The Cult of Bassnectar: Building a movement in the face of a sold out culture
“It’s an emotional impact that you make on someone else’s life that you watch ripple out and pass that on to other people, that’s what I think being a human is all about.”
Tens of thousands of totem-bearing patrons engulf the sprawling lawn of Ranch Arena at Electric Forest, waiting patiently under a full moon on a chilly Midwest summer night in Rothbury, Michigan. As the sea of bass worshippers begin to chant for their musical savior, Bassnectar, the forest dust begins to settle, the stage house lights go out, and the crowd begins to roar at the appearance of the long-haired silhouette atop the booth.
“This bitch wants bass!” screams a twenty-something sporting purple fur boots and a creative set of nipple pasties that read: “Hippie Nippies.” This long-awaited, chill-inducing moment can’t be put into words, only felt in person by the mysterious energy of the 45,000 member Forest Family. If EDM is this generation’s rock n’ roll, then Bassnectar is a bonafide rockstar engineering a transcendental diversion in sound and sight steering him into a league of his own.
Revered by his fans — known collectively as bass heads — and respected by industry veterans alike, the 37-year-old artist, real name Lorin Ashton, embodies a legacy much bigger than his music or visuals could convey. Over the years, he’s fostered a creative space for a global community to connect with spirituality and find purpose in his work.
With his artistic inspiration so entrenched in rock and metal roots, Ashton balances staying ahead of the game by not bothering to compete with anyone. He describes himself as someone “more interested in the art, the community, the impact… not interested in the fame.” Because of this, he’s developed a niche that allows him to be wholly genuine in his approach, consequently influencing his fans to be their best non-conformist selves as well.
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Just a week after his three-day Red Rocks takeover in Morrison, Colorado and a few days out before his headlining Electric Forest set, I sat down with the great Lorin Ashton to discuss his brand new album Into The Sun, the nauseating plight of fame, punk and metal’s relationship with electronica and becoming the Millennial generation’s Grateful Dead.
It’s no coincidence Bassnectar’s album release comes the same week as the Grateful Dead’s final “Fare Thee Well” shows in California and Chicago. Although he admittedly never listened to the monolithic jam band pioneers — mainly because of their variation in musical styles — it is in a way a symbolic passing of the generational torch from Baby Boomers and Busters to their Millennial children who have gravitated towards their newly elected bass heavy hero.
“Our circles never kind of crossed over and yet everybody says to me – people in the industry or people in that scene – that Bassnectar is like the Grateful Dead of this style of music,” explains Lorin. “I don’t feel like I can comment on that since I don’t really know much about them but I can see in terms of the kind of like a cult following, and not even a following as much as a community. I think that the Bassnectar community is so much more than Bassnectar and it’s so much more than me. At times I feel like a tour guide or a conductor but at other times I’m just watching in awe.”
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As the leader of a diverse and ever-growing community, Bassnectar loathes the skyrocketing fame that consumes so many new artists in dance music culture. Taking a defiant stand against all aspects of fame isn’t easy — especially with an artist of his stature — but Lorin tries his best to embody pure art by differentiating his project known as Bassnectar from the real human essence of Lorin Ashton. “That’s the key to evolution, you always want to change, adapt and improve but also balancing that out with being grateful,” Lorin divulges. “That’s a really difficult combination and it’s very sublime if you can do it — to both always be open to change and improvement and also always be grateful for what you have. Change and evolution in a sense signifies being ungrateful. It signifies saying, ‘Hey there’s a problem that needs improvement’ and that’s really basic to our existence.”
In many ways, Lorin’s success is rooted in this ego-less philosophy: “Finding a space between that has definitely been a focus of mine just as a human, not really as an artist and I think what makes it easier for me is that I am not only not chasing fame, I detest fame. I detest famous people. I detest fame chasers. I detest the impulses in me of how I feel when I’m around famous people. I feel when I am getting attention from other people it’s just such a weird situation.”
