Kaskade Talks Corporate Influence on Dance Music: Some 'Don't Care if They're Slinging Fried Chicken or EDM' (Q&A)
With new album "Atmosphere" out today, the veteran producer and DJ looks back on a 20-year career and ahead at the challenge of balancing family life, studio priorities and touring demands.
While electronic dance music has exploded onto the mainstream in recent years, the scene has been fermenting for decades, pulsing out intriguing sounds well before the current era of top-40 hits and massive arena tours touted major "EDM" names.
And so has Ryan Raddon, more popularly known as Kaskade, whose anticipated eighth album Atmosphere, drops today. His nearly 20-year-long career as a producer and DJ hit a new high last summer when he embarked on a hugely ambitious tour in support of his hit double album Fire & Ice. Along the way, he became the first electronic dance music act to headline and sell out the 18,000-seat Staples Center in Los Angeles.
That’s fitting for a man who nearly started a riot in Hollywood when he announced an impromptu performance in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in July 2011.
This time around, Kaskade returns with a far more subdued release and a stripped-down, four-city tour to accompany the record, which kicks off in Miami on Sept. 14.
At 42, Kaskade is one of the few household dance names to have such a unique perspective on the growth of EDM. And as a a wave of young DJs infuses the scene with fresh talent, he also has some concerns about whether a cultural bubble is on the verge of busting. Kaskade shares his thoughts with THR.
The Hollywood Reporter: You noted that Atmosphere is your most personal album to date, and that's become a popular soundbite. What sticks out to you?
Kaskade: One, there’s me singing on [album single] “Atmosphere.” Once I wrote “Atmosphere” I thought, “This is my story, it’s me and my life and what I’ve gone through to get to where I am.” I’m not the best singer, but still. All of my albums are personal, but putting myself out there and singing is one more thing that makes me vulnerable -- one more thing that people can fire shots at.
The other thing is that I wrote the majority of the album right after I got off the Freaks of Nature tour [in summer 2012]. After doing 40-plus cities, high-energy shows and living on a bus, I [came] home and was in my studio and wanted some quiet time to think -- and so it’s a more introspective record, more subdued.
THR: You say you felt exhausted and drained in a musical sense when you got off the road. Has that been the case after other tours in your career?
Kaskade: This is the first time. I’m always tired after big tours, but last summer kept going and going and it was a different style of tour. Even three, four years ago, electronic music was a weekend thing. So I used to be home and in the studio during the week and worked on the weekends at shows. But now it’s gotten popular to go out and gig five or six times a week -- it’s almost the norm.
THR: How has having a wife and three daughters changed you and your music, and does it ever get tough to be away? Young DJs entering the scene don’t have to deal with this.
Kaskade: I’m doing what I love, and obviously my wife and kids are very supportive and give me a ton of strength and inspiration. If anything, it’s helped me -- kept me grounded. And I’ve written countless songs about me and my wife and our relationship [laughs]. But I always wonder what this would’ve been like if it happened 20 years ago, coming out of high school.
THR: You made a point of making your Atmosphere tour much shorter and the tickets much more affordable than you see with a lot of big DJs’ shows. Why?
Kaskade: I’ve always been a big advocate of making shows affordable because a lot of these bottle-service clubs and events are geared toward really expensive experiences. Club music is for everyone, and it drives me crazy that people are getting priced out. When I can control my own show, I want the price to be affordable so fans can actually see me. It’s a challenge because I have to do a lot of navigating to make the production stellar but do it on a realistic budget.
THR: Electronic music has exploded in the last couple of years -- does anything about its growth, including increasing corporate influence, give you pause?
Kaskade: I don’t think anyone has a problem with growth. What is nerve-wracking is to ensure that the growth happens naturally. Because when the corporate influence gets involved it can get… tricky. My first concern is that it stays real -- that it’s not manufactured, that people don’t overhype something to turn a profit. We’re just starting to see the first round of how popularity is making things seem manufactured. There’s a couple of guys who have just gotten signed by major labels, and the last bunch of radio hits have just been… [laughs] just obvious, too obvious musically.
There are people in the scene who don’t care if they’re slinging fried chicken or EDM -- it doesn’t matter to them. I hope the cream rises to the top and the good music and art that’s been here and deserves attention will get it.
THR: On that note, there are rumors that ghostwriting is becoming a bigger part of the EDM scene.
Kaskade: There’s always been whisperings that ghostwriting is happening because the touring scene has become so lucrative in the last couple years. Not only that, but how can someone play three, four hundred shows a year and still make music? I can speak for myself -- I play 150 shows a year and it’s a huge burden to balance my schedule and get in the studio. It’s unfortunate because I remember … when everything was so authentic and [EDM] was art that wasn’t the norm. It’s weird and unfortunate because, if it is happening -- I don’t know myself, but I’m sure it is on some level -- it’s sad because the producer is the artist. It makes no sense that we’re getting to that place.
THR: What kind of sound intrigues you these days, and what do you want to explore going forward?
Kaskade: I think production styles come and go, and what I’ve focused on in my career, especially in the last 12 years, is just the song itself -- making something that I’m going to be whistling all the time. And it’s about reaching out and finding other songwriters to collaborate with and creating music that will be around longer than a week. A lot of people see electronic music as a flavor of the week but it can be more than that -- has to be more than that.