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Interview: EDM Star Bassnectar Plays Homecoming San Jose Show

In Clubs, Music

That last part is particularly important to him: “As someone who has been making and playing live music for over 20 years, and doesn’t know a lick of musical theory, it’s important to me to have no rules.”

There are echoes of Ashton’s early metal obsession in the grind of what is probably his signature song, “Bass Head,” from 2010’s Timestretch EP, and others. But it obviously wasn’t the only influence on his unorthodox path from long-haired headbanger to long-haired superstar DJ, and much of the music he discovered in his South Bay years had a profound impact on him.

“I’m inspired by so much,” he says. “I’m inspired by ethereal, anthemic music like REM or the Cure or Nine Inch Nails or Tears for Fears. Growing up as a kid in America, I tuned in to the most anthemic kind of pop music. Then I got into NWA and Public Enemy and Nirvana and Metallica. Then death metal, and then deep into every subgenre of the rave scene. Now I’m into everything, from Erykah Badu to the Fugees to Cannibal Corspse to Mozart to whatever. I like good music.”

His passion for raving developed while he was at UC–Santa Cruz, preparing for what he thought would be a career as a guidance counselor. In the years before the university’s thirst for development began hacking away at the sprawling forest of Elfland (and even after), the underground music culture in those hills was unlike anywhere else. In the mid-’90s, there was the Gathering, and there were Harmony parties, and Ashton threw himself into it all.

“I pretty quickly got swept away by the underground global psychedelic trance scene, and that was where I spent all of my time,” he says. “We had a collective called the 13 Moon Tribe, and we would do free full moons every full moon. We’d get a voicemail box just for that month and go hiking out into the woods to find a place and then leave directions on the voicemail, and 1000 people would show up in the middle of the night, and go ’til sunrise.”

Road Rage

Ashton’s biggest influence on EDM has been his live shows, which have evolved into an epic spectacle of light and sound. While it’s now more common to see one guy with a laptop holding court at a big rock show, it wasn’t always like that. Fellow San Francisco DJ Justin Boland (a.k.a. J-Boogie), who remixed the Bassnectar song “West Coast Lo Fi Rides Again” when they were both on the Om label, and has opened shows for him, says Ashton made that possible.

“He was the one who kind of made it acceptable for people to be rocking that way, because he did it so well,” says Boland. “He made it OK.”
Ashton is known for drawing fans in cities way off the typical DJ map, but he says that started out of necessity when the rave scene died out in 2001. He drew on his experience with the South Bay’s DIY scene to make something happen.

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