In the 90s he embodied the essence of underground, but by 2002-2003 Lorin Ashton aka Bassnectar reached an intense international touring schedule, performing about 150 nights out of the year, a grueling feat for even the most creative and dynamic of artists. Now in 2012 he continues to milk the sweet honey of his bass heavy, dubby, and radically unique style to the fullest degree, currently on his Vava Voom tour for his newest album.
His grounded, warm presence was a breath of fresh air amid the myriad of diva-Djs and mega-producers at Ultra Music Festival XIV this past March. Sensitive to the gentle sway of the artist’s tiki boat docked on the water at Bayfront Park, he asked if we could move to dry land to talk. On this gorgeous Saturday afternoon, I found myself sitting in a golf cart next to one of the most respected, innovative, and inspired electronic musicians of our time with the back drop of Miami’s opulent skyline and the rave’s muffled boom in the background.
A festival guru by now, Lorin didn’t pin-point any particular event as his favorite.
“It’s like asking what was your favorite strawberry. I mean it’s like, you love strawberries, so that’s hard to say. Every festival’s different, I’ve been to complete boondock festivals with 20,000 people, and been given moonshine that was made in the bathtub, and played dubstep after a bunch of hicks played banjos. And then you know, playing Bonaroo, Coachella, Lolla, all that stuff is it’s own thing, and we do our own kind of in-house festivals, so I just think everything’s different and I play my heart out at all of them.”
The in-house events he’s referring to are his Bass Center Festivals, first originating in Colorado in 2010.
“I think we’re up to number six now – five is gonna be in Philly and six is gonna be in Seattle. And then we’re going back to Colorado. It’s at the magnitude now where I’m constantly shocked but also not surprised, and just really grateful. I don’t know when it’s going to be over, and when it is, I’ll still be grateful for what I have experienced. So as for now it’s just a strange time.
Bass Center is less about the frills and more about doing a Bassnectar set that’s extended for a regional group of people. So planning the setup in one place, and then letting people drive it from all over. We’ve had all different kinds of artists’s support – Z-trip, Lupe Fiasco, the Glitch Mob, and many more. But we have A-Trak coming up for Philly and then Ghostland Observatory for Seattle. We did San Francisco and we had Wolfgang Gartner at the Bill Graham in September, and we did one in DC with Z-trip. It was gigantic.”
Bassnectar’s fan-base has grown so exponentially and his shows continue getting bigger and bigger, so he’s now doing fewer performances each year to focus on larger events instead. His itinerary once consisted of about 14 to 15 straight nights in all kinds of small, middle-of-nowhere towns harboring the alternative, against-the-grain audience that magnetize to his music , but now he’s targeting larger, regional audiences too.
He hopes to eventually do big Spring and Fall tours, festivals in the Summer, and juice up those creative nectars in the Winter time. The international touring circuit he began in the early 2000s became exhausting, and for the last 10 years he’s focused mainly on North America. Now that he’s returning to an international audience, he admits:
“I don’t know how long I’m going to do it. I’ll be in Europe for 8 weeks this summer and we’re going to South America for 2 weeks this week, and I just got back from Australia for three weeks. And that’s where it starts to get a little bit loopy. It’s just not enough time for home and being creative. But I’m giving it a try and we’ll see how it goes.”
It’s difficult to imagine how the frenzied lifestyle of a world famous artist lends itself to such boundless imagination and focus, but when I asked Lorin how he gets into his creative zone, he simply said:
“Honestly, not to sound dorky, but I’m always there. I just feel very inspired all the time. I’m kind of too backlogged to get musician’s block because I have at any given time hundreds of works in progress…and I love collaborating with other people so if I have time to be creative and I don’t have a good idea, there’s a dozen really good friends who I have collaborative songs with so I can just work on those.”
Nearly every Dj/producer in the EDM world today lives by this collaborative impulse because it’s absolutely vital to the evolution of styles and genres. The web connecting this burgeoning community is endless – all you need to do is grab hold of it. And that’s exactly what Lorin did before he became Bassnectar. The connective spirit of rave culture is what first spurred his interest in becoming one of it’s leaders.
It might sound surprising that Lorin was a raging metal head before he got into EDM, but he explained that the community aspect defining his early appreciation for metal had a lot to do with his transition to electronic music:
“It went hand in hand. I went from one underground scene of rejects to another underground scene of rejects, and the music was hardcore and non-typical in both. So I think the difference is it was a lot friendlier in the electronic music world, and I think I’m more of a friendly person than I am an aggro person, so it just kind of happened really naturally.”
