…it would be nice to see dance recognized a little bit more as a viable genre.
story by Ronnie Reese
photo by Alexander Warnow
One of dance music’s most promising young DJs is a Mormon from Northbrook, Ill., the home of Glenbrook North High School – famous for its infamous hazing incident in the spring of 2003 and for Chicago Cubs fan/unwitting nemesis Steve Bartman. When you consider the company, Kaskade is doing pretty well for himself. There are Mormons everywhere, so there’s no reason why faith should keep someone from such a decadent and devilish movement as house nation.
At 33, Kaskade – born Ryan Raddon – came of age with Chicago house, venturing into the city from Northbrook during the mid- to late-1980s to spend long nights at celebrated haunts like Limelight, Exit and Medusa’s. There were parties at Red Dog when it wasn’t a club, but “just people living there,” says Raddon. This was the period when Chicago’s approach to electronic music grew increasingly progressive, led by second generation pioneers like Steve “Silk” Hurley and Marshall Jefferson, building on blueprints drafted by originators Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles.
With pervasive understanding of the last 20 years of house, Kaskade is primed to guide it into the 21st century. Electronica remains underground at the core, but definitely hasn’t gone unnoticed by mainstream media. “Steppin’ Out,” the first single from Kaskade’s sophomore Om release, In the Moment, found itself pimped by Budweiser and MTV’s “The Real World,” in addition to being featured in Entertainment Weekly magazine. This is a condition the San Francisco-based DJ realizes is necessary to further not only his career, but more importantly, the future of his music.
“I think it’s all about balance,” he explains. “I don’t think it needs to reach the point that hip-hop has, but it would be nice to see dance recognized a little bit more as a viable genre. There are people out there that recognize it, but if it got just a little bit more legitimacy, I would be fine with where it was at. It doesn’t need to blow up, or do anything remotely close to what hip-hop has done for me to be happy. It seems like you have to sell your soul to get to that point.”
Almost. Hip-hop is a glorious mess, like a newborn with a dirty diaper. A wondrous creation, but it will definitely stink from time to time, and will do so for a few years until learning how to clean up its excess. Anything that shits on itself for too long is deemed socially deviant and cast to the fringes. Electronic music shouldn’t have had to suffer a similar fate, but parts of it already have (see “techno”). “As long as everybody on the scene is happy and doing their thing, I’m happy,” says Kaskade. “I don’t need it to be some worldwide, dominating movement. It’s cool being in the underground. Creatively, it’s a nice thing. You do what you want to do, not what someone tells you to do. My label? They don’t harass me. I give them the record and that’s that.”
Many artists on both independent and major record labels probably wish they could finish albums and have that be that, but this is far from a reality. Some find their completed product placed on a shelf. Others are sent back to the lab for budget-busting revisions and re-recordings. Being able to do his own thing has served Kaskade well, however evident on In the Moment, the follow-up to his 2003 debut, It’s You, It’s Me.
Fittingly, In the Moment is more of a “home” listening record than traditional first generation Chicago/U.K. house of the late ’70s and early ’80s. “Maybe,” with its live string arrangements courtesy of producer and arranger John Hancock, is delicate, sleepy pop, a relaxed precursor to “I Like the Way,” featuring Windy City house diva/DJ Collette Marino and vibist Jay Lawrence on a crest of deep house. “Honesty,” which follows, is after hours Sade, channeled by guest songstress Amy Michelle.
For now, Kaskade sees house nation in a good place, able to enjoy the remix, the crafting of a full-length LP and holding residencies at popular Bay Area nightclubs. “It’s a great job, no complaints, but you gotta hustle to stay up on it.” The hustle is what the college-bound Glenbrook North grad packed up and took to Salt Lake City, Utah, from the Chicago area – bringing inner city sounds of gay black and Latino America to thousands of white, Mormon conservatives. A job well done, but for one who learned early lessons in the city that works, his is an underground that never sleeps.
Kaskade :: with Derrick Carter :: Metro/Smartbar :: December 3.