Calling all nerds

Bassnectar embraces the versatility of electronic dance music

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Courtesy of Bassnectar

Lorin Ashton, better know as Bassnectar, has not cut his hair since he was 19 years old. The Santa Cruz, Calif., native has been growing it out for nearly two decades. It all started with his love of death metal, the only genre of music he could connect with as a teenager. At an age when many high school students are trying to establish their own identity and rebel against any authoritative constraints, Ashton was no different.

“I’ve always been a goof and a little bit of a pansy,” Ashton says with a laugh. “I liked death metal because it was so raw and intense. When I was a 15-year-old boy, I appreciated the shock value. I wanted to push back on authority systems that were trying to make me believe in one thing or act a certain way. I needed help asserting who I was and pushing back on Christianity and things that I thought were illogical. Death metal was an amazing technique to do that.”

As Ashton became more enveloped in music (and his hair grew longer), he found a connection between metal and electronic music. Though many people couldn’t see unifying characteristics, Ashton saw a link.

“I definitely feel like each step in my musical evolution moved from one step to the next with a very related, but cryptic path,” he explains. “I appear to have interests that are very diverse but, to me, are very connected. I was really used to playing really small, DIY-type death metal shows and also promoting all of my friend’s music as well.

“When I found the rave scene, it was a similar underground type of sound, but this time it was extremely friendly and open hearted,” he adds. “I felt a lot more resonance with that than I did with the death metal scene, which made it an easy transition.”

Ashton continued to hone his DJ skills at house parties in San Francisco in the late ’90s. He gained a small following under the moniker DJ Lorin, but he eventually changed his name to Bassnectar in 2002. Since then, his life has been a whirlwind of overseas tours, sold-out festivals, albums and press. EDM’s recent surge in popularity has given more and more aspiring DJs a platform for expression. There are countless variations, which he seems to welcome.

“It’s interesting how the current electronic explosion doesn’t have that same formula to follow when it comes to style,” he says. “I really like that. I like that there is more of a cross-cultural thing. It’s a more open scene with more types of people. It’s open to the nerds.”

While Bassnectar’s shows are very much about the music, Ashton has many worthy causes on his agenda. He’s a known advocate for numerous charities such as Free Press Organization and Conscious Alliance. In 2011, he donated $1 of every Bassnectar concert ticket sold via the “Dollar Per Basshead” campaign (basshead = loyal fan). He begins his latest U.S. tour in support of 2015’s Noise Vs. Beauty ready for his three-day stint at Red Rocks Amphitheater. During the event, he’s relaunching the Love, Hope, Strength drive, a donor drive to find bone marrow transplant matches for sick patients. Last year’s show resulted in two perfect matches.

Music, he says, is the thread that ties everything together.

“The music that I make is a very personal reflection,” he says. “It isn’t always intended to satisfy your every need. It may be intended for something entirely different. I think some people get confused and think I’m trying to please them with every song I make, and I’m not. When someone asks me to go back to my old style or return to my roots, that’s usually a sign that they have no idea what my real style is or what my roots are. I am fascinated by so many different styles and sound combinations that everything I make is just a natural result of combining those influences.”

A Bassnectar event is highlighted by its intricate light show and heavy bass as the massive crowd unleashes its unbridled enthusiasm. Ashton, however, will be on stage hiding comfortably behind his hair.

“It’s there because I just don’t want to cut my hair,” he says. “If I ever do, I will. I used to wear it up to keep it out of my face when I’d DJ, but I compulsively twitch and bounce around and freak out, and it would always fall out. I would always spend half my set having to tie my hair up. Now I just let it hang down, and it’s nice because it’s like a little curtain that I can see through, but other people can’t. … You gotta try it.”

ON THE BILL: Bassnectar with special guests, May 29-31, at Red Rocks Ampitheater. Doors at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are sold out. Visit www.redrocksonline.com for more information.