Turns out, Bassnectar isn’t sick and tired of electronic dance music, as he’s more or less said in other interviews of late. He’s mostly just sick of his music being called “electronic.”
“What does that even mean anymore?” asked the real-life Lorin Ashton, the 37-year-old California DJ/producer who has become one of the top touring acts in the still-thriving EDM (electronic dance music) world.
Under his well-worn alias Bassnectar, Ashton returns to the Somerset Amphitheater on Friday for his second year in a row as a headlining act at the Summer Set Music & Camping Festival.
The fourth annual psychedelic dance fest, which drew an average 18,000 people per day last year, continues through Sunday with arguably EDM’s biggest name, Deadmau5, plus the Weeknd, Big Gigantic, Earl Sweatshirt, Purity Ring, Die Antwoord and more.
One reason Ashton liked Summer Set enough to return so soon is because “it doesn’t speak in musical codes” — meaning it books hip-hop, indie-rock and jam bands in addition to EDM stars like himself.
“It’s a formula that really reflects the way people consume music today, mixing and matching a wide variety of songs and genres, and making up diverse playlists. Everything’s not broken up and narrowed into categories.”
The worst categorization in his book, of course, is EDM.
“I don’t even view ‘electronic music’ as a thing anymore,” he said. “That’s like saying, ‘An electronic day.’ The world is electronic.”
“All music is electronic these days, unless it’s someone playing an acoustic guitar on a porch. Kenny Chesney’s music is electronic, and Jay Z’s, Justin Bieber’s. It’s all made using electronic equipment. It’s consumed using electronic machines.”
Ashton talked by phone last week from Chicago a few days after his much-ballyhooed performance there at Lollapalooza, which was shortened because of threatening weather. (“It was absolutely loco. This crazy thunderstorm kicked up, and everybody had to run for cover.”)
Coincidentally or not, he recalled that heavy rain started pouring mere minutes after he finished his set at Summer Set last year, which he called “definitely one of my favorite sets of last summer.”
“One of the best things about it, from my perspective, was that I didn’t have to compete with any other sound systems while I was on. They break everything up well. Most festivals suffer from extreme amounts of noise pollution, which makes it harder to be as adventurous or as nuanced as I can be when I do my own [headlining] set on tour.”
Semantics aside, Ashton clarified that he thinks the world of music that is branded EDM — and has enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the ’10s — will continue to flourish, but subgenres within that world will ebb and flow.
“Dubstep obviously is already a thing of the past. This new wave of shoegazer, hipster brand of dance music that’s popular this year — which I think is boring as hell — will soon be a thing of the past. New terms and styles will emerge. But the broader brand of electronically enhanced dance music — which I just think of in my heart as just music — will always have an audience.”
‘For the rejects & the freaks’
Ironically, it was the unpopularity of dance music that originally drew Ashton to the rave scene around his native San Jose and the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1990s.
As is well known in Bassnectar lore, he was quite the metalhead before getting into dance music. He still might be mistaken for one, too, with his long hair, facial hair and black T-shirts.
“My teen years were just a constant evolution of trying to find the most extreme music I could from year to year,” he explained. “One year, I was into Metallica and Nirvana. The next year, I took further into the extreme and got into Slayer and Cannibal Corpse.”
Dance music at the time, he recalled, “was very much an underground thing, which is what attracted me to it. I saw it as a music for the rejects and the freaks. The music then was like a flag you could wave.”
For better or worse, the music is now as mainstream as Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, both of whom have lifted from it for their own songs. Bassnectar’s own schedule attests to its popularity. In addition to Lollapalooza, he played Bonnaroo in June and is again near the top of the poster for October’s Austin City Limits Festival.
“It’s the first year in probably 13 years I’m not doing a real tour,” said Lorin, who hit auditoriums and other midsize venues last year behind the album “Noise vs. Beauty,” but doesn’t plan to tour behind his new one, “Into the Sun,” a mixtape-style hodgepodge of tracks.
“I’m just doing these festivals, one weekend here, one weekend there. It becomes more like one big blowout from week to week.”
A sure sign of his brand of music’s continued popularity, Bassnectar has developed its own Deadhead-like following of fans who travel to see his gigs — a following that is especially strong in the Midwest, he said.
“That’s where I really started noticing I was seeing some of the same people 13 shows in a row,” he said. “People in the middle of the country don’t seem to think much of it. A kid from Nebraska will drive to a show in Texas, or a fan from Michigan won’t think twice about coming to Minnesota.”
Looking toward Summer Set, he said, “I’m sure they’ll be from all over, and they’ll arrive there with open minds.”
In other words, they won’t just be jonesing for “electronic” music.