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TRAVELLING THE OUTER EDGE OF EDM WITH BASSNECTAR By Jeremy Abbott

28 December 2012
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TRAVELLING THE OUTER EDGE OF EDM WITH BASSNECTAR

Bassnectar has been blowing apart stadium-sized venues with his face frying brand of dubstep and bass music. Raised on a steady diet of metal but in-tune with the warped world of electronica, he's bringing high octane dance music to EDM kids across America.

We catch up with him and talk ten solid years of touring, his song writing process and going way beyond the boundaries of dubstep...

Obviously you tour non-stop so what is life like on the road all the time?

A couple of years ago when I couldn’t see far enough ahead of me, it was really tough because not only was it non-stop but there was no end in sight and the last couple of years what we’ve been doing is booking an entire year right after New Year's Eve so I can basically see how my year is going to unfold and that allows me to pace myself. In 2012 we did some light touring in Australia in the winter and then after March we went rock solid 'til the first week of December and I probably had a collective two weeks off within those nine months, literally a day here and a day there. It was gruelling but it was cool because I knew what I had to do and I knew that at the end I had a big break. Frankly, the break I’m going on after this New Year is bigger than anything I’ve had. I’ve never had more than 10 days off in over a decade and I’m going to take two months and go deep straight into the studio, it’s kind of like the light at the end of the tunnel for me. I question myself as to why I take so much on and I don’t really have many answers as to why.

You say you have two months off and that you want to hit the studio but what will you do to relax and chill out?

A lot of people have asked me recently, “where are you going to go for your vacation?”, and the number one place I want to be is at home. Just to be in my own bed and to catch up with my friends, I just want to get back into some routines because it’s not even just a time zone issue, it’s just what do you do with your time and how do you establish your routines. I’m really looking forward to some of the basic pleasures that the average civilian would find boring like renting movies and going hiking. In California, the winter is really nice because if it’s raining you’re staying inside and being productive but if it’s sunny then I’m out riding a bike or something. I’m pretty excited, I have a very extensive list of friends out in LA that I’m going to go and work with like Skrillex, Diplo and Flashmob, so I’m going to sort out a studio day with each of them.

You came and toured the UK this year, how did it feel to play in what we like to call "the home of dubstep"? What are the UK crowds like in comparison to the US?

I did a lot of work in the US before shit blew up, I braved the frontiers that people hadn’t travelled yet so there was a lot of back-road towns in Mississippi and Arkansas that I would play in, mid-week sets back in 2003 and it was work but it was fun for me and it was something I got really used to doing and then the last five years here it’s almost like low-hanging fruit. You walk out in front of a crowd of up to 40,000 people, most of them know who you are and have all your records and it’s just easy to play. But then over in the UK, it was like a blast from the past for me, I was playing rock festivals like Reading and Leeds, not only the dance tent but on the rock stage. It was a fun challenge and it was weird but I have to say that KOKO was incredible. KOKO felt like home to me not only for playing in a theatre because that’s how a lot of venues in the states are like but also because of the vibe of the crowd. I felt like people really got it and if I was a stand up comedian it felt like they were laughing at all my jokes at all the right times.

Obviously the EDM explosion is taking over the globe at the moment, in that respect do you think dubstep will be as big next year as it has been in the past couple of years? In America especially?

