So while Ashton is easygoing, he's also very serious about what he thinks and how he lives. And that's never clearer than when discussing politics or religion. DJs are expected to be party-starters, not lecturers, but Bassnectar went through a phase last decade where Ashton, enraged by the political realities of the day, would stop mid-set to opine on the evils of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Ashton still shouts his take on sensitive subjects elsewhere: This fall, he sparked fiery debates online by blasting Mitt Romney (he has harsh words for Obama, too) and by dismissing American reverence for Christopher Columbus as a "fairy tale." He believes that "religion is a terrible thing" and equates worshipping a God to believing in the tooth fairy. And he doesn't mind alienating those who disagree. "I'm not a public clown who's there to try and get fans," Ashton says. "I don't want fans who I think are idiots."

In the Bay Area, it'd be strange if a long-haired musician didn't call the Iraq War a crime. But Ashton's fan base is far bigger than party-loving Nor-Cal lefties. Even before electronic dance music became a pop phenomenon, Ashton had accomplished something no other American DJ had: He built large followings in rural states like Missouri, Tennessee, and Nebraska, turning listeners far outside of the dance music circuit into the next generation of Bass Heads. Which is all the more surprising considering Ashton's quintessentially Northern California background.


The man behind Bassnectar never planned to become a DJ. In his teens, Ashton was part of the underground metal scene, playing in bands, promoting shows, and trading demos with fellow fans around the world. He would regularly listen to a late-night metal show on Stanford radio station KZSU. After the metal program, the station aired a program specializing in European dance music. At that point, Ashton was listening almost exclusively to bands like Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, and more obscure acts. But there was something he grew to like about what he then considered "techno."

Ashton had spent his early years in a sort of commune in San Jose. The group split around the time Ashton turned 5, after which Ashton and his parents began attending a fundamentalist Christian church in San Jose. He says he had a happy childhood and a mostly harmonious relationship with his parents. By his early teens, though, he had abandoned Christianity, after finding that he kept losing arguments with friends and couldn't support his beliefs through logic.

Slideshow: Bassnectar in San Francisco

As a child, Ashton says he displayed an almost self-defeating concern for the well-being of others. He remembers talking to a psychologist around sixth grade about feeling sorry for other kids who were getting teased. "My dad was always telling me, 'You're too empathetic, you've got to not worry so much about everyone else,'" he says.

So at age 17, when he went to his first rave, he felt immediately comfortable — the atmosphere a friendlier, more welcoming version of the underground spirit of the death metal scene. Metal shows, Ashton says, "felt a lot of times threatening or physically intense. To be in the direct polar opposite of that ... I was magnetized to it right away."

Ashton walked out of that rave in 1995 determined to produce a similar experience for others. More than making music, it was the urge to put on stunning events that drove him into dance music, and is still at the core of what Bassnectar does today.

Initially Ashton was simply a promoter, booking DJs to play at warehouses or secluded outdoor locations. Then, a year into his tenure as a rave producer, a DJ friend showed him the turntables. "I realized all it was is: You're playing one song and then you prepare the next song and then you fade into the next song," he says. "So the second I tried, because I had been drumming for so long, I just locked the beats. I realized this is the easiest thing in the fucking world!" And thus did Lorin Ashton, death metal kid and rave promoter, become the record selector subsequently known throughout the Bay Area as DJ Lorin.

At first Ashton spun acid house and psychedelic trance, styles that featured druggy melodies layered over hypnotic beats. Then in the late '90s, he got into breakbeat, an electronic genre built on the funky drum samples that also fueled hip-hop, but played at a much higher speed. This offered more aggressiveness and rhythmic variation, but Ashton, still a lover of heavy music, was looking for something more — "not too slow, but not frantic, more like the way an elephant would feel in a stampede," he says. Ashton tried pitching down records on his turntables to emphasize the bass, which sort of worked. But what he really wanted was for the more aggressive breakbeat styles, like nu skool breaks and drum 'n' bass, to go half-time, summoning the thundering heft he knew was there, but which hadn't been realized yet. In a few years, that's exactly what would happen.

In 1997, Ashton went to Burning Man for the first time — just for one night, to see a DJ. He stayed for the full experience in 1998, and ended up going every year for 12 years, sometimes playing five to seven sets per night. In those days, the annual festival in the Nevada desert was one of the only large gatherings of people in the U.S. who were into new, underground electronic sounds. And DJ Lorin was increasingly recognized as a supremely talented spinner.

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6 comments
ih8hipsters
ih8hipsters

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

max_rovo
max_rovo

@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

devo2
devo2

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.

Meh_its_andrew
Meh_its_andrew

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

Basserina
Basserina

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!!! 

neodiamond31
neodiamond31

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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