Why you shouldn’t write off Bassnectar’s recent releases [Editorial]
It seems that Lorin Ashton, better known under his Bassnectar moniker, is turning towards a jungle-influenced sound design. Since the mid-March release of “Interlock,” Ashton’s collaborative effort with rising duo, ATLiens, it has becoming increasingly apparent that the so-called “Bass God” is experimenting towards the heavier, harder hitting side of his original 90s/early 2000s musical lore. Certainly, the move is a nod to his DJ Lorin days, which is a welcomed stylistic shift, at least for his cultish family following of bass heads.
Or so one would think.
With Ashton’s new string of quick 2017 tracks, which were all released within two weeks of one another, many self-identified “bass heads” have not taken well to the new sound aesthetic, oftentimes even publicly decrying the direction he seems to have taken, characterizing it as “lazy” and “rushed.” However, it’s important to look deeper into the history of Bassnectar’s career and of the Ragga jungle genre before writing off these purposeful, very conscious musical choices.
As far as these March releases are concerned, there is one overarching emergent stylistic theme that points to a specific, retrospective sonic direction which Bassnectar is currentlyevoking. That is, these three most recent releases are, beyond a shadow of doubt, drawing on the ragga jungle style. This is no matter of happenstance either.
Ragga jungle is a subgenre of electronic music derived from “old school hardcore,” which was popularized in the nineties rave scene of England, eventually making its way into the U.S. Essentially – and this is why Bassnectar’s move to jungle is no mere coincidence – it is the sound stamp under which Lorin Ashton became first enamored with electronica culture on the West Coast.
Ragga jungle is the sum of four parts: breakbeats, rude boy lyrics, reggae bass lines, and a sound-clash mentality. The style is characterized by fast-paced tempo (around 150-200 bpm), relatively slow and lyrical reggae-derivative bass lines, long pitch-shifted snare rolls, and heavily syncopated percussive loops, samples, and synthesized effects. Now considered somewhat of a niche sound, ragga jungle is only being released by a small number of record labels and is often used interchangeably with Drum & Bass.
What Bassnectar seems to be hinting towards in these productions is a jungle renaissance of sorts. One need look no further than the three following tracks to pull out the four characteristic sounds of ragga jungle.
There seems to be a clear story being told across these particular releases, which, when taken together at the level of style, all carry a similar sounding aesthetic; perhaps they are Ashton’s way of speaking to the musical direction he sees his resume taking. The tracks are even slightly reminiscent of some of Ashton’s elemental sound design on Beatfreak Bohemia (2002) and Motions of Mutation (2003). Yet, these newer tracks come with a much heavier, higher energy than the politically-driven break beat style of early 2000s work. They are explosive, jarring, frantic, and overwhelming on the ear drums, calling back to the subversive oeuvre of 1990s ragga.
Anyone who has followed Bassnectar gatherings for any given period knows the man uses his sets as a sort of “living pastiche” to piece together a larger story and political message; and every set reveals a new part of the journey. The question here is. “What is Bassnectar trying to say in his new releases?”
In particular, Ashton’s move into the roots of ’90s jungle is an exciting vantage point for both music critics and industry professionals, who’re always keen toward pinning down artistic evolution. Bassnectar seems to be the master of one such journey, consistently pushing the boundaries of what sound can and ought to do, and injecting potent political messages into his music.
Just one year ago, upon the release of his Unlimited LP, Bassnectar was heavily exploring the ephemeral and psychedelic elements of a downtempo style, which entranced the ears and hypnotized the mind on contact. Now, the mere fact that he is playing with the more subversive style of ragga is itself an artistic act that seems to have an exciting and unknown future.