Named “America’s Best DJ” by DJ Times and Pioneer DJ, Kaskade (Ryan Raddon) is one of the world's most sought out DJs. But his is not an overnight success: he has seven albums in the past 10 years and has been dealing with the competitive electronic dance music scene for well over two decades. After starting off playing at run-down clubs in Salt Lake City, Utah, he has now worked his way up to headlining over nearly 200 festivals a year including Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Ultra Music Festival.
Yet, 2012 finally marks the year of his first headlining tour across North America. His Freaks of Nature Tour will be his biggest tour yet, and he will be streaming his live show at the Los Angeles Staples Center on July 27 (on the same day he'll release a new song, “Kaskade vs. Qulinez – Stars Troll”).
But before his L.A. show, he'll be with us. Returning to San Antonio for the first time since 2009, Kaskade will be at Cowboy’s Dancehall on Monday, July 23. Days before the show, the Current was able to take some time to talk to Kaskade about his long ride to success and his challenge to critics who say deejays "only push buttons" instead of making music.
You just got back in the U.S from London. How’s the jetlag working out for you?
(laughs) I think I’ve probably aged about 10 years but it’s all good. I mean it’s exciting and fun. Yeah, you always have the down side of lack of sleep and a lot of miles traveled, but it’s fun and I have absolutely not one complaint in the world.
In your song “Dynasty,” you wrote about the EDM scene and how much it means to you. Looking back, what do you feel about all that has happened since then?
That’s awesome! I’m glad you asked that question. Nobody ever wants to talk about that. When I first wrote that song I thought it was really smart and something really profound. I wrote that song shortly after performing at Los Angeles in Electric Daisy Carnival because it was the largest crowd I ever played in front of. I thought things were massive back then. I just remember thinking back in 2009, “This is so crazy,” and I couldn’t imagine it getting any bigger. So I wrote “Dynasty” and put it out shortly after that. But, I mean, how telling is it now? It really is a dynasty. It’s amazing how many people have found this music in the last couple of years and are really enjoying and loving it as much as I do.
One thing that is different about this tour is that it’s more like a concert. How different is it from your typical night at a club?
There are always growing pains in going on a new tour, but I mean it’s more like a concert because my sets are shorter. At a club in Vegas I could play a six- or eight-hour set once a month. That’s pretty common for me. But this is more like a concert, in the [sense] that I’m performing my own music the entire time that I’m up there. I’m not including many remixes of songs that I like or other DJ’s music. It’s only my remixes or originals. To a lot of people that’s great because often times some people don’t get to hear certain songs when they come and see me when I do a DJ set at a club. This is more like a live performance. And the fact that I built the stage from the ground up is really cool. In clubs, they already have a general vibe of their own screens and their own visuals while I’m up there DJ-ing. Often times I can be up there and they have some girl on a stripper pole and I’m thinking, “Did they not get the memo and not check my music out?” I’m not “that” DJ; I’m like that other dude. So for me it’s cool because I really spent time with the stage designer and built this spectacular show from the ground up. Everything is what it’s really meant to be and how I’ve always envisioned it. It gives me that opportunity to match the music that I wrote with certain visual elements and lights, which is great. It’s all about combining the musical with the visual aspect, which is always really important to me.
That last time you played in San Antonio was 2009. You have always spoken highly of Texas, but what do you like about your Texas fans?
Wow, I really don’t know what it is, but Texas is crazy because the fans go absolutely nuts at my shows and there is such a huge following wherever I stop there. There’s probably a fight between the fans in Texas and Florida right now over who takes up my Twitter timeline the most. It’s crazy. The kids in San Antonio and El Paso tweet me absolutely every single day. I open up Twitter and my timeline is full of Texas fans. But, to be honest, Texas has always been into electronic music ever since I started touring back in the day. Dallas was a huge electronic hub for a long time. I know some people may be shocked to hear that, because there are the big cities of Chicago, New York, and L.A., but for whatever reason the electronic movement hit really quick in Texas in the ’90s and it’s cool, because I can always feel that when I’m there.
You grew up listening to Skinny Puppy's and Ministry's industrial mixes, but your sound is much different from theirs.
