October 23, 2014

Kaskade: America’s Best DJ

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Six months after taking the 2011 America’s Best DJ title, Kaskade remains a little giddy.

To hear him tell it, he’s just as excited about DJing and making music as he ever was, certainly as much as when he fell in love with it all as a suburban Chicago teen listening to B96 radio and visiting the Gramophone Records shop.

Looking back at his career, Kaskade (aka Ryan Raddon) admits a little pride in getting nationwide recognition for all the work he’s put into it. At 41, he’s no overnight success who stumbled onto a suddenly hot EDM gravy train. No, Kaskade’s been there all his professional life.

So scoring the most votes in the summer-long America’s Best DJ promotion and being honored for it at Las Vegas’ Marquee club (by ABDJ tour sponsors Pioneer DJ and DJ Times) served as a vital recognition point for a career spent making people happy with music, but also for the relative hardships of constant travel and time away from loved ones. It was another validation, showing that picking this DJ route wasn’t such a bad idea.

His next move? Another summer-long endeavor—his nationwide “Freaks of Nature” tour. Lucky for him, the time is right, as his notoriety has never been higher. In addition to the press he’s gained from winning the America’s Best DJ vote, Kaskade enjoyed a large feature in the New York Times, after selling out the Roseland Ballroom this past fall. (Though he’s been putting out music since 1997, having released seven artist albums so far, Kaskade was called “the new face of electronic dance music.”)

But he also gained a degree of infamy for the riot that resulted from his Twitter message about a Hollywood block party in celebration of the Electric Daisy Carnival film premiere. Ironically, of all the DJs in the world, the family man Ryan Raddon is probably the last one you’d expect to be starting any urban conflicts.

Just before playing California’s Coachella festival and as he was prepping for his “Freaks Of Nature” tour, the L.A.-based Kaskade took a quiet moment to chat with DJ Times about his gradual career ascent, his evolving stage setup, and a declaration that we are merely on the cusp of even bigger things for EDM—and boy, there’s no stopping now.

DJ Times: Congratulations are in order for your 2012 America’s Best DJ win! In terms of popularity and fan reaction, you beat out some incredibly impressive names. How does it feel?

Kaskade: It’s exciting! It’s a lot of fun. And, hey, it’s been crazy since [Winter Music Conference in] Miami…

DJ Times: This “Freaks Of Nature” summer tour looks to be pretty extensive with 50 cities. Seems like a huge undertaking…

Kaskade: It’s the largest tour I’ve ever done, for sure. Last year I signed on for the Identity Festival for 20 shows…. well, this is a lot in one month. I’m even squeezing some Ibiza shows in there during this tour, so it’ll be more like 65 shows in a matter of three months.

DJ Times: In terms of the live entertainment value, what’s different on this tour that perhaps your fans have not seen from you before?

Kaskade: Identify Festival was the first time I tested out building my own stage and having my own stage concept to match my music. I’ve taken that and gone a lot farther with it. I started from the ground up with an entirely new stage and concept—it debuted at Coachella. That’s the stage I take on the road with me on the “Freaks Of Nature” tour. In terms of the physical concept of the stage itself, I’ve also spent countless hours on the visuals that will be onstage, syncing them up with songs. For me, say for a specific song I wrote, I might be like, “Tonight I want a different feel and a different look on the screen.” I want to do something new and fresh, not just have a girl in a bikini dancing on the screen. It’s really my first chance of doing that.

DJ Times: Will you also be triggering the visuals, or will you have a VJ with you? What’s your DJ setup going to be on this tour?

Kaskade: I won’t be triggering any visuals. It’s the first time I’m doing MIDI-synced with lights and the art visuals, so it’s a lot more complicated. This is the first time I’m touring with Ableton Live also. It’s the first time I’ve integrated Ableton into my show. I’ve gone from DJing with vinyl to CDJs, then into the MP3 format right into the SD card. The CDJ is still a huge part of my process and what I’ll be using, but this is the first time I’ve integrated Ableton Live into my show in such a way. I have a MIDI controller with two Pioneer CDJs to augment it, because I feel so comfortable with the CDJs as an interface. It’s the first time I’ve integrated a laptop into my setup. This is the first time I’m taking a laptop on a show with me. I’m able to control more parameters than just two tracks this way. It’s a step into the future, really.

