The Fall of the Bassnectar Empire
It was December 2015, and nearly 10,000 Bassheads were gathered inside the Hampton Coliseum in Virginia. The superfans of the massively successful DJ and bass music producer Bassnectar had come to take communion at their church, and Alexis Bowling was among them. She too had come to celebrate, but her situation was different from the majority of those present there: according to Bowling, she had been in a sexual relationship with the musician since she was 17.
Despite planning to spend the night with him, she was not backstage—their relationship was a secret. Surrounded by the rest of the crowd, she stared up at Bassnectar—real name Lorin Ashton—in awe as he played a quote from the film American Beauty (“Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it”) and played the famous rose petal visuals on the screen behind him before transitioning to a track Bowling said she sent him—a song her college dance team performed to.
According to Bowling, Ashton introduced her to the movie, which tells the story of a middle aged man who becomes sexually obsessed with a teenager, and stars Kevin Spacey, who was later accused of making sexual advances on a teenager himself. And while most in the crowd swayed in euphoria around her, blissfully unaware of the deeper meaning of that moment, she had a different experience.
“I reflect on [that] a lot and think wow that's creepy and disturbing and painful,” Bowling recalled. “It was the most isolating, terrifying, magical moment.”
According to Bowling, the first time she met Ashton was on the Las Vegas Strip, the weekend of the Electric Daisy Carnival in 2014. She said that Ashton, 36 at the time, comped her tickets to the music festival, but she was 17 and she told him she couldn’t get inside the 18-plus event. Instead, she said that he pulled her behind some bushes out of sight that night and talked to her for hours, eventually kissing her goodnight and sending her off with $300. A few weeks later, she said that Ashton flew to her home state of Kentucky. At his behest, Bowling recalls lying to her friends and family about what she was doing and tucking herself into a hotel with him in Lexington. According to Bowling, they had sex almost as soon as they got to the room and continued to over the course of the week. She said he gave her $1,600 that week. Bowling recalled Ashton coming to see her twice more that summer before she turned 18. After her birthday, she said he no longer visited her, and began flying her out to his concerts across the country.
The year prior, in 2013, another Bassnectar fan, Rachel Ramsbottom, said that she also met and had sex with Lorin Ashton when she was 17. According to Ramsbottom, they met at a hotel in Memphis, where he was headlining Beale Street Music Festival.
On April 5, Ramsbottom and Bowling filed a lawsuit against Ashton, claiming they were victims of sex trafficking and child pornography. Both say Ashton gave them cash, unsolicited, after they had sex with him and that he encouraged them to send him naked photos when they were minors.
The lawsuit also names as defendants the management and production companies Ashton worked with, Redlight Management and C3 Presents, as well as his record label, touring company, and the charity he launched, Interactive Giving Fund, claiming they “knowingly participated in or benefited from facilitating a venture that they knew, or should have known, to be engaging in sex trafficking.”
“It was abundantly clear that Bassnectar was targeting and engaging in commercial sex acts with minors and utilizing his shows and organizations to accomplish the exploitation of young girls for his own sexual gratification,” the lawsuit reads. It claims that by using the Bassnectar brand to allegedly recruit underage girls for sex, Ashton violated federal sex trafficking laws that outlaw the use of interstate commerce for that purpose.
Bowling and Ramsbottom both independently shared their stories with VICE, as well as texts and emails with Ashton that support their claims.
VICE also spoke with seven more women who were over 18 when they interacted with Ashton. Their stories mimicked Bowling and Ramsbottom’s. According to their accounts, Ashton maintained numerous secret years-long relationships with young fans, most in their early 20s or teenagers when they met. At what they say was his insistence, all kept the details of their relationship secret from their friends and family and deleted almost all of their text and email conversations with him, though some of the women shared with VICE extensive remaining emails and texts between them and Ashton that back up their accounts.
“These outrageous claims - which were clearly designed for the media, rather than for the courts - are completely without merit, and we eagerly look forward to proving so,” Mitchell Schuster, attorney for Bassnectar, wrote to VICE in response to a request for comment on the lawsuit and the statements to VICE provided by Ramsbottom and Bowling. The other defendants in the lawsuit, Redlight Management, C3 Presents and Interactive Giving Fund, did not respond to requests for comment.
Previously, a member of Ashton’s team wrote that the various claims of VICE’s sources are “baseless allegations…the overwhelming majority of which are inaccurate, misconstrued or outright false.” Over the course of the months-long investigation for this article, VICE asked for a direct interview with Ashton multiple times. The request was never granted.
All of the allegations contained in this article were presented to Bassnectar's team in writing, although they chose not to respond directly to every claim. The responses they did provide are included throughout.
Like Bowling, Ramsbottom and several other women VICE spoke with also said Ashton bonded with them over American Beauty. That includes Lauren Sarrantonio, who said she maintained a relationship with Ashton from 2015 to 2020. According to Sarrantonio, the two met when she was 21 and he was 37.
