Lorin Ashton grew up in a commune in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the first art he created was mini-movies on his dad's cine-camera at the age of 10. He soon got into heavy metal groups like Megadeth and Nirvana in his early teens and started a metal band called Pale Existence, and promoted metal shows before discovering that he loved going to raves in California in the mid-'90s. Soon he was making his own electronic stuff, using rudimentary equipment at first.
“Ever since I began producing electronic music, I approached it in the same way I learned to write and create death metal,” he tells DJ Mag. “Everything from song structure to writing riffs and developing beats, down to the melodies and intensity is inspired by the grimy, haunting, heavy sounds I was obsessed with as a kid.”
Familiarity with any Bassnectar productions will confirm this — but we're jumping ahead of ourselves here. As DJ Lorin he started spinning at parties around San Fran, and began going to — and playing plenty of DJ sets at — the crazy Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, which was in its formative years back then. He began creating his own free full moon parties, playing psychedelic trance himself, throwing raves on beaches, in fields and in warehouses.
Soon after the Millennium he released his first album, 'Freakbeat For the Beatfreaks' on his own Amorphous Music, and became Bassnectar in 2002. “The name is like a mixture of the heaviest with the sweetest,” he tells DJ Mag. It was around this time that he started sucking up all sorts of music from other genres and moving away from psy-trance. Drum & bass, breakbeat, embryonic dubstep... “I suppose I first heard dubstep in the early 2000s with Horsepower Productions and all the British producers combining reggae, breakbeat garage and two-step,” he says. Meeting cats like globetrotting dread FreQ Nasty — “he has been a major influence in my musical development since the late '90s” — meant that his sound began morphing further.
He pretty much released an album a year after that, not really doing any remixes or putting out many singles, just concentrating on community engagement with his parties and DJ sets — and touring like fuck. Throughout the noughties on the Californian underground and beyond, he became absurdly popular. Fellow freaky fans who'd follow him around became known as Bass-Heads — like a 21st century equivalent of the Grateful Dead's Dead-Heads.
He started to play annually at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre — the iconic Colorado spot that has hosted The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and U2 — and in 2011 he was in the top three of acts who sold the most tickets that year, alongside Tiësto and Deadmau5. He started his 'Dollar Per Bass-Head' campaign to distribute funds to grassroots activist, mental health and free press organisations, and started Bass Centers — his own mini-festivals. Wolfgang Gartner, Zedd, A-Trak and Glitch Mob are among those who've played Bass Centres.
“That was an idea we developed because we started having so many people follow along on tour, and realised that we could make huge regional events, and that people would road trip in,” he explains. “So it was something we would do extra special when we expected to get crowds of up to 10,000 showing up. Then the last few years, most of the gigs have been such massive crowds with so many travellers that we couldn't really call one a Bass Center and not most of them. So we stopped using that word. We are bringing it back this Fall, though — in New York City at Madison Square Garden.”
NOISE VS. BEAUTY
Bassnectar has played all over the world, but has mainly concentrated on the US. “I'm all about networking, and I found it was easier to develop a truly fanatic and interactive fan-base by focusing on a specific region,” he says. “North America is extremely vast, the demand greatly outweighs the supply, so it's just more fun to cycle through a touring schedule of people who are extremely familiar with your history and personality. My goal isn't to be famous or to, like, conquer the earth. I just like creating special moments with other humans.”
His rolling tour is a major deal. A Bassnectar show involves three or four trucks of gear, two tour buses and a crew of up to 25. The soundsystem, décor, lights and visuals and all the rest of it that he doesn't scrimp on literally cost tens of thousands of dollars per show. As we were saying — BIG. Like fellow alt.bass fiends Rusko and Skrillex, Bassnectar isn't adverse to playing regular festivals too — he's played Coachella, Lollapalooza and Ultra in the past, and this year will be dropping heavy beats at EDC New York and Tomorrowland in Belgium, amongst lots of others. This will undoubtedly make him bigger still.
And now his new album, 'Noise vs Beauty', is set to send him stratospheric. After a neo-classical symphonic intro, tasty trap track 'Now' features hip female rapper Rye Rye before 'Loco One' brings the brostep. From anthemic popstep through rockist beat jams and gnarly drumstep joints such as 'Gnar', it's the album that approximately 27.2% of American teens are gonna be brocking out to this summer.
DJ Mag asks Lorin if he'd accept that this album is a bit more commercial than previous stuff? “I accept anything, because I am certain about one thing: this is the best album I have ever created,” he says. “It is my favourite work to date, I love every second of it. I am thrilled to delight people with it if they enjoy it, and if it's not for them that's fine too. I feel free.”
When we ask if he had a concept for the album at the start, Bassnectar has this to say: “Yes, but it's basically the same concept of all my albums dating back to 2001, which is the balance between extremes: exploring the spectrum from the most dark to the most light, and everything in-between. I have very diverse musical tastes, so I just like to mash-up genres and styles and influences, and go everywhere from the hardest and nastiest and most insane, to the softest, most ethereal sweetness.”
As the man says, 'Noise vs Beauty'. Suck it up.