Back In The Day: Ashes57

A brand new feature on the site, ‘Back In The Day’ finds us speaking to those from the less immediate realms of the music industry about experiences that were instrumental during their formative years. Focusing on those who’ve worked in the fields of design, photography, the visual arts and beyond, we aim to find out about the things that helped these creative people become who they are today. 
Starting off the series is Swamp81 artiste in residence Ashes57. A photographer, illustrator, designer, director and tour manager (to Chicago footwork maestro DJ Rashad), the multi-talented Ashes operates with a unique street level aesthetic that is inextricably bound to the cutting edge music which she works closely alongside. Starting out dabbling in graffiti in her native Metz, France, Ashes earned her big break when she interned under Obey design demi-god Shepard Fairey back in 2004. Working under Fairey taught her to trust in her own vision and abilities, so that when the opportunity to design flyers for Dave Q’s seminal Dub War night arose in 2006, she grabbed it with both hands and never looked back. From there she came into contact with bass music godfather Loefah, who eventually asked her to design the logo for his latest label, Swamp81. Her urban flavoured, black and white designs and photographs are the perfect representation of the label’s forward thinking underground sounds, and she’s since found herself responsible for much of Swamp’s striking visual identity. Continuing to work with the label whilst exhibiting her own work, she also recently dipped her toes into the realm of music video direction with her gritty, visceral clip for Rashad’s ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck’ last year. Catching up with her a few months back, we looked back with Ashes to find out what it is that informs her work.

Early Days Doing Graffiti

“I started when I was 15 and just after I saw the work of Jon One in a magazine that I subscribed to. I was always interested in art but it was always too classical, too abstract or too formal for me – there wasn’t much graffiti around where I grew up besides the ugly political messages.  In this magazine, Graffiti was a skill and was recognised as an art form. I thought that was what I wanted to do. I started alone. I had some friends that were notorious graffiti writers, but they never wanted to take a girl with them and plus I would have never asked them. So I bought paint, and went to do a wall by my school and wrote ‘AUXO’. The next day everyone was wondering who this new piece by. I thought the letters were quite cool but the X was kind of complicated. So I changed name.

I was kind of young when I first got into it. Then I moved to a way bigger city for university, and there was more graffiti around and I met more people who were doing the same things. We used to meet up in abandoned buildings, or train tracks to paint until our supply will run out.  I wasn’t trying to push the boundaries, I just wanted make the world look better and add my marks. I didn’t want people to know that I was a girl. Not many people knew what I was doing.  I wanted to be equal to them. Doing graffiti it is a bit like walking in the shadows, it’s just like being a double agent. Then I thought I should focus on my sketches.”

Ashes57 - Hyponik

Music Listened To Growing Up

“The first music I really got into was Hip-Hop. In 98, French Hip-Hop was at its peak. A band like N.T.M (Nique Ta Mere)(92 Saint Denis) was almost like the Public Enemy of France, fast paced with provocative lyrics, Parisians with a project attitude and the group I AM (from Marseille) was the West-Coast flavoured, melodic Hip-Hop. The lyrics made sense to me and followed me everywhere in my Walkman. It was still underground. Not everyone liked it, in fact most people I knew hated it. At the time, I wasn’t really into electronic music, people around me were into Techno. Euro Techno has never really been my style exactly, but I liked the fact that everyone was meeting up for those illegal raves just to dance. “

On JonOne

“He is an original graffiti writer who lives in Paris and who brought the New York culture to France. He approached graffiti in a different way but with his own trademark. His lettering was very simplified and readable with style. It wasn’t always Wild Style but it had this comic effect to it. It was very intricate and playful. He’s one of the artists who made his entrance to the contemporary art world.”

Shepard Fairey 

“In 2004, I had a proper job in London, but I wasn’t really challenged. I was still looking for what I wanted to do with my career. So I quit my graphic design job and went to visit friends in Paris. As I arrived, I saw an Obey poster, high up by the Gare du Nord, the train station. Shepard was already quite big at the time but more in the Street Art world. That was a dream to work for Obey so I wrote him an email on that day. Two weeks later, I got a reply from his studio saying that I could come to do an internship if I wanted but it was in LA and not until next summer. I was so happy and was ready to do anything.

A few months later I moved to Hollywood, California. I didn’t know what to expect of the city or neither what kind of the work I will have to do. It was to work for Studio Number One which is Shepard Fairey’s graphic design studio, working for all the coolest brands that I loved, doing graphics and flyers and also to assist with the artwork. He just gave me the courage to start to do my own graphic design, and break the rules of creativity. He showed me how to make designs using various mediums. Design could be handwritten and doesn’t have to be done by computers. Simplicity, repetition, and vision were the stretch of Shepard’s artwork. Working with him was really inspiring. Also he wasn’t judging, he didn’t ask me what I’d done. He just asked me what my interests were and that was enough for him to give me the opportunity to work with him.

