In low end we trust. And groove. And rock. And bop. And throwdown.
Can you imagine a world without bass? From the double bass that has pushed along classical compositions since the 1500s to the electric Hoffner bass that fueled Paul McCartney’s unforgettable Beatles bass lines, the low end is an essential component of almost all music. And those same bass sounds and tones have evolved over the years into something that is unique and strange and almost dirty.
Bass is the root of dubstep, the most engaging and on-the-rise subgenre within electronic music today, and its influence has stretched well beyond the underground. Superstar dubstep acts Bassnectar and Rusko are selling out large venues and producing today’s biggest( Britney Spears) and hottest (M.I.A.) artists. And there’s a reason these DJ/producers are on fire.
“You feel the music in your chest,” said promoter Scott Campbell, who books regular dubstep shows at the Bluebird and Ogden theaters, earlier this week from the AEG Live offices. “You feel the people next to you. The energy level in the crowd and on the stage, it’s through the roof. It’s like nothing like I’ve ever been involved with.”
On Saturday, the 1stBank Center — the midsized suburban arena formerly known as the Broomfield Event Center — will become the 1stBass Center, a creative marketing tie for a miniature festival headlined by Bassnectar. The San Francisco- based musician will play his largest Colorado show to date with the likes of Dan Deacon, Brother Ali, Ott., Nosaj Thing, Emancipator and others, and the massive show signals the arrival of dubstep as a serious commercial force in the Colorado live-music economy.
Yes, this is the same Bassnectar who sold 298 tickets to his May 3, 2007 show at the Bluebird Theater — now playing a room that holds 6,500.
“The buzz in our office was huge for his 2007 show, and I went down there and was blown away,” Campbell said. “When you see something really cool and it speaks to you, hopefully it speaks to other people, too, and then it grows.”
Bassnectar first experienced his love of bass during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California, though he didn’t know it until years later.
“I remember feeling that sound — which isn’t a sound, it’s a feeling,” Bassnectar, a.k.a. Lorin Ashton, said. “Real bass is operating on a signal you can’t hear, but you can feel it. The earth was flexing and bending, and it was like that rumble when a jet takes off — the feeling where the earth lurches.
“I was inside of a car at the time, and the trees were bouncing. It was mesmerizing because it was so powerful. I wasn’t like, ‘I need to make dubstep,’ but it was moving. And I was drawn to that kind of heaviness because it had this sense of awe and vulnerability. And I liked that.”
Dubstep is nothing if not awesome. It feels like the natural extension of drum and bass. It feels good because you can actually embrace the music, and it’s a completely different experience from any other electronic subgenre. It’s more like hip-hop in the way that it flows and slinks.
“The new electronic music listener can relate to dubstep because it’s crossing boundaries into hip-hop and pop music and rock music,” said Steven “Smash” Gordon, president of Circle Management’s offices in Baltimore and one of the most active dubstep booking agents in the U.S.
“It’s like Sonny Moore becoming a dubstep DJ and Bassnectar playing Metallica songs and Excision using the ‘Transformers’ sound effects in his sets. It’s a new style of DJing, and for everybody who’s a dubstep fan, it’s all about the drop at 27 or 54 seconds. They want it to come in and be surprising.”
Take these two songs into consideration: Rusko’s original creation “Woo Boost” and Bassnectar’s remix of the Pixies’ seminal alt-rock hit “Where Is My Mind?” Both tracks have mammoth, careening bass lines and a groove that can’t be missed. But what else makes them so spectacular?
“Woo Boost” is as funky as it is experimental. It takes a basic bass line and transforms it into something that will knock you out with its heavy breaks and tricky womp-womp effects. When Rusko threw down his own creation at the Ogden Theatre last month, the sold-out crowd lost it — hands in the air, feet kicking.
Bassnectar’s take on “Where Is My Mind?” plays off Kim Deal’s simple but effective Pixies bass line, plugging the same notes into multiple filters that distort them into an entirely new creation. It’s natural to nod your head during the Pixies’ original track. But it’s impossible to not move your feet to Bassnectar’s masterful creation, which almost tore down one of the dance tents at this year’s Coachella Festival.
“All that electronic music seeks to do is intensify and reintensify other forms of music,” Ashton said. “Because something is electronic music doesn’t mean that it sounds like a robot, but you’re using various music and techniques to make it thicker and more dynamic and to enhance and intensify. You can make it pure electronic, and that’s great, but you can also mutilate and destroy and recreate any song you love.
“There are no rules, and as people’s minds open up, the artist has an unlimited palette to sample from.”