Wild-haired DJ and producer Bassnectar is a different animal than most of his electronic dance music brethren.
Hiding underneath that ominous pile of dark locks is a warm, thoughtful ex-death-metal fan who was lured into the Bay Area dance scene after attending his first rave in the mid-90s.
Born Lorin Ashton, the 34-year-old joyfully draws from disparate genres, connecting them with a passion for bass grooves. The organic approach has taken him from small parties to Burning Man to the large-scale festival circuit, where he incites massive throngs of dance at events such as Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Coachella.
Revered by an army of followers known as Bass Heads, Bassnectar sold more than 250,000 tickets in 2011 to his solo concerts face-melting, gut-shaking blowouts of low-frequency sound and blinding light.
In what promises to be the biggest DJ production ever to hit the Treasure Valley, Bassnectar will headline Thursday, Oct. 25, at the 2,200-capacity Revolution Concert House and Event Center.
We caught up with him and talked about EDM, fostering a sense of community, and being able to give back to the world:
Electronic dance music used to be an underground scene, but its never been more mainstream than it is right now. Is that a good thing?
Its exciting to me to watch anything with momentum expand forward. You could ask yourself, Is it a good thing that rock n roll became mainstream or is it a good thing that hip-hop became mainstream? While youre asking yourself that, I would suggest that its a futile question, because it already is.
So I dont see my relationship to that which I love being affected negatively by other people loving it, too. I make the comparison to strawberries. I fing love strawberries. You can find me 10 billion people who love strawberries. Its not going to make me enjoy my strawberries any less.
A lot of new faces are in crowds lately. A lot of these fans maybe dont have a lot of knowledge or experience with EDM. What would your advice for newbies be? Theres always going to be the old crowd that looks down on the newbie.
Yeah, for sure. I was a newbie, and I was fortunate enough to have old-timers around who were friendly and understanding. So if Im an old-timer, Id choose to be the same way really welcoming and accommodating.
It changed my life to go from punk rock shows and death metal shows into electronic dance music in 1995. And my favorite thing about it was the friendly atmosphere mixed with the really intense music. Because Ive always loved intense underground music. And to enjoy that within the context of a bunch of friendly people is so much better than a bunch of grumpy people. (Laughs)
So its no new experience for me at this point to have a room of a good mix of old-timers and Bass Heads and the seasoned freaks, along with new people. I think that kind of chemistry is really exciting.
I would say if youre coming for your first show, dont expect too much and dont worry about it, its going to be fun. And just let loose and have a good time and bring some new friends.
Community is a big part of the Bassnectar experience, which would seem to have more in common with, say, the Grateful Dead than most EDM acts. Is that something you fostered purposely over time?
Its definitely something that I have a lot of respect and appreciation for, having grown up in a commune and then lived my life in subcultures of the underground. Im really used to and comfortable finding an identity within a scene and protecting the code of that scene and championing it and promoting it to my friends. I think that that happening in any way where people are finding something that they love or a place where they feel like home, and making it their own is really special.
At this point, its so far out of my hands that its just something that I kind of watch, as opposed to orchestrate. Thats also pretty cool to work on something for years and then have it catch fire.
At this point, its one of the longest-standing underground music communities that I know of in the country. Certainly for bass music. Most of the (EDM) acts that are touring and hot right now are one or two years old. And this all started in the mid-90s for me, so its cool to see and to watch the growth over time.
Youre touring with, and correct me if Im wrong, three semi trucks ...
Yeah. Three semi-trucks, two tour buses, about 25 crew members. We set up full multimedia art installations and LED and video and a state-of-the-art sound system that is laser-spec-ed to every single seat in the room to have the exact same amount of weight and bass and volume as it would in the front of the room. A lot of work and heart goes into this.
Thanks in part to some well-publicized comments from Deadmau5, a lot got made a couple months ago about what exactly DJs do on stage. Is it important to you for fans to understand the intricacies of your performance technique?
