Bassnectar: Staring Into The Sun

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(Image source: aLIVE Coverage)

June 30 2015: A day that will go down in all upstanding basshead’s calendars and may – potentially – rip a hole in the space time continuum.

Since 2005’s release of Mesmerising The Ultra, Bassnectar has delivered an album every two years. Pretty much to the dot. We’ve had no need for watches, calendars, diaries, iCals or personal assistances… Our temporal relativity has been based on Lorin Ashton bi-yearly dispatches.

Now today he’s flipped the switch and dropped another full one a year ahead of schedule: Bassnectar – Into The Sun… His 11th long player. No need to dust off a calendar or hire a PA, though. Let the timing throw you into the same chaos a Bassnectar show might… Hell, even your concept and understanding of what is an album actually constitutes is about to be shaken in this interview.

You see Lorin doesn’t technically consider Bassnectar – Into The Sun as an album himself. Perceiving it as more of a hybrid mixtape laced with bass and care, it’s a collection of brand new tracks, edits and five new contemporised versions of tracks from his Mesmerising The Ultra opus that landed a decade ago.

For all upstanding, god-fearing, crust-eating bassheads it is an album. Complete as 16 originals and another one of Lorin’s famous mixtapes, it’s awesome. For added space time continuum hole rippage potential, join Bassnectar and his legion of faithful fans for another global listening party…

At 7pm PST tonight (that’s about 3am in the UK) everyone will be simultaneously pressing play on the mixtape track of the album and experiencing it en-mass. Lorin will himself and you can connect direct on his Twitter.

To find out more I caught up with Bassnectar. This isn’t the first time…. We first met during the Cozza Frenzy tour in 2009 in New York then, a year later, in my home town of Cardiff, Wales where he smashed a tiny sweaty underground 300-cap club to tiny pieces. A far cry from the 30-50,000 capacity venues he’s currently demolishing, it seems like a good place to start…

Do you ever get to play those crazy sweaty little underground venues any more?

Those moments are few and far between now. Playing in a tiny room is a different art form to the crazy mobs I play to now. It’s crazy; I’ve been taking photos of the crowds since the early 2000s. When I look over some of those shows from like 2004, 2006 or even when we first met in 2009 the crowds look really small. But back then they seemed fucking massive! It’s been a slow and steady increase, there’s been no massive hype moment when everything exploded; it’s been very natural so I haven’t noticed the growth. Those earlier shows look small in comparison to the size of shows I’m doing now… But back then they felt just as crazy as 50,000.

The intensity is just different… Do you miss it?

To be honest I spend such little time looking back over the past and thinking about what I miss because the present is moving so fast that I’m pretty overwhelmed with it. Every now and again a fan will ask ‘hey man, do you miss those little shows?’ And I’m like ‘yeah man, like I miss childhood and college and everything.’

So yes, it’s a different intensity but I never leave these huge shows feeling like I’ve lost any of that crazy underground atmosphere and the frenzy I have always wanted to create since the very beginning. The art form is all in harnessing the group dynamic. I have an intimate relationship with the music and that translates into the crowd participation.

The production of your shows and entire immersive Bassnectar experience has developed hugely since the first time I saw you. When you’re talking about harnessing en-mass group dynamics, the whole visual aspect must play a major role on creating something that everyone is part of…

Of course. But I am far from the first person to do this! Coldcut have been doing shit like this since the mid to late 90s and blowing me and millions of other minds away. I don’t think what we’re doing is very revolutionary and different but it’s very heartfelt and we’ve invested a lot in the tiniest details. We’ve spent obsessive amounts of time on the video. The lights are great and lots of fun but the video is the most important for me because it has a narrative, it’s not just fractals and screensavers. It’s proper content that syncs up with the music and yes, as you say, it helps to engage with the large crowds and amplify the feeling we are all sharing.

Totally. The approach hasn’t changed but the technology has.

For sure. Actually my crowning memory of you was when we first met and you called me out for not delivering the drum & bass drop on a Sub Focus track. I only played the build-up then went back into a half time drop. I loved that. It was a bit of an in-joke for fans who knew the music. US fans didn’t really get it. You got it, but didn’t appreciate it! So when you’re talking about things changing and moving, having that early lead on the half time drum & bass stuff was great.

Haha! Sorry man. But the whole double time/ halftime stuff is common place now…

Yeah, and it certainly wasn’t 10 years ago. So that was a really exciting thing to explore and utilise in my performances. It’s what modern trap and dubstep are basically based on. I still love that approach but now, for my own productions, I’m really inspired by the more melodic elements.

But you’re not averse to some filthy, balls-out drum & bass. There was Raw Charles, there’s the new version of Blow, there was the Pennywise Tribute… Is that a reaction to the fact that a lot of people were doing the double time builds and the half time drops?

