Is a DJ a musician? Some say yes; some say no. If you say yes, what happens when the DJ ditches the turntable and kicks on the Serato? Is he or she still a musician? And what about the Pioneer CDJ folks? Or the Apple Core crowd? Are they musicians too?
The question is as old as disco and has been revived at least as many times. The answer is also pretty much moot. What difference does it make if you consider a turntable to be an instrument as long as the person behind it is playing music worth dancing to?
But when it comes to DJ Danny Ashe, that question also becomes superfluous. See, Ashe has been a musician for nearly 20 years. And he also happens to be one of our town's most happening DJs. So there.
Born in Santiago, Chile, and raised right here in stormy South Florida, Ashe has been at it for more time than most folks devote to realizing their lives, let alone their dreams. And never once has he lost faith, either in himself or in the music. Ashe gained his pivotal musical chops as lead singer for the shoegaze-style group Lunabelle, which reigned on our region's stages from 1995 to 2003. A cunning "cross between Spiritualized and the Bunnymen," as Ashe describes it, Lunabelle released two well-received EPs before calling it quits for reasons unknown. Some people insist the group is still missed.
In 2004, Ashe assembled the more electronically minded Marqui Adora and picked up the pace a bit, unleashing both the White Buildings and Don't Panic EPs within a year of each other. And though that band is now on semi-hiatus, Ashe decidedly isn't. He's got a new "throwback" group, Blak Swan, now re-imagining the era ruled by Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine, but "with Iggy Pop's attitude," he says.
Ashe, who studied sound engineering at Miami Dade College and still twiddles the knobs for Southwest Ranches' World Beat Group, also has interests above and beyond the making and playing of music. We're talking about his coursework at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts (from which he's about to graduate) and his freelance graphic design work.
But it's the DJing we're concerned with here, and according to Ashe, it all came about accidentally. The place was Poplife, then at the now-defunct Piccadilly Garden, and kingpin-cum-DJ Aramis Lorie needed a sub. In stepped Ashe, whose taste in indie and classics perfectly fit the occasion. The rest, as they say, was kismet.
It wouldn't be until 2003, though, when Ashe nabbed his first residency, at Jazid, for the party they called Raw. From there it was on to the old Lola and Thursday night's Symposium. And now Ashe resides at both the Vagabond on Fridays, alongside the Sweat set, and the Standard, where he and the Off the Radar contingent handle Wednesday's wildness.
Which brings us back to the moot question about DJs and musicians. Clearly, Ashe's vast amount of action on both sides of the equation puts the cat in a class by himself. But does it resolve the issue? Well, that's on you. There is one thing that's indisputable, though. From the ease in which Ashe segues off the stage and into the booth, to the ways in which his spinning has informed his songwriting, being a musician has certainly benefited Ashe's DJing — and vice versa.
Got doubts? Hit Vagabond's bar room on any given Friday night between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. and hear how Ashe platters some of the best music ever made. You'll lose those doubts quickly. Then again, you'll have to be keen enough to understand that his music-making and mixing are part of the same strain of sound, and that it takes a decided talent to expertly pull off both. Danny Ashe shows that, in the best instances, musicians and DJs are really just one side of the same coin — after it's just been flipped.
DJ Danny Ashe's top five songs for the drive home from the club: