In the world of EDM, a vast number of subgenres exist to describe the many different styles and techniques used in music, from house, to trance, to dubstep. One lesser-known subgenre that has evaded the ears of many EDM listeners is that of underground bass. Acting as a pioneering movement of the latest sound technology and explorative musical techniques, underground bass uses its experimental nature to push the boundaries of what we know as bass music utilizing the latest sound technology. Forming a tight-knit community of its listeners, underground bass has created a distinct, yet niche, subgenre of the bass scene, with artists like Abelation, MeSo, and STUCA acting as some of the leading artists in the industry. Within the interconnected community of underground bass, events are not only seen through club shows throughout the country, but more significantly through independent festivals in the middle of nowhere, often the desert or forest. These can range from kickbacks with a web of a couple hundred friends, to much larger-scale festivals, such as The Untz. In either setting, the loving, friendly, and musically passionate energy of the underground bass community thrives, as all the members come together to experience the latest experimental sounds of the bass industry.
Although the scope of the experimental sound produced by the underground bass scene has been limited in the past, this is quickly changing. As the overall EDM industry and the bigger players within it hunt for the latest sounds and artists that push the industry forward, their eyes have recently been set on that of underground bass. With both the ascension of underground bass artists into the mainstream, as well as current well-known artists transitioning to styles that reflect underground and experimental sounds, the conventional EDM industry is witnessing the movement of underground bass into the limelight of the industry. Whether it be through experimental tracks dropped on household-name mixes, or underground artists being signed to new, large, record labels, the scene of underground bass is beginning to infect and evolve the rest of the world of EDM.
To get a better understanding of this shift in the industry, we decided to sit down with Andrew Gross and Mark Raybukh, the two co-founders of Vibey Desert (FB, I, T), a festival that is pioneering the underground bass scene in Southern California. We’ll get a chance to hear both hear about who they are and how they got started in the industry, as well as their take on the trends currently happening in the bass scene.
EDM Maniac: How you originally discover the community and how did you start getting involved?
ANDREW: It was a gradual process. For me, it started with just Soundcloud hunting and finding weird creative music I had never heard of before. We went to Bass Waffles, had no idea what it was, and knew no one. And then Mark started getting more into it than me and started showing me a bunch of artists like Party Wave and stuff. We went to Lightning in a Bottle in 2019, and that for me just set it off. I saw Party Wave, Bleep Bloop, Mad Zach, all these artists. And it was like the greatest event in my life and from there I was like, boom. I just started diving in and only listening to that music and that’s really what dove me in.
MARK: For me, it was like Andrew said, kind of a gradual process. I started in the mainstream, like Coachella 2014. And then very quickly, the next year was Lightning in a Bottle. I wouldn’t consider myself this underground bass music goer. Like Andrew mentioned, it was Bass Waffles. We went to that first one together and then the more we went to these smaller shows and events we’d both eventually found ourselves in underground bass.
EDM Maniac: Going from that position, where did the idea for Vibey Desert come from?
MARK: It started as our friend’s apartment that we’d call the Vibe HQ, and then our friends had to move away, so we thought about where we all could kick it. We kind of went a different route and thought what if we all kicked it in the middle of nowhere, away from everything? Then Andrew and I quickly started checking out, what would this take? We started looking into sound systems and a generator and came to a decision that we were going to buy this and use it pretty frequently. I think the first little gathering of just our friends was maybe five or six people, and then from there we just kind of thought, what if we brought more people here. Then at the first Vibey Desert we met new people that we didn’t know before; it was just like a big kickback. We kind of spiraled from there, we just wanted to grow it and hang out with more friends; the more the merrier was kind of the idea.
ANDREW: At that point, we still weren’t underground because we were just booking anyone who DJ’d or made music, we didn’t know a lot of producers. We were going to different club venues and talking to anyone who DJ’d and asking them; do you want to be on our lineup? And it was house music and dubstep and it was just kind of whatever. We just wanted people to DJ this desert party.
EDM Maniac: What kind of movement are you guys are trying to push with Vibey, looking into the future?
ANDREW: Our goal is to become the Shambalha of the desert in California. That’s sort of a dream of ours. It’s both of our favorite music festival. We went last year and just fell in love. I mean, we love lightning in a bottle and tons of other festivals, but just the creativity of Shambhala and all the detail and the community that’s there, we just fell in love with it and we kind of want to do our own take on it in the desert. For the meantime, we just set our goals for each next event and don’t really look too far in advance. For each event that we throw, our goal is basically to double whatever we did, not just number of people, but our production value, to double the experience overall. We learn from each event and grow because neither of us have experience in throwing events. Like Mark said, just a few friends trying to find a place to hang out where we could DJ and play loud music.