No no, that’s just me fucking loving drum & bass! The thing is, the US didn’t really invent that many genres or styles. We’ve just appropriated what you guys are cooking and modified it. But if you look back at what was the shit in UK and Europe maybe 10 or 15 years ago and it’s almost as if those sounds never even happened over here.

It’s an amazing strength as a DJ to go back and pull from these huge pools of reference points like Ninja Tune, Ram Records, early Sub Focus tracks or go right back to UK rave jump up from the mid-90s. So I’m really into looking back and pulling some of these from the past and bringing them into the future. Because many people who see me play will never have heard these forgotten treasures. These guys know the big hits of the day – they call it EDM but I’m not really into using that phrase – but taking them back to that exciting period of electronic music is a place they may never have explored so far.

So let’s look back over your earlier stuff… The updated versions of tracks from Mesmerising The Ultra on Into The Sun. You talk of not looking back and always looking forward. But I’m guessing you’ve done these updates because it’s the 10 year anniversary of the album…

Well I’ve only included five tracks. And Mesmerising The Ultra was close to 30 songs. I did want to do a full re-release that was totally updated and brought into the future. But I couldn’t do that. It worked out better because Into The Sun is much more about looking forward than it is looking back. I actually have another project which has five more re-dos which should hopefully come out a little later in the year.

I’m guessing finding the parts for these tracks is a challenge in itself?

Yes. At least half of the tracks are long gone on old machines and so on. But the parts I could find were those to tracks that I found really special. On Enter The Chamber the parts are a friend leaving a voice message on harmonics on the guitar. They pretty much all sound like synths but that’s how they started. I wanted to bring that back into my set for such a long time but the production has developed so much now that you just can’t play a 10 year old track against a new one. It’s the same with Dubuasca, Breathing, and of course Blow, which you’ve already mentioned. That still feels very current to me because of the timeless feeling of the humanised elements.

So let’s talk about the album as a whole. It kinda took us by surprise. You could set your watch by Bassnectar albums… Every two years for the last 10 years!

Ha! Well I took six months off after Noise VS Beauty to have a vacation but I spent most of that in the studio so there was a lot material building up. And a lot of those tracks were collaborations so they only take half the time as something I’ve written solo. But the main thing is that I never planned on Into The Sun being an album… It was always meant to be a mixtape, which I’ve been doing for many years as you well know. As it came together I realised more and more tunes were original and that it would be a shame if they weren’t available or accessible on streaming platforms on their own and not just locked into a mixtape. So we made it as an album. But I’d rather under promise and over deliver and call it a mixtape but offer loads more than a usual mixtape would.

The Chemical Brothers once told me in an interview that every album is a reaction to the last one. With Noise VS Beauty being your most successful album to date, was Into The Sun a reaction to that? Going back to your roots a little, perhaps?

Yeah I guess that’s why I’ve made the difference between an album and a mixtape. Noise VS Beauty was a very time-consuming approach of making songs from scratch while this is more a creative free-for-all of tracks that I love and work as a journey. So, for example, you can’t really pick one big single from it, which you usually have to with an album. I think so few DJs in America really focus on the journey any more. So many of them are very charismatic and can stand up on stage smiling while the music plays. This isn’t a slight on them, though; many of them make that music and they do what they do well. But I do feel the art form of selection and dynamic of mixing in layers has been lost. That said, Into The Sun isn’t heavily mixed… it’s about the flow, which is also very important as part of what DJs do.

Without a doubt. So we need to chat about The Mystery Spot with G Jones before we sign off. How did this come about?

He’s from Santa Cruz, just like me. When we met I felt I was meeting myself 10 years ago. He felt like a brother straight away. I dig his personality and love his music. We’re already working on more tracks together. The Mystery Spot is a great way to kick that off. It’s named after this crazy place in Santa Cruz which has mad gravity defying properties. You go into these weird crooked rooms I can’t explain. You leave thinking ‘I have no idea how that works’.

Trippy! So I’m going to finish with a standard question which I think you’ve already answered. What can we look forward to? There’s already Into The Sun, more Mesmerising re-dos, an EP with G Jones. Am I squeezing too hard now?

Not at all! That six months I took off was mainly spent working on music for the Red Rocks shows. Three shows, 10,000 tickets per show, and one of the most amazing geographical locations in America, maybe even the world. I was playing two and a half hours per night and I didn’t play any song twice. So making all those tracks was very time consuming and the whole idea was to reinvent those seven hours into new festival sets… But right now, like just before you called, I’ve been making even more new music. It never ever ends. And I have no doubt you’ll be hearing, experiencing and feeling these new tracks very soon.

Bassnectar – Into The Sun is out today. Grab it now and join the listening party at 7pm PST tonight!