When I first got going," recalls Lorin Ashton, "I was into fuckin' brutal, satanic death metal."
Even with all of his hair, it's hard to imagine that Ashton, better known in dance circles as Bassnectar, was once enthralled with extreme metal. After all, dubstep, the subgenre he's essentially helped pioneer, is known more for its resonating bass beats than for shredding guitars, blast beats and guttural vocals. Over the past year, thanks in large part to the rising popularity of fellow low-end-loving acts like Skrillex, dubstep has steadily been making mainstream inroads, which has put Ashton in an enviable position. But to him it's about more than just punishing bass lines.
"I am really passionately enthralled and obsessed with bringing people together in creative ways," notes Ashton. "And we do pour an ungodly amount of effort into bringing in different kinds of multimedia systems, sound systems and audience-interactive systems."
Ashton has set up those systems in places as far-flung as a music festival on Governor's Island, New York, that was reachable only by ferry, and an earth-shaking performance at Red Rocks, to which he brought his own speakers to complement the sound.
"I love combining really big, heavy, thunderous music with, well, everything," Ashton explains. "But even as a teenager, when I got into metal music, I still approached it from a creative place. I was always gentle and very friendly." By delving into so many genres and taking choice picks from each, Ashton has developed a great solo formula for recycling classic tracks and adding his own unique elements. And though he performs on his own, his obsession with mixing it up with other artists points to his yearning for a full band to work with. "I miss being in bands," he confesses, "because I miss being able to bounce ideas off people and contributing to something with other people. I was raised in a commune, so it's kind of in my personality."
With this in mind, Ashton has long considered the possibility of forming a side project, one with a full band. "It was really ahead of its time ten years ago," he says, this notion of forming a group. "Now it feels like it's been tried a couple times and never done the way I imagined."
He's had plenty of time to formulate that image. Starting in the early '90s, Ashton began pursuing his passion by throwing DIY full-moon gatherings, as well as other outdoor events. "I was obsessed with the underground culture," he recalls. "But I missed out on a lot of great stuff. I never listened to Tool or Deftones or Pennywise, because I considered them weak at the time."
That has since changed, obviously, and Bassnectar's latest release, Divergent Spectrum, gleams with diversity. The upcoming release VaVa Voom, slated to drop later this year, promises to highlight some of these overlooked styles. "As usual," he says, "it was supposed to be an EP, but once I finished the ninth song, I figured, why not make it ten?"
The music of Bassnectar bleeds with mixes from the modern realm of music, yet all of them retain one thing in common: The added intensity of lower-frequency sound waves mixed with complex distorted effects, resulting in anthemic bass music. Finding success with remixes of the likes of Ellie Goulding ("Lights"), the Pixies ("Where Is My Mind?") and Gogol Bordello ("Immigraniada"), Bassnectar remains at the top of the food chain when it comes to delivering an appropriate electronic remix, one that can even shed new light on the remixed artist.
By incorporating so many outside sources, he can expose a potentially unheard artist to nearly 10,000 new fans. Not that the remixes are what make up Bassnectar — there's far more to Ashton's original music than just sampled vocals and guitar tracks — but remixing has helped new fans connect on a level that was once unachievable.
Ashton also loves the balance. Seeing beyond genres, he is able to incorporate a harmonious disposition from all sides of music — what he refers to as the feminine and masculine sides of the art. "I find that a lot of the dubstep is great 'peak time' music," he observes, "but it lacks the emotion I feel when watching a movie and listening to the film score, and I am really into the film score."
This affinity for emotion in a performance shines through as he takes fans on a journey, often for two hours, that can jump from a melodic Nelly Furtado sample directly into an original score like "Cozza Frenzy" that completely transposes the feeling. "It's like beauty and the beast," he adds. And the beast is getting a lot of attention right now. "Even when I was making death metal," he goes on, "it had really tragic, melancholic vibes to it. It was just raw and pretty." When he performs, you can see clear nods to Ashton's death-metal past. As the tracks crescendo, Ashton still makes "an ugly face," as he puts it, on songs like "Immigraniada."
But beyond the music — the bass music and heavy drops — and the visuals, there is a team of dedicated people who work together in creating these extreme shows. "A lot of people online have referred to Bassnectar as them," he notes, "and they are falsely corrected by someone else claiming that it's only one guy." True, Bassnectar is the name of the artist, and that artist is Ashton alone on stage mixing the music, but there is a whole team of people who now travel with him, eagerly await his arrival at venues, and work tirelessly to continue pumping bass music into the world.
"It's a huge force of collaborative people," Ashton reveals, "from the booking and management, to the organic street team ambassador crowd outreach, to the fourteen people we have touring with us right now."
The so called "amBASSadors" he's speaking of are pop-up locals, who meet prior to the show to generate ideas about bringing the hype for the night. An open call is placed to anyone interested, and in trade for helping spread the word, Bassnectar's camp provides tickets to the show. It has been a really successful way for the team, which includes dedicated involvement from Ashton himself, to spread the word about shows, happenings and other news from the Bassnectar crew.
With such a commitment, Ashton has been able to keep up a hectic tour schedule. But whether he's making music or performing it, at the end of the day, it all comes down to one thing: "I just love that pure, raw power," he concludes.