The Expat: Matt Ashley

Matt Ashley
From: Kent, England
Age: 34
Profession: DJ and event promoter
Education: Computer science degree from University of Nottingham
Last book read: Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Last film seen: In A Better World
Gadget: iPhone

Although he had every intention of travelling round the world over a 12-month period, Brit Matt Ashley made the fatal mistake of making Buenos Aires his first stop. Fatal because when it came to enjoying other countries, nothing compared, in his mind.

He says: “I’d been working at a London investment bank just as the financial crisis was hitting and decided to go travelling for a year. I had seven different stops and stayed in BA for a month, learned a bit of Spanish, then travelled around South America. But I missed BA and thought I could spend more time here. So I came back — and that was in 2008.

“It’s hard to put a finger on it but I feel comfortable. It doesn’t feel too alien but it’s also exotic. There’s a big expat community, which was good in the beginning and offered a lot of support. And there’s potential; I walk around and think about things that exist in the UK or Europe that could happen here. And of course, I lost out on the rest of that round-the-world ticket.”Combined with Argentines’ energy to party, it was that potential that led the DJ to put together a weekly club night. Matt says: “Buenos Aires doesn’t have the best music scene but it’s got the best going-out culture of any major city I’ve been to. It’s so cheap and accessible — well, it used to be — to go to clubs and bars. At the weekend, pretty much every Argentine goes out, in some capacity.

“I’d been DJing in London and after a few months of being here and going out, the music — reggaeton, cumbia — was starting to grate on me. It was a novelty at first but I got tired quite quickly of hearing the same songs over and over again. Plus, being English I’m not very good at dancing to that kind of music!”

A logical step was to set up his own night, playing the genres he cared about. But given that Buenos Aires’ electronic scene is far less mature than, say London, it’s given Matt the opportunity to introduce sub-genres such as dubstep, hip hop and electro to Argentina.

“England has a rich electronic music history whereas Buenos Aires is worlds apart. All I noticed was house, techno and trance, and I think that República Cromañón (a nightclub which caught fire in 2004, killing 194) contributed to putting the electronic scene back, as a lot of clubs shut down. Those styles I was used to hearing in London barely existed and were only played in tiny little clubs, so I saw a gap in the market.
“A Colombian friend and I decided to hold a party on a Friday night at a small bar in Palermo. I DJed, as did some other friends. About 400 people came — and that was the first Hype night. Realizing it could work, we held two more successful events, so we were able to think bigger quickly.”

That led Matt to one of Palermo’s most well-known spaces, Kika, a club with a capacity for 2,000 revellers, and despite the fact that Kika’s audience in general were reggaeton appreciators, no matter; the owners, friends of friends, were all ears.

“I’d been to Kika a few times, and it has a great sound system — I really liked the vibe. But we had to choose a day of the week as you can’t do a party with underground music in a mainstream club at the weekend. It just doesn’t happen. Cachengue rules here, and it’s easy money. That’s a shame as the appetite to go out never wanes but there’s not much on offer; clubs play the same music and they know people will dance to it but nobody puts any real effort or production into it. ‘Put on the tracks everyone knows and they’ll lap it up’. Why would you want to even put in any effort into being creative or taking a risk?

“So we chose Tuesday, mainly because other days already had established nights such as Monday at Severino and Thursday at Club 69.”

Setting up a regular club night in Buenos Aires, a city packed with party people, sounds like it’s been a breeze. But Matt assures it hasn’t been plain sailing.

“It’s hard to get people out on a Tuesday, even with the amount of people who want to party. There are still work and classes on a Wednesday! But the idea with Hype was to show there are different styles of electronic music — and as it’s the only option to listen to that kind of music, people will go out anyway.

“In 2008, there were a lot more foreigners than there are now and that’s who we targeted initially, as the music was familiar to them. But fewer tourists visit now due to inflation, so we’ve targeted Argentines by bringing in local DJs as well as international ones. And if we hadn’t done that, I don’t think we’d have survived for five years. There just aren’t enough foreigners, and because of the economic situation, it’s become even harder to get people out on a Tuesday — they’d rather wait until the weekend to spend their money.”

One upside is playing sounds that are brand-new for some, which can be satisfying.

“As a DJ, it’s great when you get someone who’s never heard dubstep before reacting positively to it — that’s more rewarding than preaching to the converted. And there’s a lot of potential to convert, which is what I like about it! There are alternatives! And new sub-genres are coming out all the time, so we are always changing up playlists to reflect that.”

Working in the nightlife industry can seemingly have its perks although Matt points out that it’s swings and roundabouts. He says: “My friends back in the UK think I’m a celebrity DJ although I don’t see myself like that! They see the photos and get a bit jealous… but then I get jealous of them jet-setting around to different European cities every weekend. The grass is always greener!”

While organizing his weekly party takes up a lot of energy, Matt combines a day job with the night job, although he considers taking the plunge to dedicate himself to music full-time too risky. Living in Palermo means he has everything at his fingertips, including the office and Hype.

“It’s a bit of a bubble, but I can walk everywhere. It’s very rare that I need to leave Palermo, which is really bad to say! I rarely take a bus or the subway but I might have to get a bike now that cab fares have gone up again.”

Over the past five years, Matt has played Buenos Aires’ biggest venues such as Pacha, Jet and Crobar, and has also travelled to Paraguay and Brazil for gigs. One personal highlight was playing to 2,000 people alongside Steve Aoki, one of the world’s biggest DJs. However, one private event in Buenos Aires province brought about an unexpected turn.

“I once played a huge warehouse party for 3,000 people at a football training-ground, but I didn’t realize security were barra bravas (hooligans). I’d finished playing and was talking to some friends, about to go and buy a hotdog, when suddenly a guy grabs me around the neck, opens his wallet to show me a police badge and says ‘come with me.’

“Okay. So he still has me by the neck and is taking me somewhere but a friend kept telling him, ‘what are you doing? He’s the DJ.’ He takes me to a room with nothing in it except a table and about 12 security guards, and I was thinking ‘what the fuck is going on?’ I had about 1,000 pesos in cash, my iPhone, headphones, wondering what was going to happen. I was either going to get beaten up, get my stuff stolen or both. He tells me to go to the table, and put my bag down and open it. At that moment, a security guard who worked at Kika came in and said to them ‘no, no, you’ve got the wrong guy.’ It turns out they were after a guy who’d been selling drugs. They let me go — I could barely breathe at this point — then offered me a pint of warm beer. I went home about 10 minutes later. You don’t expect to come across an Argentine barrabrava while DJing — that was one of my crazier moments.”


Buenos Aires Herald, August 10, 2013

If you’ve enjoyed this, you might enjoy reading about expat grandma Brenda.

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