Kaskade needs no introduction. If you’re in the slightest a fan of electronic music, you already know the heartfelt, timeless, quintessential records he comes equipped with. Hailing from Chicago originally, the Los Angeles-based producer and remixer is one of the hottest, most talented, most influential, sought-after DJs in the world—and he shows absolutely no plans of slowing down.
From the early days practicing his DJ skills in his dorm room in college to now selling out arenas and stadiums all around the world decades later, Kaskade is a true light and inspiration to all music-lovers, regardless of genre. One spin of any of his hit singles—“Room For Happiness,” “Angel On My Shoulder,” “Never Sleep Alone,” and “I Remember” alongside deadmau5—and you’re instantly transported into that time and place. Perhaps it was at a rave such as EDC, or maybe it was that unforgettable New Year’s Eve ringing in the near year with your favorite DJ… either way it’s the feeling, the emotions, the nostalgia, and the positive feelings that speak volumes to anyone who listens.
While the accolades are nice, having been nominated for a Grammy and been deemed the best DJ across multiple platforms, Kaskade’s biggest attribute is his love and desire in giving back. This year alone amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, real name Ryan Raddon has toured 10 sold-out drive-in performances across California, with a special matinee set for first responders. His virtual performances have been a saving grace for multitudes of music-lovers, even partaking in a 24-hour livestream that raised funds for mental health organizations When The Music Stops and Silentmode.
Releasing his latest singles “Flip Reset” and “Solid Ground” via Monstercat to close out the year, Kaskade readies fans for the arrival of his forthcoming EP. Flaunt caught up with Kaskade via Instagram Live, who was posted at a hangar in Los Angeles in front of his helicopter (which he flies himself). Read below as we discuss his favorite songs to drop in a set, adjusting to the pandemic, tickets selling out in seconds, how he chooses his vocalists, his epic Grand Canyon set, fatherhood, new EP, and more!
How often are you flying in the air?
I try and get up a couple times a week. With COVID, I’ve been flying a lot more. [laughs] I don’t have a job anymore so I fly, I surf, I go to the studio, write some songs.
That’s not true! You’ve been super active during COVID.
Yes I’ve done some streaming stuff, but that’s easy. Typically in a year, I’m doing 150 shows, travelling takes up so much time. Now I don’t have to travel, so I’ve got all this extra time on my hands.
Are you enjoying the livestreams?
The first 2, 3 months was this cool moment of decompression. I’d been running around like a crazy person, to stop and take a moment when the whole world’s stopping, I was okay with that. Then the anxiety sets in: oh man, are we ever going back? Is this thing going to end? Now it’s get me out of here! What the hell? I didn’t sign up for this! [laughs]
You’re one of the most influential DJs in music, did you anticipate this coming up?
I didn’t, I don’t think anyone could have. When I was coming up, there wasn’t that much opportunity. In my mind I thought it could work, I could have some success, but success to me in 2005 and in 2015 were 2 totally different things. If I could make a living making music and playing records for people, that’s really all I’m ever looking to do.
Your drive-in show at the Rose Bowl, tickets sold out in 30 seconds?
They sold out very quickly. Everyone’s like “this sucks! Bots man, bots!” These shows are actually quite small because drive-in theaters aren’t that big. My last show in LA, I had almost 40K people on the beach. 40K people in cars, that’d be 10K cars. When I put the tickets on sale, I knew it wouldn’t accommodate everybody. It’s more about keeping busy, having fun safely, and making the best of what’s going on.
How do you choose the vocalists for your music?
Most of the time, it’s incredibly random. People sending stuff to me like, “my brother’s girlfriend’s sister is a really good singer, check this out.” Oh wow she is good, I’ll check that. The first big chunk of my career, there was no money in dance music or techno. People weren’t interested so to get other artists to collaborate with you was nearly impossible, people always shrugged it off. I had to work hard and write my own songs and find people that could sing them. I was reaching out to friends, friends of friends, random acquaintances.
Skylar Gray who sings on “Room For Happiness” and a handful of other songs, she’s the first person that I really reached out to. She was coming up, she’d written that big song for Eminem, “Coming Home.” I’m like “Who’s voice is this? I have to hang out with her, get a session with her, write with her. I’ve got to sit down, pick her brain.” Not only do I love her voice, I liked what she was writing about. Everything about her, her whole vibe. I got in the studio with her and “Room For Happiness” is what came out.
Do you or do you let singers write the lyrics?
It’s not about ego. In the beginning of my career, I was doing the majority of the writing. Finn Bjarnson is a writing partner I’ve worked with for years. He’s the vocalist on “Something Something.” I met him over 20 years ago when I was banging out beats on an MPC. He said “your beats are cool, but songwriting’s cooler.” I thought, I can write songs. I can do that!
