Kaskade: “I Have No Idea What the Expiration Date is on Performing”
Legendary Chicago EDM artist agrees that his genre and punk share a lot in common
By Steven Sandor | June 15, 2023
In rock music, a “supergroup” is a band that’s been formed by members of other famous bands. In the world of dance/electronic music, you can’t really come up with a more “super” collaboration than the union between legendary Chicago DJ and musician Kaskade (real name, Ryan Gary Raddon) and Toronto’s deadmau5. They’ve collaborated before, and their 2008 single “I Remember” has been called one of the best progressive house songs of all time.
In 2023, the two put out an album under the Kx5 moniker. It blasts through several electronic music styles, and isn’t easy to pin down. But, if you need an anthem for the summer, you could do a lot worse than “Bright Lights,” which may be the most euphoric track on the record.
I caught up with Kaskade to talk about aging, success and why electronic music is a lot like punk rock. He headlines the opening night of BOMFEST, June 23 at the Ice District.
Dance music has arguably become the most collaborative form of music there is, even though all music requires collaboration. How did your relationship with deadmau5 evolve? Does it go back even further than the “I Remember” collab?
I heard the song by deadmau5, “Faxing Berlin,” and it really stuck out from everything being done right then. It was around 2006, and everything right then was sort of trying to marry pop with house with techno but out of nowhere was a really beautiful Kraftwerk-ian song with no lyrics but plenty of soul that made me think, ‘Man I need to call up this deadmau5 kid and see what’s up.’ Luckily he answered that call, and the rest of the story is still being written.
“Sacrifice” (from the new Kx5 album) sounds eerily like an ode from an artist to a loved one — about what it’s like to have to choose between your art and the people who love you. My wife brought it to my attention. It opens with the line “Do I love what I do, even more than I love you? I might.” Is this something you’ve wrestled with? Or am I reading between the lines too much?
I don’t really think you can read between the lines too much when it comes to music. Whatever you think it’s about is definitely what it’s about, even if the artist meant it in a different way. Lyrics from songs aren’t dictionaries, they are put together to ping experiences people have had, they’re written in a broad way so each person can adapt it to their own experience. But “Sacrifice” certainly dials it in quite a bit lyrically — very pointedly letting a person know they’re not the most important thing in your life but that you do care about them is probably something everyone has had to do at some time. It seems to resonate with a lot of people.
As a follow-up to that question about “Sacrifice,” do you think that artists, in order to really find themselves, have to be selfish? Or is that the right word?
Sure, everyone should be “selfish” if you define it in a way of putting yourself first. Artists notoriously are pretty myopic, but that’s mostly by design by us putting all these feelings on display and then hoping people like it. But, in general, the healthiest relationships are going to only benefit from each person taking care of their own needs as best they can, as opposed to putting that on their partner. Coming into a relationship as a happy person isn’t selfish, if you think about it. Expecting a person to fill needs or deficits is way more taxing on them.
I’m 52, so I feel comfortable asking this — how long do you think you can keep doing the big shows, the big festivals? (Kaskade is also 52.) Is there a point where you try to be more choosy about the shows you do? Can you imagine DJs and dance artists becoming like the Rolling Stones, still rolling out big shows past their 70th birthdays?
I have no idea what the expiration date is on performing, but shout-out to anyone in any genre that can keep that grind going into their 70s. A luxury of being successful is being able to be more particular about shows. But that doesn’t tie back to age, it just ties into self-care. If I don’t have to rinse it out constantly, week after week, travelling on multiple airplanes and hotels, not only is it easier on my body, I genuinely enjoy it more, and the crowd, in turn, enjoys me more. So everyone wins.
I’ve always felt that dance music and its culture, at its core, shares a lot with the early days of punk music. It’s music that defies the mainstream, despite having the ability to “speak” directly to its audience, and the barrier to entry is low. Do you think that’s a crazy thought, or do you see something that’s inherently “punk” in what you do?
I love that analogy. There are a lot of threads to pull there, but the main one is that electronic dance music still — after decades of existing and being a major force in the nightlife industry, in the advertising industry, in every industry really — even after all of that it’s still considered “fringe.” Punk never really was accepted, and that’s probably what it wanted. Electronic music will maybe never get its day in the white-hot sun, but that’s OK — we prefer the night, anyway.
Is there a dream collaboration out there for you that you haven’t had the chance to realize?
I’ve said it a million times, I stick by it. If Sade ever did a vocal on a track for me, I’d probably just have to quit after that because it would be the apex.