San Francisco’s Bassnectar resides in a very different place, musically, from Northbrook’s Kaskade. His headbang-worthy locks at the ready, Bassnectar (né Lorin Ashton) boasts wild bass-and-breaks freak-outs that sit comfortably at the center of the dubstep craze, while Kaskade (né Ryan Raddon) has enjoyed a decades-long career focusing almost exclusively on euphoric house music since discovering it as a teenager hanging out at legendary Lakeview club Medusa’s. Yet, on today’s dance-music landscape, both are breaking attendance records with overlapping fan bases.
Considering Bassnectar is headlining Perry’s stage at Lollapalooza on Friday 3 and Kaskade is closing it out on Sunday 5, we patch together 34-year-old Ashton in San Francisco, where he’s just returned from a European tour, and Raddon, 41, on his tour bus rolling into South Carolina, to chat about the state of a scene that’s suddenly the biggest musical movement in America. Ashton was cool enough to tap his Twitter followers for topics, and it turns out the two share more fans than even they realized.
Bassnectar I think the people who are concerned with the differences between house and dubstep are the DJs. Other than that, I think the fans are just [looking for] big, loud music, lights and a bunch of us all in a room. The vibe I get is that a lot of kids call it dubstep, but they mean you or deadmau5. I don’t think you guys are technically quote-unquote dubstep artists, but that term has come to mean EDM, at least for North American partygoers.
Kaskade Dude, when my European friends come over to North America, they’re so freaked out because it’s so new here and this generation isn’t so concerned with the subtle differences of what the genres are. It’s cool. They just want to have a good time and enjoy the music. I think the sophistication and snobbery will come later.
Bassnectar I think potentially the death of a scene or a movement is when people get too close-minded or confined.… I think some of the innocence and cross-genre open-mindedness is part of the reason that [EDM is] booming. People are capable, like you said, of getting down to all these different styles.
Kaskade Don’t you feel that’s part of the reason that electronic music is working so well now? It’s more about the actual song. Electronic music has incubated long enough, and the artistry is there and the technology is there that we can focus on the songs and do the cool sound design afterwards. Ten years ago the depth wasn’t there. It wasn’t artistic enough for Americans to latch onto, but now the music has gone so much further that it appeals to a lot more people.
Bassnectar We had our rave scene in the ’90s, too, but it never burst. The fact that it’s bursting now, so far after everywhere else, is making it more intense than anywhere else. There are countless DJs from overseas who come over here and are blown away because they think of America as rock and hip-hop. I don’t think this is a fad or something that’s just a strange glitch in the matrix. I think it’s going to be a game-on scenario for the evolution of every style, incorporating this new enhancement.
Kaskade Now that it’s getting bigger, I think we surpassed what’s going on in Europe. It’s interesting to see [European DJs] come over because now half of them are residing in Los Angeles or coming to Vegas every other month because there’s so much happening over here right now. It’s just done a 180.
Bassnectar One thing that keeps blowing my mind is how unclear a lot of people are on what exactly the difference is between a producer and a musician and a DJ. Whether you’re a DJ on the radio playing back music or whether you’re getting stoned in your car and playing back music for your friend or you’re in some 1970s Jamaican dance hall, whatever the fuck it is, it’s a legitimate thing and only when you judge it in comparison to playing in a rock band does the credibility suddenly become suspect.
Kaskade This is what the mau5 was talking about. He got a bunch of flak for what he said in Rolling Stone, just like, “We all press play, this is what we’re doing.” The term DJ doesn’t bother me. The art of DJing as you and I know it, it’s a very subtle art. Blending tracks and weaving and manipulating prerecorded music to create this mood, some people do it much better than others.
Bassnectar As a DJ, you can get as creative and active and interactive as you wish. You can also be as phony as you want, as the guy who is standing there with one hand on a fader that is doing nothing and the other hand up in the air while five minutes pass, and then he switches and puts his other hand up in the air. There are fraud DJs out there hamming it up. When there’s someone like myself, or yourself, who’s actually working his or her ass off in true artistic obsession, it’s frustrating to see four guys standing up there smoking cigarettes and cheers-ing each other—I don’t have patience for that.
Kaskade It’s one of those things you just need to go and experience. When you go see a good DJ, you’ll know it, man, you’ll know it in your bones. Between the guy who’s phoning it in and the guy who’s obsessively working it to give you the best show of his life.
Bassnectar When there’s a DJ who’s really popular and effective, a lot of the time it’s because they’re making stylistic choices that can steer a crowd of 10,000 or 100,000 seamlessly for two hours. That’s beyond challenging. It’s either natural or it doesn’t exist, but when it exists, it’s not something you can go to school for—you either have it or you don’t. I realize, at the end of the day, the ends do justify the means and if you can conjure that experience for 30,000 people, even if it’s prerecorded, on some level, I have to give you that credit.
Kaskade To do more of a concert thing, it takes so much preparation. You don’t just show up and wing it. You’re putting countless hours in the studio not just to write and produce stuff, but to come up with edits and special things for the show. I think it’s cool to do prework for the show. It just turned into a much bigger thing in the last five years.
Bassnectar Yeah, the more synced-up a show is, the less live it is. I think it being live and that being the only basis upon which quality is judged is potentially a problem. Like you said, there’s so much you’re doing in advance to enhance the quality. If someone’s at a show and they’re judging, well this is only 50 percent live so it’s only 50 percent good, I think they’re missing the point. It’s really about the end result. Did you get your face melted off and did you have a spiritual experience? If so, then you should just be grateful for it.