How much for a wedding reception?
[laughs] One billion dollars. I’ve played a few weddings in my day, it happens. It’s typically friends who say “oh dude, come play a few songs.” Yeah okay, of course.
What’s your favorite song to drop in a set? And what are the fans’ favorite song you drop in a set?
Good question. “Something Something Chance” all these years later, that’s still one of my favorite songs. I probably have a top 10. Every time I play “I Remember,” people melt into a puddle. That’s always cool to see, it brings back a lot. Nostalgia’s a powerful thing.
On Halloween, you created an entire drive-in show for healthcare workers. What’s your desire to give back?
I’m always trying to figure out cool ways to give back. At this particular time, everyone’s extremely grateful for all the people working on the frontlines and doing all they can. Especially the healthcare workers because they’re going through it.
When we announced it, all these healthcare workers said “hey, I can’t go. It conflicts with this.” This recurring theme we’re seeing on all the socials. Especially Twitter, I use Twitter a lot. It’s easy for me to donate my time to a show for the people on the frontlines, but what was cool was the 50 people that helped execute those shows. Even down to the waitresses, the waiters, the people keeping the place clean and running. They were all about it. “Let’s get this done, this is a great idea.” It’s cool the people spoke up and we could deliver them something. We were able to add a matinee show on that Saturday afternoon, which timing-wise worked out. “Oh my gosh this is so awesome, it’s before my shift.”
Talk about how your music touches people, exudes positivity, and is an escape almost.
Not only am I a producer, I’m a songwriter. I’m the artist, the main writer. That’s become more and more apparent over the 20 years of my music catalog, there’s certainly recurring themes. What’s been cool since dance music’s been blowing up these last few years, I’ve attracted other people with similar outlooks or influences. I have incredibly talented singers and songwriters approaching me: “I wrote this song, you’re going to love it. You need to produce it, please take a listen.” That’s such a cool thing. That means more to me than the helicopter, all the accolades, knowing that my music has reached people and that they understand what it’s about and what I’m about. My art’s a reflection of who I am, I love that it’s had a positive influence.
Do you start with the lyrics or the beat?
For the first 5 years of my career, it was much more about sound design. Sitting down at a sampler and MPC, crunching out beats because I started out more in that mindset. I was so intrigued by the sound design, it really drove me to electronic music. “This doesn’t sound like anything else out there. It’s awesome, I love house music.” It sounded new, young, fresh, and that’s what I wanted. What’s the next wave? I was listening to Kraftwerk, Art of Noise, all that early weird synth pop stuff, then I got into the Chicago stuff. I came from that direction but when the machines and the power of computing became more accessible and more economical so everyone could get into production, it was obvious to me.
I moved to San Francisco, the San Francisco scene was smashing it. 2009, 2010, everything’s happening there. I needed to set myself apart and songwriting was the way. What sticks is a good melody and poignant lyrics that are honest and true, that resonates with people. You have a hit when you couple that with something sonically that’s delicious. Sonically “I Remember” is already something you want to listen to, but if you put great lyrics that mean something and a great melody, it becomes memorable.
Any advice on performing on live? Since there’s no physical crowd, how do you deal with the distance?
It’s hard. I was streaming quite a bit. “Put the thing up, I’ma play some records.” As time went on, I didn’t need to be streaming all the time. People are exhausted and inundated with people streaming all day long, all the time. Every DJ’s got a channel and a podcast, which is cool. Good for them, people are keeping busy. After hitting it really hard in the studio for that first chunk… yeah I need a hobby. This is all I’ve been doing for 25 years. [laughs] I started surfing a lot. I got my pilot’s license last year, I started flying more.
You fly your own helicopter?
Yeah, that’s me flying. I don’t think [it’s scary]. I’m alright. I’m very, very safe. My instructor was amazing. I fly all the time so that I can be safe, I practice. Being outside, this tan’s no joke. It’s still pretty warm here in Southern California, I surf almost every day now.
Biggest piece of advice you could give to people aspiring to one day be like Kaskade?
You really need to be honest with yourself and discover what you love. What aspect of the art is it you love? Do you like sitting down and writing poetry? You’re probably a lyricist. Do you like singing? Are you a singer or a songwriter? Are you both of those things? Are you a performer? Focus on what you love, really master that part of the craft then move on. Expand the things you become good at. Don’t take no for an answer. For me, I was always willing to hustle. When everyone’s going to sleep, logging out and clocking off, done with the studio or gig, I’m staying up. I’ma finish this song, this track. Always willing to do whatever was next.
