To talk to DJ Holographic is to feel pure love directly from her soul. It’s a love for Detroit, for music, for her mentors, and most importantly, for herself. The rising DJ/producer is a joy to watch helming the decks as she gets the crowd grooving, and a blessing to connect with one-on-one.
The 32-year-old Detroit born-and-raised artist, born Ariel Corley, has been captivating fans around the world with her infectious energy reflected in her upbeat disco, house and techno rooted DJ sets during her rise through the scene in the past few years. Beyond becoming a staple of her hometown, the birthplace of techno, she’s become a regular at Berlin’s famed Panorama Bar, found kindred spirits during her first Australian tour in March, played Tulum’s tastemaking Day Zero festival this past January and made her Coachella debut last month.
She represents the next generation of young Black Detroit producers carrying the torch for their city and keeping things fresh and innovative. Carl Craig is one of the techno elders that has recognized her talent by taking her under his wing last year, when he tapped her to curate the latest installment of the compilation album series on his Planet E Communications label, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
This weekend, she’s also playing Movement 2022 — but that one’s definitely not a first, with 2022 marking Corley’s fourth time playing the festival. It’s thus a homecoming celebration, a world-class party celebrating the city’s rich local talent with friends and supporters from all over, before she and many of the other acts on the lineup continue enviable tours across the globe. Corley’s summer dates including shows at Amnesia in Ibiza, a spot on Jamie Jones’ Los Angeles Paradise In the Park Lineup and a set at Electric Forest in Michigan.
Calling Billboard from her new living room in Detroit, looking cozy in a black hoodie reading “MOVE,” the conversation flows from Movement to Motown to astrology to representation in dance music. Read on to hear Corley’s thoughts on all of this and more.
What are you most looking forward to about returning to Movement this year?
Oh my gosh, I’m so excited. I probably know about 95 percent of the lineup, they’re all personal friends or people I’ve worked with. A lot of people on the lineup are from Michigan… There’s so many people that put in the work and put in time and have really honed their craft and given it their all, and then some. They’re all performing here in Detroit.
And there’s a couple of new faces, but there’s definitely a lot of people that have been doing it for 15, 20, 30 years. You have Jeff Mills coming back, which is great, you have MK, he’s from Michigan. You have me, Minx, Seth Troxler, so many Michiganders. [Laughs.] It’s going to be really fun with Movement happening again.
What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Definitely Motown the most. Temptations, Michael Jackson, the Jackson 5. As I got older, it became lots of different types of music. Prince hit me hard when I was 19. And David Bowie, he was played on the radio a lot here in Detroit. A lot of rock music in my teenage years that my dad introduced me to; he showed me Nirvana. He would play rock music or house music — at the time, I think he was still called progressive in the mid-90s. It would be housey and jazzy, with a couple of vocals here and there, that Masters At Work-type house music.
My mom would play a lot of R&B, like Kem, Erykah Badu. And one of my favorites [she’d play was] Michael Franks’ Art of Tea. My parents got divorced when I was younger, and that was one of the albums they’d both still listen to, and I really got really fond of it.
How has Detroit impacted you as a person growing up there, and as someone representing the city’s next generation of electronic artists?
It influences me heavily; most of my family is from here. Detroit’s very close-knit, my parents met as neighbors during their childhood years. Stuff like that always influences me; knowing your next-door neighbors. My grandmother had in her house this plaque that said this old African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I was raised with that proverb from Detroit, because it felt like my whole block raised me, especially on my mom’s side.
Whenever I’d go to my grandma’s house, she’d be cooking and have the radio on. Even then, the [Detroit] radio was really good, they’d play everything under the sun that felt funky or soulful or energetic. They’d play a lot of Prince, a lot of Michael Jackson, a lot of Motown, a lot of R&B, Marvin Gaye. It was just so fun. They had great songs, but didn’t really stick to one genre, and that was perfect to me.
How does that all affect what you play out now?
When I play now, it depends on where I’m playing, but I love playing house music, techno and disco, those are my go-tos. But when I’m going to the club, I’m honestly probably listening to Kendrick Lamar or Michael Franks. [Laughs.] I enjoy playing the songs that people enjoy listening to me DJ, but because I have eclectic taste like that, I’m not going to pigeonhole myself. Maybe one day I make a country album out of the blue — that wouldn’t be past me, because I love country too. The love of music [here] is really open and really great, and that’s what cultivates me as a musician from Detroit.
One of the biggest things that I see when DJing [that’s different than in Detroit] is when people stick to one genre. That’s so weird to me… When I hear people playing just techno for eight hours straight, I’m like, ‘Do you know the people that made these songs don’t even just listen to techno?’”
Can you speak to your relationship like with Carl Craig and Planet E?
It’s really a true blessing to have a good relationship with Carl and his team, his family. I mean, he just played Carnegie Hall. And that alone is just like, “Whoa, I get to talk to this person? I have his WhatsApp.” [Laughs.] He just made history. He keeps making history and makes it look so natural, and is cultivating the narrative of music.
And, on a personal note, it’s great to see somebody just radiate their self-love all around them… Obviously, there’s other things happening I don’t know about, but to watch somebody really love music and love themselves and curate a whole culture for that, is really beautiful to see. It’s almost like watching the universe veil being opened a little bit. It feels really nice to be in that presence and space.
