Remember that cultural phenomenon a while back wherein a subgenre of abrasive, cathartic and ear-splitting music bubbled up from the underground through a community of devoted fans, void of any commercial promotion? The one that inspired youngsters to show up by the thousands to convulse and thrash about in unison, and the adverse reaction from parents and society only strengthened this sense of solidarity?
Depending on what year you slap on that question, it could either describe the late-'80s metal uprising centered around "The Big Four" — Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth — or the electronic dance music craze rumbling under our very noses that's essentially landed solo artists like Skrillex, Pretty Lights, Deadmau5 and Bassnectar as the Big Four of 2012. Of course, that analogy weakens a bit when you factor in cultural signs of the times and the much more balanced boy-to-girl ratio in the current crowd — not to mention the lack of a brooding, outsider attitude that fueled the aggro-headbanger mentality of yore. EDM is a much more inclusive community — one that embraces black-clad longhairs and sorority sisters equally.
Lorin Ashton, aka Bassnectar, doesn't much care for our "Big Four" analogy. During a telephone interview with the Scene, he admitted that while even he sometimes feels the need to box and label genres and musical movements so as to better explain them, he separates himself dramatically from the rest of EDM's superstars — who, to be fair, do indeed showcase much flashier personalities, giant mouse-shaped helmets and asymmetrical haircuts while spraying Champagne in their audience's faces and garnering Grammy nominations.
"All of that is cool and fine, but it's black and white, 100 percent different from me," says Ashton. "I'm much more of an underground personality. I don't care about being famous, I don't care about having a bunch of followers on social networking. I don't want a Grammy. I don't want to be in that world. We've created something very special that stands on its own."
The self-described underground status is definitely reinforced by the fact that Bassnectar is by no means a household name. Nevertheless, he's sold out both of his shows at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena two years in a row — last New Year's Eve, and again this New Year's. Ashton's initial interest in Nashville was piqued three years ago when an indoor show at local disco dive Limelight revealed just how interested Nashville was in him. The gig unexpectedly evolved into a sold-out outdoor parking-lot event at which a seemingly equal population of out-of-luck onlookers lined up outside the venue's perimeter. One year ago, he surprised even his own team by selling out Bridgestone.
"We thought, 'Why not surprise everyone and just do something in Nashville?' " says Ashton. "I expected probably between 5,000 to 7,000 [ticket sales], and sold out at 10,000. It kind of just set the bar. We're setting the standard constantly higher and racing to keep up with ourselves."
It was quite a step not only for Bassnectar, but also for Music City — Nashville was giving the proper arena treatment to something about as far removed from our country music machine as can be. Ashton ranks the performance among his favorite sets of 2011, and also considers it his best-sounding show of the year — an achievement that is due in no small part to the amount of preparation that went into sound reinforcement. Every seat and position in the house was customized with radar technology so that each audience member could experience the same sound regardless of location. While that entails a great deal of work, it was cake compared to the challenges set by this year's upgrades.
Bassnectar's staple ground-shaking sub-bass was for that show focused all in one direction. This year, for the first time ever, Ashton will be performing in the center of the arena on a gigantic 360-degree rotating turntable.
"[This year] we're going omni-projectional," Ashton says. "Every direction is going to sound the same as it does in a different place of the room, and to project bass that way and sound that way is really intense, so we're bringing in four times the amount of sound — not to be louder, but just to be immersive, and it's an incredible amount of work."
For those stuck in the nosebleed seats, that's probably some incredible news. As far as what attendees will be hearing ... well, that's another mystery. Surely a crowd this size and a stage this elaborate on a night as epic as New Year's Eve might have some effect on his choices of sounds. Judging by his description, the influence is almost impossible to fathom.
"'I think the New Year's set each year is the most intentional set that I play," explains Ashton. "New Year's is a simultaneous reflecting on the past and looking forward to the future. It's all about time and shifting time. I'd say go watch [the Christopher Nolan film] Inception if you want to think about how much attention I put into the New Year's set. [Its] soundtrack takes place on four different time signatures with the same sample. Every time you go deeper into a layer of the dream, it pitches down to half as slow or half as low, and I really use that same kind of concept when weaving a set together that's all about stretching out time."
Whether sub-bass can be used to infiltrate your dreams and steal your most closely held secrets remains to be seen. Then again, why would you be sleeping at a Bassnectar show?
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