Sunday , April 21 2024
DJ, producer, remixer, and songwriter ups his game with a new album and one-of-a-kind live gig.

Interview: Kaskade – From Empty Streets To The Skies

Kaskade has gone from local San Francisco favorite to international connoisseur over the last decade. His distinctive blend of underground sounds with commercial pop have resulted in lauded remixes for Lady Gaga and Britney Spears; as well as his own hits, “Step One Two,” “Move For Me,” “I Remember,” and “Be Still.” He talks with BlogCritic Justin Kantor about his new album, Dynasty, as well as an exciting live gig he’s got lined up for summer — and some highlights of his journey thus far. (Hear the full interview at BlogTalkRadio.)

Let’s start with your beginnings; growing up in Chicago, when did you first start listening to music and what types were you exposed to?

As a kid, my parents had the typical stuff going on in the home, like Bee Gees, The Carpenters. Then I got exposed to what my brothers were listening to: a lot of Classic Rock, Led Zeppelin. It was around the mid-80’s when the whole Electro-Techno-Pop-House music thing started happening in Chicago.

Were there any acts that had a special impact on you?

Kraftwerk was huge, as well as Wax Trax Records out of Chicago. I was getting a lot of Ministry and Revolting Cocks, and then I moved into the New Wave stuff like The Cure, The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, and New Order. While that was going on, I started getting into House music. That’s when it started getting radio exposure in Chicago. They had mix shows at night and during the lunch hour.

How did you decide to go to college in Salt Lake City?

Well, when you’re Mormon, it’s a cool place to try it out and meet other Mormon kids. My brothers went to Brigham Young University (BYU), and I didn’t get in there, so I thought, “I’ll see if I like Salt Lake.”

Did you go there to study music?

No, not music. I was studying snowboarding at that point in my life. [laughs]. I wasn’t studying much of anything, really.

I saw an episode of the online TV show The Craft, wherein you mentioned DJ Scrappy as one of your influences. Who exactly is he, and what about him made such an impact on you?

Music leaves such a big impression. I always wondered, “Man, if I grew up in Nashville, would I be making Country records now?” I honestly feel like Chicago had such a big impact on me. Scrappy was the resident DJ at Club Medusa’s, which was a teen club that was hugely popular from ’85 to ’87. 2,000 to 3,000 kids were going there every week. I was part of that group of kids that was driving into the city and experiencing this mash-up of early House records alongside this Industrial New Wave stuff. I think if Scrappy hadn’t been throwing that party and that club hadn’t existed, I wouldn’t have been exposed to that stuff early on. It really inspired and motivated me to make this kind of music.

What qualities did it have that really spoke to you as opposed to other forms of music that you might hear every day on the radio?

It was very rhythm-based, and I appreciate that. I love a great melody and wonderful lyrics that speak from the heart, and my music has that and speaks about it; but there’s just something that was really raw and energetic about the early House music. It’s hard to describe. It’s like you had to go to these parties where the stuff was being played on these huge sound systems to really feel it. That’s what a lot of ravers say, and people who listen to the Dead say. Everyone who has a passion for some kind of music always has an excuse for why it works for them. It’s hard to really pin it down, but it definitely had to do with going to the nightclubs on the weekends and hearing it loudly and getting the reaction from the people, and dancing and sweating until 2 AM and really working it out.

Of the early House remixers and producers, are there any that stand out as really important?

The Hot Mix 5. They were DJs on Chicago WBMX. Bad Boy Bill and all those guys were breaking the new records. Early producers like Marshall Jefferson, Future, Fast Eddie, Frankie Knuckles…

In addition to the mixing and producing, your involvement in songwriting has been important to your career. Is there a difference in how you approach a song in the studio when you’ve written it, as opposed to a remix you do for Lady Gaga or Britney Spears?

It’s a different approach, because when people hire me for a remix, I don’t get to be quite as creative [with the mix]. But that opens some other creative doors — like, “How can I be creative in this space? How am I going to make this song translate? What is going to make me want to play this song at 1 A.M. in New York?” I really enjoy doing it.

So you have to calculate what audience you might be going after?

I think that most people who hire me to do a remix just want it to work in a nightclub, whereas when I’m writing my own album, I don’t have to worry so much about 2 A.M.

How did you approach the new album, Dynasty? Did you have a theme in mind, or did it just come together?

It came together piece-by-piece when I was writing the songs. But a key moment was last June when I was playing the Electric Daisy Carnival, or EDC, as a lot of kids call it. There were about 90,000 people in downtown Los Angeles, at the Olympic Coliseum. I was standing in this sea of people, thinking, “Look what we’ve created. This music has no radio support, no video support, no MTV, no Clearchannel, and I’m standing in front of a coliseum of people, and I’m not sure that even U2 or Coldplay could bring out this many people.” There we were with five guys that I tour around the world with or cross paths with that do a similar style of music; and this turnout was strictly from word of mouth — flyers and websites, you know?

Who were the other guys that were there with you?

Groove Armada played with me, and then there were Benny Benassi and David Guetta. It’s an all-star lineup for sure, but we’re all on an Indie level, except for David Guetta. The rest of us are on indie labels that have marketing budgets close to what your grocery bill is for the month. To make this happen — this is a dynasty! It’s rising up from the underground, and that’s really inspiring to stand here in my home state, in L.A., and to see this thing. It kind of inspired the song, “Dynasty.”

Some of your earlier releases on OM Records like “Gonna Make It” and “What I Say” had a definite underground house feel with a soulful vocalist, Rob Wannamaker. Over the last few years, your sound has been more defined by an internationally flavored style with different elements like Euro and Pop thrown in the mix. Is that a natural progression, or a conscious shift in style for you?

