Lorin Ashton is on one hell of a winning streak. Under his electronic alias, Bassnectar, Ashton released last year's Vava Voom to the best sales of his career, notching a spot among the top 40 of Billboard's album chart. He's hit California's increasingly massive Coachella festival and appeared several times at Tennessee's similarly overwhelming Bonnaroo. Ashton's enjoying the kind of broad popularity rarely attained by electronic explorers, an occurrence made more curious by his unexpected past.
In the early '90s, Ashton was a fixture of California's grindcore onslaught, but by 1995, he had fallen for raves, entranced by the musical freedom and the energy of the crowds. His music — bass heavy and huge, but drawing lithe melodies from a smorgasbord of world influences — first gained serious attention at Burning Man. Playing several sets a night for the sweaty throngs, Ashton found a sweet spot between jam band trances and dubstep tremors, a tenuous balance that makes his work attractive to those wary of more intense EDM.
Bassnectar's intense and antagonistic low end exposes his hard rock roots, but Ashton tempers his aggression with an approachable surge. This is music for movement, not for serious thought, honed to inspire breathless jubilation without challenging expectations.
But Ashton isn't the only electronic artist to arrive by way of hard rock. Sonny John Moore, known to millions as Skrillex, was once the lead singer of the post-hardcore outfit From First to Last. In 2013, Skrillex might be the hottest name in electronic music, merging sleek hip-hop with punishing dubstep, hitching driving rhythms to eruptions of near cacophony. And his heavy music pedigree is easier to recognize. "Banbarang," an enormous single that you've heard in commercials even if you don't know it, slashes with serrated bass, allowing a precise guitar sample to keep things rumbling even when the noise subsides. Where Bassnectar seduces by degrees, Skrillex goes right for the jugular.
Their execution differs, but Skrillex and Bassnectar are united by their ability to package volatile clamor within fetching structures, an ability nurtured by their experience with hard rock. It might not amaze, but Bassnectar and others are actively expanding the sounds that mainstream audiences will accept, an essential contribution that's easy to undervalue.