Posted October 8, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Bassnectar: Immersed in positivity


A former metalhead who embraced electronic music after attending a rave in San Francisco in the ‘90s, Bassnectar (Lorin Ashton) is one of the biggest acts in the world of electronic dance music. Notorious for his live show, which is a visual and aural extravaganza, the guy just released a terrific new studio album. Noise vs Beauty vacillates between hip-hop and electronica and includes collaborations with a number of vocalists. He recently phone from New York to talk about the album and the fall tour.

How was your summer?
We had a relentless festival tour season that might have started in New York in May. It was non-stop. Festival season is a lot different than tour season because of the context of the events. Each stop on the tour is a chance to go deep with extended sets. It involves more creativity. It’s more of an immersive environment because it’s enclosed inside of a building and there’s no distractions. It’s preferable to me as an artist.

Talk about this explosion in electronic dance music. What’s different this time around?
The key for me is to not change what I do. As EDM has exploded it has moved in a direction that’s not interesting to me. Instead of trying to respond to that, I still try to play my heart out and reinvent the wheel on an artistic level, keeping to the ethos of the punk rock music scene that’s more DIY. What we’re trying to do is more like team work than it is about showmanship. We’re creating immersive environments all over the country. We’re playing music we love. When I was 18 I went to my first rave and it changed my life. I want to give that back to the world. I want to give that experience back to people. That’s what Bassnectar is about.

Do you remember that first rave?
I remember going with the guys in my band. We all had death metal shirts on. I never danced before. I only knew how to headbang. I didn’t notice the DJ. I didn’t even know what a DJ was. I wasn’t geeking out watching them play. I danced for nine hours straight. It was epic. I remember the atmosphere. It was the first truly friendly musical atmosphere I ever experienced. At house parties, it was all about being macho and everybody showing off. At death metal shows, things ended up being really crazy. I felt completely safe at the rave. I remember bumping into someone and thinking that I needed to apologize. Instead I was spontaneously hugged by a stranger. I just remember it being really friendly.

It changed my life in a positive way to the point that I want to create an atmosphere where music is the catalyst for friendships.

Was it in a warehouse?
Yes, it was in a random warehouse. It was thrown by The Gathering who did large events. It was a rave they had once a year. It was a 500-person back-to-basics show. It was in 1995. They were all old school and it was one of their tiny get-togethers.  I always just went to death metal shows so it was different for me.

How’d you end up getting your DJ gear?
It was a natural development. As soon as I got into death metal, I bought a guitar and then I got a band together. I got a four track and an effects processor. I was already collecting tapes of college radio shows that featured electronic music. I would make remixes that were electronic but I made them with guitar and drums.  The next day after that first rave, I was trying to get behind-the-scenes and work my way into the scene. It just snowballed from there.

When you released Divergent Spectrum in 2011, you said it was created for really large settings. Do you feel the same way about Noise vs Beauty?
Yeah. I guess my musical tastes were more obscure in the late ’90s and early 2000s and I was creating music for headphones and car stereos. My shows were more intimate. As the shows began to expand, my music would intensify to fit the setting. By the time I released Divergent Spectrum, it was about making mega fucking anthems. That’s continued through Vava Voom and Freestyle and Take You Down. The frenzy of the crowd is something that I’m playing off of.

I’m not there to play lullabies, though I do enjoy the occasional lullaby.

I think “You & Me” is really beautiful and has a certain intimacy to it. What inspired it?
On a philosophical level, it’s about friendship. On a stylistic level, it feels like an indie band. It feels like a rock song. I didn’t want it to feel like an EDM remix or something. It was a wonderful collaboration between the vocalist and guitarist and myself. On the instrumental version of the song before [W. Darling] got it, I was talking to Trent Reznor about getting him on the song, I was going to take it in a much more angst-ridden direction vocally. That was my intention – to juxtapose intense vocals with a beautiful melody. She sang over it and it was butter melting over cake so I stuck with it.

Have you worked with Reznor?
No, but I almost held onto his hand on a plane ride from Coachella to Las Vegas. We hadn’t met. I didn’t know it was him but he was sitting next to me. We had the worst turbulence and I thought the plane was going down and we looked at each other and we almost grabbed each other’s hands. When we got off the plane, I introduced myself. He said he loved my music but I ruined his set from the night before because we played at the same time and I guess my sound system was competing with his.

Some of the hip-hop numbers like “Now” and “Lost in the Crowd” are really great. Talk about when you first started listening to hip-hop and how it’s connected to your own music.
I was in sixth grade and I listened to Straight Outta Compton. “Fuck Tha Police” and “Straight Outta Compton.” I don’t know what it was, but I memorized those songs. I did my own censorship. I would say the “n word” and “b word” when I rapped it. I was in love with that music. It was just the happiness of those beats.

I think Dr. Dre was sampling ‘70s funk and repacking it for a new generation.
We just take a previous decade’s music and update it. The next generation hears it and thinks it’s something new but it’s just an updated version of the past. I think it’s beautiful. That’s the same thing you could say for every song I ever made.

“Ephemeral” sounds like it could be on a soundtrack to a sci-fi film. Inspired.
At the turn of the century, I was looking back into the ‘90s and into a genre that I loved with that was side room trip-hop ambient music. I loved the full-on trance or drum ’n’ bass rooms too. I also loved to play a 100-person showroom where you’re playing Massive Attack or Portishead or Ninja Tune records. There was always this Underworld or Future Sound of London room that was very synth heavy and beautiful. It’s like fluffy cloud style. I started making music like that with drum ’n’ bass lines around the year 2000. “Ephemeral” was a song I wrote and never did anything with. Ten years later, I wanted to update it and make it its own song. Emotionally, there’s nothing else like it on the album. To me, it’s very euphoric and beautiful to listen to.

Talk about the current live show and what you’re going for in terms of the music and in terms of the visuals.
Combining the audio and the visual together is something that’s been a long journey. Last year, we unleashed this system that syncs up my samples and songs with video imagery and with video content. I can control the video show from the same computer that I control the music from. It’s really interactive and allows me to be spontaneous and improvise but to have every song I play has some kind of video. You can dazzle people’s nervous systems or send them messages with video.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates 

















State Theatre-Portland ME

Memorial Auditorium-Burlington VT

The Oakdale Theatre-Wallingford CT

Tsongas Arena – Lowell MA

Stage AE – Pittsburgh PA

LC Pavilion- Columbus OH

Agora Theater – Cleveland OH

Greensboro Coliseum- Greensboro NC

Baton Rouge River Center – Baton Rouge, LA

Austin Music Hall- Austin TX

The Pageant- St. Louis MO

The Midland – Kansas City MO

Brooklyn Bowl- Las Vegas NV

MontBleu Resort Showroom- Lake Tahoe CA

Sacramento Memorial Auditorium – Sacramento CA

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco CA



Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected]