Keeping house music deep and touring with Pioneer
Because the term “EDM” has only recently come into common use, it’s sometimes thought the form itself is new, though its antecedents stretch back several decades—something Ryan Raddon, better known by his stage name, Kaskade, is more than willing to tell the world.
“I grew up outside of Chicago. This is where house music was born,” he says. Though house was an underground scene in much of the country, The Windy City was an exception. “In the mid- ’80s, house was being played on the radio in Chicago. It was that popular in this little area. At the time, I would go to the record store to buy music [and] buy a 12” single. That was the format back then. You could buy a cassette tape or a 12” and I thought 12” felt cool. It was big— the artwork was really big. So I took it home and started messing around on my parents’ record player, breaking it. It’s a long story to get from that point to where I’m currently at, but really, I just followed my passion and it led me here.”
Unlike many “overnight sensations,” Kaskade has taken his time to build a solid career. “For a long time it was just a hobby,” he says. “It was just me collecting records and playing them for friends. Meanwhile, like every other kid, [I was] taking a few piano lessons, taking drum lessons. I was always interested in music, but the turntables really spoke to me because it was so forward-sounding. What these guys were making with samplers and all that—I was very intrigued by the sound.” Along the way, he found a way to continue making music. “I never really had a Plan B. Not that I was saying, ‘I am determined to make it. I will be successful.’ That was never my style. I was saying, ‘You know what? I’ll figure a way out to make it work. I can always figure out something to pay rent or to make enough money to get food.’ Just some months were much harder than others.”
One key to his success has been the ability to write something that’s more than just a groove, concentrating on developing the craft of songwriting. “Listen,” he says, “this is a very novel idea in electronic music, because so much of it’s based around sound design. The craziest groove that I come up with, it’s still going to be just that—just some kind of cool groove. But really, you have something special when you take that [groove] and you marry it with a cool lyrical idea that’s going to stick in somebody’s head.”
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Kaskade takes a leisurely approach to crafting a new release. “Early on, I was producing things quicker because it’s easy to have your tricks,” he explains. “You get a template and Pro Tools and you say, ‘Okay, cool. This is what I’m doing. I’ve got this trick and all I have to do is change the chord structure and change out this kick and snare and it’s a new track.’ I think that’s a bad trap to get sucked into. Originality is always going to set you apart. You can make 50 tracks that all sound just a little bit different, and people will know you because you’re constantly putting stuff out there. But do you want to be known as that guy, or do you want to be known as somebody who puts two or three tracks out a year that sound original? I think for me, I prefer the latter.”
Having started with vinyl, Kaskade had multiple considerations when he moved to the digital world. “I’m very comfortable with the Pioneer gear. I love the 900 Nexus—I’ve been using this mixer since they introduced it. And I’ve been using the CDJ—I had the first model—the touch wheel was very different.
So I’ve been [using] these guys for a long time,” he says. “I think the reason I chose this equipment is because I learned on [Technics] 1200s. I grew up playing vinyl, so it was very comfortable to have a tactile interface and a tempo control on the side. When [Pioneer] designed these, they were meant to replace the 1200. So when they put the design together, although it looks and feels different than a 1200, it’s the closest thing to it.”
One of the major advantages of going digital is how much it’s simplified life on the road. “Now, this is my preference because it’s very quick and easy—I put stuff on an SD card, I load it up, and I know how to move. It’s similar to digging through a crate of vinyl and throwing it down,” Kaskade says, “[but] this is a lot quicker and easier. I used to have to carry around two 80- pound crates of records. Now it’s just a little SD card. I feel very comfortable on this setup.”
When it comes to studio gear, he’s comfortable exploring technological advances in the way music is produced. When asked about the switch to mobile production, Kaskade carefully qualifies his answer. “I’m in between,” he says. “Earlier on, when we didn’t have the power of the laptop, you had to be, ‘Okay, I’ve got my Akai S3000 sampler, and I’ve got my computer running Cubase.’ That’s how things were done when I first started producing records, so I feel very comfortable sitting at home in front of my production suite. Now that personal laptops are so powerful, you can do so much more. I mean, GarageBand and Ableton … Ableton’s something that I sketch out ideas in all the time. It’s a very robust program. I can import three or four different grooves, get something going, find a couple of samples, play a lead line and [have] something that I think will work later. I’ll put it away and when I go back to write an album, I’ll go back and re-visit those ideas and explore them more.
There are things, though, for which he prefers the studio. “Recording vocals on the road, I find very tricky,” he says. “I feel like I need to be sitting in one space for that process of sitting down and writing the song with somebody.” But overall, he stays with a hybrid approach to producing. “Almost this entire record was done on a Pro Tools HD Native system,” he explains, “which is incredibly powerful. I take it home and plug it into my HDX system and if I need any more plug-ins, any more power, it’s there for me. But it’s amazing how much I can get done just on the laptop.”
Although Kaskade stays on top of what’s available, he likes to keep his creative pathway relatively straightforward. “I feel it’s important for me to know what’s out there, because people are inventing new software products and hardware products that make sound design more interesting and more fun,” he explains, “so I’m always aware of what’s going on and I experiment. But right now, [my setup] is pretty stripped down, like a tiny little Akai keyboard—pop it open, punch things out—but even that can’t make it into my bag half the time. I do so much travel; the less I carry the better.”
“GOING OUT AND PLAYING IT LIVE AND HITTING THE ROAD IS PROBABLY STILL THE BEST WAY TO DO IT.”
With a career that’s straddled the transition from physical to digital media, Kaskade has a unique perspective. “It’s a very hard time to be a musician right now. I think it’s changed things so much, and I think that’s why there’s a lot of pressure for people to put [half-finished] ideas out, because they feel like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’ve got to get something out—I’ve got to put something out this week.‘ So there’s a lot of pressure to do that, which is one of the unfortunate side effects.” But he sees a bright side. “The great thing is, I can go home and have some idea that I think, ‘Hey, this is fun. I’m going to put it up on SoundCloud.’ Twenty thousand people will download it. So the instantaneous gratification outweighs a lot of the downsides of it for me personally, because I like to be able to connect with that. I think, for somebody who’s starting out right now, it presents a huge challenge. Going out and playing it live and hitting the road is probably still the best way to do it.”
With Atmosphere released in September, Kaskade will have been doing exactly that, re-energizing old fans and building new ones, playing to packed stadiums with his biggest stage show ever—doing what he’s done from the beginning, bringing his music to the crowds.