An early memory stands out for her from their relationship: when Ashton texted her the definition of the word “paracosm,” a fantasy world made up of a complex web of relationships and rules, spanning many years. In 2016, in a collaboration with the electronic music trio The Glitch Mob, Bassnectar released a song by that name.
“He constantly referred to our relationship as that, like a fantasy world,” Sarrantonio recalled.
Paracosms are traditionally imaginary or fictional. But the fantasy Ashton created as the publicly feminist Bassnectar was, according to sources who spoke to VICE, very real: a network of secret or manipulative relationships that allowed him to maintain what they called a false woke image. In order to stay in his circle, they said, they had to play by his rules.
Bassnectar performs in concert on at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2015. Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images
Over the last two decades, with Ashton at its helm, the Bassnectar fandom became a thriving counterculture community fed by booming bass music. It grew from small, dark underground music halls to the country’s most famous and massive music venues, including Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, Madison Square Garden in New York and the Hampton Coliseum in Virginia, instantly selling out multi-night shows. Being a devoted Bassnectar fan, or Basshead, came with its own dress code, etiquette and slang. For many, Bassnectar was an obsession. When Bassnectar performed at festivals, fans adorned with his logo, the bassdrop, arrived hours early at his stage, sweating in the hot sun and sitting through numerous other performances in order to secure a front row spot closest to the speakers where they could “ride the rail”—Basshead lingo for grasping the front railing for leverage to thrash aggressively to the beat. They’d compare how many shows they’d been to for bragging rights; seeing him 20, 30, even 50 times was common.
Ashton credited his childhood growing up in a hippy commune with his belief in “the beauty of community.” As a musician, he created his own hippy communes across the country, albeit temporary ones. Bassnectar stopped doing traditional tours years ago, instead creating multi-night curated events where Bassheads would converge every few months, overtaking nearby hotels and bewildering any unexpecting guests who happened to be staying there by circumstance. Seeing Bassnectar live was to experience sensory overload. Lasers bounced across every corner of the room while confetti, balloons and inflatable toys descended upon the enraptured crowd and a massive sound system delivered body-shaking, booming bass. On top of it all was Ashton, whose waist-length, black hair hung like a curtain over his face as he performed, sometimes blowing behind him with the blast of the music. When VICE wrote about him in 2014, it called him the Bass God. “Bassnectar Is Not a DJ,” the headline reads. “He’s a Movement.”
For his part, Ashton eschewed references to himself as a singular, glorious leader, instead referring to Bassnectar as a “project” or “collective” and frequently pointing out that there was a massive team behind him. His long black hair helped him stand out (and created a unique, dramatic onstage effect) but it also hid his face. That humble, shy persona only served to make his fans love him and lift him up even more.
2020 was scheduled to be an epic year for Bassnectar. Before the pandemic hit, he was slated to headline Bonnaroo Music Festival and was gearing up for the second iteration of his festival Deja Voom, an all-inclusive event at a Mexican resort where thousands of Bassheads paid thousands of dollars each, plus airfare, to head-bang on the beach. Those events were cancelled, though he released his first studio album in four years, All Colors, at the end of June. But exactly a week after the album’s release date, on July 3rd, Ashton posted to social media announcing he was stepping back from his career as Bassnectar.
In response to a request for further comment on why he stepped back from his career, a member of Ashton’s team told VICE that “while fatigue from 20 years of touring and making music as well as a desire to explore other creative avenues were the main instigators of Lorin’s desire to step back, there are also more serious factors that played a part in accelerating that timeline. For almost a decade, Lorin has been the target of coordinated attacks on his reputation and livelihood. These have been led by a few former personal acquaintances who have teamed up with other malicious actors who have been on the periphery of the Bassnectar and EDM scene at one time or another.”
The retirement was covered as a brief news item in a few music publications, including Rolling Stone, Complex and Consequence of Sound. But the true story went much deeper. According to people who knew and worked with him, the Trump-hating, feminist, Bassnectar that fans loved belied how Ashton behaved in private. Musical collaborators VICE spoke with said he frequently claimed others’ work as his own and abused his fame and power to persuade less influential artists into poor financial deals. Most of the women who VICE spoke with said they now see his actions as classic grooming behavior, steps taken intentionally to befriend a target, establish authority, lower her inhibitions, and gain her trust with the ultimate goal of sex. They recalled being drawn in by his magnetic personality and a compassionate public image that was allegedly developed, at least in part, through uncredited work from other women, creating a cycle of hypocrisy and manipulation.
What lingers is whether the community of Bassheads that lifted him up, then turned on him when his behavior came to light, will carry on without him.
Ashton’s retirement announcement followed a dramatic five days that upended the Bassnectar world. On June 28, the Instagram account @evidenceagainstbassnectar launched, sharing dozens of posts accusing Ashton of problematic behavior, allegedly both from young female fans and professional collaborators, which the lawsuit cites as a source of allegations against Ashton.
Bowling shared with VICE an email that Ashton allegedly sent her on June 29th: “please everyone is spreading lies about me. please i need your help so bad. please on a human level, please have mercy on me…there are demonstrably fake allegations! they are lies. i can tell you exactly what happened, we have everything proven and this is awful! i don’t want to have my life ruined and never be able to do anything normal, never do anything good for the world, i will literally have to die.” Ashton’s team did not respond directly to a question from VICE about the email.
Bowling said she never replied to it, but the two had spoken earlier that month. She recalled Ashton telling her he was looking up his high school teacher and saw that there were sexual allegations against the teacher for being with a 17-year-old student. “I would never want you to think that about us, I love you forever,” Bowling remembered Ashton telling her. The lawsuit details the incident and describes it “an attempt to maintain Alexis’s loyalty and prevent her from speaking out against his unlawful conduct.”
On June 30th, Ashton posted a vague statement that seemed to obliquely reference @evidenceagainstbassnectar, writing that “Since my own romantic relationships and interactions have been positive, consensual, legal, and loving, I enjoy staying in touch and maintaining friendships” and adding that, “Availability is the key to accountability so I have been taking time to reach out and check in with people from my past. One person felt very concerned about the danger of any high-profile man having a relationship with a female fan because of the potential unintended harm it could cause. I learned that due to a power imbalance, what could seem right in the moment could easily be reconsidered later, and there was a risk of harm.” He claimed to be “opening my communication to people from my past with whom I had an intimate relationship.”
“…if you are a man in a position of power, I want to encourage you to take an honest look at yourself, be open to learning from your mistakes, and how you can take accountability for them…” he wrote.
Lauren Sarrantonio, whose relationship with him had slowed by that point, also remembered hearing from Ashton in late June. On the same day the @evidenceagainstbassnectar Instagram account launched, she said he emailed her asking her to look over two essays he hoped to eventually share, titled “essay on privilege,” and “stalker trauma,” which she shared with VICE. In the latter, he wrote about the so-called stalkers he said were behind the stories about him circulating online. In the former, Ashton effused on his self-described socio-economic, white, male and celebrity privilege. There “is an entire culture of female empowerment which MUST be actively supported, celebrated and nurtured,” he wrote. “I believe I need to be humble, open to admitting my mistakes and learning how to take responsibility anywhere I can to do better.” Ashton and his team did not respond to a request for comment from VICE on the essays.
“I wasn’t under the age of consent, but I was still naive in many ways. He had so much status over me…I really trusted what he had to tell me.”
Instead of helping him edit his accounts, Sarrantonio, now 27, decided to write and publish her own on Tumblr. Her story began in 2011, while she was still in high school, when she became a devout Basshead after Ashton sent a heartfelt letter to her friend group after one of their friends died. (Excerpts from his letter are in their yearbook.) According to Sarrantonio, they began DMing on Twitter when she was 19, and then, two years later, in May of 2015, she met Ashton backstage at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. Sarrantonio recalled being selected for a meet and greet after posting a selfie on Twitter. “Immediately I got this sense of, he’s treating me differently,” she said. “I believe he was targeting me.”
According to Sarrantonio, when she DM’d Ashton on Twitter to thank him, he remembered her and gave her his email address. The relationship escalated quickly to long phone conversations and lengthy emails, she recalled, and he told her he was surprised to learn she was 21 because she looked younger. “A lot of the relationship consisted of him being my life coach,” she said, a sentiment echoed in various forms by all of the women VICE spoke with. “His advice was such parental advice.”
Sarrantonio said Ashton convinced her to delete her social media accounts and break up with her boyfriend. She said he warned her not to trust men, that all men are unfaithful, and that he would find her unattractive if she slept with other men, even while he slept with numerous other women. She recalled him wanting to watch animal documentaries and that he’d point to the animals’ behavior on-screen to justify his belief that men are meant to have multiple sexual partners and women are only meant to have one.
Sarrantonio remembered doing what he said—even choosing her career as speech pathologist at his encouragement—because she was hoping he would enter into a committed relationship with her.
“I had such little life experience at 21. He was 37, he had far more,” she said. “I wasn’t under the age of consent, but I was still naive in many ways. He had so much status over me…I really trusted what he had to tell me.”
Sarrantonio said she denied sex with him when they first met, but they had many sexual conversations. She shared with VICE a photo of her diary, marked October 17, 2015, where she said she had copied down an email from Ashton: “I love you so much it’s loco,” he allegedly wrote. “But [I am] fucking sexually tormented by you.”
In hindsight, she said she sees his behavior as manipulation to get her to have sex, which she eventually did after about a year. “After we had sex for the first time, I remember sitting on the train ride home thinking, I don’t want to have sex with him.”
According to Sarrantonio, Ashton gave her hundreds of dollars unprompted after each of their encounters. The first time, she recalled finding the money in her backpack on the way home. She said the value went up after they became intimate. Over the course of the relationship, Sarrantonio estimated he gave her around $2,000. “I see now how it was coercion,” she said.
