With hair flying across his face as he twists together gnarly basslines, Bassnectar is one of the most compelling figures making electronic dance music. He plays the Palladium today and just dropped his new EP, Freestyle. But the Berkeley-based DJ-producer, whose real name is Lorin Ashton, is less superstar than guiding light for a generation of fans coming of age at festivals and nightclubs.
Now 34, Bassnectar is a scene veteran with more than a decade of releases and gigs to his credit. He exudes thoughtfulness, and actually studied to be a guidance counselor. On his site, fans ask him about everything fromspirituality to colleges , and sometimes the questions are so heavy that he has hired a counselor to help with the responses.
He donates proceeds of ticket sales to various charities and frequently sparks conversations about social and political issues on Facebook and Twitter. Just last week, his Columbus Day post recommending Howard Zinn's book A People's History of the United States led to a feisty debate among his Facebook fans. We caught up with Bassnectar before a recent gig in Tulsa.
Do you feel like you have a responsibility to younger fans, and has that changed as you've become more popular?
I've always been been really interested in helping out youth of any age, but around that late-high school, early-college age is where I kind of planned to work when I wanted to be a guidance counselor. Then music exploded and ironically gave me a chance to make a larger impact than I think I would have if I were stuck in an office, and I don't have any restrictions on what I can say.
I'm really interested in promoting healthy, conscious lifestyles. It's fun to be able to tell them that I'm sober and that I really value my life and my nervous system. I think a lot of times they expect some kind of close-minded, Deadmau5-style “I'm a rock star DJ” type of comment and I'm not. I'm a nerd. I like to connect on a human level. It's more meaningful to me than accolades about my music or something.
You've written about your spiritual and philosophical beliefs on your website. Do you feel like you bring those beliefs to your music?
Music for me is all about pleasuring one of, if not more than one of, the senses in the human being's nervous system. Whether it's pleasuring yourself or pleasuring other people, it's all about tapping into what sounds and combination of sounds and styles elicit the best spots. That's something I'm pretty obsessed with. Whether I'm working or in pre-production mode making music or I'm performing, I take a lot of delight in having a chance to lead people on a musical journey and give them as inspiring and all-encompassing an experience as possible.
You posted about Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and the comments on your Facebook page got heated. Do you read through all those exchanges and what did you think of them?
The biggest bummer for me in social networking is the lack of productive, intellectual and respectful dialog. I think that happens and occurs everywhere. That reflects a larger problem that people aren't trained as children how to conduct themselves online.
I don't really take it personally, nor am I ever surprised, because I kind of expect that any kind of comment I post online is going to be met with a lot of love and a lot of hate. There is a wide and a diverse group of people who have tuned into my music.
That book by Howard Zinn was amazing and I know that there are all kinds of Americans that have not yet looked outside of the box to embrace a healthy, critical relationship with our nation's history.
I'm right down the middle path. I think that America is a beautiful place. It's one of the most free societies of modern times. There are amazing perks about being a part of this country and this society. There are also a million things to be critical of and a million suspect facets of our government and our society. All of those things need improvement. I think walking down the middle and being really honest with both the positive and the negative is the best way to go.
Do you get to interact much with fans?
I guess I do, of course, but it's not on a normal level. I'm playing music for them so it's all in some kind of hyperspace, other reality with them. I definitely try to stay in touch online as much as I can. I really try to encourage people to meet each other and make friends with each other. We try to encourage the community. While I may not be interacting with everyone, I'm trying to get everyone to interact with everyone else. That's not just in a show, but also through the Internet and watching people form friendships and go across the country and lots of people traveling together and coordinating to go to multiple shows. It's kind of taken on a life of its own at this point. There's really not much encouraging necessary. They're all on it.
You've often talked about “giving back.” Has charity and volunteer work always been a part of your life?
Pretty much. I've always been pretty happy in my life. My parents were amazing, are amazing. I had good friends growing up. I just enjoy giving back and being thankful for what I have. I think giving back is a way to translate my gratitude just for being alive.
I felt that way when I first started going to raves. I was just so grateful to have found this style of music and an atmosphere of giving together that was so friendly and different from the death metal shows that I had been going to. That kind of gratitude translated into me wanting to do that for the rest of my life, creating that experience for other people or creating that atmosphere for other people.
I think it's a pretty natural reflex for me when I'm thrilled or when I'm grateful to try and share that and reflect that back to other people so that that kind of reflection can keep on happening.