Worshipping at the temple of boom

by Ryan Snyder


Forget for a moment, the crushing inundation of strobes, lasers, thowmps, drums, builds and drops. Bassnectar’s Thursday night tour opener at the Greensboro Coliseum can be boiled down to a single, lasting image: two guys, posted up a hundred yards from the exit with a large tank of medical-grade nitrous, brazen as hell and ready to service the thousand or so bassheads about to spill out just before midnight.

That, and the familiar shoosh that heralds it, aren’t exactly anomalies on the electronic dance-music scene, especially among the frequently sold-out sets by royalty like Bassnectar (real name: Lorin Ashton). The colorful little balloons that were handed out were, to some, after-party digestifs and a vessel of all that Bassnectar is in one: ephemeral in effect, extremely hazardous in large quantities and, what anyone who’s ever been to the dentist knows, more fun than any responsible person will ever let on. That said, never consume nitrous oxide unless administered by a trained medical professional. Do consume Bassnectar, albeit in temperance outside of large clusters of sweaty party people because, like nitrous, too much can leave a hole in your brain. Just remember some of the unwritten rules of EDM’s dubstep subculture.

In the thick of the crowd, dance or head-bang — pick one and don’t deviate as a courtesy to your neighbors. Kindly coordinate online with fellow bassheads before taking the initiative with a clever sign idea (it must’ve been awkward when the two kids with “Adventure Time” spoofs crossed paths). If you’re going to come dressed as Gumby, please ensure you’re also wearing a banana costume underneath. If you choose more comfortable attire, it should include bandanas worn as masks a la Occupy Movement, with the option of “extra from the 1990 C. Thomas Howell vehicle Side Out” available.

Ironically, most of Bassnectar’s barely legal audience at the tour kickoff in Greensboro was born well after people cared about pre-London 2012 beach volleyball. Matching the colossus of neon lights and metal before them, their Day-Glo tank tops, flipped-up caps and shutter shades, apparently, have a longer shelf life among this set than a Sinjin Smith reference, which in turn outpaced a Bassnectar groove by miles. Most all of the beats in his early three-hour performance was a transient mash of crunk and trip-hop that kangarooed from one quasi-recognizable reference to the next at a pace most lacked the attention span to process. 40Love’s bratty scat on a twerked “Wildstyle” for a Shimmy Ya-ing Old Dirty Bastard after promising brand new beats, followed by KRS-One samples surfing a torrent of punishing low end. Before you could say, “Hey, I know that!,” he was on to the next one.

He wasn’t into simply genre splaying, either. One guy, rocking a light-up pacifier and looking like he just flew in from the liner notes of Rave ‘til Dawn, seized up at a particular acid-house passage, and then looked utterly lost when a sludgy metal riff was dropped over top. The tempos varied wildly, and at times the salvo of throbbing inversions called for Dramamine to ward off beatsickness. That’s not a put-on, either. The monolith of subs to either side of Ashton were literally so powerful that they propelled a bottle of water sitting on road cases by the lighting board to boogie back and forth for the better part of the night’s latter half. Even farther back, the low end rang off of the metal bleachers, becoming amplified into tinny shrieks and turning pleasure into pain. His influence, it seemed, extended beyond the organic.

But that’s the very nature of Ashton. At his core, Bassnectar is a top-shelf maximalista — his events are louder, heavier, brighter, flashier, longer and sweatier than the uninitiated could ever come prepared for. He wants to get you blackout drunk on sensory input and then keep pouring out shots of 100-proof bass. While the dozens of spastic, high-output strobes surrounding him went to work on nearly 3,000 ideomotor reflexes, Ashton played chicken with his own mixes. He had barely scratched the surface on boom-forward mixes of “Liquid Swords” and ill.Gates when he crashed them respectively into Flosstradamus at their trappest and Charli 2Na at his boom-bappest.

At his best, Bassnectar is an EDM gateway drug. He pays respects to up-and-comers and should’ve-beens right alongside the noteworthy hooks, and if he can break the trance long enough to send someone scrambling to Shazam, he’s done his job. His promise to drop a goodly amount of unheard beats was fulfilled when he brought forth a veritable survey of contemporary Italian house that included an extra-fidgety take on Blatta & Inesha’s “Where Is It?” and a sonic rollercoaster ride by Sawgood called “Not So Funny.” His audience may have lacked the focus to fully comprehend what was transpiring beyond a surge of gnarly beats, but when Ashton gets on a tangent, not even his mop of long hair can obscure his tunnel vision.

In a night of crescendos and denouements, the big “drop” came expectedly during the eponymous track of both his last album and this tour, “Vava Voom.” As far as Bassnectar’s catalog goes, it’s a near perfect longitudinal sampling in three minutes. It nods to screwed Houston hip hop, it has some 8-bit beats, absolutely punishes on the low end and has a sudden shift in tempo that he can work to climax like a full-service masseuse. The fun here, however, doesn’t stop at a happy ending.

Sometimes, though, there’s the feeling that his audience doesn’t hold him accountable in the creative department. For the dubstep crowd, otherwise tiny deviations must feel much greater than they really are. His remix of “Weed Wid Da Macka” is itself a Modeselektor remix of Ninjaman, and would have been a near cut-and-paste job had it not been for some standard issue dubstep whirligigs. Then there was his take on Ming FS’s “Madhattan Bound,” which very well could have been a direct spin. You examine the original tracks online and there’s almost always someone shouting out how sick his mix is when sometimes, as is expected when an artist is as prolific as he, it’s only rudimentary.

Yet, it still felt like a cause for celebration every time those predictable bass bombs went off. Critiquing in the moment is futile though; the feelings pass so quickly from one drop to the next. One minute you’re lightheaded and giggly, the next there’s a rainbow of colors popping off in front of your eyes as you hit the floor and the bass follows.

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan