“My mind is like a spaceship,” raps Angel Haze on the title song of Lorin Ashton aka Bassnectar’s recently released Freestyle EP. The hook is fitting: Not only as a mission-statement for the bass-loving DJ’s newest EP, but to as a sentiment that’s carried through his 20-year career. While Ashton is certainly enjoying increasing popularity with the relatively recent rise of festival-sized EDM, his influences remain as varied as the sounds he grew up listening to; the DJ regularly implements elements of hip hop, metal, rock, punk, and experimental electronica into what he once described as his own brand of “freak out” music. It’s a grab-bag style of bass where dance-floor participation is required and “euphoric transcendentalism” is a warned side-effect. And it seems to be working for him.
Hive spoke with Bassnectar about his thoughts on the production behind his newest EP, why it’s important to be a positive role model, and the ever-changing face of EDM.
Stream Bassnectar’s Freestyle EP below:
I saw you tweeting about something going down at your recent University of Massachusetts show. What happened?
It’s a complicated endeavor to customize what is meant to be a transcendental group meltdown. To customize venues around the country for that experience. You know, taking a 300-person nightclub or even a 1,000-person nightclub is pretty easy because those rooms are meant for that. But trying to find rooms that can meet the demand all throughout the country where the inside is set up properly, it’s challenging. This particular venue had a policy of restricting access to the floor by having people come in the morning to get floor passes — they’re afraid of too many people waiting in line and getting hit by traffic. It was just this absurd thing. All week I’ve been dealing with it.
The number one thing for me is the experience of my fans. Obviously their health and safety, but also their happiness. It’s an uphill battle dealing with these infrastructures in the U.S., whether it’s Ticketmaster fees or rooms that are set up for basketball games and hockey games and not so much bass music.
“I think that a lot of people forget that because of the fact that the music is made with computers and performed by DJs, they forget that unlimited potential of what style that music can be and how many directions it can go.”
It’s interesting to see you so personally involved in venue issues. I feel like these are things that are generally left to managers and crews and such.
It would be nice if it worked that way! I guess I’m just obsessed — I take it really personally — the responsibility for peoples’ experience. I’m kind of in awe of the fan base and the loyalty and so I kind of just return the passion and enthusiasm.
From your internet presence, it’s easy to see that you’re a DJ who has been making electronic dance music for a really long time but aren’t mad about the sudden, huge rise of “EDM.” How do you maintain a positive attitude or keep from being jaded?
I don’t know much that there is to be mad or jaded about. I feel extremely grateful to be alive, and I see so much magic in the world, and Bassnectar is all about reflecting back to the world that which I love or that which inspires me. There are many negative issues in our culture today, and I think confronting those issues is a good practice: as long as it is constructive. Pointless bitching and hating is something that really bothers me. And the oblivion of the party/party/party scene bothers me, but I choose to react constructively.
As for the rise of EDM: it is inevitable that anything good will explode in popularity, and soon there will be tons of good songs and artists, tons of impostors and phonies, and, of course, also tons of mediocrity. This is all a healthy part of the life cycle: just like with rock, hip hop, etc.
I read your exchange with Kaskade about this topic, though I’m not sure how recent that was…
That was over the summer. I fucking love that guy. He’s an amazing person with an amazing attitude. I have so much respect for him.
I can’t comment on other people’s motives but more on how they present themselves. Like I said, I don’t think that people are supposed to act any certain way. It just when it comes down to what I’m interested and what I respect. I respect positive, constructive attitudes and a love for life. We’re so lucky to have a chance to share our music and our creative ideas with other people. There’s plenty that I do speak out against but it’s probably more serious social issues and world issues and less about party drama.
“If I only made or played dubstep, I’d not only be very bored, but I’d be very boring.”
With your touring so much, how much time do you get to spend at home in San Francisco?
Well, I pay rent in Berkeley. [Laughs.] In 2012 I’ve been on the road since March with a handful of days home. My house is like a closet basically, like a large sprawling closet.
I feel like DJs from the West Coast have a more relaxed, all-inclusive approach to music.
I don’t have the ability to make the distinction based on geographical location any longer. In that the last couple of years of the internet have eroded any sort of that kind of simple-mindedness. I can’t make any distinction in terms of genre either. I think that it’s just too broad of a universe to make generalizations. But I do notice changes in specific regions in terms of attitudes and interests. But in general there are more similarities than differences.
I feel like my musical personality was forged in high school in the death metal and punk rock underground scenes. Both scenes were very creative and celebrated people being unique and experimental but also being influenced. It was a wonderful marriage between being unabashedly influenced by other bands and ideas and reflecting those ideas but also being really creative and daring and combining those influences and your own ideas to produce something more novel and personal. I hear a lot of current EDM music that sounds so embarrassingly the same. I find that very interesting. I think that comes about from people repeating other people’s ideas and emulating other people’s ideas but not enough creative spin on it. And I think that’s fine — it’s not that there’s anything wrong with that — it’s just less interesting to me. I think that a lot of people forget that because of the fact that the music is made with computers and performed by DJs, they forget that unlimited potential of what style that music can be and how many directions it can go.