I was very honored to make that compilation for Planet E and for them really enjoying it, and for me being able to express myself in that way. And I definitely know 100 percent I would love to one day put out a whole album on Planet E. I’ve got to find my voice and I know they would be willing to help me. I love what they’re doing.
Does Detroit feel special in terms of the mentorship available there?
Detroit is blessed to have so many mentors for young African Americans. You don’t get that in a lot of places. I don’t believe you get that a lot in our community. But you don’t get that in a lot of communities that are music-based, either. If I go to Berlin, I’m not seeing anybody being mentors to anybody, I don’t feel that vibe. I mean, I don’t live there, so maybe I’m stepping out of turn, but when I go there, it feels like here’s somebody that is brand new learning and here’s someone that’s been doing it for years, with a gap in between those. It’s like, “Okay, how can I please this person to put me on?” instead of being like, “How can we feed and grow the culture?.
Over here feels like Mike Banks’ Underground Resistance or Carl Craig and Theo [Parrish] and all these people doing iconic, legendary things. [And the vibe is] “What’s the next narrative of the culture? How can we grow the narrative more to sustain it?” That’s what it feels like when I’m around these souls.
How would you describe your sound?
I’ll be honest, I feel like I’m still finding my voice. I’.reall.finding my voice. I’m so literal that I am doing voice lessons once a week too. [Chuckles.]
Would you ever do a vocal on your track or is it more just for yourself?
I’ve been on most of my tracks, but they’re all filtered as hell. My voice is on “Because Of Detroit,” “My Fells” and “Parallel Shifting.” But 100 percent I would love to put my voice on things. The vocal training is definitely for singing, so I’d love to learn how to sing and express myself in that way. And I also would love to do a couple talking [tracks], like Tiga.
What are you listening to right now?
Right now, what’s popping a lot for me in terms of genres and songs that I like, is something like Catz ‘n Dogz. And I also like The Majorettes, Carry Nation, My House Mother, Shaun J. Wright, and Leka. I like house tracks like [they produce] a lot. I’ve also been digging back into a lot of Carl’s older songs that he did with Green Velvet. Very sassy, sassy energy. [Laughs.]
You’re in the sandbox. You’re playing and creating and stuff.
Yeah, it’s definitely gonna be a theme for a couple years, finding my voice. Especially as a woman, finding that voice and being able to be loud and strong, but also non-apologetic. Because a lot of times what I’ve noticed when I’m working with producers or talking to musicians, they are all men, and a lot of them are like, “Why are you doing this? You should just stick to DJing,” or “You should only do it this one particular way.” This week, I realized this is that really nasty masculine energy that’s just f–king the whole music industry up. [Laughs.] They’re like, “You have to do this formula to produce music and this formula to get big.”
I’m not trying to say we’re gonna fix everything, but I definitely know — as I’m creating my music, to me it’s almost like carrying to term a child or a big project. And when I watch men build it, it’s kind of like they’re building Ikea furniture. I don’t want Ikea furniture. I don’t want this cheap thing, I want something a little nicer. So I’ve gotta make sure I stay strong in my voice and not have anybody degrade what I like to do.
I think it’s dope you’re taking the time to find your voice. It’s harder out here for women, for people of color, queer people, anyone that’s not a white dude.
My therapist the other day said to me when I was freaking out, “You do realize only two percent of females are doing production. You don’t even know if they’re queer, you don’t even know if they’re Black, and it’s gone down since COVID. You’re doing this huge thing, but it’s only this [small] amount of y’all.”
That’s a good point.
Being from Detroit, when I first started DJing, I didn’t see a lot of women DJs, nor did I see a lot of Black women DJs. I knew of K-HAND, but I never saw her perform at that time. I really only saw two [Black women] DJ, and one of them was Super Drae from Grand Rapids. She was really big here and in Michigan and still DJs from time-to-time, and I think she does a lot of coding for the music industry. She’s a Black woman, she looks a little bit like me, and I was like, ‘Cool, if you can do this, I can do it too.’ I needed to see that, and after that, I had more confidence to start DJing.
And that’s when I saw Stacey Hotwaxx [Hale], the Godmother of House. She’s really phenomenal, a sweet person, and she is definitely the person that mentors so many DJs in the city. She’s a great DJ and definitely needs more credit.
How have those influences evolved as you’ve been out touring and traveling?
I started to see a whole bunch of Black DJs. Those used to be the two Black women I saw DJing at the clubs in Detroit, and then it would be a lot of tech house guys and a couple Black guys. But now, at most of these clubs [in Detroit], at least two or three of them are DJs of color, and there’s a few white guys here and there. FYI.Detroi.is a Black city, so when you see just white faces at a club, it’s kind of weird.
I see when one person steps up, and there’s more of you, it helps. There’s definitely a lot more queer Black people DJing in Detroit now than I’d ever seen before. Since [DJ] Minx announced that [she’s gay in 2021], I’m hoping that her courage brings other people to be courageous and step up to DJing, or d.whatever. With me being who I am and being Black, queer and female, I hope that people see that courage and take that to their workspace, to wherever their life’s purpose is.