By Brad Lopez
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By Noah Hubbell
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Ryan Raddon, who records under the name Kaskade, isn't a typical superstar DJ. For one thing, he schedules a late-May interview for 9 a.m., a time when most in-demand turntable manipulators are still lingering in slumberland. For another, he speaks just before heading to a recording studio in Salt Lake City, a community that hardly rivals New York, Paris or Ibiza as an international dance mecca. And where is he staying during his time in the Beehive State? With his retired parents, naturally.
Party on, dude.
In the dance community, where jocks tend to celebrate hedonism and better living through chemistry with equal exuberance, Raddon, who's in his early thirties, is an anomaly: a happily married father of one (daughter Mia was born last year) and confirmed teetotaler. Nonetheless, he's managed to establish himself as a deck maestro of uncommon skill and notable versatility. In the past two years, he's put out two atmospheric mix CDs on the San Francisco-based OM imprint -- Sounds of OM, Vol. 3 and San Francisco Sessions: Soundtrack to the Soul -- as well as a couple of additional discs, It's You, It's Me and the just-released In the Moment, that feature original compositions played in large part by actual musicians. He feels that the blending of technology and humanity represents the next step in dance.
When he was planning the albums, Raddon says, "I'd see a guy with a laptop punching up tracks, and I'd be like, 'I need more depth to keep me interested at this point.' Ten years ago it was great, because it was so fresh, but it had become stale to me. And I was so inspired by what was going on in San Francisco. You could go to DJ sets and see guys performing with vocalists or percussionists, and I thought, 'This is where it's at. I need to get in the studio with some great musicians, make some minds collide and see what goes on.'"
This penchant for adventure can be traced back to Raddon's boyhood. He grew up in suburban Chicago, where he was heavily involved in skateboarding and breakdancing. From there it was an easy leap to house music, which was bigger in Chicago during that era (the mid-'80s) than virtually anywhere else in the country. He credits his two older brothers, one of whom is now a hospital administrator living in Denver, with introducing him to the genre; mix shows on local radio stations stoked the fire. By age fifteen, when he made his first visit to a house-music-oriented all-ages club, he was hooked. He'd boogie by night and hang out by day at Gramaphone, a retail outlet "that's now recognized pretty much worldwide as the first house-music record store," Raddon notes. "I didn't have a lot of money to spend on records, so the ones I did buy were the greatest ones, the ones that were being hammered at all the clubs. I wound up with crates full of Chicago all-time classics."
Raddon's passion for music didn't lessen his devotion to his family's religious convictions. His parents raised him and his siblings in the famously conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Chicago's Mormon community was quite modest, and the number of the religion's followers involved in area house music was smaller still; Raddon may have been the only one. Nonetheless, he discovered that the house crowd constituted "a very open, non-judgmental scene, and I felt very comfortable in it. This guy would be doing his thing, and that guy would be doing his thing, so I was able to say, 'Well, this is what I do. I'm straight-edge. I don't drink. I don't party.' And nobody would judge. They were all very accepting of that."
Raddon's focus on faith was no passing phase. He spent two years on an LDS mission to Toyko and decided to attend the University of Utah because "I thought it would be a cool social experience. I wanted to meet and spend time with other young kids who had similar beliefs."
Upon relocating to Utah, he discovered plenty of Mormons who fit this description, and, as a bonus, he fell in love with snowboarding. The only thing lacking was a decent supply of house. "There was nothing happening," he laments. "But if you build it, they will come."
To help spread the gospel, Raddon began playing house music on the campus radio station and hung out so often at Mechanized Records, the only store in the area that regularly stocked cutting-edge dance fare, that he was hired as an employee. Later, he bought into the business and released some singles under the Mechanized umbrella. His most important outreach effort, though, involved Club Manhattan, a small venue dating back to the '40s. "I approached the owner and said, 'What's your slowest night? I want to bring my sound system and turntables down here, throw a little party and invite my friends,'" recalls Raddon. "And before I knew it, everything went crazy. I was there for five years, two nights a week, drawing 400, 500, 600 people a night -- and the capacity was 300."