Who is Sonny Moore? To most, that name means nothing. But his face, oh boy you’d recognize his face. Or the hair. At this point, even your parents might recognize the long, black, half-shaved, greasy mane on the top of his head. Yes, it’s Skrillex. But Sonny Moore wasn’t always Skrillex. Not too long ago, he was the lead singer of the post-hardcore/emo/screamo band, From First to Last, who saw a decent amount of attention and even a stint on the Warped Tour. However, after a while, and for no particular reason, Moore decided to leave. He’s been quoted saying it was simply because, “I didn’t need that, I didn’t want that, I didn’t care,” but to those who have followed Moore’s career, it’s pretty evident why he decided to leave: he had something else in mind.
These days, Moore is better known as his alter ego, Skrillex. He produces a rare form of electronic dance music (EDM), which has resulted in a heap of unanticipated attention. Just last month, the producer was nominated for five Grammys, including Best Short Form Music Video for his sinister “First Of The Year (Equinox),” and Best New Artist alongside nominees Nicki Minaj, J.Cole, and Bon Iver. If you were to view arguably his most recognizable track on YouTube, the tumultuous “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” you’d be just one out of nearly 60 million to have done the same. The other week, Kanye West tweeted “CINEMA (Skrillex Remix) is one of the greatest works of art ever made”; yes, the Kanye West. And when Facebook tallied up the most listened to songs of 2011, two out of the top 10 were, you guessed it, Skrillex’s. You get the point, this guy is huge.
So what’s his deal? Electronic music is far from new in the United States. The 90s saw a massive underground rave movement where hundreds of ecstasy-riddled teens would flock to an open field and pulsate to a steady bassline until the sun came up. Even today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any “Top 40” track that isn’t influenced by the addictive rhythm of EDM. DJ giants like David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, and newcomer Avicii have also slowly started to embed dance music into today’s “mainstream” culture. But it doesn’t take a critic to realize there’s something Skrillex is doing that’s vastly different.
As New York Magazine contributor Nitsuh Abebe put it, “Skrillex’s work, in particular, is a lot more of a pile-up.” It’s as if he simply picks the flashiest, coolest parts of several high-impact sounds, drowns them in Red Bull, and smashes them against each other — “the same way Quentin Tarantino can rifle through a dozen film genres and borrow all the best fight scenes.” His work has the ethereal build-up and persistency of techno; the glitz and glam of soulful electro; the sporadic, seizure-inducing glitchiness of LA downtempo; and the speed, endurance, and intensity of drum ‘n bass. They’re all stripped to their core, exposing only the most likeable elements, and pounded into four minutes of adrenaline-soaked ferocity. There’s no depth or intimacy, and Skrillex’s work is by no means elegant, but it’s easy to like. It’s an all-star game of electronic subgenres; one that does not require a rich knowledge of EDM to enjoy. However, even a 13-year-old middle schooler could tell you the style Skrillex borrows from the most: the oh-so-polarizing and infamous dubstep.
Dubstep was pioneered in the grainy basement clubs of London close to a decade ago and since its birth has been engulfed in endless shifts of sound, specifications, and scope. (The debate over what is and what isn’t dubstep has fueled more arguments in the EDM world than perhaps anything else.) However, one staple of dubstep that never seems to fade, and perhaps is its decisive component, is that infamous and universal “drop.” You know, that speaker shattering part of the song where rhythm is tossed aside in favor of sheer, unfiltered volume. This exaggerated and often-cartoonish aspect of dustep has caught on though, and producers have taken advantage of our feverish volume lust. Artists like Rusko and Excision have colonized a sub-subgenre of EDM sarcastically titled brostep, which is the electronic equal to death metal, suited for listeners who wish to stand behind a jet engine as it takes off, but, you know, with a glimpse of rhythm. It’s the audio equivalent of meth, with massive, massive peaks of pure unaccompanied bass. But the thing is it works; the same subconscious desire that drew hoards to festivals like Ozzfest comes alive during those drops. Listeners want intensity, and dubstep, specifically in America, has brought to light a new, cool way to experience it.
Keep in mind though that during the 90’s rave scene, and even the early 2000 club frenzy, dance music was surrounding in a fair amount of weird reservations. The poppy blips of techno which practically forced ravers to dance seemed to have a way of threatening one’s masculinity, and, after a while, EDM was seen as different, superficial, or “queer.” However, if these tracne-y swooshes are simply a lead up to something a little more destructive, it seems the majority of teenage males are okay with it. So, as dubstep artists started to push boundaries and make a conscious effort to implement new sounds into their material, it became increasing more acceptable to add a bit more musical via techno and trance influences. And Skrillex does this better than any other artist today. He’s a mash-up artist of electronic music, giving listeners the intensity of dubstep with the soul of electro, and regardless of how heavy his drops turn out to be, they’re always preceded by intricate and diverse accents. In one of his most played tunes, “Slats Slats Slats,” the build up evolves into a persistent synth-filled assembly of dance melodies lacking any sort of serious bass, but it still seems to have the same magnitude of dubstep. He’s a blender of modern EDM, and has mastered his craft to the point where each subgenre isn’t even recognizable. Whether it’s, grainy, ethereal, or wobbling, every one of his tracks has that distinctive “Skrillex sound.”
Yes, 99% of Skrillex listeners simply wish to have the durability of their eardrums tested, but it’s what they’re unaware of that makes his beats so addicting. Love him or hate him, only a true master of modern electronic music can seamlessly strip down the core elements of numerous genres, mash them together, and spit out something so unique. Next time you put on your favorite Skrillex number, disregard the drop. I know, that’s going to be hard, but pay attention to the juxtaposition of sounds: the spacey, maybe even subtle lead up to the wubwubwub underneath vocal samples spliced until they’re hardly recognizable.
Nothing is off limits with electronic music, that’s its primary beauty: anything and everything can be imagined. There is no sound that cannot be produced, no beat that cannot be tweaked or combined. Electronic music opens up so many doors, and it is Skrillex, more than any artist in recent memory, who has utilized this freedom. He has created something entirely unique, something that has been met with a ridiculous amount of attention, and something we can expect to persist in our culture.
– Wes Judd
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