Only the biggest names get to host stages at EDC Vegas: Carl Cox. Z-Trip. Bassrush. AC Slater. (No, not the Saved by the Bell character.)
"I couldn’t believe they let me do it," admits Slater, the founder of Night Bass, the L.A.-based label and monthly club night that's only been in existence for about 18 months. "One of the guys at Insomniac really pulled for me. It’s pretty amazing — they were like, ‘All right, make a lineup and we’ll try to make it happen.’ And literally, they just let me pick."
It's just the latest in a long list of co-signs for one of the most lauded and influential new brands in American dance music. Within months of launching at Sound, Night Bass was named "most exciting new U.S. dance party" by BPM (and L.A. Weekly agreed). Vice's dance music website Thump declared the label's first release, This Is Night Bass Vol. 1, "the bible of bassline." And this fall, Insomniac's biggest regional rival, Hard, has invited Night Bass to host one of two stages it will produce at, of all places, the L.A. County Fair.
Bassline, a U.K. mix of bass-heavy, grime-inflected house and garage, and its more Americanized cousin, bass house, form the foundation for Night Bass' dirty, punchy sound. But Slater views the two sister styles more as jumping-off points than strict templates. “I don’t limit myself to genres," he explains, chilling in a Vegas hotel lobby before a Red Bull–sponsored party bus comes to take him and his crew to the festival. "It’s basically just shit that I like.”
Born Aaron Clevenger, Slater grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, a college town just south of the Pennsylvania border. "When I was 18, I would go to raves in Pittsburgh," he remembers. "That was like, the closest scene." From an early age, he was drawn to all forms of U.K. dance music, especially the garage scene (which, like a proper Anglophile, he pronounces "GARE-ahj"). "I grew up literally ordering tape packs from Garage Nation and shit like that. Basically the whole night of a party on cassettes in a big box. I would sit and listen and you’d hear the crowd and the MCs. I’m 16 years old, like, ‘I wanna be there.’"
As a DJ, his first forays were into another U.K. export, happy hardcore. In 2000, "I started a vinyl label and it was the first American happy hardcore label." But after moving to New York City just a few years later, his tastes began to change as he discovered producers like Switch, Sinden and Drop the Lime, makers of "real grimy shit," as he calls it. "I was just getting too old for the hardcore thing and got bored of it."
Eventually, he was invited to join Drop the Lime's Trouble and Bass, a combination label, club night and party crew that became the model for Night Bass. "I learned a lot from that experience and brought it into Night Bass," he says. "That made it easier to start on the right foot."
Since he relocated to L.A. and launched Night Bass, the 35-year-old DJ, producer and remixer says things are clicking in a way they never previously had. "I feel like everything in the last 15 years, figuring out my way — it’s all been warming up to where I am now. I’ve never felt as focused and as driven as I am now."
At the Night Bass stage at EDC, it's clear that Slater's vision and perseverance are paying off. The crowd is packed with Night Bass faithful from all over the country, many decked out in the brand's signature black-and-white hats and tees or waving homemade Night Bass signs. One fan says he's come all the way out to Vegas from L.A. because he's under 21 and it's his only chance to hear the Night Bass DJs spin in a non-club setting.
The music, as delivered by Night Bass residents Trevor Bones and Petey Clicks, followed by U.K. scene luminaries Kry Wolf, Low Steppa and Chris Lorenzo, is a relentlessly funky mix of house and garage beats punctuated by bursts of deep, heavy bass that have little to do with the sledgehammer drops of headliner EDM. This is bass calibrated to induce ass-shaking, not fist-pumping. Even though it's not yet midnight and still over 90 degrees, there's not an idle foot to be seen in the rapidly growing crowd.
Backstage, the mood is celebratory. Petey Clicks, a burly, bearded Virginian with an infectious grin, bro-hugs new arrivals and points them to the drinks cooler. Asked to pose for photos before his 1 a.m. set, Slater chooses to stand in front of a chain-link fence, rather than an official backdrop covered in 7Up logos. "This is more my style," he says.
After EDC, he'll get right back to business, hyping Night Bass' second release, a four-track EP called Not No Love he co-produced with one of his idols, Sinden. But for now, it's time for him to take the party up a notch and set the table for another of his heroes, U.K. garage godfather DJ EZ, who's spinning right after him.
As Slater takes the decks, EDC's nightly, jaw-dropping fireworks show bursts across the sky. The Night Bass crowd erupts as though it's just for them. Slater, grinning, cranks the bass up a notch, almost loud enough to drown out the explosions overhead.
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Night Bass returns to Sound Nightclub on Thursday, July 23, with Stanton Warriors, AC Slater, Petey Clicks and Bones. Tickets and more info.