Ashe Kilbourne makes music that needs only one descriptor: hardcore. No, it isn’t the guitar-based punk with a screaming vocalist—it’s something darker, more magical. Growing up near the rural Sourland Mountain Preserve of New Jersey, Kilbourne first encountered that uniquely European flavor of electronic music on happyhardcore.com while in high school. Reimagining the throbbing sound of a small club at full volume to create something like “22nd century heavy metal,” Kilbourne became obsessed with creating disorderly musical portraits of emotional turmoil, trading a gnashing vocalist for a throbbing kick drum.
A rarity among hardcore DJs, Kilbourne deals with issues around queerness and transmisogyny through her powerful, ferocious music. “It’s a way of reflecting and redirecting experiences that feel brutal or relentless. People project a lot of their insecurities around gender and masculinity onto trans women, often in violent and dehumanizing ways. Sometimes doing music that is ‘hard’ feels like a way to accept that reality and come out of it stronger,” she says. She has toured Europe multiple times and found substantial success among the hardcore scene there. But don’t be afraid if hardcore isn’t familiar to you—the overdriven pummeling of Kilbourne is immediate and communicative. Instead of slickly produced songs, expect club music mashed together with a horror-film vibe (she recently re-scored the entirety of Wesley Snipes’ 1998 classic, Blade). Her set won’t make you feel shiny and perfect, but it will feel honest and real: “The music didn’t make me feel OK,” Kilbourne has said. “It made me feel weird and ugly and sloppy—but it was therapeutic in a lot of ways.”