As we’ve seen, the global pandemic has been an equal-opportunity emergency for all DJs. It didn’t matter if you were a world-renowned talent, an aspiring headliner or a busy mobile – nearly every DJ was stuck at home with almost all live gigs halted. Accordingly, DJs of all stripes have had to find various ways to survive. Even the big-name talents have had to make a pivot.
At first blush, a hitmaking DJ/producer like Kaskade – aka Ryan Raddon, 50 – could undoubtedly use the time off to be at home with his family. After all, the global jock has been on the road almost constantly for two decades now. But he, too, had to adjust to the “new normal,” as lockdown weeks turned to months. It suddenly went from a welcomed staycation to a career-on-pause.
And what a career it’s been. With his musical roots connected to the Chicago house-music scene, Raddon worked his way up the industry ladder, recording and performing A&R duties for San Francisco’s Om Records at the turn of the century, before signing with Ultra Records and eventually developing his own imprint, Arkade.
Ten artist albums, seven mix-compilations and five EPs later – not to mention scads of hit singles like 2004’s “Steppin’ Out,” 2008’s “I Remember” (with deadmau5) and, more recently, 2019’s “Go Slow” (with Gorgon City and Roméo) – Kaskade became one of America’s favorite electronic-music talents.
But, all his accomplishments aside, Kaskade was now in uncharted territory – with no club or festival dates on the horizon. How would he maintain, or even grow, his already substantial fanbase? Step 1 was hopping into the live-streaming space.
Getting busy in early 2020, he delivered sets from the comfort of his own home and from unique spots like the skywalk at the Grand Canyon. Additionally, he made appearances at a handful of virtual festivals like Proximity/Brownies & Lemonade’s Digital Mirage and SiriusXM’s Virtual DisDance.
It’s interesting to note that, for the past decade, live-streaming had been prominently geared to the video-game community. However, during recent times, it’s become newfound territory for DJs looking to continue to perform and the perfect platform to interact with younger fans on a more intimate level. On platforms like Twitch.tv, electronic dance music meets gaming community.
And speaking of gaming… Kaskade made his debut on the powerhouse label Monstercat with his newest releases from the Reset EP being featured on the Rocket League soundtrack, in addition to Fortnite’s in-vehicle radio station, Radio Yonder. Kaskade was now getting airtime in two of the biggest video games out there, each averaging millions of players daily. Call that a big Step 2.
So, in a matter of months, Kaskade had made his presence felt online with live-stream sets and infiltrated the video-gaming community, getting his music in front of a whole new, global audience. But even that wasn’t the whole story… Kaskade also played quite a few socially distanced, drive-in events, including a SoCal New Year’s Eve party, which has become an annual rite for him.
We recently caught up with Kaskade from his home in Los Angeles to discuss his time in transition throughout the pandemic, his working with Monstercat, the live-streaming and gaming opportunities, the drive-in shows, and much more.
DJ Times: Since the early ’90s, club culture has been a major part of your life. But these days, packed dancefloors are considered a serious health risk. As a DJ vet, what are your thoughts on the situation?
Kaskade: It’s uncontrollable and unknowable. I can’t let myself spiral into what’s been lost because that would be a full-time occupation. Instead, I’m looking forward to how we can rebuild something better. The audience isn’t lost – they’re just locked down, same as me. When it’s safe, we will be back together. Careers have been stalled, and maybe some have been ended because of this. Under the best of circumstances, we still have no control, only will and grit. Those things persevere, and when we come back out, trust we will all come out swinging.
DJ Times: From enjoying a vigorous tour schedule to seeing the entire world being put on pause, how did you handle the earliest part of lockdown?
Kaskade: I remember having early conversations with my team about taking the “next few weeks” off and regrouping with a revised tour plan after that. It’s bittersweet, in retrospect, like looking at an innocent dumb puppy. Like, “Aww, that’s cute – we thought it would be a few weeks.” I was honestly a little grateful for the forced time off, something I’m not the best at carving out for myself.
DJ Times: I’m sure it was great to have some quality family time after always being on the road. How has “daddy duty” treated you during the pandemic?
Kaskade: I’ve documented my inability to learn how to fold a fitted sheet. Advancements have been slow, but the increased day-to-day interaction with my family has been amazing. I wouldn’t have chosen these circumstances, but I also am grateful that I’ve been able to experience this time with the people I love the most.
DJ Times: Specifically, how has it been to have three daughters at home while juggling lockdown restrictions, homeschooling, explaining COVID and all the other current events that have unfolded over the past year?
Kaskade: Two of them are teenagers, the other one is younger, but actually might be wiser than the rest of us, combined. Either she’s an old soul or Roblox has really shaped the youth to be smarter than their parents. Let’s be very clear: Trying to enforce new strict regulations with teenagers is never going to be an easy ask and then, on top of that, trying to have conversations around the instability of the rest of the events that we’ve all been living through has heightened anxiety and stress in everyone’s homes. But the conversations are happening, which is a win. I take wins where I can get them. It hasn’t been easy, but the best things that have ever happened in my life are the things that have been the hardest to get through. I believe we’ll get to the other side of this closer and more sympathetic to each other.
DJ Times: All DJs have taken an enormous financial hit since last March and have been left with plenty of free time. Did you learn anything during downtime or pick up any new hobbies?
Kaskade: I’ve learned all about – and now only use – cryptocurrency and will only accept GameStop stock as payment for anything. OK, that’s a joke – I actually prefer Tesla options [laughs]. I’ve also started surfing a lot more and have made plans to organize my vinyl collection, but that might take more motivation than I have currently.
DJ Times: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve realized during this time of weirdness?
Kaskade: I’m surprised that I used to go without sleep for days while touring. I’ve definitely been making up for those lost blurry weekends by getting a better routine for sleep and can’t believe how it affects me in almost every aspect of life. I just feel better. Sleep is important. Tell a friend.
DJ Times: Any advice on getting through this situation gracefully?
Kaskade: Step away from the computer and go outside.
DJ Times: Has this pandemic experience served as an inspirational period when it comes to production, or have you become unmotivated/exhausted? Everyone seems to be on an emotional rollercoaster these days, especially creatively.
Kaskade: The answer is yes to everything. I’ve been inspired and I’ve been depleted. It depends on the day, the hour, the minute. I do know we’re all experiencing this universal fatigue and none of us are living our personal best 100-percent of the time. But again, this is where we’re at and it’s important to not get stuck under it.
DJ Times: Do you have any encouraging words for DJ/producers beginning to or have lost faith in a career due to the pandemic?
Kaskade: I wish I had solutions or some quote that would help everyone. All I know is that art perseveres – it always does. During great times, we get amazing art. During extreme stress, insane art is produced. It’s during times that we become bored or complacent that art suffers. So if you are feeling some extreme way, keep creating. It may or may not be a way to make a living, but it will always improve your mental health, which is the best type of success.
DJ Times: You’ve done a number of live-streams and drive-in shows throughout the pandemic. How do you feel about these new performance alternatives?
Kaskade: I feel a few things. First, it’s reminiscent of when I was at the beginning of my career and I was playing in – and couldn’t fill – a parking lot outside of the main festival. Safety comes first and, with that, there are less people and what could be considered lower energy. With that being said, we are all starving for this interaction and it feels a hundred times more fulfilling than the largest, most-epic festival right now. Just seeing people together, but safely distanced, restores my hope and gives me that hit of what I need to remember why we’re all here and what we’re going to get back to.
DJ Times: You even delivered a live-stream set from the Grand Canyon. How were you able to make that one happen?
Kaskade: That show came together really quickly and with a lot of work behind the scenes from my team. The location and opportunity kind of came together in a perfect storm and I had to agree to pull the trigger without knowing 100-percent how we would pull it off. It was one of the most exhilarating performances of my career, though, and who would have ever guessed I would say that, playing to a live audience of zero?
DJ Times: Your drive-in shows sold out almost instantly. How was it going from a sea of people to a parking lot filled with cars and cheers turned to honks? Did it take a while to get used to?
