The Quake That Changed Bassnectar

The high priest of low-end will make the earthlings move at Surrender

Photo by Mel D. Cole

Photo by Mel D. Cole

Lorin Ashton was in sixth grade when the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake hit his hometown of San Francisco. He was riding shotgun with his mother when they heard the God-synthesized sub-bass. The car bounced. Trees appeared to sway and melt. His mom screamed. Ashton remembers thinking to himself, “Wow … this is power.”

“I was emotionally seized by the pure force of that low frequency. I didn’t understand or rationalize it at the time, but that was the first time I remember feeling terrified and overwhelmed by a natural power much greater than myself. And much more in control.” It quite literally rocked his world. “Humans were tossed aside like leaves,” remembers Ashton. “Roads bent in impossible ways, and trees and houses distorted. I sensed immense fear and vulnerability. It wasn’t so much the destructive power I liked, it was the raw power.” That theme has stayed with him “in every form of music that’s caught me, whether it was NWA or Ice Cube, Nirvana or Metallica, death metal or rave music. It was always the heaviness, that rawness that crossed over the edge. It was potentially dangerous, yet all-powerful—when you can measure sound in terms of weight, not volume.”

An award-hoarding screenwriter couldn’t have conjured a better backstory for the man who now moves thousands of earthlings regularly as Bassnectar. Twenty-five crewmembers and two semitrucks crammed with gear follow the longhaired Surrender resident around the continent, manifesting his tectonic sonic vision. “I have high fucking standards,” he says.

Witnessing Ashton choreograph bassheads into a hand-swatting, head-banging throng as he thrashes about behind his laptop is a sight to behold. “I stretch almost every night before I go on. I learned exercises from Slayer’s ex-monitor engineer. We were playing Memphis. He showed me what they did [to warm up]. Those dudes have been windmilling and whiplashing for 25 years. I learned from the best.”

Performing electronic music with the physicality of a metal shredder certainly sets Ashton apart from his Jesus-posing peers. His eclectic taste is another quintessential facet of his allure. Ashton has reimagined everyone from Primus and the Pixies to Ellie Goulding and Fever Ray. A mammoth digital library is at his fingertips at any given moment. “I run a program called Ableton Live, which allows me to play any and every song, loop or sample in any combination—from any start point. And to layer it all in an improvisational and limitless grid. I have this new technology called the Ultimate Nerd Server. It has a video clip synched to every single sound or song in my arsenal. That’s all triggered by me and layered real-time. It is literally immersive.” Each performance is a mind-altering experiment in fresh fusions, an electric Kool-Aid acid test fueled by aural ambrosia instead of LSD-laced sugar water.

Despite Ashton’s colossal appeal, there are those who don’t initially think of Las Vegas as a natural fit for a yearlong Bassnectar residency, including Ashton. “I’m an unusual DJ for Vegas,” he says. “I don’t play stereotypical dance music. I don’t even usually go to clubs. I don’t abide by a dress code. Yet, I love humans, and I love approaching music as an art form. Surrender gets so packed that it feels like an old party from 2001. I actually get more creative and have more fun than I would at a normal Bassnectar show. Does it feel like a casino? It feels like a madhouse.”

Ashton plays his final 2013 residency appearance October 31 at Surrender’s masquerade-themed party. “And there’s no dress code because it’s Halloween. It’s the first time I’ve ever thrown a true masquerade. Think Eyes Wide Shut.”