Forget “when they go low, we go high.” When they go low, Lauren Flax goes deep. The Bushwick based DJ simultaneously exudes monastic vibes and a Detroit-bred scrappiness. One one hand, she’s dropped drinking in favor of natural energy and plumbs her daily meditative practice for wisdom. On the other hand, Lauren hates frilly shit and loves Michigan-style pizza.
Like so many of us, Lauren’s figuring out how to deal with the current political moment. However, unlike some of us, the stakes are high for Lauren: she’s a queer female in a male dominated industry, and learning to face political hostility on the day-to-day. CONVICTS caught up with Lauren and got her word on a booze and Facebook free life, resisting the current administration, and the intricate technicality of Detroit’s DJ scene.
Hey Lauren, how’s it going. To start can you tell us about growing up in Michigan?
I lived on the east side of Detroit, went to a Catholic school on 6 mile and Gratiot when I was little, but got out young enough so that it didn’t screw me up too much haha. We moved to the suburbs, and then I moved back down to Detroit right after high school. Fire-bombings were happening a lot then, but that was normal to me. I watched my neighbors’ houses burn down, both of them. Detroit’s been a struggling city since its decline and I have never seen it functioning during my lifetime. Everyone was like, “Detroit will come back, Detroit will come back”, I really hoped they were right.
What does Detroit have going for it?
Detroit has always been a very creative town. You can kind of just feel the creativity as well as the struggle. It’s not just a doom and gloom place, there is a lot of growth happening. There are breweries opening, farm to table restaurants, and a growing artistic community. I have some friends moving to Detroit because it’s not affordable to live in New York City anymore. Detroit really is appealing in that it’s affordable and you don’t have to work your life away just to survive. It’s always been supportive of the arts, that hasn’t changed so it’s very tempting for people to pick up and move.
Can you talk about Detroit’s influence on your music?
The biggest influence Detroit as a city had on my DJing, is that you can’t be a DJ out there and not be technical. If you fuck up, everyone knows it, everyone can hear it so you need to be on point. So the best thing for me was having to learn how to be a technically skilled DJ. When I moved to New York fifteen years ago I just couldn’t believe what I heard people get away with. It really affected me in a negative way. I was like, ‘Man they’re playing better time slots than me and they are train wrecking, you are a human jukebox.’
What were they doing?
It’s not that New York wasn’t technical, it was just the scene that I was introduced to wasn’t technical. It was more hipster, they didn’t care about turntables. They were just playing average pop music. I was playing house music back then and clearing dance floors. It was very strange, but New York has come back from a long gap of not much happening.
You’ve been here for a minute now. Can you talk about Bushwick as a neighborhood?
I’ve been in Bushwick for coming up on eleven years now, so I’ve seen a lot of changes. You’ll find me often hanging out around the Jefferson stop. My best friend, Betsy has a bar called Pearl’s Social & Billy Club so I’ll perch myself there quite often. It’s a great daytime spot, and for those people who don’t drink, there’s a sober menu. They even have Kombucha on tap, all that fucking hippie shit that I love haha. It’s just a good place to hang out. There are so many good restaurants now as well, like Momo sushi shack and King Noodle. Faro just got a Michelin star. Archies is the best pizza in my humble opinion. None of this frilly high brow pizza anymore, just give me a good fucking pizza. I might love it so much because it’s sort of Michigan style – not deep dish and not thin, just in the middle. It’s really good.
Onto a worse subject. What was it like for you when Trump got elected?
We all went through a collective trauma on November 8th and 9th. I spent like two months really just drowning my sorrows and literally laying flat out on my couch, not knowing what to do. I don’t judge myself for that, that is what I needed to do. When the orange man won the presidency, you’d just be walking around the city and someone would start crying. A stranger would just hug that person and say ‘We are in this together, we all feel this.’
How did you get through that phase?
It was really, really hard for me to get it together enough to find that balance of being active, staying mad, and not normalizing the situation. It’s bizarre and baffling that people want to close borders when you are closing borders on mostly women and children that need a place to go. If you just flip through your passport there is a page on there that says this country was built by immigrants. The 45th President doesn’t understand the intricacies, that immigrants built this country. Also with the queer community and with women in general, having a misogynist president talk so negatively about women sets an awful tone to our children. I don’t think there are many parents out there that would let their children hang out with the 45th president. Even the ones that voted for him.
What’s the worst thing, politically speaking, that’s happened so far?
The most detrimental thing that this President and this administration has done is fill the vacant SCOTUS seat with another Scalia. He will be in that seat for another forty years. We need to send all our love to Ruth Ginsberg, she can take any body part or organ of mine if she just stays put in that seat. She can’t leave, no one can leave the Supreme Court until we take back Congress in 2018, otherwise we are putting another Republican in that seat and we are going to lose our right to choose to have an abortion along with many other civil liberties that we and the people before us have fought for, for decades. It’s already happening without a tipped Supreme Court with Jeff Sessions in full on attack mode. Just imagine if he gets the Supreme Court on his side!
You quit drinking recently?
So stopping drinking is kind of a new thing for me. 6 months. I usually do it for just one month a year to check in. It’s not really about the alcohol, as much as it is about being present and finding everything within myself instead of going to these external sources. It’s kind of been a science experiment for me to see how often I turn to alcohol for whatever reason. It’s been interesting taking notes, I keep it in my calendar every time I want to take a drink and whether it’s for a good or bad reason.
