Artist Spotlight: ASW
Los Angeles-based artist ASW, aka Alex Wagner, draws inspiration for his synth-laden organic grooves from a deep pool of influences. His parents were Deadheads, so naturally, there’s a psychedelic element to his work. He is heavily influenced by the emotive indie sounds of Death Cab for Cutie and Coldplay. And his formational experiences with dance music were with Tiesto, Above & Beyond, and Wolfgang Gartner. His love for peak dancefloor experiences is obvious. He says, “I accepted that I am this kind of bizarre amalgamation of things. Because I'm a storyteller who likes the pulse of a kick drum. "
The throbbing pulse of a kick is more than the soundtrack of his life. Dance music is part of his spiritual practice. And the founding tenants of the rave movement speak to its significance in his life.
“It was built upon these qualities, these principles, a place of peace, love, unity, respect. And so, I think of that of that unified approach of coming into a place, it's not like a religion, per se. But you come into this venue, and we're dropping our guard, we're becoming vulnerable, we're becoming honest and transparent.”
Wagner doesn’t believe in separating the joy of dancing from impactful discourse. Dance music was founded on an inherently political statement of movement as protest. Wagner aims to inject this into his music.
“I've really chosen to take this concept of activism in this beautiful three-decade experiment in much more of a positive way.” He goes on to explain how his moniker ASW (A Single Wave) supports his point. “To say within this wavelength within a single wave, I believe that we can thrive.”
The culture was built on taking the road less traveled. And there are so many approaches to being an activist in music. “I think its beautiful, because but I wanted to do it in a way where I said that joy is activism, positivity is activism. I frame it though an understanding of there is darkness, there is flaws, there are all these other things. I do discuss that. But I really wanted to take a bit of a different approach on this.”
His upcoming Dahlia EP (out August 2021) is his first marriage of activism and dance music. He’s used a string of live streams to focus on raising money for the Crisis Text Line, an organization that he volunteers for. His monthly streaming series “The Dahlia Experience” on Popgang Records’ Twitch channel has raised over $3000 for the organization.
If you ever find yourself in a moment of crisis, text 741741 and a volunteer will guide you towards a moment of calm. Wagner logged 200 hours over a year with CTL at the height of the pandemic. He’s led people through some of their darkest moments and is humbled at how impactful these moments can be.
“It's just so incredible that I can be there through a little screen or a little phone for somebody in a moment that may completely, alter the course of things for them. That's powerful, and never something to take for granted.”
The rave scene has historically drawn those that feel left out in other spaces. Counter culture is where people feel accepted for everything that they are. Wagner recognizes the importance of this kind of community
“I do want to be a philanthropic performer. My purpose is to really highlight and show people how all these different parts of the community can all come together. And I saw a perfect marriage between the Dalia EP story and the way Crisis Text Line can be there for people at different parts of their journey, and help them bloom help them in that moment of calm.”
His experiences with CTL made him reflect on personal struggles with mental health. As he guides people towards their moment of calm, he asks himself, “What do I see of me right here?”
In 2013 Wagner was placed on an involuntary hold at a mental health hospital. He reached a breaking point after a long-fought struggle with his mental health. He finally found an answer though. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
It's essential to be candid about his experience, he says. It normalizes the conversation and helps others feel seen. And the Crisis Text Line would have been a benefit to him back then. “I wish I would have known about this. Maybe I would have been able to reach out. Before I had hit that, like week that I did that, in the outcome it did. “
Balance is a potent remedy for Wagner. He makes space each day for yoga, bike rides, and healthy eating. Mantras also help him quiet the monkey brain and focus on inner calm. It’s something he recommends to those he speaks to at CTL.
“They're just so powerful. Saying something out loud, letting it take you over,” he explains. As a Yogi, he was familiar with them, but they didn’t always connect because of their basis in ancient wisdom. That is until a friend gave him one that he still uses, “I know who I am, in truth, I know what I am. In truth. I know how I serve others in truth, therefore, I'm free.”
“He had me say that was because I was going through a flux of identity. My mom had just passed away unexpectedly. I had had some other events happen to me at the same time. And those words, made me really think about me who I was, and like, what did I stand for.”
Wagner’s direction is refreshing as the world emerges from its’ darkest days. It’s a good time to remind dance music culture of its founding tenants.
“I think we're all understanding that dance is activism. Dance is joy. We've been through so much. A very, very turbulent year. And I'm excited for a future where dance music embraces this and doesn't forget it this time. We can move money and move people, move melody so fast, it's insane. We can get hundreds of thousands of people together like this. We sell out in moments, you know, right? We're getting all of this energy together. And I think we're really seeing now like, wow, we can do one up way beyond more than just a place where people completely escape.”