Learning by doing. I was at the stage of my life where I had a lot of time and it was just good to apply the method of somebody else, being guided in a crew and working really hard all for the same cause. I was a bit worried at first that his style would be reflected in my illustration but my art took a drastic turn into these black and white hand drawing sceneries.”


Art and Music

“Art is my motivation. Music is my inspiration. The music is a way to escape. Artists and Musicians often bounce ideas to each other. They are complementary. For example, in the punk movement, the whole aesthetic was very dynamic between the artist and the music, it went back and forth and then now it’s almost become just a fashion style.”

DIY Culture

“It all seemed so easy. People could just do music in their bedroom, put it on a record or a dubplate and do their own artwork. Or have no art because most of the records were mostly white labels. I was really inspired by the fact that people like Loefah were doing their own flyers. The concept was strong and homemade and also so black and white. I wanted to be involved…. DMZ felt like family and we were all coming to listen to the new tunes the public was very knowledgeable of the music. And places like Plastic People became a true social spot, the nest of the scene.”

Beginnings of Dubstep 

“I started to listen to Dubstep in 2006, I lived in New York at the time. I think, Dubstep appeared the day I moved to America (laughs). I remember my friends were calling from London so exited to tell me about these new beats and bass parties. I’d never heard anything like it before. I felt in love with it when I heard the music on a Funktion One (sound system). It felt like it was a new area.  There was no identity for Dubstep yet, no dance, no name to describe it – and especially no sound trademark as we know now. It was fresh.

Right away I tried to find some parties in New York city and I found out about Dub War NYC, the original Dubstep night in the USA.  I met Dave Q through the magazine I worked for in New York because I really wanted to do a feature on the night. So he invited me to the next party which was DUBWAR vs DMZ, the room was packed and it was one of the best parties ever. The sound system was a bit shit, it kept cutting off, but the vibe was amazing, the tunes were so good and vibrating. I became friends with Dave Q and a few days later he asked me if I had time to work on his flyers. And that was the beginning of Ashes57. Working on flyers was my first contribution to the music.

It was my first real interaction with the sound because I tried to represent and reflect the style of the music through the flyers using typography, photos, art and colours to express my feeling of the sound. That was pretty fun and a good way to explore new paths.”

Swamp 81 Artwork

In 2009, Loefah asked me to design a logo for his new label. That was the best news I ever had. A few months later, he asked me to work on the cover of the first release. It was so exciting. We have worked on all the first records really closely. We also work with other artists like Sgt.Pokes and Will Bankhead and photographers. Loefah is the art director, I am graphic artist and the head designer. We like a lot of the same things so that helps and make it pleasant to work together.”


Preferred Medium?

“Video is really new to me. I still have a lot to learn and I find it challenging. It’s a different method to apply art on to music and be creative. I really want to keep going and doing more videos. My dream would be to work on a short movie.

I am always back and forth between photography and illustration. I could never figure out which one I like more. Once I get fed up with photography, I go to illustration. When I’m fed up with illustration, I go to photography.”

DJ Rashad Video 

“I’ve spent a lot of time with DJ Rashad & Spinn when they were touring in Europe. Last year, I met up with Rashad in New York, he was working on a beat and this idea submerged with some flashing images in my head, it was hard to explain but he gave me the track and told me to do what I wanted with it. When I came back to London I tried to apply my idea on a tune called ‘Shoot Me’. I was really nervous to put it online or to show it to him. But as soon as I put it on Vimeo a lot of people emailed me and encouraged me and also footwork was a type of music that people just started to discover. The video spread pretty fast. Then this year, I picked the track ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck’. I first heard it when Rashad played it on Rinse, it was so raw, it reminded me of a Hip-Hop tape. I love this track.

Prefuse 73 

Prefuse was the first one to mix electronic sounds with a Hip-Hop beat. He was mixing samples, and acoustic rhythms in a very creative way. His albums were very kinetic and made my imagination work. His albums were looping on my stereo. I met him few times, once before his show at Koko, he let me take his portrait. He is a very inspiring man; that day was amazing.”

Wu Tang

“A friend from New York hooked me up with the job. He thought I would be interested to work on this project as he knew that I was involved with Dubstep music, so they asked me if I could do the cover of ‘Wu-Tang enter the Dubstep. I was delighted to be asked.

I felt like I was going to die when I found out about it! The Wu-Tang was the group that I loved the most growing up and still respect them today. I would have loved if the DMZ guys would have been involved in this project too. I met the RZA, he was relaxed but I was nervous and too shy to talk to him or take his portrait. But I got some good photos on stage. He is the god of production.”


Dream of working with… 

“I’d love to work with Machinedrum. He is also really inspiring to me,
I’d love to work with David Lynch, I’d do an internship just to learn his methods,
I’d love to work on a video for a new Loefah track, I’d love to work on more videos for DJ Rashad and TEKLIFE,
I just want to keep working with good musicians.”

Words: Christian Murphy
Photography: Alex Synamatix