As a 12-year-old boy, Lorin recalls fawning over legendary Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain yet becoming confused by his internal struggle and ultimate disdain for fame. “I didn’t know what he meant. In fact, sometimes I doubted that he was authentic,” Lorin says. “I was like what do you mean you don’t want to be famous?! You have great music, you’re doing all these interviews, you have your face on all these posters I’m hanging in my bedroom. Like what are you talking about you don’t want to be famous? And I get it now — some people are more interested in the art.”
Surrounded by a dizzying world of overnight DJs and producers whose self-worth is often times reliant upon residency deals and commercial endorsements, Lorin is persistent in unplugging himself from the toxicity of celebrity culture. “I think artists get compensated in different ways, be it financially, with an artistic feeling of accomplishment or our fan base,” he admits. “Or we can also get compensated with the glory: having your face up on a billboard in Vegas or just standing up while everyone’s screaming for you and what that feels like. To me, that’s the part I would happily and completely let disappear into the ethers. Even like a fucking DJ set or a mixtape, it’s all an amalgamation of everyone’s ideas and we’re all just reflecting what everybody loves. So singling out a human, it’s this goofy kind of monkey mentality.”
“Some people are more interested in the art.”
There’s a reason why it took less than 24 hours for Bassnectar’s latest album Into The Sun to reach the top spot on the iTunes Dance/Electronic chart (not to mention a spot in the top 10 overall). While fans have come to love him for his dirty bass headbangers, his recent effort encapsulates his affinity for the intangible while touching on moments of deep-seated surreality. Reflective tracks like “Into The Sun” and his remix of The Naked and Famous’ “No Way” offer refreshingly emotive breaks throughout the record.
Regarding the foundational process of making the album, Lorin reveals that “The psychology of the mixtape for me is all about the journey and you know designing a DJ set you’re improvising it live or planning it out or recording a mixtape or in this case, I was kind of like reverse engineering it by like fucking around with mixtapes and getting ideas going. And then I’ve been writing songs to fill in the holes. There’s something so essential to the combination of songs, the order of songs, the way that they occur and what happened before, what happened after.”
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Lorin’s assorted taste in music stems from his deep rooted connection to punk and metal, infusing that same relentless energy into the electronic realm — but don’t call his music electronic either. “In my mind I don’t think of electronic music because all music is electronic to me. Whether it’s created with robots or sounds like blips and bleeps, it’s just enhanced even if it’s fucking a rock band being recorded by electronic recording equipment and then mixed and mastered by electronic music and then played on electronic devices,” he laughs. “The spirit of punk rock and death metal was very anti-establishment, pro-underground, pro-community, very fucking fiercely in opposition to the mainstream, in opposition to ignorance, and you know all kind of religions and weird human dogma traps. And having a flag of resistance to fly in the face of that is really powerful.”
“Following those rules of making a remix feeling like you have to make it sound like fucking deep house or dubstep or something like that, that’s not as interesting to me.”
Noticeably, Lorin’s sound is intentionally unchained to one particular genre because labels curtail creative energy and limit his audience. He continues, “following those rules of making a remix feeling like you have to make it sound like fucking deep house or dubstep or something like that, that’s not as interesting to me whereas it just goes into this spastic sound of fucking alien butt sex, like freak out noise. Each time you do it is a different time to experiment with different techniques.”
With just 10 minutes left in his Electric Forest set, Lorin’s long dark hair flutters seemingly in slow motion as a cosmic cat prances on the screen in the background. The wide-eyed crowd sings along to the lyrics of a Bruno Mars “Locked Out Of Heaven” remix. Taking a moment to quickly gaze out at the crowd, Lorin’s eyes tell of a huge responsibility for his fans — not just to deliver a great show, but to provide an existential experience of sorts.
His emotions are influenced by his thoughts and he’s never afraid to highlight them, however dark they may be. “It’s an emotional impact that you make on someone else’s life that you watch ripple out and pass that on to other people,” echoes Lorin with his parting words. “That’s what I think being a human is all about.”
Bassnectar’s new album Into The Sun is available here.