MARK: Generally, our goal is to expand on the past event, but I think the movement aspect is to keep growing our community and have a community to go back to. We book artists that we listen to and just generally artists that we feel don’t get as much attention as we think they deserve.
ANDREW: It’s also to give a platform to artists that we feel are hard-working, good people and deserve a platform. And then also to build a community where people can feel loved, accepted, and not judged. Going out into the middle of nowhere really gives people that free space to escape from everything and become who they really are and really let loose.
EDM Maniac: In terms of the genre of underground bass, where do you think it’s moving towards in the future?
MARK: I think bass music as a whole is a very broad category because you know, under bass music you can have rhythm, you can have free form, you can have drum and bass. And they’re all very different. I’ve noticed just like you mentioned, that a lot more mainstream artists are playing that type of bass music. And I think it’ll always be there, and it’ll always be changing. Free form, for example, is definitely becoming way more accessible through the mainstream. For example, Bass Rush had comps with a lot of the people we’ve worked with and a lot of underground household names. And it’s very interesting to see because I think to us, insomniac and Bass Rush is recognizing and pushing that. And so I think it’s going to keep going up.
ANDREW: Also to mention is, as the experimental genre slowly makes its way into more mainstream avenues like bass rush and things like that, there’s also always going to be a vein of electronic music that’s new and not fully accepted by the mainstream audience, because in general, your average raver isn’t really there to hear the most recent sound design or the craziest sounding bass patches that they’ve ever heard before. Most of them are just there to have a good time and party, and that’s all fine and good. But there’s always going to be a vein of underground and people who are completely happy to stay there and not try to push into the more mainstream realm of EDM. But there definitely is a push recently, especially looking at Bass Rush, who kind of sets the trends for Bass music in general in the mainstream.
EDM Maniac: So, with this kind of trend in mind, how do you think your role as an event organizer plays into it?
ANDREW: Where we come in is really just taking our platform and doing what we can to push the artists that we personally love and just using whatever following we have to give a platform to the artists that we feel deserve those slots to be pushed more into the mainstream. And right now, our following isn’t huge, but we still have a platform that people look at.
MARK: I think our goal generally is to push that sound, that underground sound for as many people as possible. So basically, I think our role in regard to the underground stuff is to always push that music and grow our scene. Like Andrew said, there’s always going to be the underground, no matter how mainstream certain parts get, there is always going to be that new sound and I think our role is to push that as much as possible.
EDM Maniac: What do you think are the main forces that are pushing underground bass into the mainstream EDM scene? In your opinion, what organizers/artists/companies are the pioneers of this movement?
MARK: I don’t necessarily think any forces specifically in the underground are trying to go mainstream. I think it’s common for bigger entertainment companies and artists to look for those unheard-of sounds from the underground and support! The more this happens I believe, the more exposure that type of underground sound gets! Ultimately when it comes to underground music, I think it’s always a win when a bigger entity shows interest and supports the new sound that you are a part of, and helped curate!
EDM Maniac: What is your opinion on the movement of the underground bass scene? Do you like to see it grow and become more mainstream, or do you appreciate the small community and want to keep it that way? Based on your opinion, how do you use your position in the community to influence the direction of the genre?
ANDREW: We definitely like the small community aspect of the scene yet love growth as long as the vibes are right. Whether it be 100, 1,000 or 100,000 people, and as long as everyone attending is doing so to connect, share/experience art, and listen to some epic bass music – then we’re happy.
MARK: We feel that having a community with this type of mentality attached to the sound we push is capable of changing lives and making our world a better place. In regard to our influence on the genre, we feel that attaching the community aspect makes it more than just music/art and that is important to us.
EDM Maniac: How do you think the underground bass scene will change if the current underground style becomes mainstream?
ANDREW: This is a complex question because the word “mainstream” in the electronic music scene means different things to different people. We don’t personally predict that the experimental bass genre will ever become mainstream on the level of genres like Big Room House. We believe it will gain more traction in the dubstep community over time and will gain more popularity, but the whole idea of experimental music is to continue pushing boundaries and creating music that is not widely accepted yet by mainstream audiences.
With this information in mind, we can see how underground bass is making a movement into the mainstream community, from the perspective of insiders in the bass scene. Although the conventional EDM industry is beginning to see this trend occurring, it’s also important to note that the experimental and underground community will always exist, pushing the limits of what is achievable with bass music.
Featured photo by Zak Nordgren