"The momentum has not ceased since Ultra two years ago," says Lorin Ashton, better-known as freeform electronic bass artist Bassnectar. "At that point, I couldn't really have asked for more. I was at a point in my music career that was already so intoxicating and exciting, and now it has proceeded to double, triple, and quintuple. So, I'm just clinging on to dear life, giving thanks, and extremely fucking hell-bent on just continuing to move forward."
His previous appearance at Ultra 2010, in retrospect, feels like somewhat of a watershed and symbolic moment. His late set at the Roots Society Dome drew a huge, anarchic crowd, offering a glimpse into the underground bass scene subculture that had been gaining momentum across the country.
Two years later and dubstep has moved from the leftfield underground to now being firmly immersed in the mainstream. Bassnectar returns to Ultra listed as a supporting headliner alongside artists such as Fatboy Slim, Kaskade, Afrojack, and U.S. dubstep's own pop star, Skrillex -- an illustration of the genre's penetration into public consciousness and his own influence on the scene's development.
"I'm at this point of exploding into oblivion with how happy I am for everything that's happening and how grateful I am. I couldn't ask for more. The tour last year was insane. We decided to give away a dollar for every ticket sold for our own shows. I'd never been able to compute how many people actually came out before, but we ended up giving away $250,000, which means 250,000 tickets just for Bassnectar shows in 2011, and that's just in North America. So the momentum was massive, and it just feels like I don't want to relax or take a vacation; I just want to work harder."
His success seems a strange phenomenon that is difficult to subsume within any simple meta-narratives. Ashton started out, as many do, as a metaler before discovering the underground rave scene 15 years ago.
His eight studio albums since, which have been mostly self-released, have traversed a disorientating sonic spectrum he calls "omnitempo maximalism" -- all speeds, time signatures, rhythms, and every sound source possible. This might be somewhat of hyperbole, but his sound is clearly a far more complex, eclectic, and structural entity than the distorted midrange bass and melodic blog-house hybrid that has exploded over the past 18 months.
"Dubstep is old news," he says, "So if the mainstream is picking up on it now, then that's fine, and I'm not threatened by it. I like dubstep and have done it for a long time. I think every year, new things come about by combining old things with other old things and a new idea or hybrid is released within the cosmic mind space of current culture. The longer people stand around caught off-guard that dubstep hit them, then something else will hit them; things go from being underground to mainstream to the burned-out stage and then they're in their classic stage and they're referred to in remix again and something new pops out. I think it's all exactly as it should be right now."
He refers to Bassnectar as a project, and the idea of interaction, stimulation, exchange, and eclecticism seem to be at the heart of the project's ideals, almost as if the dissection of bass frequencies is the logical sonic accompaniment for something more abstract.
"Even if it's a mainstream festival, there's still an opportunity for me to engage with those humans who have been corralled together to play with their nervous systems like it's a full-body massage. It's a scene, and it's a scene of nerds, rejects, and freaks, and there's no necessary classification. You are just as likely to find a frat guy as you will a hippie, a Rastafarian, a kid who likes hip-hop, or someone who doesn't necessarily know what type of music they like."
This sense of community, as much as the music, seems intrinsic to how he has become one of the biggest names in U.S. electronic music without radio play, major-label support, or even a sense of commercial concern. He freely admits, outside of Bassnectar, he doesn't focus on any other music apart from potential creative collaborations. His commitment to the project is such that he approaches each live show as an event planner as opposed to a performer. This means crafting arenas and live environments as personal interactive experiences while aspiring to promote the principles of creativity and engagement he and the community uphold. It feels like an organic retro-futuristic creation of a new subculture, taking fragments from previous movements to create something relevant for now.
"I'm 100 percent underground in my personality. I like subverting the norm, and I like encouraging weirdness, and I like to question authority and to think outside the box and to find what you love and to live what you love and share what you love and to speak your mind freely and listen to other people with an open mind. I think promoting those kind of values are 100 percent more important to me than making money, and if that ends up making money, then cool, but right now, the community is fascinating."
Bassnectar. Sunday, March 25, at Ultra Music Festival. Bayfront Park, 301 N. Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Sold out.
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