Kaskade talks ‘Atmosphere,’ test drives new tunes at Outside Lands 2013
Behind the Twin Peaks Stage at a sold out Outside Lands, Ryan Raddon wears a fitted San Francisco Giants hat and a tight-lipped grin. With a swelling crowd clamoring for his Sunday night headline set behind us, the man known to his fans as Kaskade has every reason to be happy at this homecoming of sorts.
Raddon’s affinity for the festival’s host city goes far beyond his forehead. While he originally hails from the Chicago suburbs, Raddon’s Kaskade project was born in the City by the Bay after he moved there to work A&R for OM Records and start a family with his wife Naomi. Both initiatives proved successful; Raddon used OM as a launchpad to his present prominence and is now a globe-trotting father to three daughters.
From SF’s subterranean deep house scene to gracing some of the world’s largest stages with a Grammy nomination, Raddon’s skyrocketing stock has mirrored that of electronic dance music. Two nights ago, Colorado producer Pretty Lights managed to draw a sizable chunk of the crowd away from ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Tonight, Kaskade’s crowd may very well rival that of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a feat that would have been inconceivable a scant few years ago.
“The scene has just gotten so much bigger,” says Raddon. “I’m about to play for this many people? Everything was different back then. Even the way you got your word out about your music was different. I remember my first WMC back when it was actually called Winter Music Conference. What’s similar? I don’t even know what’s similar.”
Perhaps the one constant has been Raddon’s own prolific nature. Few of the world’s other top DJs can lay claim to eight studio albums in the span of a decade, and the fact that many of them are half his age tells only part of the story. It is the memorable nature of his music that helped him build a gigantic global fan base despite being well past the ever-decreasing prime age for the industry these days. Now a 42-year-old family man, Raddon acknowledges that the trappings of touring can take a toll.
“When I came back from the Freaks of Nature tour after playing 50 or 60 shows, it was really manic,” he says. “It was show, show, show, show. It was the first time I’d ever done a bus tour that extensive or a production that big before. This record is much quieter than all that.”
As he is wont to do, Raddon took solace in the studio and another album emerged from his exhaustion. The end result, a 13-track LP effort called Atmosphere, will be released on September 10, 2013 on Ultra Records.
The album pairs vintage Kaskade offerings, filled to the brim with heart-lifting melodies and ethereal female vocals, alongside deeper and more introspective takes that showcase the kind of nuanced songwriting we’ve come to expect from Raddon. While fans of Kaskade’s recent work will enjoy progressive gems like his Project 46 collaboration “Last Chance” and “Feelin’ the Night,” older fans will revel in Raddon’s return to his roots on more minimal songs like “Take Your Mind Off” and the travel-inspired trio of “MIA to LAS,” “LAX to JFK” and “SFO to ORD.” Unsurprisingly, stalwart Kaskade singers Haley and Becky Jean Williams are also prominently featured.
It is not, however, just lilting ladies gracing his record this time around. For the first time, Raddon lent his own vocals to Atmosphere’s title track, which he describes as a “deeply personal record.” Raddon readily admits that he had been feeling the urge to sing on his own tracks over the course of his past couple albums.
“With “Stars Align,” I thought I should probably sing this,” he says. “It has a similar message. But for this one, I was at a point where I didn’t care about having that perfect voice. There’s always that balance between being an artist and a producer.”
As he takes to the stage and plays the album’s namesake, not a single face in the radiant crowd looks less than pleased with Raddon’s voice. His set follows the fan-winning formula best embodied by his now legendary Electric Daisy Carnival performance in 2010, layering his own tracks’ gorgeous female vocal hooks over the latest crowd-enthralling progressive and electro anthems of the day.
“Turn It Down” blends seamlessly into Martin Garrix’s “Animals,” sending giant white balls into a sea of screaming fans upon the signature percussive drop. He incorporates plenty of other Atmosphere offerings and it’s clear the crowd is feeling them despite being unfamiliar with the new album, they simply sound like Kaskade cuts. Raddon never neglects his earlier outputs, allowing the airy vocals of “Angel On My Shoulder” and “Don’t Stop Dancing” to preface dizzying bass-heavy drops and powerful synth driven breakdowns. When Raddon finally relinquishes the stage, he is treated to a triumphant ovation from the festival faithful and mobbed by photo-seekers as he heads back to his trailer.
I catch up with Kaskade at his secret album listening party in Hollywood a couple nights later. The intimate setting is worlds away from the main stage madness that characterized our last interaction. As Canadian singer Lights croons over his mellower Atmosphere Mix of “No One Knows Who We Are,” Raddon expertly navigates the gauntlet of the cramped club, deftly dispensing with handshakes and flashing smiles for photographs. There’s no need to keep an eye on him, his movements can be easily traced by the waves of craned necks and eager nods they induce.
“Oh whoa oh, no one knows who we are,” the vocals soar with audible emotion over the crowd’s din. “Oh whoa oh, no one gave us a mark.”
While those lyrics may once have applied to Raddon’s generation of American dance musicians, this is clearly no longer the case. The man making the rounds represents more than the melodic music he makes. Kaskade has emerged as an arguable flag bearer for the American EDM movement and, if Atmosphere is any indication, that flag will be flying high come the fall.
Photographs by Cameron Scott