When I lived in San Fransisco, I played for maybe 200 people, and now we’re talking about Olympic Coliseum and 90,000 people, and playing in Sardinia at Carnevale — or Brazil, to three-million people. As I started to tour more and play more shows, my idea of what was going to work in my shows and what I wanted to achieve with an audience just changed. It was a natural progression, and this went on over eight or nine years. If you listen to my last few records, it’s like things get more epic and grand, with more euphoric moments all along. If you put it in that context, you’ve got to make it.

When I was playing in that lounge to 300 people, it translated; it was awesome and people sang along. But now, I play “I Remember” or “Step One Two” — or when I played “Dynasty” at Coachella, in that tent with 10,000 people, they were going out of their minds! So it’s all about keeping in mind how it’s translating, and sharing your music with people. So, I’ve slowly morphed, and that’s definitely changed who I am as an artist and as a person, really.

Are there any particular productions or remixes that you’ve done in the last couple of years that stand out to you as “I really hit the mark with that one?”

Well, for production, I’m really happy with Dynasty, the record as a whole; and my last two albums, as well. To have it out there and be accepted and see an indie Dance artist break into the Top 10 on iTunes, Ultra didn’t expect that, I didn’t expect that. I remember having a speaker phone conversation with the label, and they were like, “No, you’re not doing this right. You’re not refreshing,” or something like that. So, to see it do this kind of thing is unbelievable.

As far as remixes go, I think my remix on Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” is one of my favorites. I really love Gaga’s voice, and I love that song. It’s kind of goofy and a lot of fun. “Tonight I’m not takin’ no calls, ‘cause I’ll be dancin.” That mix translated in so many ways; Dance Radio picked up on it, my DJ friends picked up on it, the nightclubs. Perez Hilton picked it up on Twitter and said, “Kaskade destroyed this,” and then TMZ picked up on his Twitter feed and started talking about it on their feed. It’s just one of those things that just creeped out there. It’s almost like the timing — where I am, and how much stuff she’s got going on, the combination of the two things — created this monster.

You’ve gotten a lot of acclaim in the last few years: the “Best Remixer Award” at International Dance Music Awards; and “Step One, Two” got Sirius Dance Radio’s “Most Played Record” last year. Does that put any pressure on you when you’re creating, or when you go into the studio to start a new project?

A little bit. Creating the “Dynasty” record was the most pressure I’ve felt, because Strobelight Seduction had a lot of success and the music touched a lot of people. Up to that point, I really didn’t think about it; I just went into the studio and created what I loved. It was a very selfish process and still is; but I was more mindful this time. It’s like managers, A&R and label people were much more in the discussion than they ever have been.

I don’t feel like it affected me very much, though. I just unplugged myself, like, “Look, I’ve made it this far just doing what I want to do, so I just need to keep going down that path and create my own thing.” I was able to turn it off a bit; but it seems like with every passing record, I need to create something new and fresh and “It changed my life when I listened to this record!” It’s like everybody’s got something to say. Many times, they weren’t there five years ago; so it’s easy to just shut the door.

You’ve obtained a residency at the Wynn Las Vegas’ Encore Beach Club for this summer? What do you think it’s going to be like, and what can people expect from that gig?

I’m involved with this because I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It’s literally a nightclub that has a huge swimming pool in the middle. No one’s ever created a space that was made for this. A lot of pool parties happen in Miami and L.A.; but this place was actually created with a proper nightclub sound system that’s built out around the pool. It’s a beautiful space. When I saw it, I thought, “This is really an opportunity to create something cool here at home and have a place to showcase my music and weave this musical tapestry for the summer.” I think my music fits really well with it, and I think that’s why they called me.

Initially, they just called me to do a couple of gigs, but after I saw the plans, I was like, “No, dude. I want to be here as much as possible. Let’s do a party together. I’d love to brand this with what I’m doing.” They jumped at it, and I think it’s an opportunity. It’s a long plane ride to Ibiza week in and week out, and that’s where most DJs spend their summer. I saw this as a chance to bring it home. I really feel like the American Electronic music scene is awesome, and I’d like to bring some attention here.

There’s a couple of collaborative recording projects that you’re involved in: Late Night Alumni and The Sellars.What sets them apart from Kaskade records?

Rob Wannamaker is at the forefront of The Sellars, but we haven’t done anything in a while. He’s up in Toronto, and scheduling has been hard. As for Late Night Alumni, I’ve been in the studio with those guys every spare moment I’ve had recently. We just did a 48-hour session together where we were all in the studio; usually we’re just bouncing around ideas to one another. How does it set itself apart? When you’re with a band, democracy rules. Even though I collaborate on my own records, it’s different when you’ve got four people involved. If it’s three against one, I’m going to lose.

I look forward to hearing the results of that! I’m glad I got to speak with you. Good luck with your gig at the Wynn; that should be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Yeah, I’m excited! I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it.

About Justin Kantor

Justin Kantor is a music journalist with a passion for in-depth artist interviews and reviews. Most of his interviews for Blogcritics can be heard on his Blog Talk Radio program, "Rhythmic Talk." Justin's work has been published in Wax Poetics, The All-Music Guide, and A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Music Business and Management program, he honed his writing chops as a teenager—publishing "The Hip Key" magazine from 1992-1996. The publication, which was created out of his childhood home in Virginia Beach, reached a circulation of 10,000 by the time he was 16. At Berklee, Justin continued to perfect his craft with a series of 'Underrated Soul' features for The Groove from 1997-2003. This led to a companion TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in 2002, as well as writing for the national Dance Music Authority (DMA). A self-described "obscure pop, dance, and R&B junkie," Justin also has penned liner notes for reissue labels such as Edsel Records and FunkyTownGrooves. He's excited to be a part of the BlogCritics team and indulge his musical fancies even further. Connect with him at his Facebook page, or via [email protected].

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