At Ashton’s behest, Sarrantonio recalled keeping the relationship secret from most of her closest friends and her parents, even when she flew across the country to spend weekends with him. She said they mostly used encrypted apps to text, like Wickr, which destroys messages and informs the sender if you take a screenshot. Sarrantonio said she only told one person about the relationship, her college roommate Ellie Crough. Crough confirmed to VICE that Sarrantonio left several times over the course of their senior year of college to spend weekends with Ashton, but kept the details private, only telling her friend where she was going “for safety reasons.” “She was strangely reticent and quiet about it,” Crough said.
“I think everything for him was about control and being able to isolate me was his ideal situation,” Sarrantonio said. “He kind of convinced me to leave the scene…convinced me how disgusting and horrible the shows were.” She remembered Ashton criticizing integral parts of the Bassnectar community, including the dancers that perform with light up hula hoops at shows. “He would tell me how hoopers were whores that want to hump the air.”
VICE asked Ashton for comment on all of the details of Sarrantonio’s story (and the other women interviewed) but received only a general response. “Unlike VICE, we do not believe that romantic and sexual interactions between consensual adults are the business of the public or the media,” a member of his team wrote.
Sarrantonio said she saw their relationship as special and even considered him her best friend until the @evidenceagainstbassnectar instagram account posted emails allegedly sent to a 17-year-old- Rachel Ramsbottom with eerily similar language to what he had sent her. (Ramsbottom independently shared those emails with VICE.) “Somebody commented the word ‘grooming’ and my brain exploded,” Sarrantonio said.
Sarrantonio and the other women VICE spoke with said they experienced most of the behaviors that RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) lists as the common warning signs of grooming: victim selection, isolating the victim, keeping secrets, discussion of sexual topics, and desensitization to touch. “He would hug me for three minutes straight,” Sarrantonio said.
“Grooming is about testing the waters,” said Ebonique Bethea, RAINN’s clinical director. “It’s done in a very positive way, it’s not mean or aggressive…For victims and survivors, it comes off as, ‘this person cares about me.’”
In her initial, anonymous Tumblr post, Sarrantonio called herself a “consenting adult,” but she said that after months of therapy and processing, she now sees things differently. “There was way too much power imbalance and coercion at play…Many fans dismiss my story as consensual, which just isn’t true.”
“When we’re talking about power dynamics, consent really can’t be true consent because it’s not on equal ground. It has to be an agreement that we both acknowledge what we are engaging in,” Bethea said. “Sometimes it takes years and going through the healing process, maybe working with a therapist, and the realization does come for survivors that these were abusive tactics meant to exploit and victimize.”
Although Sarrantonio was over 18, her account of her experience with Ashton otherwise mirrors what Bowling and Ramsbottom, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said they experienced. According to Ramsbottom, her relationship with Ashton began in September of 2012, her senior year of high school, after he DMed her in response to a tweet. She said they exchanged phone numbers and began talking over text and on the phone. Her statements to VICE are consistent with the allegations in the lawsuit.
“This is to me where the grooming started,” she said. “He started to isolate me from my friends and make me feel like no one around me was good for me.” Like Sarrantonio, Ramsbottom said Ashton convinced her to break up with her boyfriend.
The two were in constant communication throughout her senior year of high school, she said, and they discussed the fact that she was 17. In the alleged email that ended up on @evidenceagainstbassnectar, he asked her to write an essay for him.
“I look back a lot of the way I was thinking, it wasn’t my thought process, it was things he embedded in me,” she said. “He took a part of my life when I was really building my identity.”
According to Ramsbottom, they finally met in May of 2013, when Ashton was performing at Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis. Ramsbottom said she thought they were meeting in the hotel lobby before his set, but instead, he told her to come into the elevator where he was waiting. She said they went to his hotel room and had sex, but Ashton refused to wear a condom and she bought Plan B the next day.
“Bassnectar provided Rachel with one thousand ($1,000) dollars in mixed bills after he had sex with her,” reads the lawsuit, which details the same events she described to VICE.
“Before I walked out of the hotel room, he was like ‘hold on,’ and he reached into his backpack and handed me a thousand dollars in cash,” Ramsbottom said. “That felt like a fatherly thing to do, but looking back it was definitely hush money.”
Ramsbottom said Ashton insisted she tell no one, but she did tell a close friend in high school, Jordan Shipowitz, who VICE spoke with and corroborated the details of the story. Ramsbottom said she went to her friend’s house right after she left Ashton’s hotel room.
“[Rachel] put down a stack of cash, she was like, ‘He told me this is to help me. He wants me to be successful,’” Shipowitz said. “We were high school kids, not knowing how to contextualize it.”
In Tennessee, the age of consent is 18 years old, which means that individuals 17 or younger are not legally able to consent to sexual activity (unless their partner is less than four years older). According to Ramsbottom, she met up with Ashton again after his performance and they had sex and he gave her wine. When she turned 18 at the end of that same month, he came back to Tennessee to visit her, she recalled, and they stayed at a hotel together in Nashville.
“I was living a double life of being a college kid and dating this superstar.”
According to the lawsuit, “during this time, Bassnectar required Rachel to hide when room service arrived and became angry when Rachel answered the phone.”
