Almost hidden away amid rows of trees, a block from DeAnza Boulevard, the Cupertino Public Library is about as far as one can get from the thousands of screaming, writhing fans at the festivals and stadiums that Bassnectar plays around the country, and the world.
But embossed on the side of the building is the Jorge Luis Borges quote “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” And for Bassnectar, it was. Long before he became one of the most popular and respected DJs in the now-huge Electronic Dance Music (EDM) movement, Bassnectar was a 16-year-old growing up in San Jose, and known only as Lorin Ashton. A burgeoning metal guitarist at the time, he was obsessed with the extreme metal bands in the underground DIY scene centered around the Cupertino Library.
The library was remodeled eight years ago, but in the ’90s, there was a community room in its basement where he and his friends would organize shows, cramming a single setup for all the bands into one corner of a space that could probably hold about 40 people legally. That’s where Ashton got his first taste of the relentless energy that would come to define his performance style.
“I remember my band playing one time, and then after we played, Exhumed played,” Ashton says in an interview from his current home in San Francisco. “They were the San Jose death-metal heroes. They were three or four years older than me, and I looked up to them. They had hair on their arms. They were godly to me. I remember they came on, and at the first strike, the room exploded. Every single one of them, you could just see the muscles tensing in their arms as they played, and in their throats as they sang.”
The body-memory of that moment still echoes today in Ashton’s hair-whipping, sweat-soaked performances. “It really affected me, ’cause it’s how I normally felt. At that age, I needed one of my peers who I looked up to show me that that’s what you do: you let yourself be you.”
Dancing With Myself
For the 34-year-old Ashton, who returns to the South Bay on Saturday, May 5, to perform at the San Jose State University Event Center—as far as he can remember, his first-ever show in his hometown—it’s not just a persona for public consumption.