Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Nov 20th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

The Giving Bass

ane leadbydouglaswojciechowskiUCSC alumnus, Bassnectar, looks forward to playing his home away from home

Anyone who listens to pop music today is familiar with wobbly bass lines, wooshing filter sweeps, epic synth melodies and frenetic, stuttering collages of fractured digital noise. Electronic dance music took the Top 40 by storm in 2011, and four months into 2012 it is showing no signs of letting up.

Artists from Kanye to Korn have sought to incorporate facets of the wildly popular genre into their own tunes and Skrillex has become a household name.

But long before any of that, in the mid- to late-'90s, then-Santa Cruz resident Lorin Ashton (better known as Bassnectar) was creating many of the sounds that would ultimately influence some of today's most popular DJs.

On May 3, Ashton will return to the city he "never wanted to leave" to play for a sold out crowd at the Civic Auditorium. It's a venue he never imagined he would be able to fill as an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz. "It's going to be epic," Ashton says.

As an adolescent growing up in Campbell, Ashton was heavily influenced by San Jose’s punk and metal scene. The two genres might seem far removed from the realm of electronic music—guitar driven and devoid of laptops and samplers. Ironically, though, it was his interest in these heavy, non-mainstream sounds that led him to the music that he is known for today.

Around the time he was 16, Ashton had discovered a late-night community college radio show that played heavy metal. Years before Napster and Bit Torrent, he engaged in the music piracy of his day—taping the show on 120-minute long blank cassettes while he slept.

When he awoke the next morning he would have an hour or so of bone-crunching guitars and blast-beats. But he would also capture much of the show that followed, which played early electronic, techno, jungle and acid jazz. He describes listening to those sounds for the first time as a “pivotal experience.”

“All these weird, bubbly, experimental sounds would come on, and I loved it!” Ashton says. A few years later, as a senior in high school, he went to his first rave. “It absolutely changed my life. The atmosphere was friendly and free. It changed my life on an emotional level, and I wanted to recreate that atmosphere for other people.”

He left high school with a head full of electronic beats and headed over the hill to enroll at UCSC. Ashton fell in love with Santa Cruz during his college years. “I never wanted to leave,” he says. “It’s one of my two favorite places on earth (the other is Lake Tahoe). I still consider it my home.”

As an upper classman in high school, he learned a great deal about the electronic music scene, but it was in Santa Cruz that Ashton became Bassnectar. He had learned a lot about promoting during his years playing with punk and metal bands in and around San Jose. Punk rock’s DIY aesthetic made him a natural for putting together DJ sets at house parties and at clandestine, generator-powered raves out in the forest.

Punk and metal left their mark on Ashton in other ways. As a DJ, he has always displayed a preference for heavy, distorted sounds. From his earliest full length, Freakbeat for the Beatfreaks (2001), to his latest, Vava Voom, Bassnectar fans are familiar with the buzz-saw bass sounds that clearly reflect on Ashton’s hardcore roots. That caustic, sub-growl can be heard on the new album’s Lupe Fiasco-featuring title track, and Ashton’s metalhead tendencies are apparent in the song’s supporting video, which features a darkly dressed head-banging band.

Ashton says he loves chopping up older sounds and remixing them with newer tones. “At its core, electronic music is really just a system of enhancement for any genre of music,” he says. “You can have an electronic music song and make it sound like anything.”

Ashton hears electronic music everywhere he goes. “I think I’m just a reflection of things that I see and witness around me,” he says, explaining that he hears music on the street, in his house, and even in the zaps, speech fragments, and explosions in movie trailers. ane leadceaesarsebastianby Caesar Sebastian

Case in point: on Vava Voom’s fourth track, Ashton transforms a game of ping pong into a massive womp-fest of a track. “Ping Pong” starts out with the sound of a table tennis ball being batted back and forth; that sound is sampled, chopped into pieces, modulated, pitch shifted and ultimately turned into something so utterly unrecognizable from the original sound that for all intents and purposes the sound of that tiny plastic ball bouncing off a wooden table has become something else entirely. “I truly believe that music is bigger than the human confines with which people try—and fail—to harness it with.”