“It felt like he had me on lockdown,” she told VICE.
Like Sarrantonio, Ramsbottom said they watched animal documentaries together and slept in separate beds. (A former Bassnectar employee of several years, Ezra—whose name has been changed because of fear of retribution in the music industry—confirmed that it was common knowledge on the team that they would book rooms with two beds for Ashton while traveling, one presumably for a woman he would have over.)
Ramsbottom said Ashton came to see her again that summer in Tennessee, but she had started to become disillusioned by him, especially the rule that he was allowed to have other intimate relationships but she was not.
“Rachel has suffered substantial physical and psychological injuries and emotional distress as a result of being sexually abused, exploited and trafficked,” the lawsuit claims.
They had a conversation in the summer of 2019. “I told him how I felt and wanted to give him the opportunity to take accountability,” she said. “Everything I said he gaslighted me again; I remember hanging up the phone feeling defeated and confused.”
Alexis Bowling described a similar start to her relationship with Ashton as Ramsbottom; her statements to VICE are consistent with the allegations in the lawsuit. On her 17th birthday, in August 2013, Bowling said she tweeted at Bassnectar asking for a birthday wish. She had been a fan of his since middle school. Bowling said he replied to her with a DM and the conversation eventually moved to email. She said he offered her and a friend free entry to Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas.
“He said to tell everyone that I won them in a contest,” she recalled. “I agreed to that. I begged my mom into letting me go to this show that I had won tickets to, so off I went.”
When she arrived and realized the event was 18 and up, Bowling said she called Ashton for help and he told her he'd see if he could find a way to get her in. He didn’t, but instead offered to meet up with her, she said. According to Bowling, they met on the Las Vegas Strip
“It felt to me like falling in love,” she recalled. According to the lawsuit, Ashton “took her into the bushes and hid for approximately six (6) hours, kissing and touching Alexis.”
“When we kissed that night it was like the taste of the poisonous fruit,” she told VICE.
Bowling said Ashton was worried about her staying at a hotel with a guy friend and warned her to be careful. “Afterwards, Bassnectar paid Alexis $300 in cash,” the lawsuit claims. She told VICE he’d secretly slipped the money into her purse and she found it on the way back to her car that night.
Only a couple of weeks later, in July 2014, Bowling said Ashton flew to see her in Kentucky.
“Texting and leading up to him coming, he said, ‘You know what I’m going to do when I get there, you know what’s going to happen,’ talking me into, ‘Yes this is what I want to do,’” she said. She said she sent Ashton many naked photos of herself when she was 17 years old at his request. “Each time Bassnectar coerced Alexis, a minor, to take nude sexually explicit photos of herself and send them to him he engaged in the manufacture and possession of child pornography,” the lawsuit claims.
According to Bowling, she and Ashton had sex during his three visits that summer before she turned 18. She said they stayed twice in hotels in Kentucky, where she lived, and once over state lines, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“I thought we were going to be married,” she recalled. “I thought I was his girlfriend and he made me feel that way.”
After she turned 18 and started college, Bowling said he began paying for her to fly across the country to see him. By her count, she’s seen Bassnectar perform around 50 times, almost always without paying for a ticket. “I was living a double life of being a college kid and dating this superstar.” Bowling said that when she went to his concerts, she wouldn’t be allowed to see him until afterwards at the hotel. “That’s when it felt pretty isolating.”
Alone at the show, she remembered that he’d often give her an extra ticket to give away to someone out front. “He would tell me, ‘Find the fattest girl outside that doesn't have a ticket, find the nerdiest boy…if a beautiful girl like you gives them a ticket that will make their whole life,’” she said. “Most of the time I wouldn't give them away because I didn't know who to give it to—it put me in a weird spot.”
Even after she turned 18, Bowling said Ashton insisted she keep the relationship secret and use Wickr to text. She remembered breaking his rule to confide in a friend she met her freshman year of college, Laurel Small. Small confirmed to VICE that she attended many Bassnectar concerts with her friend for free. The details she remembered Bowling telling her about how and when she met Ashton matched Bowling’s account.
Bowling said Ashton gave her other rules to follow, too, like not wearing makeup or perfume, and she said he discouraged her from joining her college dance team. “He told me I shouldn’t get dressed up in outfits to dance for men,” she recalled. “He so carefully made it seem like he was caring.” She joined the team, despite his disapproval.
“Bassnectar dictated and controlled every aspect of Alexis’s life, telling her what she could or could not do, who she could hang out with, what she could wear,” the lawsuit claims. “Following the death of her Father, Bassnectar told Alexis that he could offer guidance and advice to Alexis like a father and do all the things a father would do for her.”
Like the other women VICE spoke with, Bowling remembered Ashton continuously warning her that men are only after sex and not to be trusted. Despite his warnings, she said she met someone she wanted to date in the spring of 2016, her sophomore year of college, and her relationship with Ashton shifted to friendship.