In the days of EDC whenever you did the Art Car late at night with a small audience, you always did trance right?
Trance, deep house, everyone calls things different these days, it’s hard to keep up. I like a lot of different genres and subgenres. “Where I came from, trance was always a bad word because Chicago was anti-trance. Chicago’s house music forever! Trance was this weird stuff that came from overseas so we were always like “buy locally. Support your brothers in the scene here.” I played a lot of deep house and all this smooth, ambient, chill stuff late at night, that’s always super fun.
You do a big show every New Years’ Eve, what are you most excited for performing in Norco?
Even though we’re on lockdown here in California, almost the entire state of 35 million people, I’m excited that we can safely produce this. Honestly, I can say that confidently because we’ve done 11 shows now and they’ve really went off smooth. People ask “why did you wait so late to announce?” Listen, putting something together like this and trying to make the best of a really crappy situation, being safe is really important to me, everyone on my team, and the people coming in to help produce this event.
The fact we can pull it off is a surprise. It’s happening, Norco’s right by Chino. It’s out East, by Riverside. Everyone’s like “that’s in the middle of nowhere.” Of course it’s in the middle of nowhere. Where else are you going to be able to park 700 cars, roll in some big ass speakers, have a party and people not freak out on you? I was making jokes on Twitter. Typically on New Year’s Eve, I’m in Miami, Sydney, New York, San Francisco, all these exotic locations. Now, I’m in Norco, California. [laughs]
At the beginning of this pandemic you had performed one of the most beautiful sets ever recorded at the Grand Canyon. How did you pull it off?
After I did my first few streams in my kitchen and my studio, we needed to do it somewhere exciting. What’s around here we can get to and produce something safely? We started brainstorming. First I tried to do one at Catalina Island, which is a 20-minute helicopter ride. I buzz over there and go eat lunch all the time. It’s a beautiful tiny island off the coast of Los Angeles. People who live on Catalina were like, “oh my gosh, 50K people showing up on our island. We’re in the middle of a pandemic.” Rightfully so, it’s my bad. They got a little nervous.
So we were searching for something else and someone asked “well how far away is the Grand Canyon?” Dude, I can get there in my helicopter in an hour and a half, two hours. I’ll buzz over there, that’s an amazing idea.” These guys came to us, “the Skywalk indigenous tribe are really cool with you doing this and are on board. They want to profile the Skywalk as much as possible because they want people to come back when the pandemic is over, this is a great way for people to see it.” We had to do this. It came together very, very quickly.
Who does Kaskade listen to for inspiration?
A lot of stuff from the 80’s. I’m a big new wave guy. When I’m in my comfortable space, I listen to a lot of stuff familiar to me. Part of my job is I listen to hundreds if not thousands of demos each month. I’m a big Morrissey fan, I listen to the Smiths all the time. Robert Smith, The Cure, that whole push of indie.
Talk about closing the year with “Flip Reset” featuring Australian producer WILL K.
Monstercat’s a really cool label doing interesting things in this space. They came to me years ago and said “hey we’re getting into this gaming space, we have an opportunity for you.” I love games. My label’s called Arkade, I have all these old vintage arcade games at my studio. I’m all about it.
How’s fatherhood in quarantine? Tell us about your 3 children.
Oh gosh, this might turn into a therapy session really quickly. My daughters are 11, 15, and 17. They’re teenagers in high school, they’re like “F this freaking thing! I want to rage. I hate COVID, it sucks.” No matter how many times I sit down with them politely in a very chill way: “hey, COVID’s a real thing. It’s dangerous, let’s be careful. We can’t have big parties.” They can’t hang. “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about dad! You suck!” Everybody relax, let’s bring it down. It’s very hard. They’re climbing the walls.
Are you doing homeschooling with them?
Yes of course, it freaking sucks. All teachers should get a 100% raise. My kids have been on Zoom school throughout the entire thing. My 11-year-old can hang, she hasn’t been out. She plays Roblox nonstop. Yo, is your iPad supposed to be really hot because it’s burning my hand. How many hours have you been on this thing? It’s tough, I feel bad for the kids. All the kids out there missing graduations and school dances, I’m sorry. This sucks.
What can we expect from your new EP top of the year?
Bangers! It’s very much geared towards the video game world, which is cool. “Flip Reset” I’ve been playing in my sets for a while. “Solid Ground” I only finished right before the project so I haven’t been playing it. Monstercat and Rocket League were perfect to work with because they’re very much like “hey, this is the neighborhood we’re shooting for. You live in this world, can you hit this zone?” And immediately I was like, hell yeah, that’s my sweet spot, I got that.