Yes. Industrial music is just interesting. Ministry’s first album almost sounds more like a Depeche Mode record than it does like a Ministry record. I was just really intrigued by the music because it was electronic in nature and I really loved that. It had this synthetic quality but also a very humanistic side to it that I never really heard before, so I was just drawn to it. But then again, I’m just a huge ’80s fan. I absolutely love the Cure. I have such an open mind when it comes to music. There’s definitely a trace of that somewhere in me because I would always listen to that stuff when I first started out DJ-ing.
You said the ’80s electronic music scene didn’t cater to teens. Yet now, festivals have teenagers and young DJ’s like Porter Robinson and Madeon playing them. What do you think about this young EDM music scene?
I think it’s awesome because it definitely wasn’t like that. I was lucky because, being in Chicago, there just happened to be a teen club that was playing electronic music that I could go to. It was an underage club. But it’s cool; I mean everyone should be able to hear my music. That’s what I really like about the Freaks of Nature Tour, because in 90 percent of the cities I’m playing at, like at the Staples Center, are all ages events. Some people are like, “All ages? Are you kidding me, it’s not 21 and up?” And I’m like, “No, I want it all ages.” Like, you can bring your baby brother if you want. But then again, a lot of the venues and clubs that I’m playing at when I’m not on tour are 21 and up. So it’s great for me to go out and be able to do a tour that is catering to people that may have not been able to see me in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done festivals that are all ages but I only do a handful of those every year when I’m not touring. So for me, it’s great. I think the music should get to as many people that want to hear it.
You seem to have mastered the art of producing vocals for ethereal female vocalists like Dragonette. Will you stick to that niche, and is that why so many top artists require your services?
Yeah, I definitely do think that’s why a lot of artists, like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Justin Timberlake, have come to me for remixes; they know I will be able to handle the song with care and caution. I’ll be able to treat it as precious as they think that it is. As far as keeping with the style, I always like to be one step ahead. So many people are kind of copying my style now and I’m like, “Oh man, I don’t know. Now I need to look for something different.” I don’t like to be the guy that is doing everything that everyone else is doing. I feel like 10 years ago, when I recorded “It’s You, It’s Me,” that vocal was extremely different, stylistically, than what was going on at the time. But now having vocals is so popular and so crucial for producers. It’s weird, because it used to be so instrumental-based, but now everyone in dance music is like, “Ah, I got to write a song and it’s got to have a top vocal line.” I’ve kind of been in that zone and space for so long. I have to keep it fresh, but only time will tell. We’ll see what happens.
You tweeted recently saying that you played “Eyes” and you could hear the crickets. But then days later you played for thousands of people. How does it feel to go from one extreme to the next?
It’s always really shocking, really, because for some reason my music has never really taken hold in certain parts of Europe. North and South America and Asia have always been really good to me, but in certain parts of isolated places in Europe it’s not the same. Sometimes I play one of my hit songs and they stare at me blankly and I think, “Well, maybe this is the first time they have heard this song.” But it’s all different experiences and it’s still cool. I’ve been touring well over 10 years and DJ-ing for almost 20 years, so for me all these highs and lows have been the story of my success. It’s been slow and gradual. I’m not Avicii or Skrillex where I just kind of showed up really quickly. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do in such a short period of time, but that’s not my story. I’ve been touring nationally and internationally for 12 years now and it’s crazy because I can still go to places and play my songs that some people haven’t even heard of before.
Many people put down DJ’s, saying they just push buttons. What do you think about that?
Yeah, I always laugh and shrug it off, because it is such a ridiculous statement. It’s absurd. I always tell the critics, “Cool, come sit here with me for an afternoon while I sit and make music. Come see what happens when I write a song and put something together and produce something.” It’s really hard to take that stuff seriously. Sometimes I wish I could go and tell them, “Yeah, go ahead and buy my seven albums, thank you very much. Listen to them and once you’re done then maybe we can have a discussion.”
You started DJ-ing back in Salt Lake playing at small clubs and you created the house scene there, but how does it feel to create a music scene across the world?
It’s very gratifying. I always loved playing there at a local level and helping clubs. I would sometimes go to club owners and be like, “What’s your slowest night?” And then we would slowly work the club to gaining popularity and more money. I loved it so much and always wanted to participate, but to take that to a global scale and to give it back and play it out to people is so amazing. To have people connect to my music is just great. It can be overwhelming sometimes after all that has happened in the past. It’s definitely hard to explain and put into words, but I’m very grateful.
— Alejandra Ramírez