Early Burner speaks to Bassnectar’s psyche & the problem with cancel culture in open letter to fans [OP-ED]
DISCLAIMER: This article touches on allegations of grooming, sex with minors, and both professional and sexual abuse. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for the recently released public record lawsuit documentation that makes allegations against Lorin Ashton for counts of sexual abuse and human trafficking. The arguments made here are based on the personal, psychological, and empathetic understandings of one (1) anonymous Reddit user about Bassnectar as a former acquaintance.
Trigger Warning: This article attempts to get into the mind of a perpetrator/abuser, but does not seek to condone Bassnectar’s actions. Like everyone, we want answers and personal accountability from Bassnectar. The arguments formed here are against (1) the oversimplification of “trial by social media jury” and (2) the conservative logic of cancel culture. These are rooted in the “double-edged sword of cancel culture,” which is well-documented across academia, journalism, and popular culture magazines (and are cited Ad nasuem in the article). This is an opinion-based piece.
As bassheads everywhere attempt to reconcile the grief from Lorin Ashton’s fall from power, many Bassnectar fans are still attempting to piece together what exactly happened between the DJ and his underage/barely legal sexual partners. For some fans, they are still in the shock and denial phase of the grieving process, others are angry and demanding justice be served, many are depressed and sulking, while some are inching closer to accepting that Bassnectar, as we know it, is gone.
Several widely-respected Bassnectar collaborators have even come forth offering fans some sort of explanation from their own positions. For ill.Gates, his 30-minute video statement showcases a range of complex emotions related to the grieving process, including depression and bargaining:
“He [Bassnectar] is not the first musician to have relationships like that, and he won’t be the last, and there are other people in society that are getting away with far, far, far worse treatment of women…there are levels to this…Lorin crossed the line, but he’s not so far on the other side of the line as some, and he did a lot of good.”
Mimi Page released an open letter in which she moves through anger (“I am processing my own feelings of anger, confusion, and disgust”) to bargaining (“because you’ve also created a lot of good in this world”) to hints of acceptance:
“While you were a part of this problem, I hold space for your healing and redemption,” Page continues in her tell-all to Bassnectar. “You can take true accountability for your actions and use this experience as a catalyst for massive change. The only way we can create actual change in this world is by living by example and being the change we need to see. Lorin, please step up.”
The two later admitted on a Mr. Bill podcast that they are in different places now and are reconciling different emotions in relation to their own healing. They describe their own twisted professional relationships with Ashton and how he manipulated and controlled them for his own financial gain, even labeling him a narcissist with a god complex.
However complicated the stages of grief may be for someone, the one thing that holds true is that everyone processes grief differently and at their own pace. Recently, an early fan of Bassnectar and late-90s/early-00s Burner came forward with a poignant open letter. Their messages weren’t directed at Ashton or even his alleged victims, however. The letter was penned to the fans who are all going through the growing pains of loss, grief, and healing.
In the rather lengthy essay, Reddit user u/lacontessavswhale speaks to some of their insights gained “over the years from being somewhat around him [Lorin Ashton], and watching his rise, and now fall.” The writer continues,
“I won’t be writing directly about his actions and the women he hurt, that’s not my place, but I have total empathy for them and support for them in their quest for healing. I’m more writing this for those who were fans, and who might be trying to figure out what the fuck just happened, reconcile this whole traumatizing experience, and get a better understanding of who this man that had such a strong effect on them actually was. None of us really know, but we can try together to learn and get a clearer picture.”– u/lacontessavswhale
Ashton hasn’t himself come forward with anything but denial in response to the multiple sexual abuse allegations made against him. If nothing else, it shows that he’s struggling through his own bit of grief, outrage, estrangement, and an entire range of other conflicted, lower level emotions. Imagine holding one’s self up as beacon of love and light and being forced to face how you were grooming, gaslighting, and psychologically manipulating young, impressionable women.
“I never imagined how reckless and mindless and irresponsible I was abusing my power while I felt self-righteous,” Ashton even admitted in a recorded phone call between him and one of his former victims. “I thought I was a feminist, who was actually just disrespecting women.”
In the wake of all this, Bassnectar’s fans are left to piece together the fallout from Ashton’s monumental downfall the only way they know how: Through stories. At best, these narratives have been triangulated, first-hand accounts from the female victims. At worst, narratives have been circulating that are littered with gaping holes, spotty hearsay rumors passed on down the ranks, and conspiracy theories about Ashton being a dark lord of mental domination.
