Ashton performed as Bassnectar for the very first time in 2002, at a party thrown by friend and promoter Zack Darling in the North Bay. The night saw Ashton play with a Gamelan Orchestra from Bali, dancers on stilts, circus performers, and a 15-foot Golden Buddha onstage, all for a bunch of hippie kids after the Harmony Festival. The name change alluded to a new voraciousness in Ashton's sets, a new willingness to combine disparate musical elements. After that, Ashton never performed as DJ Lorin again.

Soon, Ashton began to play dramatically with tempos. It helped that by the early 2000s, U.K. producers had slowed down breakbeat to emphasize the heavy bass, spawning a number of new sounds, including what would become known as dubstep. The effect was mind-blowing to audiences at Burning Man."What he was playing to me sounded way more like funk and hip-hop, but I'd never heard it approached that way," says Robbie Kowal, a local promoter and fellow DJ who first saw Ashton at Burning Man in 2004.

Bringing the plodding tempos and shuddering bass to Black Rock City only expanded Ashton's reputation in the culture further. "He had a number of years there where he was like the Burning Man guy," Darling says. "He was playing dubstep before anybody even knew what dubstep was. They didn't even know what to call it. They just called it Bassnectar."

“We are creating a blend of an underground punk show, a hardcore death metal show, a big stadium rock show, a rave from the ‘90s, and a circus, all mixed with a summer camp,” Ashton says of his concerts. Slideshow: Bassnectar in San Francisco
Christopher Victorio
“We are creating a blend of an underground punk show, a hardcore death metal show, a big stadium rock show, a rave from the ‘90s, and a circus, all mixed with a summer camp,” Ashton says of his concerts. Slideshow: Bassnectar in San Francisco

That strong identification with Burning Man eventually made Ashton uncomfortable — and it didn't help that he got tired of the festival's mix of hippies and dot-commers. "I kind of lost interest in it around 2002, but I would still go because it was an awesome crowd to play for," he says. "I just never really felt like a Burner."

But playing for so many years at Burning Man provided him with a laboratory of art-loving weirdos to impress. And it helped him develop a national network of fans, some of whom hired him to play parties in their towns. "He had an audience everywhere, he had these acolytes, this cadre of true believers in all these markets," says Kowal.

Slideshow: Bassnectar in San Francisco

By the mid-'00s, Ashton was playing 150 shows a year around the country. (One October, he remembers playing 21 shows in S.F. alone.) After so much time on the playa, he'd earned what Kowal calls "a master's in how to blow people's minds." The problem was, many of the small-time promoters hiring Ashton didn't share his ideas about how put on shows — and he refused to compromise.


Lorin Ashton is an endlessly thoughtful individual. His obsessiveness and concern extends to nearly every aspect of Bassnectar, from ticket prices to the behavior of security at shows. It's perhaps most evident in the live experience, where Ashton is relentless in ensuring that fans have a fun and safe time. He takes song requests for each show online, and plays as many of them as he can. He recruits volunteers (called amBASSadors, naturally) to help distribute free earplugs and water, and to roam around the venues checking on other fans. Even Ashton's website has moderators that patrol the forums, answering questions and giving advice.

In the mid-'00s, when Bassnectar was playing midsize parties around the country, electronic dance music was not the big deal it is today. Many of the cities where Bassnectar performed didn't have dance clubs. The local rock venue or theater soundsystem wasn't up to amplifying the low-end assault that Bassnectar brought. And promoters didn't know how to make one guy on a stage with some CD decks exciting to watch.

Ashton, however, did — and plenty of friction ensued as he tried to get promoters to configure the stages, lights, and soundsystems the way he wanted them. "Promoters aren't used to dealing with another promoter showing up and telling them exactly how it's going to be," Kowal says. "He was willing to fight to get it how it needed to be, and he was constantly arguing with people who didn't understand."

Kowal remembers booking Bassnectar for San Francisco's Sea of Dreams New Year's Eve party in 2008. The plan was to have Ashton follow Thievery Corporation, which was performing with a 15-piece live band. After demanding that the stage be rearranged to accommodate his video setup, Ashton said he wanted the screens raised and six projectors set up within two minutes of Thievery Corporation leaving the stage. Otherwise, he argued, all the energy would go out of the room.

Kowal was initially reluctant to comply. But his team got the whole thing done in under 120 seconds — and the show was successful. "The amazing thing isn't that he was so demanding," says Kowal. "The amazing thing was that he was right. If we hadn't done it in two minutes, all the energy would've gone out of the room, and his set wouldn't have been anywhere near as good."

With video screens, rearranged speaker arrays, and sheer, sometimes brutal determination, Ashton helped blaze the way for dance music in smaller cities around the U.S. And as he went to increasingly obscure places, he became obsessed by it — and still is, saying he prefers touring North America to playing Europe. A few years later, in a surprising move for a dance DJ, Bassnectar began playing the jam-band circuit, touring with groups like Widespread Panic and STS9 for huge audiences of mostly white college kids. And Bassnectar — armed with the rock-like aggression of dubstep — won them over, helping build a broad and deep network of fans that he still plays to today.

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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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