Kaskade is a name you can’t escape when talking about electronic dance music. A multiple Grammy Award nominee with 50 million Spotify streams of his latest album, 2015’s “Automatic,” a record holder for the biggest crowd draw at Coachella and one of Forbes top DJs, listed at worth more than $17 million just a few years ago — he is the Paul McCartney of EDM. Even if Sir Paul isn’t the biggest fan.
When: 9 p.m., June 16
Where: Aragon, 1106 W. Lawrence
When: 10 p.m., June 17
Where: The Mid, 306 N. Halsted
In 2015, the two had dual headlining spots at Lollapalooza, with Kaskade’s voluminous beats unintentionally interrupting McCartney’s pensive rendition of the Lennon tribute “Here Today,” leading the Beatle to have a few choice words on stage.
“For me, the fact that Paul McCartney even noticed me was pretty cool,” Kaskade, aka Ryan Raddon, says, laughing the occasion off as one of the highlights in his 20-year career. “But I can understand if you’re Paul McCartney how that would be irritating trying to have a quiet, personal moment and I’ve over there like ‘oontz oontz oontz.’”
It’s one of the biggest shifts in festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, once branded as rock productions that in recent years have exploded with more DJs and electronic talent.
“I think people are booking more electronic acts because this is the sound of today. If they didn’t do so they probably wouldn’t have a very successful festival. Or would purely be marketing it to the 40-plus crowd. It’s extremely important if you want to have a festival that’s relevant to be looking ahead at new talent and new acts,” says Raddon, himself a three-time Coachella alum and multiple Lollapalooza headliner, who will return to Grant Park in August right after he wraps up his Spring Fling Tour, stopping at Aragon June 16 (he also has a set at The Mid Club on June 17).
Raddon, too, believes there is a way EDM and rock music can co-exist into the future, seeing the positive ways the two often at-odds genres have come together. “I think with this generation now all these things co-exist. Jack U can be on the same bill as Radiohead, and people are cool with that today. You see Maroon 5 collaborating with Future and Skrillex working on an Incubus album. Several years ago the lines were blurred and now there’s not even lines,” he says. “It was so very different when I was a kid. Thirty years ago it was very difficult to even find dance music. We were hidden away in alleys and underground nightclubs, which I grew up going to.”
Before he was Kaskade, Raddon was like every other teenager living in the suburbs of Chicago. He attended Glenbrook North High School where he was involved with the choir, a “very pragmatic and conservative Midwestern boy,” raised by a financial banker. But on the weekends, Raddon would sneak away on the Metra and CTA to head into the city and stay out all day and night, picking up records at Gramaphone on Clark Street and going to teen clubs like Medusa’s and, later, Limelight. He counts local house scion Frankie Knuckles as a personal hero and references Hot Mix 5 and Julian Jumpin Perez as early inspiration.
“The first wave of house music in Chicago in the early ‘80s was hugely influential,” says the now 46-year-old who has regular residences in Las Vegas in addition to sold-out stadium tours. “It’s what encouraged me to start writing and producing my own music. Even when I sit down and work in studio now, there’s always that influence there, it’s a part of my musical DNA.”
Raddon eventually ended up moving to Salt Lake City for college. Here, he also owned a record store, Mechanized Records, with a studio in the back where he would moonlight producing tracks that eventually lead to club gigs. It’s also where he married his wife, had a family and developed a reputation for being a straight-laced performer. The Daily Beast recently ran a headline—“The Straight Edge Mormon DJ Taking Over the World”—which Raddon is fine being labeled as, even if it’s in stark contrast to the party scene of EDM.
“I mean it’s 100 percent accurate. My story is much deeper than that, but if that’s all that people know about me I’m comfortable with that,” he admits, also vocal about changing the drug culture stigma that comes along with his type of music. “I’ve always been one to speak out on this whole thing that EDM music is just a bunch of drug addicts and a fly by night kind of thing. I have always said this music will be here for a long time, and here we are 20 years later and I was right about that part. I also think that the fan base of electronic music is a lot more sophisticated and diverse that it’s been given credit for; dance music has always just been about finding solace and really just having fun and making friends.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.