What are some of those reasons?
Say I am performing for three hours or four hours and I really have to bring that energy – it was easier for me when I would have beers to get me through the whole set. If I needed to pump it up a little bit I would have a tequila shot or two. So cutting that out has forced me to really go within for energy. After a set I am exhausted, when that never was the case before, but it’s so important for me. It’s getting easier though.
Have there been any downsides?
Since I quit drinking in the beginning of the year I have become more sensitive to other people’s energies and things like that. Crowds can be overwhelming. Also, I put myself out there enough post-election that I was getting trolled online. Things that I was able to let bounce off me, even on facebook, really affected me. just one too many middle aged white dudes calling me anti-America for not wanting to close the borders. I had to shut it down because it was a waste of my energy and time trying to educate people that were not going to budge.
Being without Facebook is good though, because I am more particular in where I find my news, and I don’t get lost in other people’s bullshit. My decision to shut Facebook down doesn’t make me less political or active, it makes me more active. Facebook is still good in some aspects, we need to be able to talk to one another and find our collective people, but for me I just had to stop and focus more on what I can do on the ground to make a difference.
Sounds like you’re making positive changes.
2017 for me is about finding everything from within. If you have been actively working on things and working on yourself, you are going to be more receptive to the gifts that the universe has to offer.
Changing gears, can you talk a little bit about your healing experience with ayahuasca?
The ego is a real bitch sometimes because it overcompensates when it’s trying to protect you from trauma, but that can be equally damaging. the ego will tell you ‘Nah, you’re good, don’t give what happened to you power.’ My whole life I was like ‘No, this thing didn’t affect me.’, until one day I realized it did. So in my fight to heal, I sought to forgive this person that hurt me and that’s when I turned to ayahuasca. It was 2013 when I started to sit in ceremonies, doing about two per year. If I just did one ceremony and never went again I was still forever changed.
Were you nervous?
I mean I’ve never even taken acid so taking the world’s strongest “hallucinogen” was scary. Although I don’t really call it a hallucinogen, it’s very much a medicine. What happens though, is you focus on your intention after you drink the ayahuasca and you go back and you meditate on your intention as the sort of a GPS to your journey.
How did it go?
Well let’s just say I did not forgive this person, but this journey took me to the place I needed to go. What ended up happening is: I saw my heart in front of me. So I grabbed my heart, not with my physical hand but with my spirit and I grabbed it and I threw it back in my chest and I was like ‘Fuck you, fuck you forever, this was never yours, this is mine, you are never going to have it again, it’s mine so fuck you.’ It involved the exact thing I needed to heal. So then I’m crying and someone in their journey is laughing and it just made me start laughing. I needed to hear that laughing. And I’m just laughing and crying and just realizing at that moment that I was whole. I was a complete person for the first time since I was abused and it was just incredible. It’s funny, I have so many heart tattoos on my body and it was my subconscious the entire time just saying ‘Man you got to find your heart.’ And I did. So that was really, truly magical.
Right on. Let’s talk about a similar, but not related topic: meditation. Where does meditation’s benefit come from?
It’s when you start watching your thoughts, you start understanding who you are and then you start understanding where certain things come from, whether it’s negative or positive. And it’s just wild what happens with mindfulness, just mindfulness.
How long did it take you to feel these benefits?
My anxiety was the first thing to go and that was within a matter of a month or two. As someone who’s suffered from terrible bouts of anxiety for most of my life, this was a HUGE deal. I beat this thing without prescription drugs. With just my brain. The problem with being American is that we can have quick results through medication, so if there is something wrong with us, we get prescribed something and then we might feel better, but we will always need that pill. I would much rather go to the source and fully heal. but don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-medication. there are clinical diseases and depression that require medication. I am mainly referencing things that aren’t clinical, such as anxiety. So the hardest thing for me was setting that time apart every day, five minutes or ten minutes every single day, you’ve just gotta do it. You don’t have to meditate for hours, five minutes is going to make a difference. Having that figured out is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.
Because my anxiety was really bad before, thinking about myself a few years ago compared to now,it’s very comforting to think I’ve put in all of this work and have started to find comfort in this human skin. I suffered from anxiety from a very young age. As soon as I started meditation that was the first thing that went away. As soon as I started grounding myself the anxiety was gone. So that in itself is the biggest accomplishment for me because the anxiety would ripple out of nowhere. and now it’s gone.
So you got back to the States for Pride week. Where did you play?
I came back for June, booked up every weekend, it was pretty crazy, did Smart bar right when I got back in Chicago and then House of Yes and Output in New York. I was invited to DJ for Nylon, they had a panel discussion for Pride for women and women-identified people in the arts, in modeling, fashion, music, writers.
What did you take away from that panel?
It was such a cool thing to be a part of, to hear these strong women talk about what it was like to grow up. It was interesting to hear about how it feels to be sexualized and taken seriously. I will always fight for the trans community, their visibility, their rights. I would prefer doing the emotional labor so that they never have to. The murder rate is unheard of and comes down to toxic masculinity. My takeaway from this particular panel was that one woman didn’t want to be thought of as marginalized anymore. They are just here, and I understand that. Also, for me, in this stage of my healing, learning how to be in my body and be comfortable in my skin, hearing these women talk about their struggles, of just being their genuine, true self throughout everything, was absolutely inspiring.
Right on Lauren. Thanks for the chat and best of luck with everything.