Kaskade: Absolutely. As I mentioned before, it’s a different vibe, and on night one I had to change what I was expecting. But I still was able to see the look in people’s eyes that light up at a certain part of a song, and certain songs hit exactly the same way. It was different, but not worse or better. I’m down to have new experiences, and this was definitely new.
DJ Times: While we are still ways away, how do you envision clubs and festivals will adapt or evolve once it is safe for large social gatherings to take place again?
Kaskade: It’s just so difficult to say. I do think we are all more mindful of the way we interact with each other. I think that will hold over. I understand that people want to get “back to normal,” but I think we have had a re-wiring and that there will be adjustments. Hopefully, better safety protocols with health and hygiene, which, let’s face it, was never a strong suit in nightlife. I’m guessing we’ll get back shoulder-to-shoulder, but maybe not so much on top of each other.
DJ Times: One of the industries that has thrived during the pandemic has been gaming, and you are now part of the Rocket League soundtrack. How did this all come together? And are you a gamer yourself?
Kaskade: I’ve always been a fan of Rocket League and Monstercat, so when they approached me about this project, I figured I could put the folding sheets, taking out the trash and surfing on hold long enough to dig into it with them. I’m absolutely a gamer, but old-school. I grew up on a strict diet of Pac-Man, Galaga and Tempest. The new games are so insanely good – the graphics just absolutely blow my mind. I really enjoy playing them, but going back to the retro games always feels best for me.
DJ Times: Monstercat has been tapped into Rocket League for quite some time now. How do you view these types of collaborations that introduce electronic-dance music to a younger, gamer demographic?
Kaskade: I love it! Having a great soundtrack is a huge perk of these kind of collaborations. Monstercat is so good at curating music that goes along with the visual experience.
DJ Times: In addition to being featured in Rocket League, you got plenty of air time in Rocket League Radio’s takeover of Fortnite’s in-vehicle radio station, Radio Yonder. Will Kaskade be popping up in the gaming world more often going forward?
Kaskade: I think that’s a safe bet.
DJ Times: Your Monstercat debut EP, “Reset,” showcases your versatility as a producer. It’s really perfect for a gaming experience. How did the selection process play out when putting this one together?
Kaskade: I wanted to make sure each song expressed a different mood. Playing any video game is an exercise in whiplash. You go from feeling top-tier to wanting to throw your controller at the television. So while it’s impossible to synch up a song to fit what is happening to the player, I wanted to at least try and hit some different moods with each track.
DJ Times: What was your vision for “Miles to Go,” your recent single? It seems like a pretty relevant song to what’s going on in the world today.
Kaskade: There have been way too many world-altering, life-changing events in the past year to ignore. It doesn’t even matter what your beliefs are or what lens you’re viewing them through – your life has been changed. To ignore that as an artist is clownish. Musicians, writers, artists, we’re here to reflect back to the world what is happening at any given time. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to feel or what their experience is, but I am here to provoke a feeling. What that ends up being for any individual is very personal. “Miles to Go” is me reaching out to everyone, regardless of who they voted for, if they’re wearing a mask, if they’ve been cancelled or if they are on the moral high ground. It’s an impossible world right now and we’ve all got work to do. That’s powerful. That’s one experience that transcends everything.
DJ Times: What’s in your studio these days? Any new pieces you’ve added during quarantine?
Kaskade: I just purchased an Akai MPC Live II. I have not had an MPC in my studio in over 20 years and I thought it would be fun to go back to the basics and mess around on an MPC. I have only had it for a week, but I am loving it.
DJ Times: You managed to keep the tradition alive with a New Year’s Eve drive-in show, which was followed up by your first big release with the “Reset” EP. What can the world expect from Kaskade throughout the rest of 2021?
Kaskade: If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s not to expect anything. I have plans and then alternate plans, if those can’t happen, then alternate plans if the alternate plans can’t happen. The only safe bet is that I will continue to make and release music. Outside of that, ask your Magic 8-Ball and that answer will probably be the most reliable one you can get.
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