The night before Bassnectar talks to Rolling Stone, he’s played for 10,000 fans at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami, delivering, by all accounts, one of the highlight sets of the weekend. “Every time I walked past the stage, it felt like this mini amphitheater,” says the DJ-producer. “I expected it would fit two or 3,000 people; it was like an entire avalanche of human beings, well over 10,000 as far as I could see in every direction. It was absolutely apeshit.”
With his new album, Vava Voom, due on April 10th – listen to it exclusively here on RollingStone.com ahead of its release – Bassnectar knows that even more people will soon be paying attention. Just don’t tell him that he’s part of the new EDM explosion. “I’ve been grinding in tiny towns since 2003, 2004, when there was no DJ scene because the rave scene had died and disintegrated and the new resurgence hadn’t even begun,” says Bassnectar, born Lorin Ashton. “There was nowhere to go, so I got really used to building my own fanbase and my own community.”
Bassnectar feels the same way about the dubstep phenomenon. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, dubstep,’ at the dinner table at Christmas this year,” he says. “There are a lot of things in life, like art and sex, that are good news but old news. And dubstep is old news. It was around in 2002, and it really blew up in the underground over here in 2006. That was six years ago.”
Yet even Bassnectar admits that things have changed. The success of his last album, Divergent Spectrum, caught him totally off guard in 2011. “I expected Divergent Spectrum to fail miserably, and it did phenomenally well,” he says. “Usually I feel like I invent ideas and sounds that aren’t really that popular for another five years. I guess it’s just the times lining up now where I’m on a wavelength with people.”
A self-proclaimed “huge fan” of Lupe Fiasco, Bassnectar enlisted the rapper for Vava Voom’s title track as a kind of exercise in genre mixing. “I wanted to make kind of a hip-hop, dubstep experiment with him and he was down,” says Bassnectar.” The song laid the foundation for Vava Voom, even if the rest of the album is very different. “I was very entranced by that tune and would’ve happily just put it out as a single,” he adds. “But I ended up with another nine songs that all have a different kind of tone or mood to them.”
In general, Bassnectar does what feels right to him. Case in point: he turned down a headlining slot at New York’s Electric Zoo festival last August to throw his own festival, Bass Island, just a couple of weeks prior. And he’s intensely counter-cultural. “I’m not a mainstream person. I never have been. I’m an anti-hipster. I don’t know what’s in. I just do what I love,” he says. At the same token, he embraces all his fans. “I’m not a snob. I like being inclusive and sharing music with a lot of people. I would’ve never thought that 10 years ago I’d be playing to more than 1,000 people. It really is apparently limitless right now,” he says.
Every day seems to bring a new example of those limits expanding, from Deadmau5’s performance at the Grammys, to the phenomenon that is Skrillex, to Madonna joining Avicii onstage at Ultra. “If Madonna came out during my set I would absolutely pee my pants in mortification,” says Bassnectar. “If any high-profile pop star waltzed out and wanted to boogie with a headset mic over my set – it’s just not my style. God bless them all, it’s not my style.”