Bassnectar — “Heads Up” from the album Heads Up
A Bassnectar (a.k.a. Lorin Ashton) show is not your typical rave. Forget the Mollie and the Sassafrass (or drop it if you want — he’s all about freedom) and prepare for an onslaught of tripper bass, downbeat freakout, and maybe some Slayer for the crowdsurfers. The San Fran-based DJ’s performance is layered and heavily improvised. But every show has a battle plan, which he describes to City Paper like this:
2. Drop on their heads
3. Stun, surprise, or left field
4. Double-time, half-time, rhythm games
5. Steady grooves
6. Dubstep surprise
7. Hip-hop or glitch
9. Live sequence
10. Soft and dreamy
11. Sexual bass carnage
12. Orangutan *&$% from behind
13. Devious and comedic
14. Familiar and steady
15. Rage their faces
16. Melt their faces
17. Give back. Out.
And somewhere in there, he’ll address the crowd about their role as social activists, especially considering that this show takes place five days before the national election. “This is not the time for The Soundtrack of Escapism,” he says. “I do not hesitate for a second to speak my mind, and I do so with the extremely benevolent intention of informing, inspiring, and empowering. I do not make music for people merely to escape on a drug trip.”
Ashton says his motivation is empathy and the desire to make everyone happy. And, of course, the simple expulsion of energy. Which he’s quite good at. At his first Charleston show last spring, it was somewhere around the orangutans when the Pour House started to shake.
From an email interview with Bassnectar:
CP: When I saw that you were releasing a track called ‘Heads Up’ just before the election, I figured it’d be ‘heads up’ in a political tone. But rather, it’s a straight ahead dance track (‘bounce’ ‘you know you love it’). You’re known for getting very political in your live shows. Why the decision to keep it generic on your title track?
BN: In terms of creativity, I can go in many directions simultaneously, and perhaps you know me as super political, and someone else has no idea. And one person will whine that i’m too political, and another person will wonder why i’m not more political. i put my integrity and my imagination into everything i do, and while some tracks have explicit messages others are just expulsions of energy…. i def didn’t think of ‘Heads Up’ as keepin it generic, but rather one of my favorite jams i made this summer, and something slamming to give out on tour. “Art of Revolution” was supposed to be released (it was finished in January) but frankly the music industry is insane, and i would rather focus my energy either creatively or in terms of community issues, and lay low on the bizness.
CP: For us East coasters, what makes a remix ‘California’ or ‘West Coast’ style?
BN: well, ‘West Coast Lo Fi” is an alias of mine…i’ve lived in California all my life, my name is Lorin, i like making jams that are more colorful than technical at times, so this is a monoker for those times. The CALIFORNIA STYLE refers to heavy, raunchy, pulsating Drum-n-bass style production at a slow tempo range…like 80-105. Which is strangely not a style you hear a lot of outside of California (Tipper of course, but he moved to the West Coast…a tune from Roots Manuva or Mr Scruff 5 years ago…but not a lot else)..i mean there is not even a genre name for it in any store you go to. It is a genre i started making back in the mid nineties before i heard anyone else doing it…it was honestly inventive and raw, and i think a few other minds had the same idea…there are a few people who produce that sound, but for the most part it started in the full moon parties of California, and we swept it up the West coast….now bringing it all over. To be clear…its not a geographical dis like “i’m repping the west coast over the east coast”…i don’t think like that.
CP: That leads into my main question. This is an election year, and you play Charleston five days before we vote. It’s a charged time and you’ve never hesitated to voice your feelings in shows and in your music. After your last Pour House show in April, I heard a couple of folks say they could do without the ‘political ranting.’ Same goes for Bisco fans at Echo Project asking ‘wtf’ when you went off. That’s bound to happen in the South – there were even handfuls of folks who walked out of a Steve Earle show here last year. What do you understand the role of a musician/performer to be as far as educating and informing people politically?
BN: I make my own rules, and people can respond how they like. If i loose fans because they do not like my politics, then that’s life. If i loose fans because i blend conscious thought with my music, then it’s their loss. I do not hesitate FOR A SECOND to speak my mind, and i do so with extremely benevolent intention of informing, inspiring, and empowering. I do not make music for people merely to escape on a drug trip. This is not the time for The Soundtrack of Escapism. We have a lot of responsibility to take, in terms of our places of privilege and power in the country, and there are extremely meaningful issues that are important to address. Be it political consciousness, or merely a humble reminder of how lucky we are to be alive, and how gorgeous that fact is.
Sure, i think Dick Cheney should be arrested. I also think our country’s use of torture camps, spying, and illegal wars are shameful. I also think the constitution is very important, and since it is under direct attack (by our own government) it needs to be defended. I also think that while we as a country cause immeasurable damage to countries and individuals in other nations, we are also causing the destruction of our own economy and environment, so why is it cool to stay hushed about that? I think its way cooler if someone is educated, and earnestly curious, and inspired to get involved. Plus i am in love with my music and i love sharing it with such enthusiastic people. Maybe someone who has a complaint should take a second and listen to what i’m saying, because it’s generally: “You are special and powerful, and you have potential to make a huge impact on the world, so let’s do it”…
I can think of a lot worse things a musician can say from the stage.
CP: And the biggie – If a completely unconscious, uninformed consumer were to read every story at every link on your website, they’d immediately be far more aware of the gravity and truth of our society and culture than most of the population. With the election in mind, whatever the outcome, what are Five Things that every American citizen should realize? (Just the first to pop into your mind)
BN: These are not in order, nor necessarily the most important, just the first 5 to pop into my head.
1. It is imperative to vote the Republican Party out of power…it is corrupt to an almost unimaginable level, based on fear and mis-education as a means to control the US economy (and secretly move the funds into the hands of the upper class) and to control the US military (using force irresponsibly and criminally on a global scale).
2. The Democratic Party is not necessarily the best alternative, but these things take time, and they are more devoted to a transparent system of government with better representation of the majority of people.
3. They are like the gentle, maternal side of the Authority in our plutocracy, while the Republicans are the stern, paternal side. But they serve the same corporations.
4. The constitution was designed in part to level the playing field, and balance and regulate wealth, giving opportunity to a broader amount of people, but it is under attack by people who would rather steal our assets and control us.
5. Unless we defend that constitution (by educating ourselves, educating others, empowering the middle class, and not backing down to corporate propaganda and criminal governments like the one we are controlled by currently) then we do not deserve it. That is in part why i am fearless to speak my mind.
CP: What’s something about Lorin Ashton that most fans don’t realize or know?
BN: I don’t know what people know, but i am definitely not interested in leading a cocky, self-indulgent, life of glamor and leisure. I do what i do tirelessly because i want to serve and i love the concept of empathy as a balance to our mammalian instincts.
I really want to make everyone happy, which is probably not very healthy, but it’s the way it is.
CP: At the last show you sampled everything from Jr. Gong to Shaggy to Fergie. Spoil a surprise you’ll be dropping this tour.
BN: ha. one of my favorites is to go from NIN to some tripper bass, to some kind of DnB freakout, to surfrock, to halftime, to Nirvana, and get people crowd surfing if the venue permits it. Then chill it out with a nice groove, and then hit them upside the head with Slayer. But then you REALLY gotta melt down after that…. i like to do something like that every godamn night cuz it just feels so good. Sometimes play unexpected, or brand new, sometimes rrrrrage the classics.
Bassnectar performs at the Pour House (1977 Maybank Hwy., 843-571-4343) on Thurs. Oct. 30. Tickets are $15 at the door and $12 advance. Visit www.bassnectar.net for more.