Bowling remembered finding out about Ashton being with other women once she started dating someone else, but she said he gave the impression that the women were closer to his age—in their late 30s or early 40s—and he said he wasn’t sexually attracted to them. She described him showing a “clear disrespect for older women,” and said they had too much baggage.
It turns out, his idea of “older” was allegedly different from her’s. At one point, she recalled that Ashton slipped and mentioned a girlfriend’s age: 26. “I was thinking, she’s not older, is this what you consider an older woman?” she said.
That woman may have been Alison Hughes, the only woman of the nine VICE spoke with that said Ashton referred to her that way. Despite her title, her experience with Ashton mirrored the experience of the others.
“He really forced himself in our lives as a mentor, a father figure,” Hughes said. “The psychological damage was there and really present.”
“It seemed almost as if he had two different personalities.”
According to Hughes, she began talking to Ashton over Twitter DMs when she was 20, in 2011. Before their relationship became serious in 2013, Hughes said she experienced the behaviors other women described: when she met up with him at Counterpoint Festival in 2012, she recalled him trying to convince her to break up with her boyfriend and giving her an oddly long hug. The similarities continued as their relationship progressed: she said he asked her to use a privacy messaging app and tried to convince her to delete her social media, which she now sees as an attempt to isolate her. She also remembers him recommending the movie American Beauty to her and them watching animal documentaries, specifically one about silverback gorillas.
“He was pointing out, ‘see look, there’s only one, they have to fight off all the other men, and they have a giant group of females,’” she said. “He was explaining to me that that was natural. It’s breaking science to force men to be with one person.”
When Ashton allegedly reached out to Hughes last summer to tell her about what he called “false stories” being shared online, he seemed to excuse his own alleged misbehavior. In a text exchange she shared with VICE, she explained to him why she saw his relationships with young fans as wrong and he replied promising to be “done” but also by listing his good deeds. “I am so sad that everything i build to try and give back to the world is being destroyed,” he wrote.
“After 25 years of Lorin working to help make the world a better place, VICE has now put him in the position of having to defend himself from baseless accusations that are neither corroborated nor supported by the evidence but appears to be based solely on the wild west of social media mobs acting as judge, jury and executioner,” a member of Ashton’s team wrote to VICE.
“If he handled this differently, I wouldn’t be here,” Hughes said. “He’s dangerous because he doesn’t see what he did was wrong.”
The pink elephants seen at Austin City Limits in 2015. Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images
When Bowling decided to anonymously share her story on the @evidenceagainstbassnectar Instagram last year, as well as finally tell her friends and family about what happened, she said she felt a huge weight being lifted.
“I got in my car and I drove around the block and just screamed to the top of my lungs. My entire body felt numb and I felt the craziest relief, like a demon ready to be let free,” she said.
Even so, most of the comments questioned her, calling her “slutty” and demanding more evidence. Ramsbottom’s anonymous post got the same type of replies, one claiming “bullshit” another calling her a “bitch.”
Ramsbottom said she knew she had the power to shift the tide of opinion by sharing a recording of a phone call between herself and Ashton. In the recording, she asks, “I didn’t know who I was, why would a 17-year-old, I was so impressionable…That is quite literally statutory rape…Is it not?” A male voice doesn’t deny the allegation, instead responding, “Here’s what I can answer. What happened with you is something I want to take accountability on any level with you. If you think it's worth me going to live forever in a Tennessee jail to be either raped or beaten to death…” “Come on, Lorin,” she replies. The lawsuit further claims that during that call, Ashton “repeatedly offered Rachel money and other benefits in an attempt to coerce her into remaining silent.” Ashton’s team told VICE that the recording was doctored and incomplete, but did not provide further evidence nor explanation.
She was right that the call would change minds. The electronic music producer and longtime Bassnectar collaborator ill.Gates, whose real name is Dylan Lane, wrote on Twitter, “I believe this is now conclusive evidence,” and later confirmed it sounded like Ashton’s voice.
“That was the moment where we all stopped and recognized that a lot of this might be true,” Ashton’s former employee Ezra said. “We heard him talking to this young woman in the exact same way that he spoke to us, and we knew how toxic and manipulative he could be…To hear that power he had turned on a young woman was chilling.”
Some Bassheads did continue to stand behind their idol; a subreddit popped up, r/supportbassnectar, which doxxed Ramsbottom, sharing a picture of her and her full name and suggested “that it would be great if…[someone] reached out to Rachel…she is convinced that she is a victim of something.” But the supporters quickly became a minority, at least among those posting online. All of the posts on the r/supportbassnectar subreddit have since been erased, replaced with just one, that reads: “F”.
This moment was a long time coming for Dave Montana Billings, 35, better known as DB Montana, and the creator of @evidenceagainstbassnectar. He said that several women had told him they were in problematic, sexual relationships with Ashton years ago. He was skeptical at first, but became motivated to do something last year. “That was just the vibe in the air,” Montana said. ”I felt like, well this is the time, I can’t turn away from it anymore.” After he created @evidenceagainstbassnectar and began posting, “an avalanche came.”