So what is a poor Bassnectar fan to do in all this mess? Be silent and complicit? Or be vocal and punitive? Turn inward or project outward? The answer is invariably different for everyone. As many are still coming to terms with it all, and in some cases impatiently awaiting a public apology that may never come, it’s certainly a breath of fresh air to be able to hear a level-headed analysis of our community-wide struggle from a removed, former fan of Bassnectar before he was Bassnectar.
“I certainly have no horse in the race of what happens to Lorin,” the writer admits. “He made his bed and now has to lie in it. He is a human, who was exceptional, basically by definition, and failed to carry that weight in a moral way. Who knows what happens to him from here, if anything besides banishment.”
It’s especially refreshing to hear this account in a tumultuous sea of “cancel culture” outrage run amuck, where only the most derelict, infuriated voices are allowed to be heard. Where everyone else seeking answers online is labeled a “pedo sympathizer,” “rape apologist,” a “manipulated fan girl/boy,” or whatever other grotesque names the social media jury can conjure up in their game of subjugation, bullying, and public persecution.
Throughout this anonymous storyteller’s very important musings, their historical accounts of the past, and their psychoanalysis of Ashton, bassheads are given a succinct and wholistic third-person story about a man who was just that—a man.
DJ Lorin’s Rise: From Burning Man to sold-out stadiums
The writer describes DJ Lorin’s early days at Burning Man‘s El Circo camp, which was the epicenter of the west coast underground scene back at the turn of the century.
“El Circo helped launch the careers of Freq Nasty, Random Rab, Bassnectar, An-ten-nae, Neptune, Ooah, Tipper, El Papachango, Beats Antique musician Sidecar Tommy,” the writer continues, “and was also a hub where artists like Android Jones and Sequoia Emmanuelle got their foot in the door with the scene.”
Even in those early days, the writer described the El Circo community holding DJ Lorin (Bassnectar’s first alias) as a sort of priest-like figure: “A lot of the aesthetic and attitude and energy of the west coast electronic music/burner scene was really shaped and defined by the El Circo camp, and Lorin was their shamanic musical spiritual leader, and eventually the entire playa’s.”
After speaking gratuitously to Ashton’s drive, vision, humility, work ethic, passion, motivation and foresight, the writer goes onto to describe first meeting DJ Lorin after a gig in Los Angeles:
“He [Lorin Ashton] made a strong impression on me that has stayed with me. He was extremely principled and motivated. He had just chosen the name Bassnectar instead of Lorin and was laughing about how it was ironic cause he felt the first track he had put out had shitty bass.”
The writer then starts in with the “three distinct generations of die-hard fans of Lorin” as seen from their own vantage point. These entry points are where you most likely came into the timeline of Lorin Ashton’s universe all starry-eyed and inspired.
“The first generation was I believe the earliest crews from the Santa Cruz beach parties and such. The second generation, which I witnessed, were semi-affectionately nicknamed the ‘beautiful people from the future.’ These were the best dressed, hottest, wildest, most creative, rebellious, entrancing people you’d ever seen, and they all seemed to show up at Lorin’s sets and they were by equal measure amazing and kind of pretentiously annoying, but undoubtedly were at the best parties, which Lorin was invariably DJing. Most of them have since retired to Nevada City.”
The current generation of fans, as the writer refers to, is us. These are the post-EDM boom-of-2012 “rave kids” coming across all genres of dance music into Bassnectar’s spectacular wild-ride-type of events. These are the fans who packed themselves into stadiums, who yelled “say hello to the neighbors” at Red Rocks, and who pilgrimaged far-and-wide across the country to watch Bassnectar in his element.
“The third generation was I believe the ‘rave kids’ as I heard them referred to as,” the writer continues, “who started showing up in droves at festivals, and no one knew where they came from. The beautiful people from the future started to drift off, there was a sort of handoff, and it was at that point that I remember thinking that his charisma and power is not scene-specific, it jumps across generation lines, which blew my mind. Its been ongoing since then, until the end.”
Not only did Bassnectar’s powerful allure pull generations together—where wooked-out spunions could be seen head-banging alongside grey-haired hippies dressed to the nines in their tye-dye Grateful Dead tees. Bassnectar’s energy also pulled fans of trance, house, and techno who were transitioning from the commercial world of EDC Las Vegas (and the like) to the more independently-spirited Nectar events. Why? Not just because music brings people together, but because the Bassnectar energy held up love and acceptance at its pearly gates.