Oh, sure. I mean, I taught production quite a bit, and I studied it myself in school. Im happy to explain and to discuss all the different formats, and one thing I love about Ableton Live is its so customizable that everyone can really do it their own way.
Deadmau5 is more just admitting that he doesnt do much on stage. But doesnt really talk for other DJs. And Ive written a whole big, long blog about it. You can read it online.
Does it really matter what a DJ or producer is doing on stage whether the guy is running around throwing cakes at the crowd or triggering complex samples as long as the energys thumping and everyones having a good time?
Thats a question that everyone has to answer for themselves. And for me, I dont really go see DJs perform. I dont remember the last one I saw. Im too busy doing it for myself. And it definitely matters for me what Im doing. I work about 80 hours a week on music, and I work easily six hours a day every day seven days a week on specific set content. And once a set starts, theres about 80 percent of the time Im working, white-knuckled, with intensity. And the other 20 percent Im just dancing and having fun.
I dont think Ive ever noticed anyone in the crowd upset that Im not doing enough. I think if there is a crowd of people who delight watching someone run around and throw cakes at the audience, thats cool, too. That is what it is. Its, like, no different than a stand-up comedian. And if people have fun with that, I dont see any reason to criticize it. ... But I have so little exposure to other DJs these days.
Youre one of the more eclectic electronic dance music performers touring. Youll mix Slayer and Pantera into a set, you have a song where you took the sound of a ping-pong ball and transformed it into this crushing groove. What sort of criteria do you use when youre creating these mixes, these songs?
There is no criteria. Its extremely freestyle to me. Its freestyle in technique, its freestyle in sound, its freestyle in the end product. Its just about having fun and getting really creative and expressing myself, and its usually doing so in a complementary manner.
So if Im working on something really hardcore, the next thing that Im going to work on that day is probably something really ethereal and deep. And if Im working on something that is incorporating a lot of hip-hop, probably very soon after, Im going to work on something thats incorporating a lot of death metal. Because I dont necessarily work on one thing. So I am my own ping-pong ball, kind of bouncing around from ideas.
And also, coming from being in bands, I am a DJ and have been for over 15 years. But before that, I was a guitarist and a drummer in bands. And I love playing music with other people. I love collaborating. I would be happy to collaborate on every song for the rest of my life. And that can come from remixing like Im currently working on a remix for Les Claypool from Primus, taking old music that I used to love as a kid and retranslating it today or just trading files online with someone who lives in South Africa who Ive never even met. Just working on collaborations and stuff. So its all just really freestyle.
In 2011, you donated $1 from every ticket sold to a non-profit, which wound up being $200,000. Whats the outlook for 2012?
Same thing. For the rest of my life, I will be donating a dollar per ticket to any Bassnectar show toward this fund. And the fund is pretty loose. Its basically to support and promote a diverse amount of community organizations that essentially help people lead healthier, happier lives. And thats a pretty broad agenda.
I really appreciate having a broad agenda and walking the middle path for this, because it isnt a partisan thing, and it isnt a political thing, it isnt even really a charity thing. Its just about giving back, because I think that life is so magical and amazing, and Im so happy to be here, that I just love to give back. And I think that that has a contagious element to it, and I really think that inspiring people to try that out themselves is kind of at the core of this concept.
Youve done Burning Man. You sold out Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado this summer. ... Do you have a particularly memorable show, or does it feel sort of like a blur?
Its a blur, but its a beautiful blur. I do remember each experience. But I remember it as part of a journey, and I dont necessarily gravitate only to the big events, because I like the small ones too. Its a diverse enough roller-coaster ride at this point that Im kind of holding on as tightly as I can. (Laughs)
Youve really created an interesting career. You still seem like the black sheep in the whole scene like a really ... successful black sheep. Its cool.
Right on. Yeah, man, Im really not much of a scenester. Im a nerd. And Im having fun, and Im pretty left field, and I like it that way. When this particular style of music fades, Im sure Im going to be on to something else. And at that time, it will be a whole new adventure.