For those deep in the Bassnectar fandom, Montana is a known figure. As Bassnectar’s fame and prestige grew, Montana developed a reputation as a critic of the DJ. It’s that reputation—which Montana described as a safe space to criticize Bassnectar within a community that often held the DJ up as faultless—that he said led to him learning the women’s stories.
Montana’s recent life has not been without its own struggles. He was arrested in 2019 over a domestic dispute with his mother, though the charges were ultimately dropped. He’s struggled with prescription drug abuse, and re-entered rehab in February. He’s also derided Bassnectar on social media in ways that he said his friends understood to be jokes, but he sees now could be perceived as threatening, including posting Ashton’s alleged address and a video burning a Bassnectar shirt.
In 2014, Montana created a Facebook group called Weird Drunken Uncle as an alternative space where people in the Bassnectar community could talk freely without what he called the “toxic positivity” of the main Facebook fan group. As a former audio engineer, he said he noticed that Bassnectar tracks often included uncredited elements and samples from other artists.
“In the beginning everyone thought he was this god-like producer, and he was a workhorse making this awesome music,” Montana recalled. “I wasn’t trying to be an asshole, I wasn’t trying to ruin anyone's life or career. I was just a music nerd that understood what was going on and wanted to shed light on it.”
“It’s dance music and everybody does small samples. But this wasn’t a small sample, this was basically taking an entire segment of a song and claiming it’s yours. That was theft pure and simple. It was unbelievable to me.”
What was going on, according to several other musicians VICE spoke to working in the genre, was a pattern by Ashton of taking others’ work as his own without due credit, often from artists with significantly less power and little leverage or opportunity for recourse. The pattern spans from as early as the mid-2000s to as recently as spring of last year.
In the case of electronic music and sampling, Lane said there is an ethical code among DJs that Ashton crossed. “The etiquette is if you dig and find some forgotten band from the 70s in some moley record sleeve in the back of the record shop and it’s a crusty nugget and you change it into something completely different, [that’s OK],” Lane said. Using elements other artists have created without credit is “more like stealing,” Lane said, especially when a famous artist like Bassnectar takes from an artist in the same genre with less prestige.
In an interview with Lane, recorded in April of 2020 on his online music production mentoring community, Producer Dojo, Matthew Kratz (formerly a member of The Glitch Mob who goes by DJ name Kraddy) described working with Ashton on a song called “Snakecharmer,” released in 2005. He said in the interview that Ashton handed out CDs at Burning Man of “Snakecharmer” without Kraddy’s name on them. “That was a little bit not cool,” said Kratz. “It’s happened to me several times and Lorin’s still a friend and it’s water under the bridge,” he continued. Ashton’s team did not respond to a query from VICE about this story.
Ashton has been called out for stealing other types of art, too. In April 2016, visual artist and animator Max Hattler accused Ashton, then later sued him, for using his art during live performances without permission or payment. Ashton apologized, but called it “good exposure” for Hattler—a hypocritic position, according to some Bassheads, because Ashton repeatedly admonished fans for selling art with the bassdrop symbol without permission. The case was ultimately settled.
After Lane spoke out supporting the women anonymously sharing their stories online, the other tracks they collaborated on were scrubbed from Bassnectar’s music pages, including Spotify and YouTube. The 2013 song “Take You Down” is still available, which doesn’t credit Lane, even though he said he and Ashton worked together to create the song’s introduction. Lane alleged that Ashton asked if he could use some ideas they worked together on, but he didn’t expect Ashton to copy and paste their work into a Bassnectar track without credit. “I got pretty mad,” Lane said.
A member of the team representing Ashton did not respond directly to the allegation, but wrote that Ashton gave Lane “multiple opportunities to expose his music to the large live crowds at Bassnectar shows and the Bassnectar community as a whole. There was hope that this platform would allow ill.Gates to grow and find his own audience as a result.”
Other well-known bass music producers have alluded to the controversy in support of victims, including Peekaboo, G. Jones, and Apashe. But no male collaborators besides Lane have spoken publicly about their personal experiences. He said that his doing so is actually one more example of him being manipulated by Ashton. According to Lane, the two spoke when the @evidenceagainstbassnectar Instagram surfaced. “He was in terror,” Lane said in a podcast interview alongside fellow Bassnectar collaborator Mimi Page. “He said, ’Look, don’t tell anyone this, but I have a gun, I’m contemplating suicide.’ I one last time fell for his manipulation and came out in public and defended him.” Lane said Ashton initially told him the accusations were part of a QAnon plot against him because of his leftist politics. Ashton’s team did not respond to questions from VICE about Lane’s claims.
As more evidence came out, Lane realized that since he had already spoken out on the topic, he had the responsibility to publicly change his position in support of Ashton’s accusers. “It was like my head bouncing off the wall. I’ve been reeling ever since.”
Despite bad experiences, Lane said he ultimately benefited from what he called the “trickle down fame economics” of working with Ashton. He chalked up much of his experience to the unfortunate realities of the brutal music industry.
