Sorry, kids. Bassnectar's May 3 show at the Civic is sold out. (Joshua Brott)
When Lorin Ashton, better known by his stage name Bassnectar, performs at the Catalyst this Sunday and Monday, May 6-7, it will be a sort of homecoming. Since graduating, the UCSC alum has since gone on to become one of the biggest names in the electronic and digital music scene, but he remembers the city fondly as the place that nurtured his creative spirit.
“I never wanted to leave Santa Cruz,” says Ashton. “It was sort of like my coming of age. For me it was the perfect storm of friendliness mixed with creative and experimental people.” As a 19-year-old freshman he remembers his attraction to the community built around the rave scene. “When I came here in 1996 I discovered electronic music and the rave scene,” he recalls. “With the university being pass/fail I felt the freedom to explore classes. My major was in Community Studies and my minor was in electronic music, which I think has defined my life.”
For Ashton, community has continued to be an important theme in life. At every Bassnectar event $1 is donated to a charitable or community organization for each ticket sold. When in Santa Cruz the money goes to the Community Studies department, currently under attack due to the recent rash of extreme budget cuts. The civic-minded DJ has also advocated for other causes like free press, net neutrality and ending corporate personhood. Still, he doesn’t think of himself as political in the conventional sense. “I’m more interested in humanistics and building community. I like encouraging and inspiring people to think outside the box.”
The immediacy and viscerality of a Bassnectar gathering seems to be a logical extension of Ashton’s community-mindedness. In the crowd, boundaries between people melt away amid the power of the spectacle. “It’s all about setting up multimedia art installations,” he says. “We’re setting up a show that is an independent event where we set up a customized atmosphere for the room and the people. It’s a really special chance to make something that is emotionally impactful.”
The enormous popularity of Bassnectar and other electronic and dance music artists proves that people are responding to the new wave of electronic music with unprecedented enthusiasm. For Ashton it’s an interesting turn of events. His early years as a DJ were marked by an official crackdown on the rave scene, sending electronic music lovers to the hills, literally (see sidebar). He never expected the music he loved would explode into a worldwide phenomenon.
“The first time I played [in Santa Cruz] I was afraid not enough people would come,” he remembers. “But that show sold out, then we had to move to the Civic Auditorium, and now that’s one of the smallest rooms on our entire tour. We’re playing for 5,000 people in Knoxville, Tenn.”
Electronic music, he says, has “hit so hard that I feel that now electronic music is as viable and credible a form of music as rock & roll.” Given its enormous popularity, the world, it seems, would agree.
—by Juan Guzman
IN HIS OWN WORDS
On the Gathering and Harmony parties at UCSC in the mid-’90s:
“I pretty quickly got swept away by the underground global psychedelic trance scene, and that was where I spent all of my time. We had a collective called the 13 Moon Tribe in Santa Cruz, and we would do free full moons every full moon. We’d get a voice mail box just for that month and go hiking out into the woods to find a place and then leave directions on the voice mail, and 1000 people would show up in the middle of the night, and go ’til sunrise.”
On freaking freely:
“When I’m in the studio in my boxers making music at four in the morning, I will get up and rage. I would dance so hard to ‘Ping Pong’ when I was making it, I’d have to stop because my heart was bursting in my chest. I’m not performing, I’m not doing Janet Jackson dance moves or something, I’m just letting go.”
Some more on freaking freely:
“I think when people are at a Bassnectar show, there is an atmosphere of abandon that is also supported by an atmosphere of community. I don’t do drugs, I’m a very health-conscious person. I went to school to become a guidance counselor. I’ve got a very positive, humanistic type of personality. I’m trying to create an atmosphere where people are safe to go fucking buck wild and crazy for a couple hours. I guess I lead by example.”
On the musical form he’s named “omnitempo maximalism”:
“It was finding something that essentially translated to no rules and no limitations,” he says. “’Omnitempo’ means I can play at any and every tempo, I’m not constricted by that. And maximalism just means turn it up—just tons of it. Combine everything with everything. don’t hesitate, and don’t be burdened by other people’s rules.”
—As told to Steve Palopoli
Thursday, May 3, 8pm at the Civic Auditorium -- CANCELLED