For me it would be so unnatural to limit it to any one genre or tempo or speed or vibe or emotion. The same way that, you know, any kind of relevant band today has fast songs, slow songs, mellow songs, hard songs. I think that is what it takes to really make a contribution to music today. Not just repeating what you hear. That’s tough when everyone’s doing it. It’s so tough when everybody has the ability to make the sounds and find the sounds, so it’s harder to find original concepts.
The transcendence of EDM into Billboard Top 10 pop charts has a lot to do with a specific kind of boom. Over the summer there were four songs in the Top 10 pop charts that also charted in the Top 10 for dance. That hasn’t happened in a while.
I think that just in the same way that you would take a genre like rock, there are bands and songs that are extreme. Bands and songs that are outrageous or offensive. And then there are bands and songs that are very digestible and very mainstream and very pop. The same goes for EDM. When people talk about EDM going mainstream they’re talking about the David Guettas. Or the music that you would hear at the 24-hour Fitness gym pool. That’s fine for what it is but the universe for EDM is so vast that it doesn’t make sense to contain it.
I feel like trance and house take that pop route because of how the chord progressions work, whereas dubstep, while it may be just as popular, goes the opposite direction. I know metal-heads and rap heads who really love dubstep now. Do you feel like you can relate to that or went through a similar transition ever?
If I only made or played dubstep, I’d not only be very bored, but I’d be very boring. One of the reasons why our fans are so loyal is because the sound is always progressing and reflecting an unlimited amount of influences. Everything I’ve ever heard. I can get into anything because there’s amazing sounds in every direction and every culture and every period of recorded music. I use and love and make dubstep as one of the many colors that I paint with, so to speak. I think that it’s great for heaviness, not even so much for being hardcore. A lot of dubstep is anthemic and surreal and ethereal and emotive. It’s not all hyper-aggressive, the sound of dinosaurs having anal sex. It’s extremely eclectic. It’s only one of many styles I’m captivated by.
I’m interested in the metal-meets-dubstep aesthetic. Have you listened to the Korn dubstep album?
No but take a record like Freestyle, a song like “Hologram.” To me it’s indicative of an alternate side of the spectrum. Where a song like “Freestyle” goes through multiple directions of hip-hop and dubstep, a track like “Hologram” is more of that anthemic, glittering, hypnotic, melodic, almost down-tempo feel. it’s the same tempo as “Freestyle” but a different mood. Same with Vava Voom, there are tracks on that album like “Butterfly.” I’m always fascinated by the different ends of the spectrum.
It’s probably really important to keep up with it, but I do a terrible job. [Laughs.] I like what my ear thinks is good and I’m way more interested in quality over novelty. I’d much rather choose a classic over cutting edge although ideally you take a bit of both and make it new. I’m not looking for a taste of the moment. I’m a huge fan of Diplo. His career is defined by — as an addition to being a musician and a DJ — really just being a purveyor of styles and cultures and new sounds. He’s terrific at it. I more look to my friends like that when I want to find out what’s new. But I’m so overwhelmed and neck-deep in what I think is good where it’s almost overload for me. I don’t find myself starving for new ideas, I’m drowning in them.
Are there any ideas that you’re hoping to explore and share on a larger scale now that you’ve reached a certain level of popularity? One where you could serve as a tastemaker?
I’ve always enjoyed remixing very much. Everything from Sigur Ros to Imogen Heap to Metallica and Massive Attack. All different veins. Also going into more obscure sounds like ragtime piano and weird turn-of-the-century brass sections and swing music and really dirty blues guitar. Currently I’m working on a remix for Primus for their Sailing the Seas Of Cheese re-release. Working on a collab with Les Claypool is fucking nuts for me having been such a fan of them. I get to remix “Underworld,” which is the track that I took the first time I took acid. That was a major moment for me. Also getting to work with Lupe and Pennywise and Chino from the Deftones earlier this year – it’s been really fun. There are so many projects on my plate right now so that I’m overloaded. There’s not as much of a wish-list as there is a to-do list.
Watch Bassnectar remix Sigur Ros:
I saw you once call your music “freak out music,” which I thought was pretty perfect. Freestyle has party moments and a song that feels psychedelic Can you comment on the changes in the reaction of your audience over your years of doing this? Whether it be in aesthetics, drug-use, dance style, so on?
One thing I would say is that the fan-base is now so vast — which is something that I am humbled by and am wordlessly grateful for. Last year, I must have played to something like 500,000 people. This year probably about the same. It’s really hard to make generalizations about that many people. I’m much more interested in returning to that which is intimate and special. Finding much more magnetism in quality over quantity. You know, I am so grateful for the numbers and the enthusiasm and the fans, but I’m also less interested in catering to those numbers. When I speak my mind on Facebook — which I do all the time — kids will routinely threaten to leave once I start talking politics. They may say, “You lost a fan.” And it’s like, “Farewell.”