Skrillex at Ultra 2012: A Grammy-worthy performance with bass to spare

One of the great things about Skrillex is that he just doesn’t think about boundaries or rules. He doesn’t care about minute distinctions between sub-genres; he plays whatever he wants (BPM be damned) as long as it sounds good — and he’ll sample from YouTube clips or, frankly, anywhere. As someone who spends a good deal of time working within the confines of the EDM world — “Is this track nu-disco or just classic house?” is a question I’ve actually asked while writing a song review — it is incredibly refreshing to watch Skrillex, who simply lets himself be inspired by anything and everything. His Main Stage set at Ultra last night showed just how successful this anything-goes approach can be: in his hour-long mix, he played not only his own tracks in creative new ways, but integrated hip-hop and reggae elements with great aplomb. And the packed crowd loved every minute.

After Afrojack and Shermanology left the Main Stage, the eager crowd waited 20 long minutes for Skrillex to emerge. With five minutes to go, a timer appeared on the LED screens surrounding the stage, and the anticipation became palpable as time wound down; with 15 seconds left, fans began to count down. Finally, Sonny took the stage to a reworked, drama-packed version of “Breakn’ A Sweat.” And you can bet that when that guitar-laden drop finally hit, the crowd went absolutely nuts. People weren’t just there to dance… they were there to rock out. And that’s another thing we love about Skrillex: with his head-banging, full-body style of DJing, he could never be accused of giving anything less than 100 percent onstage. He responds to the music so viscerally, so excitedly, that it’s hard not to follow suit; fans took their cues from his endless energy and went equally crazy, hair-whipping and all.

Skrillex’s set took advantage of the Main Stage’s technological capabilities, both sonically and visually. While most artists had good-looking but generic graphics flashing across the video screens while they spun, Skrillex had intricate animations and videos to match each song. A scary-sexy robot gyrated onscreen during an extended interlude that utilized only the words “Make that booty clap,” and slice-of-life clips of Skrill and famous friends aired during “Rock N Roll (Will Take You To The Mountain).” For fans who were too far away from the stage to see Skrillex himself, the fast-paced visuals offered an inspired bit of visual interest.

And as for the music… well, what can we say without gushing? Skrillex’s music of course sounds great in our headphones, but live it’s a whole different story. Sonny took full control of the crowd from the moment he began his set, and expertly controlled fans’ emotions and movements. When he jumped from the frenzied “Right on Time” to the slowed-down beginning of his “Levels” remix, the whole crowd began to slow down too, the better to belt out the latter’s infamous lyrics. And a seamless transition from “Weekends!!!” to “Rock N Roll (Will Take You To The Mountain)” not only built up the upbeat energy of both tracks, but showcased his DJing and storytelling abilities. Best of all, he dropped the famous Fatman Scoop interlude of Faith Evans’ 90s jam “Love Like This Before” in the middle of the set; it’s the kind of brilliantly unexpected stunt only Skrillex could pull off, and the crowd absolutely loved it. It was a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek respite from the wobble.

Skrillex’s music, unlike that of many other Ultra artists, is not suited for passive listening. It demands fans’ full attention and invites them along for a full-body experience. Everyone in the crowd responded differently – my arms are still sore from waving wildly above my head, for example – but, crucially, every last fan couldn’t help but move to the arresting beats coming their way. And isn’t that the whole goal of electronic dance music?

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