The New York Times may have called him the “new face of electronic dance music” in a recent profile, but Ryan Raddon, known as Kaskade, has been in the trenches of the EDM scene as an original recording artist and in-demand DJ for more than a decade. He has released seven studio albums, including his latest, Fire & Ice, scored nine Top 10 hits on Billboard’s Hot Dance Airplay Chart, created chart-topping remixes for everyone from Lady Gaga to Beyoncé, and, in addition to appearing at all the major summer festivals, has performed between 150 and 200 headlining shows a year for the last 10 years. In doing so, he has helped to lay the groundwork for a titanic musical and cultural shift: a post-rock EDM revolution that has captured the imagination of a new generation of music lovers across North America. (Last year’s massive Electric Daisy Carnival, which Kaskade has performed at since 2007, drew 230,000 people to its main event in Las Vegas in June.)
Kaskade’s own live show is a jaw-dropping spectacle that finds him performing in front of an 80-foot wide, three-stories tall LED screen that blares images synched with the music while strobe lights scan the crowd. “I’m trying to create an environment where you can lose yourself in these really big, grand, euphoric moments,” he says. “And to do that, there has to be a certain intensity. We’re barraged with so much information in modern-day culture, thanks to the Internet, social media, texting, and television. I want people to forget their worries and cares and be able to come together and celebrate life by hearing these songs that they love, with words that have touched them in a certain way. That’s what I’m trying to do at each and every show.”
Kaskade’s belief in the transformative power of dance music to uplift thousands of people at once has had a significant effect on the U.S. scene. His ground-breaking double residency in Las Vegas at the Encore Beach Club (which had not even been built when he signed on) and Marquee has elevated the city’s status as a premiere club-going destination on par with London, Berlin, and Ibiza, while his ability to attract thousands of people to mid-week shows in the middle of the country, as well as on the coasts, is another testament to his popularity. In addition, Kaskade’s commitment to exposing Americans to EDM has paved the way for such well-established European acts as David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia to connect with Stateside audiences on a larger scale, as well as helped create a community of fans for such homegrown phenomena as Skrillex and Deadmau5, both of whom Kaskade has collaborated with over the years. “People are ready for this music,” Kaskade says. “It’s incubated long enough that the artistry and musicality is there now.”
So what has accounted for Kaskade’s current position as EDM’s most sought-after emissary (he has been named America’s No. 1 DJ by DJ Times and Pioneer DJ) and one of its most beloved figures? In addition to Raddon’s laid-back, unaffected demeanor (the former skateboarder has been known to show up at gigs in flip-flops), it all boils down to the music. “Kaskade’s signature sound is as unmistakable as it is beautiful; a combination of dewy female vocals, tough electronic underpinnings, and memorable melodies,” as Billboard magazine has put it. “The first thing I think about when I make music is the melody and the lyrics,” he says. “Production styles come and go, but good songs can stand the test of time.”
That philosophy is very much in evidence throughout Kaskade’s recorded output, which includes multiple singles, EPs, and remixes, as well as the albums It’s You, It’s Me (2003), In the Moment (2004), The Calm (2006), Here & Now (2006), Love Mysterious (2006), Strobelite Seduction (2008), Dynasty (2010), Dance.Love (2010), and 2011’s Fire & Ice, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Dance chart, No. 3 on the Independent Albums chart, and No. 17 on the Top 200 Albums chart, while the iTunes version debuted at No. 4 on the overall album chart.
The Fire disc contains ten original songs geared firmly toward the dancefloor. From lead single “Eyes,” which the BBC’s Pete Tong used to open his Essential Selection show, to “How Long” and “Llove,” Kaskade’s signature anthemic lyric-driven house is displayed at its best. His collaboration with Skrillex, “Lick It,” serves up a growling slice of electro but never retreats from the musicality and melody that underpin Kaskade’s productions, qualities that are re-affirmed on the closing track “Room For Happiness,” a collaboration with Skylar Grey. On the Ice disc, Kaskade delivers the perfect down-tempo post-club experience by remixing all ten songs. Both discs showcase the musical versatility that has characterized his work ever since he began writing his own songs.
Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, Raddon was always into music, but it was hearing New Wave bands like The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Smiths that ignited his love for melody and lyrics. He was also strongly impacted by the house music scene that had developed in Chicago. “I started taking the train into the city when I was 15 to go hear Frankie Knuckles spin at Medusa’s.” Raddon recalls. “The club scene had such a profound influence on me as a person and as an artist. It has definitely affected how my career has evolved.” In 1989, Raddon moved to Salt Lake City to attend college. He also ran a record store, and began spinning at his first weekly party, using his earnings to buy studio gear and samplers. In 2000, he and his wife moved to San Francisco where Raddon took a job in A&R at house/electronica label Om Records, which released his debut single “What I Say” in 2001.
“I became more of a songwriter after I moved to San Francisco,” Raddon says. “I saw what was happening in the scene. Up to that point electronic music was very track-based. Although I like rhythm, I felt like EDM lacked some musicality. I thought, ‘If I’m going to stand apart from what’s going on, I need to find my own pitch.” It was while performing at the Winter Music Conference in Miami, following the March 2003 release of his debut album It’s You, It’s Me, that it hit him that his own original music was connecting. “The club was packed,” he recalls. “It was the biggest gig I’d ever done and when I dropped ‘It’s You, It’s Me,’ the place went wild. I saw that this was something that went beyond me and my friends. It was the first moment that I thought I might be able to do this on a bigger scale than I had ever imagined.”
Last year, in addition to his residencies at Encore Beach Club and Marquee, Kaskade headlined the Insomniac shows Beyond Wonderland and Nocturnal Wonderland, performed at the Electric Daisy Carnival (he also appears in a documentary film about the festival that screened in movie theaters in August), and crossed over to performing for rock and hip-hop audiences, appearing at the Spotify/Facebook F8 Launch Event alongside Snoop Dogg, Jane’s Addiction, and The Killers. He sold out two nights over Halloween at New York’s hallowed rock venue Roseland Ballroom, and headlined the inaugural IDentity Festival, a 20-city tour that played to tens of thousands in amphitheaters. His star status was cemented by the mainstream media in features for Rolling Stone and The New York Times, which marveled at the near-riots that ignited after thousands showed up when Raddon Tweeted to his 92,000 followers that he’d be performing an impromptu set for the premiere of the Electric Daisy Carnival Experience film at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
“I never imagined the underground scene — house music, electronic music — going to this scale,” Kaskade says in the film. And yet it has. In 2012, he will appear at this year’s Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival festivals, for which he has special performances planned, and will hit the road in June for his biggest headlining tour ever — 70-plus North American shows in just over three months. “I learned so much from the IDentity Festival, so now I want to get out there and do it on my own,” Kaskade says. “It’s the most ambitious tour I’ve ever done, just the number of cities and the actual stage set I’m taking on the road. People who’ve seen me before will never have seen this. And for people who haven’t seen me, it’ll only enhance the experience that much more.”