Viewed at a distance, though, this looks like the diverse crowd you'd expect at a large pop or rock concert. Alongside kids with glow sticks, there are upscale thirty- and fortysomethings dressed in dark jeans and leather jackets. There are Burning Man types wearing dreadlocks and baggy pants. There are young men in oversized white T-shirts breakdancing in back.

Standing onstage before two laptops, dwarfed by the video screen behind him, Ashton plays his own tracks and remixes of other artists. His own songs are varied: Some, like "Timestretch" and "Empathy," are built on slow, gargantuan basslines; others are frenetic and jackhammering. But Bassnectar's remixes are especially interesting. Ashton shows off a bass-enhanced take on Led Zeppelin's reggae-flavored "D'yer Mak'er." He drops a minute of Dr. Dre's triumphant rap hit, "Still D.R.E." In an ode to a band Ashton saw in this very building as a teenager, he loops a few bars of Helmet's bludgeoning alt-metal single, "Unsung," using it as a prelude to Bassnectar's signature track.

That's when the show peaks: As the funky, farty blasts of "Bass Head" come tumbling out of the speakers, fans stream onto the room's main floor. Over the beat of his best-known song, Ashton drops a sample of Jay-Z imploring, "That's the anthem, get ya damn hands up." Confetti rains down from the ceiling, and everywhere, the crowd is losing it. Watching the climax of Ashton's set, it doesn't seem underground, or exclusive, or specialized. It seems like a hyperactive synthesis of many sounds that have been popular for decades, plus a few new ones. And it's not at all hard to see why audiences are so enthralled by it — and by Ashton himself, the wizard behind these towering curtains of bass.

Ashton walked out of his first rave determined to replicate the experience. Slideshow: Bassnectar in San Francisco
Christopher Victorio
Ashton walked out of his first rave determined to replicate the experience. Slideshow: Bassnectar in San Francisco
Bassnectar sold more than 250,000 concert tickets last year, not counting festivals. Slideshow: Bassnectar in San Francisco
Christopher Victorio
Bassnectar sold more than 250,000 concert tickets last year, not counting festivals. Slideshow: Bassnectar in San Francisco

Hanging out in his dimly lit dressing room before the show, Ashton comes off calm — and dead sober. He's wearing an old Bad Religion T-shirt, Nike sneakers, and long shorts, which is what he'll wear while performing. Stretching his long, spindly limbs, Ashton moves his head in slow circles, preparing for the headbanging he'll do later. He says proudly that he learned one neck-stretch from a roadie for the metal band Slayer.

When you're around Ashton, it's easy to forget that you're talking to one of dance music's most in-demand DJs, the head of a traveling operation that spans two tour buses and three semi-trucks. He's shy but easygoing, polite and humble. He drives a mid-2000s Toyota Camry he bought used, and wears what he calls "old clothes." But while he's hesitant to talk about money, it's safe to say Ashton brings in an unusual amount of it. Local promoters estimate the act earns around $75,000 to $100,000 per show, and Bassnectar plays about 150 shows a year. "I'm in the 1 percent, for sure," Ashton says. "I pay a fucking sickening amount of taxes — sickening." But, he quickly adds, "That amount of taxes I would happily double or triple if it meant there was a way to guarantee free healthcare and amazing education."

In a lot of ways, Bassnectar is a cult of personality. Ashton serves as a kind of tribal leader for his fans, a big brother with bass. He sees the project as a cultural and social concern, not merely a musical one, and speaks of his hardcore fans, known as Bass Heads, like a family. Every concert includes a "family photo" moment when Ashton is photographed standing onstage in front of the audience. Bass Heads in turn show loyalty for Ashton and a communitarian spirit. It's a subculture of thousands across the country who are ready to show up anywhere he plays, coordinating their rides, outfits, and after-parties through lengthy comment threads on the Bassnectar website.

Ashton once planned to become a high school guidance counselor, but he now serves that role as a musician, taking questions and responding with long, thoughtful letters on his website. His answers are serious and sincere, and may not be what the questioner wanted to hear.

Take drugs, for instance. It's clear that many in Ashton's San Francisco audience are under the influence of something, even if it's just a few furtive pulls of vodka or puffs of weed. And the famous-DJ lifestyle has been known to include its share of partying. But Ashton doesn't use drugs anymore, and seems to drink mostly wine, if anything. Asked what advice he'd give fans about substances, he brings up the "preciousness and irreplaceability of your nervous system."

"I don't have an entirely negative opinion of drugs," he says. "I've seen beautiful things happen from certain kinds of experimentation." But, "It's crazy to think about kids taking designer drugs at age 18, having no idea what they are, just getting some research chemical and putting way too much of it in their bodies. It's nuts. And I certainly wouldn't want to propagate that rock-star lifestyle."

Ashton says he found pot "really inspiring at one point." But he quit using it regularly around age 22 or 23, and would smoke once a year until giving it up three years ago. "I don't have any interest in bragging, but I do have an interest in looking back at the last 15 years of my life and seeing how productive I've been compared to some of my friends, who are probably more talented than me but who do too many drugs."

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Folks like Bassnectar & Skrillex will say they got into it for the music not to get girls, however, when screamo & metal quickly became a sausage fest, they were as quick to become DJs & computer dance music "producers".  The problem is they brought all the testosterone from metal and left out all the sexiness of dance music, which is why it sounds like some nerdy boys making epic computer game music.   And it's why all their farting and mating sounds attract girls that are far too young for them.  Sorry boys


@SFWeekly bassnectar is an American icon for Dubstep music. It's cool to know he came out of the bay area n is representing the genre well


This is probably one of the worst written articles on electronic music I have read in a while. It actually upsets me that this is i the SF weekly. It reads like a PR one sheet of bad information. Much respect to Lorin and his bass movement. Unless you died 10 years ago and have risen from the dead you know what dub step is, the very fact that you say "he uploads a song to his laptop and makes a remix of it" sounds like you have never used a computer, as If this article was written for a 100yr old who has never driven a car or used a toaster. please Try Harder.


Please, house was created in Detroit waaaaaaay before the French even heard about it. Electronic music started in America. People Forget that.


I'm very surprised that in a 5 page article, he doesn't mention his crew even once, except for them having 2 tour buses (Lorin only flies). If it weren't for his road crew, he would not be where he is today. Much love for all the guys and gals making sure his shows are looking and sounding the way they do!!! 


Lorin Ashton is an incredible individual. I respect many things about him and his music, which pulled me in and captured me in about 2006. What I respect the most is that although his music has become more popular, it has never cheapened him. It is a special thing that a part of the status quo has been able to get a glimpse into the beautiful freak show that we lovingly call the underground, however, Lorin and people like us, will remain true and some other butterfly will capture that status quos interest sooner or later, and he will still be making 'Dubstep" or 'Doom Metal' which is the name he gave it, after they are said and done with it.. And I will still be dancin to break-beats and mash-ups to his left in the Pittsburgh city nights...Great Article..much respect~ L


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