Bassnectar Talks 'Tempo of Dreams' & Art of Mixtapes: 'Every Little Second Has to Be Just the Right F---ing Way'

Courtesy of aLIVE Coverage
Bassnectar

The year was 1999, and a then-budding DJ named Lorin Ashton suddenly found himself not driving toward Burning Man's desert glow. That had been the plan, but someone he loved was in trouble, and now, he just had to sit it out and wait. He stayed up all night, mixing dreamy tunes to pass the time. He called his output the Dreamtempo mixtape and ended up releasing the hour-and-a-half soundscape on blue cassettes.

These days, Ashton goes by Bassnectar, and while he's upgraded from handmade mixtapes to Billboard-charting releases, he still uses music to keep his head in check. Last weekend, almost exactly 20 years after his Dreamtempo experience, he found himself in another strange emergency. After a succesful Friday show, Ashton's three-night string of concerts called Freestyle Sessions was interrupted when Denver's 1stbank Center was unceremoniously closed for repairs, forcing the cancellation of the Saturday night show. (The venue confirmed via Twitter that repairs were not related to Friday night's show.)

Ashton and his team spent Saturday scrambling for a replacement venue, rescheduling Sunday's show at the Denver Coliseum. But on Saturday night, Ashton was all strung out on adrenaline with no show to play. Instead. he rode that high and recorded a 30-minute soul companion to his '99 mixtape called Tempo of Dreams, releasing this new mixtape for free on SoundCloud as a thank you to fans for sticking with him through the weekend madness. Billboard Dance caught up with Ashton to find out why he just can't let the old medium go.

So 1999, you make the Dreamtempo mixtape, and here you are 20 years later with another one. 

To me, the whole concept of mixtapes and how they can be distributed online is very interesting. We're trying to figure that out, where you can put stuff up without it getting taken down or without copyright infringement. With my mixtapes, I'm really looking to get back to radio broadcast's ability to share music organically and for free in a way that turns music lovers on to new music they haven't heard before, as opposed to taking music away from a place where they're already going to hear it and just rinsing it for your own purposes. The concept, for me, is like uncovered treasure or unique takes on new thoughts, new artists or just an awesome sound, and I'm bringing it to this really rabid fanbase.

So many laws have changed or adapted in the years since [my early mixtapes]. One of my earlier record deals, it was before streaming, so I don't have any piece of that. I used to love making literal mixtapes on literal tape, paying for them to be reduplicated and handing them out everywhere I went as a way of promoting music. This latest mix could have been 10 times as long with all the music I would love to be sharing. I'm excited to find the right way to do it. I know some people are trying to do podcasts on Spotify or Apple Music. Maybe I should contact PBS or a college radio station.

I want to see that PBS show.

Honestly, that's literally what I'm feeling right now, but I don't know if it'll happen.

So beyond the timing, what do 1999's Dreamtempo mixtape and 2019's Tempo of Dreams mixtape have in common?

The original blue tapes I made called Dreamtempo, I made them like a week before Burning Man was supposed to happen. It ended up being the one year of my 13 years of Burning Man that I had to miss, because some personal shit went down right as I was about to leave. I was up all night wondering what was going on, working on this really moody, dreamlike mix. It was the same thing 20 years later. Saturday night, after the show got shut down, I was like, "Fuck, what do I do with my time?” I was in panic mode all day Saturday trying to get this plan together for Sunday, then I was just sitting there with the creative spirit thriving in me like, "Oh shit, tomorrow, it's gonna be epic." I was pent up, had nothing to do that night, so I just stayed up till like 4 a.m., and it all just flowed together.

The music of the original tape, I was well aware that it was a chill room set; a left-field, downtempo, trip-hop concept. That's what I was really feeling at the time, as an alternative to whatever the main room intensity was. Even though I liked playing full-on shit back then, I really loved the sunrise music vibe. That Decap joint [that opens the mix], that song itself is just such a beautiful track, and for some reason -- I don't know how to work my phone Bluetooth in my car -- but every time I get in my car, my phone plays that Decap song. It's always the intro to whatever I'm doing, so I just wanted to start off with that.

The mood is rather distinct from where the rest of the mixtape goes, but it definitely ties into the old '99 flavor.

It's a pleasure, too, at this stage in the game for me. I have this totally unplanned and insane ability to turn thousands of music lovers on to new artists. I don't think it was always like that, and at this point, if I play a set and I drop someone's track, there's a high likelihood that thousands of these people are going to tune into them and get into their whole discography. This felt like a cool way to do that for some other artists.

It's also not like you sat and DJed for 30 minutes. Most of this is made of edits you made to songs you love, and you mentioned to me that you put in some fills. It's half as much a production piece as it is a DJ mix, right?

In my DJ sets, I just have countless stacks of loops and basically I'm layering them together. Many times, I make edits of those loops that I can then re-trigger. Over 15 years, there's so many different levels. Sometimes if you're hearing a loop, it's just a loop, and sometimes you're actually hearing the song playing and there's a loop set in the song, and sometimes it's a full-on edit that's already been mastered or whatever. The whole thing is just edited to hell, super customized, super flipped. Every little second has to be just the right fucking way.

But that also goes back to the issue of sharing this type of medium in an online setting where everything is going to get flagged. SoundCloud is infamous now for people uploading shit that gets taken down, even if it's their own music. Is customization in itself just a way to circumvent the crawling internet robots?

To me, that's just where the fun happens. I would just love to be a collage artist, if I had to pick one thing. Taking all of the beautiful sounds that already exist, customizing them and mashing them into the most perfectly layered, delightful magic spell possible. That, to me, is the most enjoyable art form. So I like doing all those edits and customization. My plan, if possible, would be to promote the original versions by the artists -- so here's this thing, my take on it, and if you want to go check out these tracks, here's where to get them.

Ashton re-released the Dreamtempo mixtape as a digital download in 2013. This year's Tempo of Dreams mixtape features tunes by Decap, Buku, Purity Ring and more. Listen to Tempo of Dreams and check the full track list below.

Bassnectar - Tempo of Dreams mixtape track list
Decap - "Yeah" (Bassnectar Edit)
Buku - "Front To Back" (Bassnectar Remix)
Bassnectar - "Undercover"
OAKK - "Growing" ft. Rider Shafique (Bassnectar Remix)
Styn & Aztek - "Neesitto To Amor" (Bassnectar Edit)
Sykes & Kilobite - "Frozen Dreams" (Bassnectar Edit)
DotCrawl - "Alternative Facts" (Bassnectar Remix)
Purity Ring - "Flood on the Floor" (Bassnectar Remix)
20syl - "Kodama" (Bassnectar Remix)
Hucci - "Hitta" (VIP)
Sounds From The Ground - "Triangle"
Legion Of Green Men - "Synaptic Response" (Faculties of Cognition)
Shantel - "Unending"


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