He’s captivated crowds of 100,000, ignited an accidental riot in Hollywood, and generated an exponentially infectious uproar in the musical sphere. Some of his admirers liken him to Jesus--or at least claim he's more popular than the Son of God.
Of course, we’re not talking about a resurrected John Lennon, but rather, a DJ named Ryan Raddon whose electronic dance music has captured the zeitgeist of a culture simultaneously defined and plagued by technology. Raddon, better known as Kaskade, offers music that not only catapults to the top of the charts, but also fosters a sense of togetherness and reminds us that life is meant to be felt instead of observed through a computer screen. He manages to add humanity and warmth to a genre that essentially exists because of advances in the cold world of technology.
Through 10 years of beatmaking, Kaskade has witnessed a complete evolution of the genre he claims is transformative and uplifting. The growing demand for DJs to add their sound to the frothy pulses of Top 40 songs and popularity of electronic havens like Electric Daisy Carnival exemplify the genre’s assimilation into the mainstream, which some said would never happen after the original rise and subsequent fading of EDM in the '90s. The recent resurgance came as a surprise to Kaskade, who never thought electronic music would ever--could ever--reach this magnitude. And though he was crowned America’s #1 DJ by both DJ Times and Pioneer DJ, and he claimed spots as a headliner at this summer’s Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals, Kaskade prefers to defer to the communal quality of his music, which is characterized by a seamless marriage of House and ethereal vocals.
This weekend at Coachella, he plans to debut a stage setup from his upcoming “Freaks of Nature” tour that promises a visceral and unifying experience for all festival-goers that find themselves under the dance-focused Sahara Tent. For those of you indulging in desert festivities this weekend or next, you might not want to miss Kaskade. His live sets, buoyed by hypnotic lights and kaleidoscopic videos, nourish the ears, the eyes, the soul, uniting a sea of pulsating dancers.
Before he made the trek to the Coachella Valley, Kaskade took time to chat with us about what’s in store for the future: an ambitious nationwide tour with stops in over 50 cities, a music video for his and Skrillex’s collaborative effort “Lick It,” and how he plans on surviving this rollercoaster of a summer.
Coachella... Are you excited to be headlining the crown jewel of music festivals?
I am. It’s really exciting. It’s crazy how much clout Coachella has. For whatever reason, everyone around the world knows about Coachella. I don’t know what it is. Maybe because it’s been going on for so long or maybe it's the famous polo ground, but no matter where I go to play, people always ask me about Coachella. I could be in South Africa, and they’re like, 'When are you playing Coachella?'
It’s definitely a musical mecca. What do you have in store for your shows? You’re debuting a brand new stage setup, right?
I am, yes. It’s the big reveal at Coachella. I’m heading out on a massive tour this summer, and I thought, 'Well, there’s probably no better or bigger stage to debut this new look of the tour and what our show will be like.' I actually don’t start for another month after Coachella, but I rushed to get everything completed so I could debut it here at this festival.
About this massive tour: Did you decide to go do this before Identity Festival [ID] or afterwards? I feel like with the ID, you got a glimpse of what a larger, more comprehensive tour is like.
Yeah, I did ID last summer and I was like, ‘Oh, this is really cool. I could potentially do something like this on my own and have it be more specific to my experience.’ Festivals are great, but there’s something better about doing your own show. Every single person there is there for one reason so it’s just a different experience, and it’s something that I’ve been wanting to do. ID for sure motivated me to get it going this summer.
Back to the new stage setup at Coachella. Can you share some details or is it all under wraps?
It’s a massive new stage with tons of new video and audio content. Yeah, it’s all new. The whole show. [Laughs.] There’s really no way to describe it except that it’s a full-on audio/visual assault on your senses.
Do you plan on changing your show up a little bit for each weekend of Coachella?
They will remain relatively the same, just because I put so much time and effort into getting exactly what I want. But who knows what the vibe in that tent’s going to be. I have a feeling that this year is just going to be completely out of control with how popular dance music is. The Sahara Tent's going to be bananas.
Your summer schedule is its own testament to how popular dance music is now. I heard just yesterday that you’re returning to your hometown of Chicago for Lollapalooza. A DJ headlining both of the highlights of the summer festival season is crazy. Did you ever think that electronic and house music would ever get this huge?
No, definitely not. It’s been a wild rollercoaster that I’ve just been buckled into and holding on for dear life. The thing that’s weird is that it’s been bubbling in the underground for so long; I’ve been a lover of this music for longer than I can remember. I discovered it in high school, growing up in Chicago. So, I don’t know why I didn’t think it would get bigger. I just didn’t think it had the commercial appeal of somebody like Justin Bieber, you know? I thought it was too avant-garde, too artistic, too left field for people to truly understand. I think it’s matured now, and the sound’s grown and aged well. Now, people are ready for this sound.
How long have you been doing this for? Over a decade, right? How has the genre evolved since you started out?
Yeah, I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. Over the 10 years, it just levels up every year. It goes up and up--not only in my music that I write and produce, but also in this genre. I remember when Daft Punk came around. I was like, ‘Oh man, this is the moment. It’s going to break wide open.’ It didn’t, but it still turned a lot of people onto the music. I’ve just seen its ups-and-downs over a nice while.
Dance is dominating the music industry right now. I found it funny how The New York Times called you the “new face of electronic dance music” when you’ve been doing this for, like you said, over a decade. It just goes to show that people are just now starting to open their eyes and appreciate EDM.
Yeah, that’s awesome. My fans from 2002, 2003 when I put out my first album It’s You, It’s Me were just like, 'Oh man, The Times... They just don’t know' on Facebook. They were eating it up. People got really into that, it was fun.
