Where My Head’s At: Skrillex’s mothership lays waste to the mainstage at Electric Zoo 2012
Back in 2010, post-hardcore rockstar, Sonny Moore, released a 5 track EP under the moniker Skrillex — then he gave it away for free to the world — sparking a sonic revolution that created a rift in the EDM landscape. There was no corporate entity behind him — just a kid on his laptop, making music that he liked, experimenting with new sounds. He successfully created a new subgenre, by himself, alone in his bedroom.
I don’t remember how I found Skrillex’s first EP, it was likely on one of the countless electro blogs that have come and gone since then, but from the moment I pressed play on “My Name is Skrillex” I knew that what I was hearing wasn’t going to go away. It was too robust and too unique to not explode into the forefront of the next generation of electronic dance music. The American dubstep revolution had begun, launched into the public consciousness by the most unlikely of spokesmen.
After listening to the EP on loop more times than I can remember, I searched for his manager’s email and set up an interview. The questions weren’t particularly hard hitting, and the answers were terse and reserved – testament to the inexperience of both the interviewer and interviewee. The Q&A is a unique look at Sonny Moore before he established his cult of personality, when he was still a softspoken and expressive kid who was just excited that people liked what he was doing. In the months that followed his sound exploded, and with it emerged an entirely new base of electronic music fans – fans that would act to revitalize the scene from the ground up.
The first time I saw Skrillex was in February of 2011; I only paid $1 to get into Webster Hall. The place was uncomfortably packed — a rarity at Webster back then — but the energy in the room was unlike anything I had ever experienced. And now, just one year after his infamous Webster Hall show, he would rise out of the underground and the $1 admissions to close out the largest dance music festival in New York City. Not too shabby.
As I stood there, camera in hand in the photo pit, I could see the faint shadow of Sonny on his mothership, silhouetted by the massive spotlights and LED wall that ensconced the ship’s jagged frame in a blue and yellow glow. A million dollar monstrosity from which Sonny Moore would deliver his genre-defining dubstep to a legion of die hard fans. A massive digital clock ticked in the background, accompanied by a growling bass that indicated every second as it passed. Thumping in rhythm, the speakers shook the ground. The energy in the crowd was palpable, a mass of concertgoers bouncing steadily with anticipation, all waiting for Skrillex to deliver a wall of whomping bass amidst a sea of screaming synthesizers. The low end hum continued to build — deeper as the numbers shrunk — a bright white strobe flashed and blinded me through the lens… the numbers counted down, 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… and then… silence. In an instant, the nervous tension broke, releasing an incredible tidal wave of kinetic energy as Sonny launched into “Right In.”
Skrillex – Right In (Original Mix)
The set that followed was nothing short of incredible. Each massive drop incited the crowd into a frenzy of flailing limbs and thrashing bodies, the screaming wobbles and wonky synths seemingly hypnotizing them into a primal groove. Hearing his productions on a system that large is the only way to really experience a Skrillex set. When the bass hits, it is so intense that you can feel pulses of air exploding off the speakers. In the front row, your feet rattle in your shoes as the bass groans and wobbles, vibrating your ribcage and assaulting your eardrums. It’s not a feeling that many others can deliver, and those that can do not come close to the precision with which Sonny Moore crafts his sounds.
Making his way through an eclectic catalog of tracks, Skrillex showcased the full breadth of his productions. He jumped wildly, perched atop his mothership, throwing himself around like a rag doll. His signature hair, soaked in sweat, covering half of his face. In terms of energy and stage presence, Sonny may come second only to Rusko on my personal DJ Rockstar list, both of whose stage personas evoke just as much energy as their songs. Throughout his set, he featured some inventive bootlegs; one sampling the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song and a satisfyingly unique mix of his recent Dogblood collaboration “Next Order” with Kill Frenzy’s “Booty Clap.”
Dog Blood – Next Order (Original Mix)
Not content to just deliver dubstep, Sonny featured tracks from fellow Electric Zoo performers Alvin Risk and Dillon Francis as well as “Be Faithful” by Fatman Scoop and the Crooklyn Clan. Towards the end of his set, he incorporated electronica legend Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” with his trap-influenced remix of Birdy Nam Nam’s “Goin’ In,” instantly bringing the energy in the crowd back up. That’s the power of Daft Punk: their tracks are timeless. No matter how many times you hear them, you can’t help but feel re-energized.
Birdy Nam Nam – Goin’ In (Skrillex ‘Goin’ Hard’ Remix)
Fatman Scoop feat. The Crooklyn Clan – Be Faithful
The crowd continued to jump and sway in unison, track after track, wobble after wobble — unfaltering despite their obvious exhaustion. As the final minutes of the best weekend of the year in New York ticked away, the ubiquitous “Cinema” blared from the mothership, inciting the crowd to sing along as Sonny began to wind down the festival. Before finally closing out the night with his Drum & Bass remix of “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” Sonny grabbed the mic and left the crowd with one last thank you.
“If it wasn’t for you guys this wouldn’t be here! Give yourselves a round of applause! Thank you!”
Last Sunday was the first time I had heard a Skrillex track in a very long time. It had gotten old for me, as sounds usually do, so I went about my musical journey listening to tech and deep house. I explored the underground –the Seth Troxlers and Richie Hawtins — I fell in love with its subtlety and deep grooves. But I never forgot where I came from — the dubstep-obsessed bass head who annoyed his co-workers with strange music blaring from shitty headphones.
It’s no secret, the Skrillex aesthetic is polarizing. Some believe that the brand he pushes is too mainstream, while others defend his authenticity citing his no bullshit, headphones and laptop approach to production. I side with the latter. Whether or not his style appeals to your particular tastes in no way discredits his talents. The path his career has followed is as grassroots as they come, his meteoric rise in popularity is due to the uniqueness of his sound – not some out of touch corporate overlords. His productions, rather than his persona, have always been the driving force behind his successes. He is not pop friendly, he isn’t clean-cut. He is a dubstep renegade, the Sid Vicious of the electronic age, the vo-coded voice of the new rebellious generation.