Kilbourne Uses Devastating Hardcore to Face Her Ghosts on New EP, 'Sourland'
In an interview, Ashe Kilbourne explains how it explores femmeness, transwomanhood, sexual violence, and medicalizing of queer narratives.
Photo by Jesse Guillory
New Orleans-based producer and DJ, Kilbourne, has shared an unapologetically hardcore new EP called Sourland, following the release of her collection 18 Songs (2013-2015) in March. Drawing on a palate of sounds ranging from theatrical hardstyle to straight up club noise, the KUNQ affiliate delivers on the promise of Sourland's visceral title by offering a wild ride of delirious hyper-intensity. After hearing just a minute of the EP it probably won't surprise the listener to learn that the artist also plays in a grindcore band called Cicada.
With track titles like "Men:Parasites" and "Witch Hunter" it seemed clear that there was a lot going on beneath the surface of these songs, so we were lucky to be able to interview Ashe Kilbourne on the occasion of this EP's premiere today. Read about how the artist responds to trauma in an "unapologetic, aggressive, femme way" below, and for more KUNQ, be sure to check out the crew's recent, devastating mix for Fade to Mind's Rinse FM slot.
THUMP: In our earlier email exchange you explained that Sourland is made up of "songs [that] explore femmeness, transwomanhood, sexual violence, and medicalizing of queer narratives." Can you say a little more about that? Also I'm very interested in the title—why 'Sourland'?
Kilbourne: The first song I made on this album was "Men:Parasites" last Fall. I was in a place where I was resenting someone who had sexually assaulted me. A lot of models for community accountability don't work when someone who abused you is just a rando, especially if they don't think they did something wrong and don't identify with whatever community you're a part of. It's so easy for someone to become a ghost, and I wanted to explore through music how trauma haunts people.
It's violence, and I feel particular vulnerability as a trans woman. A lot of the time, people who sleep with us, men especially, treat us like we don't exist or hide or distance themselves from the relationship.
"Men:Parasites" felt like an opening to first accepting and experiencing the violence of being haunted by trauma, and then responding to it in an unapologetic, aggressive, femme way. I love hardcore, and I love it for being unrelenting, for its drama and brutality. Sourland is an outsider perspective, but I want to embrace that. I love how I have experienced hardcore, gabber, hardstyle, etc., from listening to happyhardcore.com radio in high school to nightcore spirals, from watching festival YouTube footage to actually traveling to Europe to be at Defqon1 and Dominator this summer.
I grew up in the Sourland mountains. (Which is silly cause really it's one mountain in central New Jersey, but my family lives on it). My father did work to preserve the wildlife and prevent developing on it and so it was a name I heard around the house growing up. I asked Izzy (Stud1nt) what they thought it meant, because I'm still surprised that it took hold as a name both for a song and the EP. They said it reminded them of a fucked up hardstyle theme park which I think is great. Also, just feeling sour. There's plenty in life to feel blessed and happy about, and there's also times where it's appropriate to feel sour and occupy that mind-state.
Can you walk us through the rest of the tracks on the release?
I got a vaginoplasty in January and there's a lot of feelings about that in here, especially on "Gauze" and "Sourland." I'm responding to the physical pain born out of a ridiculous situation: the requirement of a vagina to be "fully" woman and my move towards cyborg living. It's simultaneously so new (technological intervention into our bodies) and old (vagina as archaic mother, male fear of castration). A lot of horror movies are based around these fears, that something vaginal (the womb-like spaceship in Alien, the ominous slaughterhouse in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the video tape that births Sadako in The Ring) will castrate the viewer. The vagina is the most potent example of being without a penis. When writing about horror movies Barbara Creed calls this the monstrous feminine. Rizzla [Brooklyn-based Fade to Mind affiliate] called Sourland "agro-femme," and I think the two overlap nicely.
I resent how the world demands shame from trans women. We legitimize our identities through medical steps that invalidate whatever life we've lived up to that point. I don't like treating who I was before surgery like a ghost.
You've described this as the work you're most proud of to date. What came together in a new way for you here as an artist?
I love Sourland for being dramatic, for being heavy, difficult, and unrelenting. I'm excited to examine my ghosts, and to continue narratives I've started in other projects. I sing in a grind band called Cicada and a lot of our next tape is about the intersection of sexual violence and surgery. One song begins, "When I get my new pussy, how long will it be before someone uses it without my permission?"
I also feel positive about moving away from mostly making club music. I'm grateful to the people, especially my partner Zayn, who made me look critically at what it means to take up space in Black art forms like Jersey and Philly Club. Supporting or loving a genre doesn't need to look like forcing yourself inside of it.
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