It’s hard not to love Skrillex. The “little goblin” – as progressive house music giant Deadmau5 once called him – usually sports an all-black emo look, a hairstyle that he singlehandedly made popular, and a smile that reflects unadulterated, childlike joy.
His music mirrors his personality – carefree, hugely accessible, and for the large part, happy. So bloody happy! “I guess all that really emotional stuff in my music comes from the Disney films or Japanese Miyazaki animation movies that I draw inspiration from,” Skrillex says. “When I’m in the moment of making or playing music, it’s always about a lot of emotions, melody, intensity, visceral feelings and of joy.”
In the five years since he’s been making and playing electronic dance music (EDM), Skrillex has gathered over 4.6 million followers on Twitter and 5.77 million on Soundcloud. He’s been named MTV’s EDM Artist of the Year (2011) and won six Grammy awards. He has remixed Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and the Black Eyed Peas, collaborated with fellow EDM artist Diplo to form the act Jack Ü (the duo, along with Justin Bieber, delivered a Billboard hit called Where Are Ü Now in August), and established his own characteristic brand of hyperactive dubstep called brostep. According to a 2015 interview with American journalist Katie Couric, Skrillex’s net worth has reached $20 million.
“His fidgety sound, which veers from turbocharged disco in the Justice/Daft Punk mould to noises that take dubstep’s ‘wobble’ to an extreme that suggests Satan belching, has defined a generational moment,” says a 2011 article in The Guardian. “(He) is around 50 times more searched for on the popular online DJ store Beatport than any other producer… he is the figurehead for the current unprecedented explosion of electronic dance music into the middle American mainstream.”
The devil’s den
Purists hate Skrillex. Here’s why: Dubstep is a subgenre of EDM that originated in London in the late 1990s. It was largely underground and confined to the UK, barring the occasional mainstream artist (like Britney Spears, Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, and Yo Yo Honey Singh) who mixed dubstep sounds into their commercial numbers.
In 2010, Sonny John Moore, an American kid, pulled dubstep out from the shadows of the London underground, flung it to the top of daytime radio and pop charts in the US, made it the next big thing in dance music across the world, and became a sensation by his stage name – Skrillex.
Purists called this new post-dubstep style “lurching and aggressive”. Some fans of the original UK underground even called Skrillex a death knell for the genre. But as dubstep originator Skream diplomatically said in an interview in 2011, “You haven’t got to like his music… but there’s no reason you can’t like what he’s done – he’s smashed it… I think it hurts a lot of people over here because it’s a UK sound, but it’s been someone with influences outside the original sound that has made it a lot bigger. The bad side of that is that a lot of people will just say ‘dubstep equals Skrillex’”.
First of the year
Skrillex is no stranger to haters. He was bullied in school in California for being an emo kid. “I wasn’t afraid to express myself through different fashion or by wearing pink eyeshadow when I was young because I was into a certain kind of music,” he says. “I didn’t care, but that’s just what I went through being different.”
At 16, he learnt that he was adopted. Unhappy, he left home to travel. “I moved to a town called Valdosta, Georgia, and met a band and started playing with them,” he says. “I lived in Florida for a while [where he was lead singer for a screamo, post-hardcore band called From First To Last], then in Philadelphia. When I was 18, I travelled all over Europe by myself, met people online and started making music with them.”
Moore quit From First To Last after their second album, eventually embarking on a solo career as Skrillex. At 27 now, he’s been vocal against drugs, saying in an interview that his music is far too high energy to be enjoyable while on substances. When I ask him where all those legendary musicians who died at 27 (Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain to name a few) went wrong, Skrillex promptly replies, “Doing drugs. I don’t have those habits. Hopefully, this will be the year I either die or continue.”
Skrillex will perform as part of VH1 Supersonic Arcade in Mumbai (Oct 10) and New Delhi (Oct 11)
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From HT Brunch, October 4
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