Just as he seeks to transform music, Ashton strives to modulate humanity for the better. In high school he volunteered for multiple charities, including a center for the blind and a convalescent home. At UCSC, he started as a sociology major, and switched to community studies—a combination of sociology, psychology and political science, intended to teach students to be community organizers. For his thesis he worked with at-risk youth, conducting music therapy sessions at group homes.

“I’ve always been a pretty empathic person, ever since I was a little kid,” he explains. “I really look to give back to the world around me.” And now that he is selling out large venues all over the U.S. and in Europe, he is able to do that in a very big way. Last year he raised $250,000 through his Dollar Per Basshead initiative—which takes a dollar from every ticket sold to an official Bassnectar show. That money is given to many charities and organizations, Ashton says. More recently it has been going toward the creation of an online advice database.

“I always thought I was going to end up a high school teacher or guidance counselor,” Ashton says. In an effort to fulfill this interest, he has been working on a wiki where anyone interested can go to find non-partisan, only-the-facts information on topics such as sex, drugs, suicide and even how to make friends—“anything from the most serious to the most basic of questions.” It’s something he wishes he had as a teenager.

Beyond working toward his online database and crafting new music, Ashton doesn’t really have much of a plan, other than doing what he does best. “I really couldn’t ask for more,” he says. “I’m just totally grateful.”


Bassnectar performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3, at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. Sold Out. Call 420-5260.

 

Comments (1)Add Comment
...
written by incubuslove, April 25, 2012
He should play a free show for us UCSC Slugs Bahaha :)

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Pop Life

The pop-up dining trend is freeing culinary imaginations and creating a guerilla version of event dining around Santa Cruz

 

Over Hills and Plains, Riding a White Horse, Bow and Arrows in Hand

Saturday, early morning, the sun enters and radiates the light of Sagittarius. Three hours later, the Sagittarius new moon (0.07 degrees) occurs. “Let food be sought,” is the personality-building keynote. “Food” means experiences; all kinds, levels and types. It also means real food. Sag’s secret is their love of food. Many, if not musicians, are chefs. Some are both. The energies shift from Scorpio’s deep and transformative waters to the “hills and plains of Sagittarius.” Sag is the rider on a white horse, eyes focused on the mountain peaks of Capricorn (Initiation) ahead. Like Scorpio, Sagittarius is also the “disciple.” Adventure, luck, optimism, joy and the beginnings of gratitude are the hallmarks of Sagittarius. Sag is also one of the signs of silence. The battle lines were drawn in Libra and we were asked to choose where we stood. The Nine Tests were given in Scorpio and we emerged “warriors triumphant.” Now in Sag, we are to be the One-Pointed Disciple, riding over the plains on a white horse, bow and arrows in hand, eyes focused on the Path of Return ahead. Sagittarians are one-pointed (symbol of the arrow). Sag asks, “What is my life’s purpose?” This is their quest, from valleys, plains, meadows and hills, eyes aimed always at the mountaintop. Sag emerges from Scorpio’s deep waters, conflict and tests into the open air. Sag’s quest is humanity’s quest. Sag’s quest, however, is always accompanied by music and good food.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of November 21

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Pie Fidelity

A little Thanksgiving help, plus sip and shop locally at the Art, Wine and Gift Bazaar

 

What should be on everyone’s bucket list?

Hang gliding, because you're free as a bird. Jenni, Santa Cruz, Student/Administrative Assistant

 

Soquel Vineyards

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so it’s time to be thinking about the wine you’re going to serve with that special dinner, be it turkey, ham, a roast, or something vegetarian or vegan.

 

The Kitchen

Chef Santos Majano talks beer-friendly food at Discretion Brewery