America’s Best DJ—Again

Kaskade reflects on his career, getting personal on his latest album and dispelling EDM’s druggy brand image

Photo by Karl Larson | Powers Imagery

Photo by Karl Larson | Powers Imagery

After wrapping up his Summer Lovin residency at Marquee over Labor Day Weekend, and starting his winter stint at XS, Kaskade returned to Marquee on October 13, but this time not to lay hands on decks, but to accept the Pioneer DJ/DJ Times fan-voted award for America’s Best DJ, becoming the first two-time winner in the award’s eight-year history. It’s just the latest accomplishment for the gracious Grammy-nominated producer, who has scored a dozen Top 10 Billboard singles and a No. 1 album; headlined the Ultra, Coachella and EDC festivals; and, most impressively, has risen to such great significance in the industry as to have earned the distinction of becoming my first-ever two-time interviewee. I know, I know.

You were also voted America’s Best DJ by Pioneer DJ/DJ Times in 2011. How have you evolved as an artist since that time?

My show has changed a lot in the last two years. That was before I had done Freaks of Nature, which was a huge tour in 50-plus cities. Before, a show for me was like, “OK, cool, when I cue this one song, make sure to hit the strobe lights.” Now, fast-forward two years, the Atmosphere tour in Chicago last night was six semitrucks and lots of rehearsal time. So it’s gone from a club gig in the basement somewhere in San Francisco to these massive stadiums, such as Barclays Center in New York, where it’s a full-on 100 percent orchestrated production.

What’s most special about Atmosphere relative to your previous albums?

The fact that I’m singing on this record for the first time makes it a bit more personal. All of my records are very personal; I’m writing the lyrics, and you can’t help but draw on past experiences or current experiences in your life. But deciding to sing and open myself to even more criticism—are people gonna like this or hate it or what?—it wore me out. I made it a very personal record.

How do you typically choose vocals on a track, and why did you pick yourself for the “Atmosphere” single?

Typically I write the song and go through it in my head, asking whose voice would work with this concept and idea. I have a head full of singers I’ve been working with for the past 10 years. Or with Skylar Grey, I was like, “Man, her voice would work really well. I should sit down and write stylistically, so her style and my style match.” So that’s how I do it: I just think of how it’s going to work on this song. “OK, let’s try to get this person to sing it.” And for “Atmosphere,” I wrote this song that’s super personal, so I should just try singing it myself. I don’t have to be the perfect singer; I‘m not trying to be a famous singer. But I can actually capture the vibe better than anyone else.

You’ve been one of the anti-drug voices in EDM. What will it take to dispel the drug part of the genre’s brand?

I think it’s happening, but it’s happening quietly. I’ve done three massive Atmosphere shows, and there have been no problems. In Chicago last night 10,000 people were losing their minds, but then at the end everyone went home. Before the show the people who run that venue were freaking out saying, “Oh my God, people can’t bring Chapstick in. It might be liquid nitrogen or something.”

They’re going crazy reading this stuff from the press. It’s important to show the promoters and these people that we’re not like that. It was like two different people. Before, they were, “Aaaah!,” and after, “This is amazing! When can you do it again?” On Thursday we watched the Bears game and the people were so drunk, man, they were wasted. I couldn’t believe that EDM gets all the bad press. People are not that wasted at my shows.

You’ve just wrapped your Summer Lovin’ residency at Marquee and are just getting started at XS. What’s your favorite thing about each venue?

My favorite thing about [Marquee]: It sounds amazing. This club has a warmth and a feel to it, and the sound is incredible. The sound is such an important piece of what nightclub music is. So if you get that right—which these guys did—it means a lot. At Wynn, I just did my first show there. I love how the DJ booth is so incredibly close to the crowd. I’m literally fist-pumping with them as I’m mixing. I love being close; I love people sweating on the mixer and interacting with them.

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