Before record execs plugged in to electronic dance music and dubstep, making them the hottest sound of the moment, there was Lorin “Bassnectar” Ashton. For more the 15 years now, the San Francisco–based beatsmith been toiling away—DJing, hosting and organizing electronic dance music parties and dropping albums and mixtapes strictly for the love of the music. It certainly wasn’t for fame or money.
“I was releasing albums totally unofficially to zero fanfare and to, like, no one as early as 1993,” Bassnectar, 34, told Complex from his hotel room in São Paulo Brazil weeks ago. He was there to perform at Lollapalooza, where thousands danced to his “freak-out” cuts, and promote his latest album Vava Voom. He pretty much never stops touring.
Here Bassnectar talks about how he connected with Lupe Fiasco for Voom’s lead single, why he turned down an opportunity to work with Flo Rida, and why he’s not mad at how, all of a sudden, everyone loves the music he’s been down with for decades.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)
COMPLEX: How does your background in hard rock and death metal translate to the music you make today?
Since I was a little kid, I’ve just been really interested in the road less taken. I was always gravitating towards underground scenes and alternative culture in high school and in the early 1990s. There was an amazingly organized worldwide death metal scene that was comprised of maybe one to five weirdo rejects in school who were into this polarizing satanic fucking crazy sound. Being a young kid, it was fun to have that as my flag to wave. It was the shock value. I could scare the neighbors with it. I could blast it when I peeled out in my Volvo.
I’m not really a trendy person. I don’t have any style. I dress with the same clothes I wore in high school. I’ve got hair down to my ass and it’s not in season. It’s whatever it is. I’m happy doing what I do and I love human enthusiasm.
Who are some of those artists, some of those bands you were into coming up?
It’s really hard to get specific because my tastes are so enormously wide. I feel like the diversity comes from how much time I have been alive on this planet because every year I’m soaking up new sounds and old sounds. So I’m exploring old artists who died before I was born who have ideas that mesh with other collaborators and made things happen that to this day I never would have thought up on my own.
To me, it’s more anthropological than it is specifically musical—just experiencing other people’s imaginations and other people’s creativity. Through electronic music, being able to engage with Ella Fitzgerald. Being to introduced Ella Fitzgerald to Jimi Hendrix and fucking Beethoven and Dr. Dre. I just got goose bumps when I said that. It’s a special thing that never existed before.
How do you feel about your genre being the sound of the moment? Do you think it’s about time folks pick up on it?
I think it’s a happy accident. I certainly would still be here even if it wasn’t the sound of the moment. It’s naturally where I found myself with dumb luck and that was after almost 20 years of the complete opposite of literally liking music that no one else in town liked and being just fine with that. I wouldn’t get chased away from what I love by other people’s relationship to that. Whether I’m the only one in the room who likes the song or everyone in the room likes the song, I still like the song.
This kind of trend passes on to the next thing. That’s what happens. I’m not really a trendy person. I don’t have any style. I dress with the same clothes I wore in high school. I’ve got hair down to my fucking ass and it’s not in season. It’s whatever it is. I’m happy doing what I do and I love human enthusiasm. I think it’s one of the most special treasures of our culture. It’s finding things that trigger delight and passion in people. Having this rare and magical ability to have my hand on the button that triggers pleasure for large amounts of people and being able to push that button and turn it all the way to the max is fun.