A conversation with Lorin Ashton, the creative force of Bassnectar, is as free-flowing and organic as the free downloads, EPs and albums he’s constantly recording and releasing. His passion for genre-bending mixes and building a diverse community keeps packing venues at every stop.
Ashton said his interest in underground music started in his teens with the San Francisco Bay Area’s death metal and punk-rock scenes, where he learned how to set up and promote concerts and festivals when no opportunities existed. When Ashton discovered electronic music in the mid-’90s, the roots of Bassnectar were established.
“I was really into not only underground music and style, but specifically into community. That just transferred as I started getting turned on to electronic music, which at that time came in the form of underground warehouse raves,” Ashton told Pollstar. “I’ve never been interested in genres, partly because I find them limiting. I just like to sample from, and learn from, anything that sounds good to me.
“By 2005, I had built up a really large touring network and I was my own agent and manager for a decade.”
It appeared Ashton’s hard work landed him the break he was looking for when he signed with an agency that same year. It was a good start.
“I felt like at that point, ‘Wow, now I’ve made it. I’ve signed to an agency.’ [But] that was short-lived,” Ashton said. “It probably lasted about a year, not for any lack in their company but mostly because they were used to taking the European dance club sound and bringing it to whatever nightclubs or cities that had that functioning scene.
“I wasn’t playing any kind of house or trance or any form of disco music. There was nowhere to plug it in.”
Through non-stop touring, performances at the Burning Man Festival at Nevada’s Black Rock Desert and other events that Ashton co-promoted, he continued to build his fan base throughout the States and Canada.
“There were these small, underground hubs of people and it wasn’t so much about how much money the event’s going to make. In fact, that was usually irrelevant,” Ashton said. “[It was] more like the thrill of creating these burgeoning communities that would then cross-pollinate into larger summer festivals.”
And it was one of the those underground hubs of people Ashton had networked with that helped bring Bassnectar to the attention of C3 Management.
“I met a crew of fire performers and circus acts at Burning Man in 2002 or 2003, and they started bringing me to Austin, Texas, to do small events. They eventually moved me up to The Parish, where Brook [Wirth] from C3 was doing the event,” Ashton explained. “[The gig] felt so professional but had all of the same elements of Austin that I love.
“So when it came time to look for a manager last year and I found out they were open to it, it was a no-brainer.”
C3’s Charlie Walker agreed, even before he’d seen Bassnectar live.
“I first heard about Lorin from some of the promoters in the office who book a lot of club shows,” Walker told Pollstar. “[They had taken] notice of how many tickets he was selling and how his attendance was building year after year.
“I’d heard the music and more importantly, we knew the overall buzz that was building around Bassnectar. When you get the unanimous stamp of approval from within our office that he gets, I didn’t need to see it to validate it.”
Walker, along with agent Jake Schneider of Madison House who was already on board, set out to take Bassnectar to the next level – nightclubs and theatres.
“One of the interesting things about Lorin is that he plays hard-ticket rooms like bands do, not so much DJ rooms with DJ booths,” Walker explained. “We go to the same types of venues … and put on a production and show they expect to see in those venues as opposed to just playing dance clubs on a soft ticket on DJ night.
“I think Jake really worked to get him into those clubs and [earn] acceptance in those rooms.”
For Ashton, the tour strategy presented other adjustments besides playing to new audiences.
“One of the things that was a challenge was there weren’t 150 electronic music venues with a DJ booth and huge sound system,” he said. “I’m used to playing to a dancing crowd, so what were we going to do about this huge stage?”
The creation of a full-fledged multimedia production with a new light show and additional equipment solved that problem.
“In the age where music can be manufactured and then duplicated, you can’t fake the live experience,” Ashton said. “That’s where all the energy has gone, into making the live experience an absolute, over-the-top, freak show … and not just with smoke and mirrors.”
Walker said that strategy is working.
“I think what grabs you when you see [Bassnectar] is the effect he has on the audience. He’s got a lot of hard-core fans but even at Lollapalooza where he was playing to people … seeing him for the first time, they literally looked like people possessed by Bassnectar.
“He has an uncanny ability to relate to his audience and deliver to them what he feels they need at that given moment in time.”
Bassnectar and his electronic shamanism, currently touring behind Cozza Frenzy, will be on the road through the end of August.