It's all about the beat. Bassnectar is ferocious dance music as thick as peanut butter, with a bottom end that'll rattle your toenails; a sound so visceral that you feel it as much as hear it. "It's got this kind of heavy aggressive undertone in the bass frequencies," says Bassnectar creator Lorin Ashton. "It makes me feel that sense of abandon where your eyes are wide and you're just walking into the wind."
Labeling it dance music doesn't do it justice. It's a swirling stew of hip-hop, reggae, soul, electronica, worldbeat, drum and bass and trip-hop, assaulting the senses with a raucous sonic mix that defies genre profiling.
Ashton feels the job description that gets foisted on him doesn't fit what he does. Although he admits he was a DJ for 15 years, he doesn't like to answer to that title these days. "The sport in DJ-ing is either the showmanship or the athleticism of scratching," he says. "When I first went to a rave and saw a DJ, I thought that every time his hand touched a knob all these noises were exploding out. But really, they're just playing a record, and when that record's finished, they were mixing into another record."
Vinyl melding isn't part of Aston's repertoire. "I'm into layering and live remixing and ripping apart the tissue of songs and putting them back together in berserk ways," he says. His berserkness extends into the vocal cells of song tissue. No one is immune to his exploratory surgery. Past patients have included String Cheese Incident mandolinist Michael Kang, Buckethead, KRS-one and Sound Tribe Sector Nine who all appeared on his '05 release, Mesmerizing the Ultra. For his latest, '07's Underground Communication, Ashton puts Eek-A-Mouse under the knife as well as slicing up techno mixmaster Mr. Projectile, aka Matt Arnold.
But it's not just the famous who get operated on. For demonstration purposes, he threatens to surgically remove the interviewer's consonants. "So I'm like playing with your vowels, and then I could have the consonants as well and make you say anything I want," he says sadistically, "and make you sound super weird and percussive." Even though that's a condition the interviewer formerly achieved through self-medication, with the results Bassnectar achieves with others, his offer is tempting.
As an added inducement, he offers a rare behind the scenes glimpse at how he operates. He might begin by sampling a break beat from a James Brown song, throw in an a capella snippet from colleague Fre Q, pitch it down so its sounds like the Cookie Monster, tack on a homemade bassline, bring in a metal loop and then throw down a Michael Jackson song on top of that. "It's not about being a DJ anymore, it's about what are you doing with the layers," Ashton says.
And as any good surgeon knows, it's not just being technically proficient that gives you that all over glow at the end of the day, but what you do for mankind. "I feel like the music is really healing," he says. "It's just amazing to connect with a roomful of people beyond the restrictions of the English language and beyond the taboos of society's boundaries that are set up in terms of manners and conduct. It's a neat time for humans to really act like a mix of monkeys and angels."
Unlike most surgeons, Ashton is ready to put himself at risk to please his band of angelic monkeys. "I really try to put myself out there in a way that I could end up being laughed at really easily," he says. "Giving people that kind of vulnerability allows them to take you in their hands and they can decide, 'Do I want to throw this person or do I want to hold this person?'"
Whether they decide to be pitchers or catchers, Bassnectar patients may soon need to be seeking the services of another sonic physician. "The list of things I want to embark upon is so vast that even what I'm doing now feels like it's under the threat of being ended," Ashton says. "I would love to be writing novels, I would loooove to be on fucking talk shows as a talking head and smacking down these fools." But those in need of regular doses of bassline wallop shouldn't give up hope. Unlike many of his surgical colleagues, Ashton has never declared a specialty. "I can't imagine doing anything exclusively," he says.
Bassnectar, with special guest Mike Relm, plays the Neighborhood Theatre on Saturday, Nov. 1 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.