Once inside, Bassnectar’s followers were seen touting radical inclusion, gifting, de-commodification, civic responsibility, communal effort, leaving no trace, etc.—all the stuff of Burning Man’s ten principles. There’s no denying that Bassnectar took everything he learned while out on the playa and channeled it into creating his very own temporary/pop-up oases of sound system culture.
Indeed, there was an intergenerational shift in the third-wave of Bassnectar fans that the writer doesn’t even touch upon. The shift occurred somewhere in the mid-to-late-2010s when Ashton’s crowd went from predominately Kandi-toting PLUR kids to artistic-minded, politically-active consumers decked out in pashminas and a crown of hatpins (the “moths” as they would jokingly become referred to). These were often the entrepreneurs and self-starters who would quit their day jobs and pursue heady art full-time in order to pay for traveling the country for every Bassnectar event. Still, the foundational ideals of Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect were the centerpieces to any given Bassnectar event.
So where did this all go in 2020? Well, for one, Coronavirus robbed everyone of the feeling of being present with one another, which created the perfect breeding ground for the sort of cancel culture rampage that led to Bassnectar’s fall. After all, the stories of sexual assault were circulating for years, desperately attempting to find their way into the mainstream consciousness—only we were either too elated from Bassnectar shows to pay them any mind or too far under Lorin’s spell to care.
If anything, a positive to come of Ashton’s fall is how so many have learned not to idolize someone to the point where we become blind to their darkness. Perhaps we’re the ones to blame for placing the man on a pedestal so impossibly high that it created an ego-trap for his ultimate demise. This is exactly what the writer gets at in their letter, and they have a very powerful way of putting fans in the head of a deluded leader whose power begins to run amuck.
“[Now] imagine that you, a normal person, are also extremely driven, a borderline control freak with an overpowering vision, massively worshipped for two decades, and have literally no checks or balances on your power, and watch where your natural tendencies to compartmentalize and rationalize turbo-boosted by the force of fame lead: madness, cognitive dissonance, and the inevitable exploitation of others. You won’t mean harm. You won’t even be able to conceive of how your actions might cause harm. You will be so entitled and protected by money, fame, and adoration that you will be literally unable to see it. Until that is you are made to see it. And then it’s too late for everyone involved.”
Bassnectar’s fall: The cult of celebrity & the problem of cancel culture
As bassheads continue to deal with the loss of Bassnectar the artist, many sit staunchly on two sides of the aisle. Some hold the very basic belief that Lorin Ashton is human—and by way of his own humanity—is someone who is imperfect, who is hypocritical, and who makes mistakes. For others, Ashton is seen equally as a hypocrite, but someone that deserves shame, smite, and public ridicule; someone who should be demoralized, dehumanized, banished, and cast out for his unforgivable actions. When it comes to the “cancel culture” that ultimately brought about Ashton’s public reckoning, this is where the line has been drawn in the sand.
Despite the deep division, the rift is narrowing over time and what everyone can agree on at this point seems threefold: First, that the fan community at large held Ashton up as a Godlike figure, idolized and adored for his politics of positivity, messages of love, and ideals that he ultimately could not live up to in his personal life. Second, because actions speak louder than words, Ashton needs to come forth and publicly apologize so that mass healing can begin. Third, we have the overwhelming ethical duty to stand with the victims who’ve been physically, psychologically, and financially damaged for years and will continue to be for years to come.
In any case, the Bassnectar community remains divided on the issue not because we can’t agree that the way Ashton behaved was wrong, immoral, and unethical, but because we’re collectively seeking answers that no one—not even Lorin—has the answers to. To add fuel to that fire, we’ve all been robbed of a central figurehead to unite us in the power of music—that irresistible, ethereal force that transcends all difference and disagreement—and we’re all sort of left in “no man’s land.”
So why is everyone so divided on the issue of Aston’s ephebophilia? Why are we talking about the issue in black-and-white terms when we know the issue is not that easy? Because it has been framed on cancel culture’s moralistic terms. (Read more here on the psychology of cancel culture).
Cancel culture demands a swift and sudden reckoning. The author of the Reddit post understands this on a judicial, psychological level and writes succinctly on this inherent problem with cancel culture.
Cancel culture introduces forced accountability and immediate consequences for those who the hive mind deem in violation of standards of decency. There is value in this, for sure. But I can tell you, fwiw, as it appears to my generation, cancel culture offers something that aspires to look like a complete solution, but functions much more like punitive justice.”
While the author point-blankly states that Ashton must be “100% responsible for his actions,” the author also understands the need to take the “warping effects” of power, privilege, and celebrity into account when casting out judgment. Still, they admit that these are in no way a stand-in excuse for statutory rape. Lorin Ashton’s actions fall into textbook ephebophilia, that’s not even up for debate. But, according to the author, Ashton didn’t start out this way.
“[I]t was my impression that he started out as a very real and very principled person, very genuine, and very empathetic. And I don’t believe this because he charmed me, but because he didn’t charm me. He seemed to believe in something greater than pleasing others. I think he believed in trying his best to lead others to somewhere they couldn’t see themselves.”
This was the vision of Bassnectar that many had before Lorin Ashton’s fall from grace. His journey into “idolized celebrity” status is what led Ashton to morally justify his actions—and, if nothing else, we all had a stake in making him out to be the Godlike figure that he most certainly wasn’t. We all used Bassnectar as our moral compass as if he was somehow incapable of never causing harm to others.
This is by definition “the cult of celebrity,” which is the tendency of young people to idolize and imitate the actions of the famous. The cult of celebrity, in essence, is a distraction from our own transgressions as human beings. Bassnectar knew this and used it on the quest to getting his “higher message” across, a vision which he thought no one could see as clearly as himself, and which led him into rationalizing his inapprioate (and in some cases illegal) actions.
At the risk of psycho-analyzing Bassnectar, the writer lists several key markers that created the perfect cocktail for the heavy rationalizing and compartmentalizing that Ashton used to justify his harmful behaviors:
- Ashton’s deep need for control— “which was either born of a defensive mechanism from trauma, or the raw desire to lead, or both, became malignant over time, as his environment and position enabled these desires to become neuroses.”
- When Ashton started saying that Bassnectar was a project, not a person— “was when he began to disassociate and to leave personal accountability behind. His need for control and to define what he was and what he meant to others became all-powerful.
- Ashton’s collaborative spirit was at odds with his exploitative actions— “His acknowledging the nature of collaboration, while simultaneously exhibiting unfair and exploitative business practices behind the scenes, was a symptom of a duality that had grown unchecked in his mind. The need and love for people (be with me), and what was probably a growing paranoia (get away from me), could not be reconciled.”
- Ashton even duped himself into the age-old saying, absolute power corrupts absolutely— “Absolute power, which is a product of absolute success, which is the thing this society programs us to desire at all costs, as the path to love and acceptance and greatness, will fuck your head up so quick you will have no idea what happened.”
“Punitive justice is the right of those who have the power to exercise it. But true healing comes from a far more nuanced and complex process. And it takes time, time that extends beyond the initial catharsis of justice. And you need to work to find the empathy that you were not shown. Not necessarily compassion, but empathy. If you see the person who hurt you as a one dimensional object, you are trapped in the same mindset that led them to hurt you. This cycle will not end. It is not ‘resolved’ with the cancellation.”
In a courtroom, it’s easier to give out a guilty sentence when we are made to see the perpetrator as inhuman. This is the ethical burden of the jury: to either resist dehumanizing or give into it. For the prosecutor, they’re tasked with persuading the jury to see the perpetrator as less of a human for their actions. This is how the cancel culture fanatics (perhaps subconsciously and through no fault of their own) are so hellbent on doing in the “social media courtroom.” It’s a coping mechanism to distance themselves from being fans of Bassnectar and make Ashton out to be a monster of despicable proportions when, deep down, everyone knows they loved and cared for the man. They are simply hurt by his hypocritical actions.
The cancel culture fanatics became so struck by their moral outrage and own indignant righteousness that they willfully blinded themselves from seeing all the grey areas of life. This is wherein the trap lies. There is only right versus wrong, only one guilty party and one innocent party.
Fueled by cancel culture, the social justice warrior only sees good intentions and bad intentions. However, as the old adage goes, “the road to hell was paved with good intentions.” And somewhere in between seeing their noble, justified cause as the only option, they seem to have forgotten the old saying, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
But when we try to get inside the head of a perpetrator, as many detectives and criminal defense attorneys must do, we are forced into seeing them for what they truly are. That is, human—however deluded, misguided, or evil their actions were. This is why the author attempts to get into Ashton’s psyche. This is what Mimi Page does in her “tough love” approach to “opening space” for Lorin. She does not let Ashton off the hook by any stretch. She simply creates a safe space for taking accountability, for shedding the ego, for tearing the defenses down. All the while, she conveys her hurt in a very real, very empathic way that opens her up to healing and forgiveness. She extends grace rather than pitchforks.
On the flip side, there can be no path to real healing with cancel culture. The social media witch-hunters inevitably gangs up to publicly shame the person on trial, pushing them further into defensiveness, silence, and eventually isolation. Using their logic of black-and-white absolutism, they guilt and shame the online masses into seeing the person on trial only as the perpetrator with no redeemable qualities. Succumbing to peer pressure, fans begin to bandwagon to avoid the public humiliation of the mob. By the “end” of the public reckoning, Ashton is seen as less human, made into a monster of hellish proportions, someone who must be locked up and put away for good. But there is no end, only the fallout.
The problematic nature of that punitive approach is that you’ve become the very monster you’ve sought to burn at the stake. You’ve fallen into the same trap that the perpetrator has succumbed to; and so the cycle of violence continues. “Onto the next cause!” “Onto the next cancellation,” so the social justice warrior marches. When, in reality, they never truly came to terms with the real perils of the problem.
Bassnectar’s actions are underscored by a cultural problem that cuts across genders, across industries, across borders, and governments even. It’s a problem rooted in patriarchal social conditioning that has been passed down through millennia. Furthermore, it’s entrenched in power and privilege (and so deeply rooted in this energy) that it entangles even the most sanctified social justice warrior into its chokehold. The cancel culture fanatic gets a taste of the very same power and just can’t turn back. This is how power operates.
Healing & Empathy: Anything you can feel, I can feel too
So if we are ever to heal, our grief cannot be framed in terms of “canceling” someone. To do so means simply remaining in the anger phase of the grieving process. To do so means to be stuck and emotionally stunted. To do so means to quit early before the real self-work begins.
If there is no complexity to understand in the offender, no nuance to grasp, no motivation to understand, and nothing that is worthy of anyone’s time to examine because the nature of the offender’s offenses deem them irredeemable, they are no longer human. They become an archetype, an object, a cog in a machine. A faceless soulless monster that must be destroyed, and upon being destroyed, the problem will have been solved. There is no growth, there is no insight, there is no actual learning. There is only ‘justice,’ punitive, and correctional. It is our modern prison system. This power is addictive. It is an endorphin rush. And it is its own ego trap. It sustains itself on an indefinite cycle of suffering.”
To truly move on—whether it be from a tough break-up, a job loss, a death, or in this case, the demise of a key figurehead—one must practice empathy. That is not to say one needs to sympathize with Ashton or his actions. To have sympathy for another merely says, “I see where you’re coming from, but I can’t be burdened with your pain.”
To empathize with someone’s situation goes one step further. Empathy doesn’t seek to judge someone for their actions just as it does not mean to justify their actions. Empathy isn’t black or white, good or bad… it just is. It’s unconditional. It’s both/and. Empathy exists outside of the moral boundaries of right versus wrong because there is no “versus” in the empathic. It recognizes everything, not “this” or “that.” Not you or me. It’s we.
We all have a stake in this. Anyone who ever traveled to see Bassnectar, who took the red pill and went down the rabbit hole, who believed in his message, who put money into the pockets of a man who was cheating his collaborators and grooming his fans. That’s what people are attempting to come to terms with. Admittedly, it’s hard to bring ourselves into feeling another’s pain, to subject ourselves to feeling their own self-hatred, self-loathing, or self-contempt. No one wants to feel those lower-level emotions. It’s especially hard to be empathetic to Lorin’s situation when his actions have flown in the face of the very moral code he’s set for everyone in the community. But that’s what must be done. Or else why did you chase X number of shows to see “Empathy” live? Was it only just a song to you? Was it’s message not a code for living?
Practicing empathy means we must fight our human desire to categorize and label the other. It means we try to experience the other’s reality fully—no matter how hellish or harsh or foreboding, feeling every bit of them, for better or worse. One must truly place themselves inside the person’s mind and body; feel all of their good and all of their evil; experience the disgust of their own actions with them; cry with them, laugh with them, or even laugh-cry with them.
Practicing empathy means holding space for the other. It’s what allows for a mother to look her son’s killer in the eye and say, “I forgive you.” It’s what allows for a young girl to look at her rapist in the courtroom and say, “I forgive you.” Empathy creates space for real healing, forgiveness, and love.
If you can bring yourself to empathize with Ashton’s victims, both sexual and financial, then surely you can empathize with his own twisted self-struggle. Empathy will move you beyond being either with the victims or against them. Empathy isn’t either/or because it is both either and or. Empathy helps us to see that everyone is in pain, both victim and perpetrator, both innocent bystanders and willfully ignorant fans.
Read the full letter below.
Information seeker. Dog lover. Ph.D. drop out. Avid collector of pashminas, plants, and experiences. College professor by day, EDM photographer by night.