One year after ‘Worlds,’ Porter Robinson reflects on the album and his next steps
One year ago, Porter Robinson released his debut album Worlds, defining the intelligent new sound of the young North Carolina-based producer. It was a complete departure from his explosive 2011 EP Spitfire, which was the very first release on Skrillex’s label OWSLA. The album melded gorgeous melodies with experimental elements like duets with a Vocaloid, and the ensuing album tour was meticulously produced to bring Robinson’s vision to life.
The post-Worlds Porter seems to have an almost-precocious surety of the direction of his career, but just four years ago, the 23-year old producer wasn’t even planning to make music professionally. In an interview with Cuepoint, he noted:
“I kind of blew up when I was 18 years old on a track called ‘Say My Name,’ that went to number one on Beatport unexpectedly. I was still on track to go UNC at Chapel Hill, I had no plans to be a musician. It wasn’t even a goal of mine. Then I had this song that blew up and went viral and suddenly I found myself playing shows and having this music career.”
With the success of Spitfire, it seemed that Robinson was defining his sound as bass and electro-heavy, until his euphoric 2012 release “Language” indicated a directional shift to a lighter sound. The release of Worlds confirmed this transformation, though Robinson notes that the album was an exploration of a style that he loved rather than a response to EDM.
“After a couple of years of that, I realized that I had no plan. I wanted to have a grander vision, something that I felt like I was really fighting for and I wanted to have a real idea and be authentic. I wanted what I was doing to be really true to me and my tastes. That’s what Worlds was, me taking a break from what I was doing and doing something that was honest, authentic and real. So that’s how I ended up there. It wasn’t me trying to give the finger to EDM. It was just what I was in love with and what I wanted to write.”
The concept and sound of Worlds, along with the visual artwork drawn by the artist himself, was heavily influenced by video games. Robinson first discovered electronic music through games- – specifically, the soundtrack of Dance Dance Revolution when he was 12 years old — so their influence in his artistry cannot be overstated.
“Songs like “Sad Machine” and “Hear The Bells,” they all use what are known as soundfonts, which are essentially these low quality emulations of real instruments of harps, flutes, pianos, strings and things that don’t sound realistic. But they don’t sound 8-Bit either, like the NES, they specifically to me, dead-on like Nintendo 64 music. A lot of them are almost like emulations of the Ocarina of Time music and that’s something that for a lot of people that were kind of present for that era of video game history picked up on immediately.”
Robinson has been vocal over the past twelve months about the intentionality of each and every track on the album. The symbolism and the attention to each detail in his production process is so extensive that some elements may not even register with the average listener. One year out, however, some tracks have carried their weight in serving Robinson’s vision, while others have fallen by the wayside, like “Years of War.”
“Honestly, I just resent that song. I worked so hard on it and the longer I get away from the album, the less I like it. I have stopped playing it in my shows. I don’t know, it turned out cool. And all respects to all of my collaborators on that song — they did great, they were troopers — but just something about it. I think I worked a little too hard on it. It was just the hardest I ever worked on a song. It just kind of reminds me of frustration. I feel that some of the joy and triumphant feelings of that song don’t feel authentic to me when I listen to it, because it reminds me of so much frustration. So I don’t really play that song anymore.”
“Polygon Dust” also has been cut from Robinson’s core set, but he does have favorites on the album: “Divinity,” “Fellow Feeling,” “Sad Machine,” “Flicker,” “Sea of Voices,” and “Goodbye to a World.” After the success of Worlds, Robinson faces the new challenge of where to go next in his career. Building on top of the album’s success is what some expect of him, while others anticipate that he’ll once again pursue an entirely new musical direction. About this crossroads, Robinson comments:
“It’s so hard for me to say. I’m kind of in an inspiration rut right now. I’ve been trying to write music this year since the album came out and a lot of the time has been spent on tour. But it’s been f***ing hard! I’m not sure what I’m going to. The one thing I can guarantee is that it’s probably going to take a long time. And that’s all I can say, because I just don’t want to put out something half-baked. I don’t strike while the iron is hot and do an instant follow-up, I really just want to make it right and make it good. These are the questions that I think about all day, pull my hair out and get really frustrated about on most days.”