By Carla Torres
In preparation for his Main Stage headlining gig on Weekend 1 of Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, Bassnectar arrived two days early. He and his team rented out The Fillmore to rehearse with a new DJ system.
“I don’t think I’ve slept since we got here,” he confesses to ADANAI before going on at Ultra. While he may be feeling hazy, he doesn’t seem it. How does he do it? “Pure desperation, a love for what I do, and some fear and loathing.”
The sound system he’ll debut is halfway developed and three years in the making.
During his live set, instead of just playing songs, he’ll trigger an unlimited amount of loops, or layers. This has been his method for the past seven years. The difference now will be that each different loop and sound and layer will trigger a different video clip. “It’s all controlled by me and by the tempo, so I can change the speed of music,” he explains. “It’s pretty overwhelming.”
The goal is for it to be completely finished by New Year’s 2014, but Ultra was an opportunity to showcase more than what they thought would be ready. While a new, complex sound system may frazzle some DJs, Bassnectar feels very at home during his sets, “I’ve been doing this for a long time and feel very comfortable on a stage and in a DJ booth. The only thing that bothers me is technical snafus.”
“The amount of things that can go wrong with each step is exponentially huge,” says Bassnectar. “People think it’s just the DJ but they are just wrong. “ These are massive productions. It would be credulous to believe that it’s just a one-man show. Although the sad reality is some people really do. These people are certainly not bass heads – Bassnectar’s cross-country traveling pack of fans he keeps in touch with on a regular basis. Not really a surprise for a man who is all about community and social involvement. “I’m in love with music. Totally obsessed with playing it and making it, but equally interested on a creative level about creating experiences for people,” he says. “How fans feel connected to each other is so important to me.”He talks about being driven since a young age, and knowing that he wanted to get into music when he heard Nirvana for the first time at age 12. “I never thought I would do it for a job. My dreams have long been surpassed. I was aiming for down here,” he signals pointing to almost the floor.
So if he hadn’t done this for a job, Bassnectar would have followed his life passion of teaching high school and being a guidance counselor, answering to the name Mr. Ashton rather than Bassnectar. “That’s what I went to college for, and although I didn’t have a chance to get to accomplish it, there’s been a lot of crossover between fostering a community and relating to my fan base.” Maybe one day after he’s played all the festivals and clubs in the world and cut off his waist-length hair, he might retire to a classroom. “I would love to do that.”
For now though, Ultra Music Festival, Coachella, a three-week tour that will take him to a different city each night this summer, and a fall tour have him booked through to New Year’s. In between and before performances, Bassnectar likes to stretch or do yoga to get his body ready. “Head banging stretches are the best to freak your body out,” he says.
A huge proponent of collaborations, Bassnectar has worked with people from all over the music map. “I’ve been collaborating like a freak and have a lot more coming out.”
Early on in his career, it was a ritual for Bassnectar to perform at Burning Man, an annual art event and community-based festival dependent on radical self-expression and self-reliance. Burning Man takes place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Bassnectar would perform seven sets a night. “It was obsessive and fun,” he explains. “I would hop on a bike and throw an evening set and then another one at 11 p.m., and then at midnight, and then every few hours after that.” But he hasn’t been in a while after going for 12 years straight since ‘97. “I did it enough. Anything you’ve done 12 times you’re really ready for something new.”
Besides Burning Man, he’s performed in all the top festivals and venues in the country. “It’s hard to say what place has been best to play because each one is so unique and you can list the big ones like Red Rocks or The Gorge and other natural amphitheaters or massive festivals, but there’s also something to be said for the really small rooms or the off the beaten path Tuesday night in Kentucky where no one has been before.”
He has the same approach to his fans or overall experiences throughout his career. “When people ask anything about a favorite it’s always difficult. It’s kind of like asking what was your favorite strawberry? You can’t really answer that.”
“I see the beauty in all the different aspects and things.”
Because he sees the beauty in all things Bassnectar is naturally inspired. “Inspiration is not something I really have to work at. It’s pretty automatic,” he says. “I’m pretty inspired, actually borderline obsessive when it comes to creating. I think about music all the time. I dream about it, so it’s never been like what I can be inspired by; it’s more like massive to do lists.”
“Like this video thing. Three years we’ve been working on it and we’re not even done.”
For a taste of Bassnectar’s unique freeform style, listen to this: