In June 2009, as the final traces of summer haze dipped below the walls of the Los Angeles Coliseum, Ryan Raddon knew. A message rang through from the frenetic mass of 100,000 Electric Daisy Carnival festival goers swaying below him, clear as a bell: We’ve made it. This is going to work!
Transcendence is a central theme in electronic dance music (EDM) culture, and as an artist very much at the forefront of the genre, Raddon’s revelation couldn’t have come at a more fitting time. “It was a moment for electronic music in general. They were estimating something like 40-50,000 people to attend that night and literally double that number showed up. Everyone was looking out and enjoying the moment but also thinking, ‘Wow, something special is clearly taking place right now.’ ”
As the electronic music act Kaskade, Raddon’s rising popularity has been linked in lockstep with that of the genre itself, the headwind in a formidable storm brewing just a hair’s breadth below the musical mainstream. On that warm LA night in 2009, looking out on the pulsating crowd below, Raddon, and EDM, had officially arrived.
To rewind a bit, Raddon’s entry into the burgeoning electronic music scene came at age 15, hopping the L train from his sleepy Chicago suburb (his high school was the inspiration for the John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club) into the city for early evening sets in the all-ages juice bars around town.
“The music wasn’t readily available yet,” says Raddon. “At that point you really had to search for it. You had to be going out to clubs, going to see specific DJs who were curating that kind of sound.”
Frankie Knuckles, known as the Godfather of House Music, was the resident DJ at one of these clubs, a three-story dance factory called Medusa. In an auspicious turn, the young Raddon of the ’80s, a high school chamber choir competitor who played piano and sang in church, wandered directly into the pulsing epicenter of the electronic music scene. And that was that.
“I knew I loved the music right when I heard it. I thought, ‘This is amazing! I haven’t heard anything like this.’ ”
“It was a real challenge and a hard lesson for me to learn … I get asked this question, mainly from friends, and the answer is that I’ve made it a priority that my family comes first.”
After completing his BA at the University of Utah, where his dorm room was outfitted with a turntable and thick stacks of vinyl, Raddon came to terms with the notion that his musical fixation had moved far beyond the label of “passionate hobby.” He gave in, throwing himself headlong into his mixing board, and became part of a second wave of DJs coming up in the mid-’90s electronic scene – a cohort that included Mark Farina, Derrick Carter, and DJ Colette, DJs from Chicago with whom Raddon felt a certain kinship. “I really aspired to do what they were doing. They were masters of their craft. They really understood music, they were writing interesting, intriguing stuff.”
As the new millennium rolled around and EDM teetered on the brink of the big leagues, Raddon was maintaining a taxing, 200-show-a-year touring schedule. The onset of social media, where hoards of followers track EDM artists with feverish devotion, provided the 11th-hour push the genre needed.
According to the International Music Summit’s most recent report, the electronic music industry is worth roughly $2B in North America alone. That’s around 30 percent of a global industry valued at around $6.2B. With more online streaming traffic today than country music — the de facto American music juggernaut — electronic music is finally cresting along the peak prophesied by industry insiders for more than two decades.
You will find Raddon at the helm. Voted America’s best DJ for 2011 and 2013, and at an estimated worth of $18M, Raddon is currently the seventh-highest-paid DJ worldwide. The lyrical primacy that imbues all nine of his studio albums (a holdover from early influences such as Morrissey, The Cure, and The Smiths) continues to resonate with fans and at the top of the iTunes charts. And in 2015, as the only electronic artist to grace the Coachella main stage, Kaskade’s performance drew a larger audience than record-breaking rapper and producer Drake. Those numbers, though certainly staggering to take in, didn’t seem to faze his own children.
“Surprisingly, they’re pretty stoic about it. I’ll lock up a show for 80,000 people and they’re at the side of the stage saying, ‘Yeah, that was good.’ Playing it very, very cool.”
Yes, his children. At ages 12, 10, and 6, the sight of crawling festival grounds and sold-out shows is old news to them. Raddon, 45, an icon of the electronic dance music movement — a culture known less for its wholesome image than for many, many other things — is Mormon, happily married, and a devoted father. With a travel schedule encompassing 150 shows a year, including weekly summer trips to and from Las Vegas where he is the resident DJ at both the Wynn XS Nightclub and Encore Beach Club, it’s difficult to imagine how Raddon manages.
“It was a real challenge and a hard lesson for me to learn,” Raddon acknowledges, citing the time management learning curve as among the biggest music industry obstacles he’s overcome. “I get asked this question, mainly from friends, and the answer is that I’ve made it a priority that my family comes first.”
“…the only electronic artist to grace the Coachella main stage, Kaskade’s performance drew a larger audience than record-breaking rapper and producer Drake.”
It looks like staying closer to his top priority is getting easier these days, in large part because of his newly finished recording studio in Santa Monica. Raddon worked closely with seasoned designer Chris Pelonis (think Disney and Jack White Productions) to create a space unique to his musical needs, a painstakingly nuanced task. After some 20 years “working on a laptop in my kitchen, in the spare bedroom, the back bedroom,” Raddon has outfitted a space that fits like a glove. Now he’s spending some real time in it.
It means getting to stay closer to his home in the Palisades, focusing on his ambassadorship with the nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad, throwing a few more of his small-scale Redux shows, and even carving out time to visit his own favorite LA haunts (The Misfit Restaurant + Bar). In the meantime, Kaskade’s 1 million-plus Twitter fans remain eager.
It’s been a big year for EDM. The Electric Daisy Carnival, the confetti-littered, pyrotechnic marvel that provided the backdrop for Kaskade’s watershed performance in 2009, turned 20 in June with Raddon in tow. That’s two decades in tandem now, spinning to some of the largest audiences in the music world.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be one of the leaders in an industry that has seen this huge growth. Very fortunate.”