Ashton isn't the king of American dubstep, though. That title belongs to Skrillex, the stage name of Sonny Moore. Ashton considers Moore a friend, and their music shares a number of similarities: Both came to electronic music from playing in metal bands, and have a fascination with big, rumbling bass drops. Their contrasts are more striking: Where Bassnectar tracks often have a sensual funkiness lurking within the throb, Skrillex is aggressively mechanical. And while Ashton tries to avoid the cool-kid spotlight, Moore revels in it, dating pop stars like Ellie Goulding and hitting the L.A. party circuit.

So when Skrillex won three Grammy awards earlier this year, Ashton felt relieved. "I had been really nervous about being the one on top, and getting too much hate for the popularity I had," he says. It "let me feel more like the Les Claypool or the Frank Zappa of the movement, where I just felt much less restrictions and much less expectations." Ashton's fans, who enjoy a sort of rivalry with Skrillex, were less enthused. But even the fact that one of Bassnectar's peers won three Grammys is an indication of the popularity of dubstep and dance music today.

Ashton rejects the narrative of electronic dance music's "recent" explosion. For him, it's been a much longer, more gradual process. "By 2004, 2005, I thought it was just unbelievably big," he says. "And every year thereafter, it doubled or tripled. It's extremely old news — even though it's beautiful news." But even Ashton admits that Bassnectar is part of the mainstream music landscape in a way that he never expected.

At times he seems uncomfortable with the breadth of his fan base, and he says he's reached a point where he's no longer interested in expanding it. "Obviously, I'm not underground anymore, but I feel like I am," Ashton says. "My personality is underground, my tastes are underground, and I feel very protective of the underground."

Dubstep, the music Bassnectar helped popularize, is no longer underground either. After arriving on the pop charts, it seeped into advertising, and is now practically inescapable. Kowal has a theory about why this sound found success in the states while higher-tempo electronic styles like house and techno struggled. "Maybe kids didn't want to dance as fast," he says. "Maybe we're all fat and out of shape in this country. Dubstep is a perfect electronic music for Americans because we eat too much."

Or maybe there's another reason. Mainstream rock has declined in popularity in recent years, selling fewer and fewer records. That's meant a lack of the deep, aggressive, intensely physical music that many young males — especially white ones — spend some part of their youth listening to. There's an easy line to be drawn between the gigantic riffs of Metallica and Nirvana and the pounding assault of Bassnectar and Skrillex. If anything, the new electronic artists unleash a rumble from their laptops that even an amplified guitar couldn't match. The origin of this music — European clubs — seems unlikely at first, but less so when seen through the biographies of Ashton and Moore, both of whom came up playing metal. So could America have turned dance music into the new frontier of heaviness?

"The answer is absolutely yes," says Live 105's Axelsen. "To the new generation, this is their rock show. These are their rock stars."

Slideshow: Bassnectar in San Francisco

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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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