In the last five years, Kaskade has garnered six Grammy nominations, single-handedly sold out 20,000-person-capacity venues, and made Forbes’s list of the highest-paid DJs in the world. Record-breaking spots at Coachella and repeat bookings at Electric Daisy Carnival are footnotes on his résumé. Mention achievements like those in 2005 when Ryan Raddon first took on the Kaskade moniker, however, and he would have said it was impossible. So what changed?
Learning to spin records in his hometown of Chicago before landing a residency in San Francisco, the performer always wanted to push the envelope. Coming up in “grimy little 200-person clubs”, he enjoyed the freedom of long set times at underground parties, which allowed him room to write melodic deep house that soon landed him a deal with Om Records. A few years later, as the EDM boom started gathering momentum, Raddon found himself leading the charge with hits like “I Remember” with Deadmau5, and becoming the first electronic-music DJ to secure a residency in Las Vegas. Modest about his achievements, the performer ascribes much of his success to the changing musical landscape.
“I think a big catalyst for the commercial rise of dance music was fatigue,” he tells the Straight on the line from his Los Angeles home. “That urban sound, hip-hop and rock ’n’ roll, was just rinsed. People were looking for something new, and dance music had been bubbling in the underground for decades, literally, since disco died. Dance music really wasn’t on the radio for a really long time. I think pop stars emulated what was going on in the clubs, like Madonna and Deee-lite, but you didn’t have producers who were focused on the underground breaking through, like Chainsmokers or David Guetta. Now all the lines are blurred.”
As EDM’s profile grew, so did the venues and production, largely eclipsing the genre’s grassroots origins. For Raddon, a man proud to be “all about the music”, that obscured one of the most important aspects of DJing: the ability to play without boundaries. In response, he’s decided to step back from the megacapacity shows. Releasing Redux EP 001 in 2014, and following it up last month with Redux EP 002, the performer wanted to revisit the scene’s genesis, and the start of his own story.
“So much of dance music is considered pop music now,” he says, “Don’t get me wrong—I love that music too, but I think a lot of young kids discovering dance music think that’s what it is. They’re not aware of Carl Cox and Richie Hawtin and these guys that have been around for decades doing it. That sound is a part of my life.
“When I came up with the Redux idea in 2014 it was a bit of a shock,” he continues, “but I feel like a lot more people have followed that trend in the last couple of years. I think people realize that nightclub music in a nightclub is not a bad thing. It’s still really fun. For me it was about exercising that muscle, and still staking the claim that I’m here and I’ve always been here, and I’m still doing this thing. I’ve written a lot of more melodic stuff over the years, and a lot of people know me for that, but really and truly I came up through the clubs, and it’s important to celebrate it.”
Trading drops and upbeat chords for the more downtempo, repetitive bars of deeper house music, Redux EP 002 sees Raddon collaborating with long-time associates Late Night Alumni and up-and-comer LoKii, an artist who has, as the DJ puts it, “a fresh take on what’s happening in the club world”. Between the grimy classic house of “Show of Hands” and the smooth, vocal-driven lead single “Nobody Like You”, the result is a varied, heartfelt record stripped of the fashionable sounds that boost the big buildups of EDM singles. Putting the seven-track EP out on his own label, Arkade, afforded Raddon the freedom to release the record without worrying about marketing, and to tour the songs in intimate venues.
“In Vancouver, I’m playing Celebrities,” he says. “I’ve performed in the city more times than I can count, but it’s one of the very few rooms I haven’t played before. Vancouver is such a forward-thinking place, it was one of the first spots in North America where I started playing hard-ticket venues. I jumped from performing in these tiny clubs right to the Commodore, and I sold out two nights there, which I was told was a really big deal. I skipped right over Celebrities, and I don’t know how that happened. Everyone I sit and talk to says that I’m going to love it because it’s exactly what I’m going for on this tour.”
Kaskade plays Celebrities next Thursday (November 2).
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