DJ Times: What about the big LED screen you’ll have behind you?

Kaskade: It also augments the show. I came up with the “Freaks Of Nature” tour and the butterfly concept. People look at my career over the last 12 years, and people have said that I’ve been able to do dance and still have my own style. I wanted the stage concept and the entire tour to have that feel, so I came up with the butterfly as my concept. The stage moves around and changes quite a bit throughout the show. For me, it’s about content that you’re seeing while you’re listening, to make it a total experience. That’s unique to my music. I played Ultra Music Festival and I can count the screens. They are amazing and there’s a humongous stage, but even though I have my own guy come with me, it’ll be different from when my content has been completely planned throughout. Going into Coachella, I’ve never rehearsed so much to make my show where I want it to be! It’s what EDM is about now, really. It used to be about going to clubs and playing the hits. Now, it’s an elaborate stage presentation. It’s performance art. People are familiar with my music, but now I made sure the content they’re looking at is as good as it can be.

DJ Times: Because dance music has invaded American pop culture again, traditional news outlets like The New York Times and even the Forbes blog have started running stories on dance music, albeit from an outsider’s perspective. But, even now, there are still some who rant online about DJs not being artists or even performers. As a songwriter yourself and an EDM DJ/producer at the top of your game, what do you say to those who still refuse to acknowledge EDM as a genre, or DJs and producers as performers and artists?

Kaskade: Any time you have a new genre that emerges, there’s always resistance [laughs]. This has been going on forever! When punk emerged or when rock came on, it was the same thing—it’s been going on forever. I think EDM is just going the same route right now. It’s what hip-hop was in the early-’80’s, and later having people like Bill O’Reilly shaking their fingers at it because they didn’t understand it. Those guys don’t know it.

DJ Times: They have no idea…

Kaskade: You can’t tell me what I’ve written and produced, because you haven’t listened to it! We’re experiencing this in a lot of ways. [EDC promoter] Insomniac Inc. is having its problems with the law just because there’s so much money involved right now and so many people are paying attention. That’s the downside of success. With that comes a lot of scrutiny. But you know what? This has been bubbling in the underground for 20 some years. This is our moment and nobody is going to take this away from us! We’re prepared because it’s taken so long, because so many people say this is their art form. They won’t be able to tear it down this time.

DJ Times: This has gotten almost too big for politics…

Kaskade: With the so-called RAVE Act [in 2003], they tried to make it unlawful to dance, but it’s not gonna happen this time. The cat’s out of the bag. It’s been going this way for a while. I remember in 2003, I think, I played Electric Daisy Carnival that year, and I remember looking out at 90,000 people. It was amazing to me that these people hadn’t been paying attention earlier! This is the largest subculture going on right now. It’s shocking how it’s taken so long! My life has been revolving around this for years.

DJ Times: With the, ahem, riot you caused in L.A. last year during the movie premiere for the EDC documentary, I’ve got to ask: What’s your take on social media? Did the response to your tweet surprise you?

Kaskade: I’m always blown away where this is at! I would’ve said that 10 years ago when five people came to my shows. I’ve always been shocked and happy that people are listening and paying attention. With social media, it’s just easier for 230,000 people to get my message. The thing in L.A., I was just… it’s early afternoon, and I had no idea that 5,000 people would show up. That entire block was really… that’s a testament to the scene in general and how excited people are about the music! I’m not surprised at how into it people are, and I understand how rabid they are.

DJ Times: This upsurge in your fanbase has been really organic.

Kaskade: I don’t have any commercial support. I’m on a tiny indie dance label [Ultra Records] out of New York City. I don’t have the marketing budget of the majors. The marketing budget I have for the next five years is what some major-label artists will spend just today! In order to find my music and find me, you already have to be a fan and be into this. So, I’m not surprised when people on Facebook or Twitter are that into it.

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