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Spin Without Sin

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."

Success eventually led to Club Manhattan's downfall. Following a rash of citations for overcrowding, local authorities shuttered the joint. Luckily, Raddon says, "I'd seen the writing on the wall." He'd gotten married sometime earlier but had decided to stick around Salt Lake until his wife, Naomi, graduated. She did so just before the closure of Club Manhattan, and in mid-2000, three weeks after the deed was done, the Raddons hit the road to San Francisco. There, Ryan quickly landed an internship at OM, and after a brief period of copy-making and other grunt work, he slid into an assistant A&R position, replacing an employee who'd moved to New York. His tasks included plowing through recordings sent to OM's owner, Chris Smith.

"We probably got a hundred demos a month, maybe more," Raddon allows. "There were just a slew of packages coming into that place from all over the world, and it was amazing how much crap they were sent. Chris didn't have time to listen to all that stuff, so I'd do it and then hand him the two, three, four good CDs that came in that week."

In Raddon's opinion, his music was every bit as good as the best efforts arriving over OM's transom. To test this theory, he slipped a disc of his own into the stack he delivered to Smith. "I took a shortcut," he concedes, laughing, but he didn't put his name on the submission, "because I wanted to get an honest opinion. It's a pretty tight-knit group of people running the label, and I didn't want them to feel obligated in any way." His secretive approach paid off; Smith grooved on the song and promptly dialed Raddon's contact number.

"He left a message on my cell phone saying, 'This is awesome. We've got to talk. Give me a ring,'" Raddon notes. "The next day, I came in and said, 'You liked that track? Well, that's me.'"

Since this conversation, Raddon has been in the OM fast lane, contributing to oodles of compilations, including the eccentric 2003 Christmas platter hOMe for the Holidays. His proudest accomplishment to date is In the Moment, a thirteen-ditty excursion into the gentler side of dance culture. The seductive, tuneful opener, "Steppin' Out," sets the stage for cuts such as the wide-screen "Soundtrack to the Soul" and "I Like the Way," a slow-burning dance-floor magnet. Collette Marino, whose vocal mastery highlights this last offering, hails from Chicago, but many of the other performers on Moment -- guitarist Rich Dixon, vocalist Joslyn and so on -- live in Utah. "There's a lot of talent here," Raddon says, "and it's cool for them to have an outlet like this."

As for Raddon, he's fully stocked with creative opportunities. His deejaying schedule is packed, and he's done remixes for Justin Timberlake, Rufus Wainwright and, strangest of all, Lawrence Welk; his revamping of the late champagne-music baton-wielder's "String of Pearls" is due in stores by year's end. "How bizarre is that?" he asks. In the meantime, he continues to balance his ultra-clean lifestyle with his night-stalking profession.

"Some dance people give me a hard time," he acknowledges. "They're like, 'You can't understand the music, because it's part of the drug culture.' And I'm like, 'That's not what house music is like -- not to me.'"

What about LDS members? Do they think playing music in clubs packed with horny pill-poppers somehow contradicts Mormon teachings?

"You know, I've never had a problem with that," Raddon says. "A few people have asked, 'Do people give you the look when you show up at church a little tired?' Because sometimes I'll be out all night, then take a quick shower and go to church. But they've all been really cool. They've been like, 'Wow, what a cool way to make a living.'"

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts