Thursday, November 10, 2011
Kaskade On Cover Of Today's New York Times Style Section
How Ryan Raddon Became the $200,000-a-Night DJ Known as Kaskade
By MICHAEL SCHULMAN
“KASKADE is actually God,” said Ivy Daniels, 23, waiting in line at the Roseland Ballroom near Times Square at around 9 p.m. It was a few nights before Halloween, and her rave-girl costume — black tutu, kandi bracelets — was ambiguously self-referential. Was she going to a rave?
Judging from the preponderance of glow sticks, lollipops and blinking pacifiers inside, you might have mistaken it for a ’90s bacchanal. The difference was that Ms. Daniels, a sophomore at New York University, and her friend Maya Grant (dressed as Minnie Mouse) were there to see God, also known as Kaskade, a D.J. and producer who represents a new face of electronic dance music.
When he finally took the stage, four hours later, Kaskade seemed less like a deity than a benevolent overlord. Perched over a pair of digital turntables, he unleashed a fusillade of beats, to which the crowd obediently jumped in unison, their arms flung skyward. Even as he worked his audience into a willing frenzy, his expression was almost serene, as if he were midway through a morning jog.
In the mezzanine, a former bouncer named R. J. Risteen looked on. “I’ve seen Benny Benassi, LMFAO, Sharam Tayebi,” he said. “None of them knows how to use bass like this man.” Indeed, the bass (powerful enough to make your cranium shake) had induced a kind of hypnosis among the groundlings below.
The evening, called Trick or Beats, was 18 and older, with green bracelets designating the alcohol-ready. It was one of two sold-out evenings in New York heralding Kaskade’s seventh studio album, “Fire & Ice,” which came out Tuesday. The iTunes release, two weeks earlier, made its debut at No. 4 on the United States overall album chart, behind Coldplay, Kelly Clarkson and Michael Bublé.
Such an incursion might have been unthinkable only a few years ago. But Kaskade, who was voted America’s best D.J. for 2011 by D.J. Times and Pioneer D.J., is at the crest of a transformative wave of electronic music acts, alongside megastar D.J.’s like Deadmau5, who headlined Lollapalooza in August, and Skrillex, the 23-year-old dubstep wunderkind, who collaborated with Kaskade on the new track “Lick It.”
Electronic music, of course, is as old as the VCR, and its European torchbearers, including the D.J.’s David Guetta and Tiesto, have long enjoyed its mass appeal. But only recently has electronic dance music, or E.D.M. as fans call it, swept North America. Some 230,000 people flocked to this year’s Electric Daisy Carnival, the mammoth electronic-music festival. This summer, Kaskade headlined the inaugural IDentity Festival, a 20-city tour that played to tens of thousands in amphitheaters.
In a testament to their commanding new reach, D.J.’s like Kaskade can earn $200,000 or more for a single night, according to handlers and public records. “In the late ’90s and early 2000s, there was an initial explosion of E.D.M. for a quick second,” said Joel Zimmerman, who created William Morris Endeavor’s electronic-music division in 2008 and works with artists like Kaskade, Deadmau5 and Afrojack. “The thing that really flipped the script was social media. You had kids getting connected in a different way.”
Kaskade himself (let us now call him by his given name, Ryan Raddon) remembers the moment he realized that his chosen genre was no longer an underground phenomenon. It was 2009, and he was playing the main stage at the Electric Daisy Carnival, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“I remember looking at the sea of people: the whole football field was full,” Mr. Raddon said in an interview at his room at the London NYC, on the afternoon between his two Roseland gigs. Dressed in a hoodie and jeans, he was still groggy at 3 p.m., his ears ringing from the night before. “I just knew this was the beginning of something. There’s no music act that can do this right now — U2, Coldplay. Nobody’s going to put this amount of people into an arena right now.”
MR. RADDON, who turned 40 in February, has been spinning long enough to have witnessed the transformation firsthand. “I’ve seen it cycle around a couple of times now,” he said, recalling the almost-heyday of the mid-’90s. He attributes the revival to a couple of factors, among them hip-hop fatigue and the ascent of Lady Gaga.
But he’s still adjusting to the leap from 300-person rooms to 3,000-person monthly blowouts at Marquee in Las Vegas, where he is a resident D.J. “I don’t think that anyone who’s been involved with it could have expected this,” he said.
A recreational snowboarder with a soul patch, Mr. Raddon has an easygoing manner at odds with his high-octane output. His new double album embraces the schism. “Fire” consists of 10 up-tempo dance tracks. On “Ice,” he remixes the same tracks as sedate wind-down music: what you might listen to, he suggested, while driving home post-gig, sweaty and elated.
But Mr. Raddon’s duality runs deeper than that. The kids at Roseland may be surprised to learn that their beatmaster is the father of three small children. And that he doesn’t drink. And that he’s a devout Mormon who still goes to church in San Clemente, Calif., and counts choir practice among his music influences. “We had this performance of ‘Carmina Burana’ that was very spiritual for me,” he recalled.
He grew up in Northbrook, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, and before he could drive he was soaking in the city’s growing house-music scene. “I had to be home within 30 minutes of it ending,” he recalled. “We’d go to the club and then hang out a little bit afterwards at Dunkin Donuts.”
In 1989, hoping to meet other Mormons his age, Mr. Raddon enrolled at Brigham Young University. But his love of club music (he had a turntable and a crate of vinyl in his dorm) set him apart. “Everyone was like, ‘Who is this weird kid from Chicago?,’ ” he said.
At 19, he went to Japan as a Mormon missionary and two years later transferred to the University of Utah (his grades at B.Y.U. weren’t so hot), where he soon met his wife, Naomi, a fellow snowboarder. In Salt Lake City, he ran a record store called Mechanized. Not long after, in 1995, he started D.J.-ing his first weekly party, Monday nights at a basement venue called Club Manhattan. He used his earnings to buy studio gear.
Mr. Raddon longed to move to New York, where he had worked briefly as a Japanese tour guide. But Naomi wanted to return to the Bay Area, where her family lived, so the couple moved to San Francisco, and Mr. Raddon got a job at OM Records, a house and electronica label. The move was auspicious: San Francisco was the site of a new deep-house movement, led by artists like Miguel Migs.
In San Francisco, Mr. Raddon began experimenting with his own sound, which has been praised for its rich, emotive melodies. In 2003, OM released his debut album, “It’s You, It’s Me.” He got the name Kaskade from looking at a nature book. (His wife worried that it would remind people of dish detergent.)
Despite his decades-long immersion in the club scene, Mr. Raddon said he has never had a drink, to say nothing of drugs. All that had fueled him at Roseland the night before was caffeine and adrenaline. “I had some caramel corn and a Diet Coke before I went on,” he said.
That certainly wasn’t the case for his audience, many of whom were enjoying a less-than-natural brand of euphoria. Mr. Raddon didn’t see this as a contradiction. “I’m not promoting drugs or anything,” he said. “Club culture is about leaving your cares behind, and I am trying to create that environment. I honestly don’t think you need to be high to enjoy that.”
But he’s not blind. “Are people taking drugs? Yes. I’m not naïve,” he added. “I know that there are people out there who are high. Yeah, I wish they wouldn’t do that. You can still enjoy this performance and have a great experience sober.”
The subject has even come up in the pews. “I get asked this from other Mormons,” he said. “ ‘Dude, you’re promoting that lifestyle and that culture.’ And I’m like ‘No, man, I’m not. Listen to my music.’ ”
Substances aside, his music’s power to whip crowds into a rhythmic frenzy is undeniable. In July, Mr. Raddon sent a single Twitter message to his 92,000 followers, “Me+Big Speakers+Music=Block Party!!!” The plan was to roll up in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater on an amped-up flatbed truck and play an impromptu set, for the premiere of “Electric Daisy Carnival Experience,” a documentary about the festival.
Mr. Raddon was expecting maybe a few hundred fans. Thousands showed up, overwhelming the permitted area. The police shut Hollywood Boulevard, forcing the Kaskademobile to turn onto Highland Avenue. Fans ran after it, flooding the street as commuters looked on, enraged.
When police in riot gear asked the would-be ravers to disperse, several rebelled, throwing bottles, jumping on police cars and smashing windshields. One group lay down and “planked” in protest. “A marvelous stunt that went terribly wrong,” one club manager said.
“Looking back, maybe I overhyped it a little bit,” Mr. Raddon said contritely. He seemed taken aback that a simple tweet could produce such pandemonium. “I mean, honestly, how was I supposed to know?”
BUT it’s easy to see how the “fire” of electronic dance parties can overpower the “ice.” Electric Daisy Carnival has seen the deaths of two teenagers in as many years, tragedies that seem almost statistically inevitable, given the numbers. No matter how clean an example Mr. Raddon sets, his talent for provoking Dionysian hysteria can plainly backfire, especially when the goal is to “lose yourself.”
The industry has worked to dispel the image of E.D.M. shows as hazardous. “There are very similar problems at a dance-music festival as there are at a music festival for rock ’n’ roll or hip-hop,” said Pasquale Rotella, the founder of Insomniac, which produces Electric Daisy Carnival. “The stigma comes from the underground days.”
Mr. Raddon pointed to the evolution of the music itself. As the technology has improved, he said, E.D.M. has become more layered and is now sophisticated enough that listeners don’t need to enhance their appreciation with chemicals.
“I think that’s part of the popularization of the genre,” Mr. Raddon said. “Ten years ago, we tried to take the brownies out too early. It’s been in the oven. It’s cooked long enough. It’s ready now.”