Bassnectar: Bass In Your Face

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The photos on the Facebook say it all. No matter where they’re taken—EDC Las Vegas, Red Rocks, The Dave Matthews Caravan, Bonnaroo or any given festival stop—they all tend to look alike.

In the background, a massive, surging crowd of kids stretches back well into the distance, and in front, a lanky, long-haired hippie-type flashes the horns like he’s saluting Deicide or Nuclear Assault. That would be Lorin Ashton (aka Bassnectar), founding father of the North American Bass Music empire.

After gradually seeding the planet with a unique musical vision that comprised elements of glitch-hop, ambient, breaks, IDM, psychedelia and eventually dubstep, a domestic movement has sprouted which marks EDM’s permanent placement in the American pop-music firmament alongside rock and hip hop. And the former hesher teen behind the laptop is helping to lead the charge. Rock and roll.

Longtime supporters of Ashton’s vision still marvel at these developments, because no one, including Ashton himself, ever planned on it getting this big. Initially starting as a death-metal guitarist bucking his born-again Christian background, Ashton discovered EDM through college-music broadcasts in his hometown of Santa Cruz, Calif. He later minored in electronic music composition at UC-Santa Cruz under Peter Elsea, picking up DJing much later during the Wild West days of the mid-’90s West Coast rave scene. Ashton embraced the donation-based Full Moon Gatherings, spearheaded by psytrance underground mainstays Moontribe, throwing parties in the woods outside of Santa Cruz. Psytrance DJs of this time period DJed on DAT tapes, which early on sparked Ashton’s ambition to transcend turntables and vinyl.

With CDs of his own work in tow, Bassnectar soon aligned himself with Burning Man, and together with fellow EDM burners like the Glitch Mob, Freq Nasty and Tipper, set the blueprint for a sound which broke free from the era’s reigning tech-house and drum-n-bass formulas. Eventually, Bassnectar became one of the playa’s biggest draws, while the arrival of dubstep and the emergence of jamband electronica festivals such as Sonic Bloom and Camp Bisco broadened the base for the Bass.

Nowadays, Bassnectar hosts his own branded festival, Bass Island on Aug. 13 at Governor’s Island in New York, which this year will feature Lupe Fiasco, Z-Trip and Prefuse 73. For tours, he travels with a custom-built sub system that guarantees 115 dB at 80hZ at front of house, literally flooding the room with low end. Clearly, with shows selling out and album leaks and scalpers becoming bigger problems for Bassnectar, the champion sound and the fury surrounding it have become bigger than the playa, bigger than the original vision and bigger than Ashton himself.

Somehow, in the midst of this, Bassnectar has seen fit to release Divergent Spectrum on his own label, Amorphous Music. As can be expected, many of these tracks, such as “Upside Down” and “Voodoo,” give the bassheads the dank frequencies they crave, but softer, melodic touches like “After Thought” and his remix of Ellie Goulding’s “Stars,” commissioned by Goulding herself after Ashton’s unsolicited version took off on the internet, introduce the kids to another side of the Bassnectar spectrum. We kicked back with Lorin Ashton, fresh off his appearance at the massive Electric Daisy Carnival to consider his newly collaborative creative process, his streamlined production technique, and his take on bass music culture’s past, present and future.

DJ Times: What are you traveling with for the live show?

Bassnectar: We work with two sound companies: PK Sound in Canada, who I met through the Shambhala Music Festival, and Brown Note in Colorado. And the whole theme of this spring tour was solving a new problem that had arisen. To basically be standing on top of that sub rack for two and a half hours every night, five to seven nights a week three months straight, it’s barbaric. I went from this guy who’s constantly, “More bass! More sound!” to this guy who’s “Please turn it down!’ (laughs) And so this spring, we went out testing various arrays of what they call cardioid subpatterns. Bass is omnidirectional, whereas mids and highs are directional. And cardioid pattern allows you, through phasing and phase control, to direct the force of your bass, ideally within 20 dB difference, so you could stand behind the sub and it’s much quieter than in front of the sub. And that was just an inexpressible challenge [to get it right].

DJ Times: How do you manage the DJ performance? Is it still using Ableton Live? Is it even a DJ performance still?

Bassnectar: My template is basically the same. It has been expanded a little bit in features and new plug-ins and effects. But for the most part, it is the same infrastructure and what is really expanding is my collection of clip packs, which are customized ALS files of grouped clips that can either be one song or a collection of beat loops, and it’s massive now. I’ve just started Amorphous Music Studios officially this year, which currently is 100-percent exclusive to Bassnectar projects because I just have so much work. And it’s just a mastering engineer who, in addition to mastering the album that I just finished, is working on the clips for the live show.

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