Here's a write up I did for CounterPoint Fest on Skrillex. Check out my Artist Profiles and more at counterpointfestival.com
Sonny Moore may be the most polarizing figure in the history of dance music. Back in the first breakthrough of “electronica” in the late 90’s, Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, and The Prodigy didn’t have to deal with the media machine ripping them apart every chance they got. Moby might have taken some flack for “selling out” and having tunes off his album Play used on every other commercial of the time. But Moby didn’t have to deal with the overt opinions of music bloggers and web pundits, heck, the internet was only in its gestation stages at that point. Old fogie music critics at Spin and Rolling Stone didn’t understand electronic music then, and judging by the latest stab at a dance music issue by a big music magazine, they still don’t have a clue. Nowadays every person with a YouTube account or Tumblr gets to chime in on who they love and hate. EDM has and still is a polarizing music genre, and has always had its haters that say it lacks substance and soul. And haters love to hate Sonny Moore, the man better known as Skrillex.
Sonny never really did anything to be so hated. Just 24 years old and growing up between San Fran and LA, he’s a pretty laid back Cali kinda dude. He got into punk music as a teen and fronted the band From First to Last before breaking off from them to do his own thing. In 2008 he started DJ’ing around LA going by the name Skrillex and in 2010 he put out his first EP, My Name Is Skrillex. The EP took the UK dubstep sound that was just breaking through in the states and cranked it up to 11, using video game and YouTube inspired samples to make a whirring, wobbling version of the genre. Once the buzz started swirling, he got picked up to produce an EP for another polarizing dance figure, Deadmau5, and his label mau5trap. Then it really started.
Skrillex put out the Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP towards the end of 2010. He toured relentlessly and went from playing dingy clubs to festival stages, with one of the biggest performances at Coachella in 2011. He got his songs in video games and collaborated with everyone from Lady Gaga to Korn to Kaskade. By the end of 2011, he was nominated for 5 Grammys, winning 3 of them including Best Dance Album and Best Remixed Recording for his mix of Benny Bennasi’s “Cinema.”
Skrillex collaboration with The Doors “Breakin a Sweat” for the Re:Generation Music Project
With the success of Scary Monsters came the haters and the massive attention from the global community. His seemingly overnight success and over the top take on dubstep and electro made both fans and peers pick a side. And many chose to hate. An article by The Guardian UK summed it up best, begging the question “Is Skrillex the Most Hated Man in Dubstep?” Although many dubstep producers were quick to adapt their styles to emulate his, the genre started being coined as “brostep” with its popularity among the American college set. In the process, he became a part of the American lexicon and psyche. Any hairstyle resembling his isn’t a “side shave”, it’s “Skrillex Hair”. He’s become the most blogged about dance music artist and the most meme ready with dedications like “Grillex” and one featuring his inability to fish well because he’s “always dropping the bass”. Skrillex has become a cultural phenomenon.
What most of the haters forget is that Sonny is an extremely talented musician. His complex arrangements have been broken down and given YouTube tributes in genres as diverse as metal and classical, all the while maintaining a beauty and complexity that you don’t see in today’s pop music. He has remixed some of the biggest artists in the world today, but his remixes flip the songs on their head and sound unlike anything else. He has steered away from cranking out the generic tracks produced by his peers, instead jumping between hip-hop, ragga, drum and bass, dubstep, electro, progressive, and more. In 2011 he launched his own label OWSLA, and signed some of the most envelope pushing artists out there today including Porter Robinson and Alvin Risk. His label and artists are even creating their own genres, like the pitch bending and ever evolving sound of “complextro”. He’s even being asked to produce film scores for kids movies and Hollywood blockbusters. His abilities and talent shine in his studio work, and the energy he brings as a live performer.
Video diary from Skrillex’s performance at Ultra Music Festival in Miami this past March
In the hotly debated topic of “Button Pushing” DJ’s, brought to the forefront by the now infamous Deadmau5 Rolling Stone article, my question is this: Does it really matter? I saw Skrillex play before 40,000 people at Bonnaroo a few months ago. Next to Radiohead, it was my favorite performance of the weekend. Skrillex played only his own original music, remixes, and exclusive re-edits. He probably had much of it planned ahead of time, the visuals and the light show were very intricate and intense. But that crowd went mental from the minute he emerged in his “Mothership” stage, to the minute he finished at 4am. Performers perform, whether they have music pre-produced and ready to go, or whether they are playing “live”. It is a very blurred line nowadays, so the best course of action is to appreciate it for what it is, and enjoy the performance as a whole.
Skrillex shows no sign of slowing down in 2012, he’s headlined Ultra and Bonnaroo already this year, with performances still to come at major festivals all over the world, including his current Full Flex Express Canadian tour, followed by Hard and Outside Lands in Cali, Made in America in Philly, and CounterPoint in September. Haters gonna hate, but I don’t think Skrillex cares much. He’s too busy cranking out incredible tunes and entertaining crowds around the world. Festivalgoers at CounterPoint are in for an amazing show when Sonny drops the bass.
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