DJ Kaskade's Latest Takes His Music to a Lighter Place, But Don't Call It 'Trance'

Mixed Results
DJ Kaskade’s latest takes his music to a lighter place, but don’t call it ‘trance’

If the DJ is a god to some, the mix CD is his communion. Sometime between the personal mixtape compilations of the 1970s and the omnipresent podcasts of today, the DJ mix became an artistic medium on its own, a work that showcases the arc of a dance floor’s heavenly journey.

The best DJ mixes are ambitious, epic and exotic, but podcasts now flow like water from the Web. Quantity, currency and convenience trump quality. Street-corner mixtape entrepreneurs are long gone, and illicit DJ mixes today are digital kudzu. It’s almost sacrilegious.

Kaskade in his beat-laden interrogation room
Mark Owens
Kaskade in his beat-laden interrogation room

This state of affairs has made it hard for the pious business of commercial DJ mixes, a nearly 20-year-old endeavor. The pressures of trying to sell something people can get for free has forced DJs to dig deeper, go longer and produce each compilation as a pièce de résistance. Three-disc mixes, DVD mixes and 100-track mixes are not uncommon. The Bay Area-based house-music DJ known as Kaskade has entered the fray with a conventional but nonetheless well-orchestrated mix, The Grand, released last week via Ultra Records. The spinner says it’s designed to stand the test of time.

“It’s so easy to find mixes online,” the 36-year-old, born Ryan Raddon, says. “But if they’re putting it out in the marketplace as opposed to a podcast, it seems a little more thought goes into it. With The Grand, 10 years from now, you can take it off the bookshelf and put it into the CD player.”

The LP’s one-disc format makes it a little ho-hum in the age of three-hour epics offered by the likes of overseas labels such as Renaissance, Toolroom and EQ, but Kaskade does weigh in with a hefty 18-track list. And oh, what angelic tracks they are. Gone are the days of Kaskade’s West Coast smooth house (in the vein of Miguel Migs, Naked Music, Om Records, et al.). That’s for the best: Though rooted in Chicago post-disco, New Yorican soul and elements of jazz, smooth house often felt more Kenny G than Giant Step.

With his latest, Kaskade has completely freed himself from the self-reverential, spliff-haze downer of deep house and turned instead to the breezy, momentous, saccharine sound of trance. But the album’s no glow-stick festival; Kaskade cringes at the T-word. “Trance doesn’t ring true to me,” he says. Even so, the compilation offers up trance-adjacent mainstays such as vocalist Jes (“Imagination”) and producer Deadmau5 (“Move for Me”). With its vocal-driven, big-room anthems, The Grand is super-club-sized pop sure to melt the female fans.

The expanding dimension of his sound is proportional to the growth of his audience, Kaskade says. “A big room to me used to be 300,” he says. “Now, it’s not unusual to play in front of 40,000 people. Trance and progressive definitely are those sounds that are epic, and I think my realm of house music sounds very grand. That’s how I came up with the name.”

Kaskade’s post-house milieu fits him more as an artist—he’s clean-cut, upwardly mobile and digitally educated. Since being signed in 2006 to Ultra, one of the world’s biggest dance labels, Kaskade has produced more accessible, pop-leaning tunes in line with a new generation of dance-music producers (Morgan Page, Chris Lake) that geek out behind computer monitors as much as they rock out behind turntables.

“He’s in the group,” confirms LA-based Page. “I think his evolution is very fitting. You gotta keep changing up your sound. . . . We need more artists of this caliber from the States.”

And while many other DJs of Kaskade’s caliber are divas and jerks, the man from San Francisco is widely admired for being down-to-earth. Born and raised in a Chicago suburb, Kaskade was reared as a Mormon and attended the University of Utah. Asked for his feelings about Proposition 8, he’s forthcoming in voicing his opposition to the measure, and even follows up with a phone call to be perfectly clear.

“Part of the reason I’m so sympathetic—and anybody who knows dance music can understand this—20 years ago, it was the gay community that supported dance music,” he says. “I was going to these clubs. For me, it’s a no-brainer. Of course, everybody should have equal rights.

“Without the support of the gay community and the underground clubs,” Kaskade says, “we’d be talking about rock & roll right now. That’s hard to imagine.”

Amen.

Kaskade at Red Night Club, 4647 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach; www.rednightclub.com. Thurs., April 2, 9:30 p.m. $20. 21+.

 
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