What do you think about Electro and House beats infiltrating the mainstream music circuit? Do you think it takes away from what you’re doing or do you think it just helps spread the word?
I think it helps spread the word, but it definitely takes away from it in some circumstances. Listen, that’s what music is. People interpret new sounds different ways. That’s just what art is. Everyone hears the same song, and they hear it differently. The lyrics mean different things to different people. With all of it going so mainstream, some subtle things that I love so much about all of this are getting overlooked. The community aspect of EDM is getting overlooked. Growing up and going to night clubs was always something that was really cool, and it exposed me to a lot of great music, art, and people. I feel like in the mainstream press, all they speak about is the drug connotations that come along with music culture, which is a shame. That stuff cheapens it quite a bit. But, you know, people just want to figure out the most salacious part of the story and say, 'Oh my gosh. There are so many drugs here.'
Yeah, I hate that negative stigma attached to this kind of music or any kind of music culture really.
It’s a bummer. All the press I do keeps bringing that up. I mean even in that New York Times piece and in other pieces, I always want to be like, 'I think you’re missing the point.' Four thousand people didn’t show up to this theater to do drugs together, they came here to have this musical experience and to listen to my show and experience it. Listen, when hip-hop first broke, when punk first broke, that’s just the kind of stuff that comes first. You know, the other stuff will come. They’ll start to get it. It just takes time.
I went to Electric Daisy Carvinal [EDC] in 2009, and your set was the first one I made it to. It completely changed my perspective on this genre of music and what it does for people.
That was actually a huge moment because the sun was going down, and I dropped the piano version of 'Move for Me.' That was a huge moment in my career. If I had to point to anything, that was kind of like the last moment where dance music was still really pure. The next year, EDC had a lot more hip-hop artists who showed up really intrigued and insisted on being in the show. I feel like in 2009, it was still a little bit of a secret, like, 'What’s going on here? Why are there 100,000 people in downtown L.A.?'
Let’s talk about your sound. How did you develop your unique musical style?
I grew up in Chicago, so I have a lot of that kind of Chicago feel. It’s just natural, because that’s what I grew up listening to. I spent 10 years in San Francisco, and I was really influenced by that whole early Deep House movement. While I was living in San Francisco, that’s when I put out my first album, and I just noticed that there was an opportunity to focus more on the song than the actual sound design. I thought, 'Man, it would be really cool if I could couple this with strong lyrics and melody.' And there were only a handful of people at the time doing that. Now, so many people are moving in this direction. People are understanding what I’ve been talking about for a little while, like ‘Hey, it can be more than just about beats.’ A song can say something and can mean something also. That’s been my primary sound since my first album in 2002.
So for your songwriting process, do you normally look to the melody and the lyrics before you develop the beat?
Yeah. It didn’t used to be that way when I started out. I started out just programming drums and rhythm on the synthesizers. I realized the importance of the lyrics and melody after I wrote 'You and Me,' which is a very simple song. I saw that it affected so many people positively. They were like ‘Oh man, I can really relate to that. That’s such a cool, great, simple idea.’ I was just like, 'Man, I should be focusing on the lyrics and melody and make sure I get that right, because I can always go back and produce the song either way.' So, after the first album is when I slowly transitioned to: I need to make sure the actual lyrics are correct and that I have a concept I want to write about. I can always figure out how to produce it or what style I want to do it in later.
I have a question about your most recent album actually. Why did you decide to do a double disc? With Ice remixing all ten songs featured on Fire. I think it really showcases your versatility, but are there any other reasons behind that decision?
It was selfish. I love doing down-tempo stuff on records, because I feel like so many dance music fans don’t understand that or they don’t give it a chance. They fast forward or skip over those songs. I thought if I approached the concept of the album like, 'Oh, here’s a more up-tempo side, and here’s a more down-tempo side,' that people would be more open to the idea instead of just interspersing a few down tempo tracks within the album.
When did you develop that concept?
I’ve had the concept for a long time after I recorded In the Moment, which is like a down-tempo mix of 'Steppin’ Out.' It worked really, really well, and I was like, 'Man, I could slip a lot of these songs into more chill ambient tracks. It highlights the strength of the actual song. The perfect example is 'Room for Happiness.' You pull all the music out and you just put some strings behind Skylar [Grey]’s words, and the song becomes that much more powerful.
I read somewhere that you’re a New Wave fan. What are your other influences?
Yeah, I grew up listening to the Smiths and the Cure and New Order. I still get plenty of inspiration from Morrissey. He’s an awesome songwriter even though he’s this total depresser. I love Sade, too. I also just got a new sneak peak of the Usher album. It is amazing.
Yeah, I’m kind of all over the place.
What is next for you besides Coachella, Lollapalooza, and the big tour?
I’m excited for the video for the track 'Lick It' I did with Skrillex to come out next week; remixes of the song will be available on iTunes and Beatport. After that, we’ll be gearing up for a music video with Neon Trees for our track 'Lessons in Love,' and I hope to get that released as a single very soon. But honestly, it’s hard to see past this summer at this point. [Laughs.] I’m playing 10 different festivals: Wireless Festival in London, Lollapalooza, a couple festivals up in Canada.
What are you going to do when you finish this epic summer? Vacation?
Probably just take some time off. I’m actually going to Europe for a little while, and then doing Asia for a minute. There’s no rest for the weary.
On average, how many hours of sleep do you get a night?
Somewhere between the three-to-five zone.
Oh my goodness, you’re like a superhuman.
[Laughs.] No, I’m not, but I’m trying to convince myself that I am.
Speaking of which: Of all the superheroes, which one do you most identify with?
Spiderman? What's his superpower? Maybe he doesn't have to sleep, I don't know. Does Peter Parker sleep?