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Kaskade on Pissing Off Paul McCartney: ‘Life Achievement Unlocked’

DJ’s ninth album, ‘Automatic’ celebrates EDM’s current pop moment

Kaskade

Kaskade

MediaPunch Inc/REX

Paul McCartney began to play “Here Today,” his 1982 tribute to John Lennon, on the main stage at Lollapalooza 2015 — but his acoustic guitar couldn’t overpower the bass crossing Chicago’s Grant Park at 128 beats per minute. He stopped strumming a few notes in. “I intended this,” McCartney joked to the crowd. “It’s like a crazy mash-up of this song and whatever shit they’re playing.”

The “shit,” in this case, was once-local EDM star Kaskade. When the DJ read about the comment in the morning paper, he couldn’t stop laughing. “I love that!” he says, once again cracking up. “There’s something irreverent about electronic music, that it’s very young and youthful, so the fact that I pissed some old guy off is very funny. Life achievement unlocked.”

Nearly two months later, the songs he premiered in Chicago, plus a handful of others, are about to be released as his ninth album Automatic, an LP that doesn’t push dance music forward so much as celebrate its current triumph. The songwriting is some of the most specific of the 44-year-old’s career, and the lyrics are sung in a manner he describes as “perfectly imperfect.” Kaskade talked to Rolling Stone about the making of the album, the state of EDM and what it was like to throw raves in Salt Like City.

What are you trying to say on Automatic?
I think the theme here is the song “We Don’t Stop.” This is my ninth album, and there’s been such an explosive growth over the last four or five years of electronic music. I think overall that’s the theme. I’ve continued to write about love and loss, and those are subjects I’ve always written about and that I enjoy writing about, but to me the overall theme is “We Don’t Stop.”

How did you approach that theme?
Growing up in Chicago, I was exposed to house music at a very early age, and no matter how many times I’ve seen it or had it explained to me, it’s still just mind-boggling to play at the main stage of EDC and stand in front of, I don’t know, 100,000 people. Electronic music has always had a hard time finding an audience globally — and certainly in this country. It’s always been the outsider, and to see it be on the commercial wavelength that it’s on now — being played on the radio and finding more and more festivals — is just incredible.

Some people who have been with dance music for a long time liked it more when it was “outsider” music and think that it lost some of its edge when it got popular.
I share that same sentiment. It’s cool because for the people who have been following dance music for so long, it’s kind of like, “Yeah, I was right! I told you, man, this stuff is so awesome.” But then on the downside there’s been a lot of growing problems, and to see it stretched to try and fit in a more commercial format, it’s a little sad. Like, “Ah, man, why couldn’t it have remained small and pure and like it was 20 years ago when I was going to the warehouses in Chicago?” We all have that moment, but I think every time I’d opt for what we’re in now.

I think we’re in a good space. The expectations have calmed down, and we’ve found our rhythm. Two, three years ago, everyone had these crazy expectations like, “Oh, you gotta pair this song with a pop star.” Like, “Ah, man, I didn’t write it for a pop star.” Now it’s time for the next wave, and I’m proud to be part of that wave. It’s good for guys like me who have been around for a long time and have a very sincere and honest sound and come from places like Chicago and Detroit, places where this music really started — not somebody from France who’s reflecting on what dance music was or is or would become.

You started DJ’ing in Salt Lake City in the mid-Nineties. What was that scene like?
Pretty much what you would imagine. [Laughs.] Scene or lack of scene. I think that was my main motivator, because as a kid growing up in Chicago I was going to the record store and buying all these records. You know, “Ah, maybe I’ll DJ someday, but turntables are expensive.” When I got to Salt Lake and I couldn’t rely on my weekly mix show or the club I wanted to go to, I was like, “Wow, I’m gonna have to do this myself.”

Did people get into it?
In ’95 I threw my first party there, and it was more of a throwback thing where I was playing a lot of Seventies records and I’d move into the Eighties and early house music. It was extremely successful . . . but the capacity of the club was 300 people. [Laughs.] When you move to a place like Salt Lake it’s cool because there are people from all over the world, all over the country, that have moved there to go to school or for whatever reason. It was neat. So once again it was kind of inspiring to be around all these people who were passionate about music like I was, and to be at the center of that.

Is there anything that you would point to on the new album and say, “This is something I wouldn’t have done three or four years ago?”
No, because I’ve always kind of existed outside that box. [Laughs.] This is my first album with a major label, Warner, but I was always the guy leading the pack from the outside. When Daft Punk was breaking and signed to Virgin Records it was cool, but being a kid from Chicago I was like, “They took that Chicago sound and really polished it up and made it pop-friendly.” That worked for them and it was a beautiful moment for dance music, but for me I’ve kind of always existed on the fringes. I’m one of the guys that’s like, “Cool, dance music can be more melodic and lyric-driven!” Twenty years ago it was like, “What? This is instrumental music.” I was like, “Nah, I’m gonna be a songwriter too, dammit.” That was a pretty crazy idea 15 years ago when I released It’s You, It’s Me, but now that’s kind of where we’re at. I’ve always just been really comfortable doing my own thing.

In This Article: Kaskade

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