Jordana LeSesne, a transgender Black woman and drum & bass musician who formerly went by the DJ name 1.8.7, did not reap the same benefits of working with Ashton, she told VICE. She said that Ashton unacceptably used a portion of one of her original songs without credit or permission, then made ultimately hollow promises about how he would rectify the situation.
LeSesne initially shared her story in a Twitter thread on July 7, after learning of the other allegations against him. “I felt physically sick,” she said. “He was in power in part due to music he stole from me.”
In 2010, LeSesne recalled learning about the Bassnectar song, “Here We Go.” The title references lyrics originally rapped by MC Sphinx for LeSesne’s 1.8.7 song, “5 A.M. Rinse.”
“It’s dance music and everybody does small samples. But this wasn’t a small sample, this was basically taking an entire segment of a song and claiming it’s yours,” she said. “That was theft pure and simple. It was unbelievable to me.”
LeSesne said she spent the next four years trying to contact Ashton, but wasn’t successful until she hired an entertainment lawyer. In a 2014 letter, Janine Small, an attorney representing Ashton, wrote back to LeSesne’s lawyer: “When I spoke with Lorin about this matter, he was very excited to learn that 1.8.7 was active musically as he is a long-time fan and was hoping to get in touch directly…He also made a number of attempts to locate the owner of the original work.”
“Right from the start, I didn’t trust him; anybody who wanted to find me could find me,” LeSesne recalled. “I had a Facebook page since 2007, it’s not like I was hard to find.”
Janine Small’s letter further reads that “although we believe our client acted within his legal rights, he meant no disrespect to Ms. LeSesne in creating his new, transformative work and out of respect would very much like to work out a fair compensation agreement.”
LeSesne said Ashton ultimately paid her $5,625, supposedly calculated based on how much “Here We Go” made through streaming. A contract produced by Amorphous Music, Ashton’s record label, offered a 50/50 split on all royalties for the song going forward; LeSense said she signed the contract but never received an executed copy.
LeSesne also did not receive those royalty payments, but the two sides disagree as to why; a member of Ashton’s team told VICE LeSesne never provided the necessary tax form, while LeSesne said she did (and provided emails to VICE that show she did so in 2015). LeSesne said that after she tweeted her story last year, Ashton’s team got back in touch, and after initially refusing to provide her tax form based on a dispute around the song’s value, she again provided it. Ultimately, she said she was offered more royalty payments, but has yet to receive them.
Streaming makes very little money for artists. Platforms like Spotify and Apple Music don’t share their payouts, but averages range between a third to a half a penny per stream. Licensing, publishing, and touring make musicians significantly more, and LeSesne said calculating the song’s worth based on streams misrepresents its true value. “Here We Go,” with its gradual crescendo, massive drop and lyrics shouting the titular words, often launched Bassnectar’s shows. According to the website 808sets.com (which lists some, but not all, of Bassnectar’s tracklists), “Here We Go” was played in at least 20 performances between 2010 and 2020, and was one of the first five songs nine of those times.
“[The payment] was a pittance compared to what he took from his live gigs,” LeSesne said.
LeSesne said that throughout her experience, she never found much support from either the Bassnectar fandom or the larger music world. “The industry abandoned me,” she recalled.
Playing other artists’ songs is a regular part of every DJ’s performances. But Ashton had a habit of playing other artists’ songs to the point where they were absorbed into the Bassnectar world and became known as his tracks, which offers limited monetary benefit to the original artists. He played the song “Pink Elephants” by Daladubz so often that Bassheads have tattoos with pink elephants next to the bassdrop, and they commonly wore pink elephant costumes to shows. The website edmsauce listed “Pink Elephants'' as the first on a list of songs that are commonly credited to the wrong artists.
Lane recalled that Ashton released a Captain Hook & ill.Gates song, “Open Your Eyes'' before Lane could drop the original, ignoring Lane’s release plans. He said that a later Bassnectar remix of the track sounded almost exactly the same. Lane wrote the song as he was grieving his dog’s death, but now, he sees the song’s lyrics with the bassdrop on tattoos. “That’s not a Bassnectar song,” he said. Ashton’s team did not respond to VICE about this allegation.
In spite of this alleged mistreatment, Ashton was the epitome of “woke” in public. His Twitter stream is filled with messages of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Be Interactive, the nonprofit launched in 2018 and run by the Bassnectar team that has since rebranded as Interactive Giving Fund, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, including a grant specifically for projects that support LGBTQ rights. Fans attending his 2019 performance in Nashville, a fundraiser for Be Interactive, were encouraged to create posters in support of women’s rights.
“Bassnectar’s purported noble actions and reputation of being in service to some greater good were nothing more than a veil to mask his sinister desires and actions,” the lawsuit filed by Bowling and Ramsbottom reads.
“It seemed almost as if he had two different personalities,” his former employee Ezra recalled, who called Ashton “hyper-critical,” and said his references to Bassnectar as a “collective” or “project” rang false.
“From the outside looking in, it was really inspiring to se