The “PLUR” ideology that defined 90s rave culture completely captivated him, and after his first rave experience in 1995, he knew he had to be part of it.
“It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life not because that rave or gathering was necessarily better than another, but because it was my first. And up until that point, I’d never danced for 9 hours, I’d never danced once. I was at the junior prom with the biggest junior high crush that I’d ever had, and I didn’t dance with her once, I watched her dance with the jocks and I just stood there…I knew how to head bang and that was it. So being able to be there and lose my mind for 9 hours…I’d never looked at a Dj, I didn’t even really know what a Dj was…and just to feel that sense of community, I could leave from that building knowing that I had to do this for other people.”
Of course we are all well aware of the negative connotations that have been pinned on the EDM community and the rave scene over the past decade or so, and with the increasing popularity of these events (as well as the constantly rising price tag), we wonder if PLUR still really exists as it once did. Is it being overshadowed by the excessive narcissism and greediness that at times taints our rising Facebook generation of ravers, or does that original communal spirit still live at the heart of EDM culture? Ultra undoubtedly exemplifies both ends of the spectrum when it comes to the audience it attracts – there’s always going to be purists alongside the partiers, and that co-existence is all part of what makes it so unique.
For Bassnectar, it comes down to the idea that ‘sharing is caring,’ and that mentality in it’s purest form is what ultimately drives rave culture – and for that matter, any communal culture with a shared passion.
“I think community is such a broad sense, it really comes down to friendship and exchange, and you see community online with people sharing things, and you see community live with festivals, but I don’t think it really needs to be confined to anything, community could be a stamp collecting group, or a chess club, or two friends.”
He recounted the story of the legendary Bassquake that transformed his conception of music from an early age:
“I said that as a joke but it’s real…It was the Loma Prita earthquake back in 1989 in California, and my Mom was driving me home from the dentist. I was in the passenger seat, and she started screaming and I looked out the window and I saw the road was bending and the trees were shaking in this really unnatural way, and there was just this sound that was….it was a horrifying sound, it felt like something so powerful was about to crush me. And it was that intimidation feeling that really I think…it was traumatic, but when you can harness that sound…a lot of time I think about, you know, 200 years ago human beings could not create bass at will the way we can create it now. It’s a new phenomenon, and watching how people gravitate towards it, it’s pretty funny.”
This head-banging, shaggy haired face-melter is also quite the intellectual, and he’s been known for expressing strong social and political views through his music. A striking example from his album Motions of Mutation is a track titled “So Butterfly” that contains part of a Noam Chomsky speech amid an entrancing and haunting melody. But recently he’s taken a less directly political approach in favor of simply fostering humanist attitudes through his art to inspire social change:
“These days I basically do what I want, I say what I want, so if I feel political I’ll get political, and I used to a lot more, especially during the Bush/Cheney years. I don’t really feel that political anymore, I’m pretty disappointed and disenchanted with all of it, all the parties. I’m more interested with humanistic causes that would basically be as simple as helping inspire and educate other people, and helping them educate and inspire each other, and just be really happy for the beautiful things in life, and reminding people at the same time to be happy for those things. It’s so easy to forget you know, and get caught up in how fast life is moving. It’s easier for me to make a deeper impact by not getting too preachy and not breaking the spell, so the show can really be an atmosphere of emergence and emerging and magic and not so much schooling people, and if they wanna talk about politics or anything, talking out of the party online is better.”
What’s the wildest, craziest thing you’ve seen on tour?
“There’s a lot of things and it’s like when you’re at the video rental store, if those even exist anymore, and someone asks you what movie to rent and you suddenly space on it. Every time people ask me that I space on it and then I always end up coming up with a different answer because there’s been so much ridiculous stuff and I can’t even think of one…”
What about a crazy fan moment?
“Yeah, I’ve had a couple stalkers. So I haven’t worn pants for like 7 years, and then this last December a friend of mine was like ‘You have to get a pair of jeans.’ I was wearing jeans, and the first day I got jeans I came home and there was a pair of jeans waiting on my front porch, posed out, and I know who left it there. So yeah there’s a lot of crazy people on tour.”
(Check out the footage of Bassnectar’s insane Vava Voom touring moments here).
At the end of our chat, I asked him jokingly if he had a spirit animal, and Lorin’s answer was the quintessential description of his musical style:
“Haha! OH man, I don’t think I have one. I think I love all animals, but maybe it would be a beast, or a beauty…”