Well I have to say I don’t feel qualified to speak on behalf of dubstep because although it is one of the many things I love about life, it is just one of my components, it’s one of my tricks. It’s something I wouldn’t belittle but I’m by no means a dubstep DJ and I think that’s a strength and a weakness. I’m a bit more ambiguous and my tastes are a bit more ambiguous also. I think that what is really going to stick is what has pop appeal and that is also something that I have very little interest in and I think that people are confused over in the States as they are listening to EDM and trying to figure out what’s what. Like some kids will listen to Deadmau5 and call him dubstep so they are not yet sure exactly what the terms mean and who the artists are. It basically comes down to the fact that if you sound like David Guetta or Tiësto or Avicii your music will be able to work its way into the infrastructure of pop music. If you’re writing cutting edge music and pushing boundaries then I think you will appeal to the underground which is actually expanding as much as mainstream EDM and then anything that’s really aggressive gets pushed out to the margins, which is a good thing. I happen to really love aggressive, twisted music coming from death metal and underground techno and trance music and all of that but I also love beautiful music. I fucking love it, I love the soundtrack to the movie American Beauty for example, I just fucking love anything that’s beautiful like The Cure and R.E.M. So I think personally fusing those extremes has been something really useful stateside for me because your music appeals to the females as much as it does the males and it appeals to members of your scene as much as it does new people. 

A lot of people think EDM has a positive effect because it is just generally bringing people into dance music but at the same time there is a group who take the negative stance in the way that it’s watering the scene down and it’s taking something away from a genre that people love. Do you think it is positive or negative as a whole?

Every time I get asked that question I have a two part answer and the first part is, I love strawberries. I don’t care how many other people in world start liking strawberries, it’s not going to change how much I fucking love strawberries. It’s the same with music, if a million people start liking dubstep tomorrow, I’m still going to like the songs I like and that’s the first part. The second part though is that there is something special to having an intentional relationship to music and sharing with other people intentionally. I think that as this type of music expands deeper and deeper and goes more into pop and this EDM culture, I think it just allows for that which is truly underground to marginalise and to let the people who are underground follow those new directions. Something that has to be respected and acknowledged is the give and take between music scenes. The ways that dubstep was created in the UK has mutated abroad into our own creation and then we give it back and it gets changed again and so forth. I think that happens among scenes in general and I think it’s a great thing. There will always be a pop mainstream culture and Madonna will always be able to make a guest appearance in it but it is not really relevant to me because I don’t really listen to that stuff so I don’t feel like the mainstream has an ability to shake the integrity of my music.

Other than hit up the studio next year what would you really like to achieve next year?

Sustainability. It’s the first year in ten where I don’t want to grow, I want to tighten and sustain. I’m looking to start doing strategic tours basically four weeks in the spring and that’s it and then we do some summer festivals and two weeks in the fall and that’s it and then a NYE show and I’m done. I think I’d like to do it like that for maybe four, five, six years or as long as it goes to a really specific fanbase. In 2010 we sold out 70 shows in a row and then after that point we started moving into these bigger and bigger arenas where the capacity could expand beyond the point in which they can be sold. We might have sold 3000 tickets in a city in 2010 and then sold 10,000 in 2011 but then in 2012 we’re selling 12,000 and the room fits 20,000, so we’re like “how are we going to fill this space?” I would rather fill a 5000 capacity than have a room half-full. There’s over 100 people who work with the Bassnectar crew when we’re on tour. Three semi-trucks and two tour buses, it’s just absurd. We’re kind of reigning it in and setting myself up for a sustained career. It’s been almost 15 years now and it’s something that I think will weather the storm of styles that come and go because it’s more of a community for me and it’s less of a sensational scene that could come and go.

There was a news story today about DJ Shadow getting asked to stop DJing in the middle of his set because it was too “future” and confusing for the audience. What do you think about that? 

I have mad respect for DJ Shadow, he’s such an innovator and I don’t know him personally but if he asked my advice I would say don’t ever play that club again but keep on doing your thing. I think as long as you love what you do then carry on but if you lose that love then you should stop. Right now if there’s one thing in favour for EDM it’s that there is enthusiasm for it. In these cities there are multiple nights and multiple venues and they are all selling out because all the kids love it and yes that does mean there is a large amount of inaccuracies and mob mentality but there are just more people who love the sound and are open to new ideas. I was working way too hard in 2002 to try and bring the music to cowboys in little dive bars so I’m thrilled at where it is right now.

TAGS: AMERICA / BASS / BASSNECTAR / DUBSTEP / EDM

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