Following the immediate news buzz that local residents mistakenly took Basscenter for an earthquake, one passionate basshead, Shawn Russell Johnson, took to HuffPost to offer his unique festival recap, along with a very enlightening interview with Lorin Ashton, the face behind the 250+ person Bassnectar project.
Technically this is Bass Center 9, right? Can you elaborate on how this came together?
You know, I lost track but it probably is nine… To me it was more like, why don’t we make one big Bass Center a year? I wanted to bring a festival spirit, and a festival aesthetic to our show. Kind of combine what happens when we get together and throw a full on, immersive show versus when we’re just playing at a festival, and do kind of both. It’s been really hands on out there, the whole crew is building out these worlds, and these campgrounds, it’s been a tremendous amount of work. So usually I’m scattered and overwhelmed with any big, or important, event or show; just on the musical level. This has been, down to the granular. Worrying about everyone else’s set, everyone’s video, are the lines moving fast enough?
We’re also starting off this project that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time called “The Haven.” It’s kind of like a sanctuary space themed after the old-school ambient room from back in the rave days… There’d be waterfall sounds, and chirping birds, and massages; juice, tea, and bean bags where people could hang out and talk, and get a break from the intensity. That’s been a really exciting part of this event too.
You’re pretty well known for your special events, these massive productions. How do you dream up something like this, and turn it from a concept into a reality?
Well, we’ve certainly never done anything like this before so it wasn’t like I was following a blueprint. When I got my start with touring, there was no circuit, and there was no scene outside of select DJ clubs, areas on the west coast, and Burning Man. This was after the rave scene kind of fizzled out in the 90s. Not to say that things weren’t going on, but “rave” was a dirty word… there was just nowhere for DJs to play. So when I was touring at that time, every event was a kind of DIY event… It would be like taking over a jazz club in Mississippi, or a pizza parlor in Arkansas and dreaming up, “how can we transform this space?” As an artist at least half the art is facilitating people’s experiences. Music is very important to me, but there’s still another good half of me that’s just devoted to curating people’s experiences. So this is kind of like an extension of everything I’ve done… I didn’t realize how beautiful it was going to be until we were walking around Thursday night.
And when I went running around the camping last night, everyone was remarking that there’s like five, six-thousand people here and everyone is so friendly, respectful, and chill. It was just really touching to see that atmosphere. Some of the awesome festivals that I play at are just as friendly and it’s ruckus, and really wild — it didn’t have that, it had a much more deeply respectful, intimate, friendly vibe, and that’s really cool.
The lineup you’ve put together is really diverse. How did you get this group of artists together?
It was a long process of making huge wish lists. “So and so’s not touring this year,” or, “So and so just played Colorado and can’t come back yet,” and just narrowing it down. I had been trying for Kid Cudi and Aphex Twin and neither were available. I didn’t think I could get the Wu Tang Clan, so I didn’t really have them on the list. I really wanted to get Tipper, but Tipper was busy. Next thing I knew, I had this list, that basically was the lineup, and what was so weird is we went down the list and suddenly every single act that we wanted was available. In like one week [snaps] it came together, it was rad.
Your fans seem willing to follow you to the ends of the earth —
[Laughs] I don’t advise that.
Well, because of that, do you still feel the pressure to produce at such a consistently high level? Especially when it comes to events like this?
I feel immense pressure with every set. It’s kind of the pressure that any normal human would feel if they’re hosting a dinner party. You hope that the food comes out well, and you hope that everyone gets along and has fun. So I feel a lot of pressure like that at any set, even at a festival. I just musically want to delight people, and take people on a journey. The pressure I felt for this show was more than anything I’ve ever felt. The experience has been overwhelmingly positive, it just comes at such a cost. Hyper-obsessing over everything, and following every little path of what could go wrong. Me and my team have a very unhealthy type of OCD, it’s very artistic. We’re just hyper-obsessed with the details. Whatever was good last time, isn’t good enough this time. It’s cool to see everything all come together, and because the team is so big — we have about 250 people. It’s a massive undertaking, and everyone on the team has that same kind of vision: that we’re hell-bent on delivering total A+, above and beyond quality. Just because we want to, not because we have to.
We have an enormous sound system, it’s bigger (by far) than anything that would be put in this venue. We didn’t get it so that we could blast people’s ears, we got it because we wanted to evenly distribute it to twenty-four thousand people. I was in the back of the stands for sound check and it felt like you were at the front of the rail, and getting that kind of spread is really important.
After this weekend, there’s only a little over a month until your next special event in Atlanta, right?
Yeah, it’s funny ― when you were asking about the pressure ― that’s literally what’s coursing through my veins right now. Because, I’m like, “ok, I want to conjure up the most penetrating, enchanting, authentic, explosion of perfect music in my imagination, and share that tonight.” Then I’m like “fuck, I have to do this at Moonrise, then Summerset. Three nights in a row at Electric Zoo, Northcoast, and Nocturnal [Wonderland], and then do two nights in Atlanta.” And it’s not that I don’t have a lot of music, it’s more that I have an internal struggle between the value of what’s novel, and what’s good. A lot of times humans seem to respond to novelty even more than quality, and I try as much as I can to stay true to quality. So at any given moment, if I’m going to play a song, this might not be a novel song, but it’s the song I think is best for right now. If I played it a week ago, or if I’m going to play it at Moonrise, I still want to play it now because it’s perfect.
The good news is most of the stress, pressure, and work of this event were because I’m throwing an event. With the other stuff, it’s easier ― festivals, all I have to focus on is the music. With Atlanta it’s such a unique beast because I’m just trying to go back to the ethos of the rave scene. Which is just kind of like a gathering less than a show. So I don’t really want people coming expecting this or that, I want it to be something they come to, spend time together, and share an experience together.
Also be sure to read the full Huffington Post article for more specific details on Basscenter\’s charitable contributions and community-driven projects benefiting Denver Public Schools Foundation, Conscious Alliance, and Groundwork Denver, as well as the many intimate events of the weekend including the attendee organized Parades and “Basshead Cleanup” initiative which maintains a \”leave-no-trace\” mentality at every show they attend.