Skrillex: A love for the rebellious
Single-handedly responsible for popularizing dubstep, an electronic music subgenre characterized by ricocheting drum and bass riffs (think drum ’n’ bass, only trippier), Sonny Moore (aka Skrillex) has already won six Grammys over the course of his short career. He’s currently on a summer tour in support of his new studio effort, Recess, a collection of surprisingly accessible tunes that dabble in dubstep, techno and hip-hop. He called us from his LA studio shortly before the tour started.
I heard you were in the studio late last night. What were you working on?
A lot of stuff. Finishing some stuff I have to turn in for a deadline. I was working on the Transformers movie. I have a lot of sound effects and designs. Getting ready for the tours as well. I like to remix and rework my songs and have stuff that’s unique to the live show that you can’t really hear anywhere else. Plus I just like being in the studio. My computer is essential to making records. I’m always making sounds and stuff when I’m home.
Is that the same studio you’ve had for the past couple years?
Yeah, it’s been about a year and a half.
It sounds like it’s huge. I thought I read that it’s like 11,000 square feet or something.
Well that’s a different one. I have my own. I have two condo lofts in downtown LA right next to each other and one’s a studio and one’s my home. The studio is a small office/hang place, but then I have this 11,000-square-foot thing that I bought last year. We just got the permits and all the renderings done actually last week. So, we’re just about to go into construction on these amazing studios in downtown LA as well. They’re not too far from my house, a couple miles.
I think you spent some time in San Francisco but you’ve basically grown up in LA. How do you think that that shaped your musical interest?
Oh man. That’s a good question. So much. For me it was skateboarding and hip-hop and photography and porn and punk rock—all that stuff. The attitude and the lifestyle hasn’t changed so much since I was 12 years old riding on a skateboard. It’s my dream scenario that I can have a studio with all my friends and we can just skate back and forth and have this community downtown and listen to music. To me, it always seems strange that there’s so much punk rock, especially in a place like Orange County. LA and Orange County you always think are for rich people and yet there’s this under side punk rock and people living off the streets and that kind of stuff.
There are a lot of lifestyles in LA. I think so many people come here to create their own opportunity and I think that comes from the people that are natives. I think skateboarding has a lot to do with the music as well and the whole attitude thing, you know?
Do you remember the first show you ever saw?
The first show my dad ever took me to was Metallica in 1998. That was when I was living in San Francisco. At a younger age I was more into heavy metal than punk rock. I saw bands like Machine Head, System of a Down and Slipknot. When I moved back to LA when I was 12, it was all LA street punk watching bands like the Dickeys and Dee Dee Ramone who played before he died at Troubadour. I was like 12 years old. A lot of street punk like The Casualties. That band used to play at Troubadour all the time. MTV was so good in the ’90s. You could discover so much shit. That’s when I remember seeing the Prodigy “Breathe” video. To me that was punk rock. That’s kind of how those influences crept in. And everyone that skateboarded was listening to hip-hop. That created a hybrid of all the stuff I grew up with.
The first band you played in was kind of a punk band. What was that experience like and what do you think you took with you when you started recording as Skrillex?
It’s funny because as a band and being an independent band, I worked harder than I have ever in my life, but in a different way. We were touring around in a band trailer across the US when I was 16 years old. Guarantees were 150 bucks for the night so we had to sell as much merch as we could and we were maxing our credit cards at the beginning to make it work. It was fun. That’s like growing up at its fullest just being out there. Now it’s just taking that same work ethic and applying it. Even if opportunities are bigger and even if you have more resources to do shit, you still want to work and grow. That’s why I didn’t want to have a big house in the hills yet in my life. I wanted to get a couple humble condos and spend the rest of my money to build a studio for my crew. I think it’s the same thing as creating a system and a scene that provokes creativity.
Do you think if you didn’t have problems with your throat would you have still sort of ended up doing what you’re doing with Skrillex?
I wonder if the problems with my throat were part of me wanting me to move on anyway. I don’t know what it was. It might have been both because I knew I wanted to go off and do my own thing at some point. My throat gave me a good excuse to go off and do other things. I’ve always loved producing and that sort of thing.
Recess is described as your first studio record. Is that an accurate description of it? Do you think of it that way?
That’s a good question because I don’t really know. I put so much music out. With electronic music, it’s never really about making album albums, it’s about giving people a lot of stuff over whatever period of time. Before Recess probably for me it was easy because I had full albums with stuff including singles, remixes and EPs. There’s people in the media that kind of really make a big deal about certain things and I guess it is different in a sense that it is a lot more songs that turn out at once. I’ve never felt like it was my debut album because I had so much success with my other work, not to mention doing multiple records with my other band. It just kind of feels like I’ve always been making music over the last ten years so it’s just another one for the log.
Talk a little about how you think this electronic music scene is going to evolve and change as time goes on. What do you think the future is going to be like?
Electronic music I think is going to do less of just the pure rave scene and more of a music thing. I think you’ll see more collaborations. There’s a culture there that connects things like Skrillex and A$AP Rocky and Chance The Rapper. Also you’ll see bands embracing the electronic platform as a producing tool. You know everyone is using electronics to make music. Whether it’s Arcade Fire or Foster the People or pure electronic bands—guys like Major Lazer who are taking vocals and making rave tunes out of them. It has to become more of a platform and a genre so there’s no bubble. But, until people stop buying software, there’s no electronic music bubble.