJ sets. What I loved about Agave was how authentic it was – nothing felt forced. Just a few tables pushed to the side, and as nighttime hit, people would slowly make their way to the dancefloor. My sister and I became somewhat known at the time, as we were usually the first to break the ice for everyone else who wanted to cut a rug. Sundays at Agave were where I fell in love with house music and the art of dancing freely to it – and that’s what makes its legacy so crucial to my story.


The Sound Table

My first experience at the Sound Table – which once stood at 483 Edgewood Ave in the Old Fourth Ward section of Atlanta – was a first (and last) date. Little did I know how this intimate space would shift my trajectory as an artist and DJ. 

The Sound Table was a restaurant that served up small plates and hand-crafted cocktails, and morphed into a dance club at night. Over time, it became an institution for Atlanta nightlife and high-quality music. My first DJ residency, Expressions, which I held alongside Stefan Ringer, took place at the Sound Table bi-monthly. As a working DJ, having a residency at some point in your career is important, and I took a lot of pride in this event and what it offered our local community. It allowed me to hone my skills and showcase the musical education I received growing up in Detroit.  

Without a doubt, those early days at the Sound Table helped me get to the point of playing clubs around the world. The beloved space closed in 2020, and since then, there’s been a void on Edgewood Ave and in our local music scene – yet the memories live on.


Kai Alcé and NDATL Muzik

I’ve never been good with picking favourites, but when asked who my favourite DJ is or who inspires me musically, I am quick to reference Kai Alcé, who also happens to be from Detroit and is currently based in Atlanta. Kai runs a successful deep house label called NDATL Muzik, which has released records from the likes of Larry Heard and Mike Huckaby. Like many of Atlanta’s music elite, Kai held a residency at the Sound Table and is also a resident DJ at House in the Park festival. He also throws one of the best annual parties, Deep Detroit, every Movement Festival weekend in Detroit – and this year I had the honour of being one of his guests alongside Delano Smith. 

Kai’s DJ sets tell the story of house music, and he always knows how to effortlessly set the tone, often not going past the 125 BPM mark. Kai and NDATL’s distinct sounds influenced me heavily as I started on my path, and as a result I am very much a deep house DJ with an affinity for the more jazzy, warm and sophisticated side of things.

Movement Detroit Festival

Movement Detroit, formerly known as Detroit Electronic Music Festival, began in 2000 and has thrived ever since. It takes place downtown every Memorial Day weekend at Hart Plaza, and brings music fans from around the world to the birthplace of techno. As a native, I had the rare opportunity to attend the festival as a teenager when it was still called DEMF. As an adult, I’ve gone every year since 2011 – the year I first got the idea to start DJing. 

Going from being a fan to DJing on the main stage last year was a full-circle moment. Movement is a special and important weekend because it’s a designated time for the electronic music community to celebrate Detroit music and our countless contributions to the culture. It’s also one of the longest-running dance music festivals in the world. Whether you want to dance, take a techno tour, or check out an exhibit, Movement Festival and the entire weekend in Detroit is a vital time to be in the city. 

House in the Park

House in the Park festival is what put Atlanta house music on the map. Historically, the American South hasn’t been associated with house music, but this festival changed that narrative. As an avid attendee since 2010, I’ve seen the sheer passion and growth around it – from just a few hundred people to around 10,000 plus in recent years. 

Founded by Chicago native and now Atlanta resident Ramon Rawsoul, the festival hosts resident DJs Kai Alcé, DJ Kemit and Salah Ananse, alongside Ramon. What I love most about House in the Park compared to a lot of other electronic music festivals is that it’s a celebration of not just music, but Black culture, which you see reflected in the fans that attend. House in the Park is where you’ll see some of the most beautiful smiling Black faces, hairstyles, fashions, foods and culture. House heads from Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, New Jersey and more all flock to the ATL Labor Day weekend to get a taste of our Afro, soulful and deep house music. This festival is also special to me because it’s the very first house music event I experienced after moving to Atlanta from Detroit – and it’s what inspired me to start attending Movement in Detroit again. 

High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music

There aren’t many documentary films that tell the story of the creation of techno, but 2006’s High Tech Soul: The Creation of Techno Music is one of the most well-known. It was the first documentary to explore the roots of the music, and the role that Detroit played in it all. I didn’t actually become aware of it until I was living in Atlanta and watched it on YouTube. It blew my mind because even after growing up in metro Detroit, I had no idea of the true origins behind this music, nor the reach and power it possessed on an international level. The film tells the story of Detroit’s Belleville Three – Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson – all of whom are credited with the creation of techno. It also features in-depth interviews with DJs and producers Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills and Carl Craig

I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in knowing the historical roots of techno, and to anyone who mistakenly claims or thinks that techno music is of white/European origin. Black history gets easily forgotten, and it’s important these stories are archived and shared. Honourable mention goes to the more recent documentary, God Said Give Em’ Drum Machines, which also explores the origins of techno music in the Motor City – the film just screened at the Detroit Science Center during this year’s Movement. 

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