I think of sound more in terms of weight than volume,” says Lorin Ashton, best known as Bassnectar, “so I don’t necessarily want to play loud, I just want to play heavy.”
Right now, “heavy” is what has made Bassnectar one of the hottest names on the festival circuit. The Berkeley, Calif.-based DJ/producer has been pummeling dance music fans across the world, bringing his bass-heavy, body-shaking sound everywhere from Las Vegas’ Electric Daisy Carnival to Australia’s Big Day Out. The audience, he says, has grown “bigger and crazier” every year. He notices the sweat and the appearance of mosh pits.
If you’ve heard Bassnectar’s remix of Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy,” then you know he can drop tunes with all the hair-whipping intensity of metal. But that’s not necessarily what Ashton means when he says “heavy.”
“There’s a difference between heaviness and macho,” he says. “Beauty can be really heavy, too, so I’m not opposed to working with sounds that are beautiful or even effeminate.”
But, then, he likes to play “ugly shit,” too, songs that will prompt you to “make a dirty face.”
What Ashton may like best, though, is bass. It’s rampant in his songs—thick, low-end thumps that can force you to move even if you’re listening through ear buds at your desk. At his shows, to which he frequently brings in a custom sound system, the bass should throb. It should, he says, feel like “a full-body massage.”
Ashton, who grew up in Northern California, started out as a metal kid. He played guitar and drums in teen death-metal bands and organized shows in the basement of a library. He recalls anywhere from 20 to 100 kids filling up the basement, moshing until their noses were bloody. Those roots are crucial to what Ashton does now.
By the time Ashton was in his late teens, he had moved from metal to techno. While he was a student at UC Santa Cruz, in the mid-to-late 1990s, preparing for a career in education, he was also throwing parties off the grid and under the full moon. The parties got bigger. Eventually, Ashton began releasing music as Bassnectar. His reputation grew steadily until a couple of years ago, his name began turning up on the roster of one high-profile festival after the next. Ashton still puts on his own events, like last year’s Bass Island party in New York, but now he spends most of his time touring.
Although Ashton is best known for playing the festival circuit, he does turn up at clubs as well. His March 3 gig at Rain will provide a welcome change for Ashton. His last Las Vegas gig was EDC, so this allows him to play for a much smaller crowd.
“It’s a chance to play my own take on music for a smaller, tighter crowd with one of the best sound systems in the city,” he says.
Ashton doesn’t play clubs all that often anymore. He also claims that he has a hard time getting into clubs as a patron. He doesn’t wear shirts with collars.
“I’m hoping they let me into this one,” he says, only half-joking. “I’ll probably be underdressed.”
Ashton and the rest of Team Bassnectar will bring some of their signature visuals to Rain. How much they bring depends on what they will be able to fit in the club, but Ashton works with a full cadre of lighting and visual designers. His visuals consist of a mix of found footage as well as original videos, which are remixed to fit specific tempos and pieces of music.
Whether playing in a club or at a festival, Ashton strives for the same goal, and it’s one with roots in his Santa Cruz, Calif., rave days. “I’m really interested in people and bringing them together and forming a live experiment with them each night,” he says. The experiment, in a sense, is trying to keep the feeling of the gig intimate, no matter how big it is.
“To sell out at 10,000 people, but to feel like you’re literally there with each person individually and they’re all connected as well,” he says, “it’s a pretty ideal feeling.”