Skrillex should need no introduction. Except maybe to the jaded palates of the Grapevine’s music reviewers. Skrillex has been the embodiment of the dubstep and EDM scenes for the better part of 5 years and sold a gajillion records in the process, with YouTube views nearing 200 million, in the process defining a generation of festivalgoers. While not entirely without his detractors, there’s little point in denying the influence he’s had on the scene or his flair as a producer—and considering his reputation as a live performer, his set at Sónar Reykjavík is sure to rattle some heads.
We sat down with him and had a chat about the EDM scene, his days headhunting Icelandic musicians and his hardcore punk past (and how it may have shaped the performer he is today). Check it out.
Hey, I’m grateful you were able to fit us in at the last minute like this. Am I right in thinking this your first time in Iceland?
Well I went there nine years ago. I was very young and working for a record label in A&R and there was a band called Dikta that we were looking to sign. It didn’t work out, but I went to go see them play about nine years ago. This is my first time back and my first time actually playing in Iceland.
It’s something I’ve been waiting to come back to
I know you’re a big fan of Aphex Twin and I was wondering if you had checked out the Soundcloud user account they’re attributing to Aphex. Seems to be a bunch of early demos.
Yeah, it’s like a 100 new songs or something, right? I’ve listened to some of it, do you think it’s him?
I wouldn’t put it past him, but it’s pretty crazy.
I gotta listen to it again. I know he makes so much music all the time under different names like The Tuss. It’s like me even, I got so much music that I don’t necessarily release or finish… it seems like a natural thing to do at some point.
Here’s your chance if you feel like exposing any of your pseudonyms or alter egos?
Well, I got this project Jack Ü that I’m doing with Diplo—we released one single already. And we have an EP coming out very soon. But if I had any secret names then I couldn’t really tell you, could I?
Now, you’ve gotten about as big as anyone ever has in your current field. But you started out in hardcore punk or post-hardcore before making the jump into the style you’re known for today. Did something major happen for you to make that jump?
It wasn’t major at all, because I was listening to electronic music since I was young and while I was with my old band. And we had an electronic element in my old band where I was doing a lot of the programming. So when I decided to leave my band it happened naturally because I didn’t have anyone else and the computer was a way for me to fully express myself. So I just continued to produce. Many think it happened overnight but it was a natural progression from something I had been doing since I was 15.
On your 2014 album, Recess, you had a song called All is Fair in Love and Brostep, and the debut album of your old hardcore band was called Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Body Count. These titles seem quite self-aware and gives the sense you have a sense of humour about the scenes you’ve belonged to. And those two scenes, the hardcore scene and the EDM scene, breed some very defensive purists who can get pretty crazy in protecting their genre. Is this maybe your way of responding to that craziness?
I guess a little bit. I am aware of it, because I am a kid, well not necessarily a kid-kid. I just thought it was the perfect name for the song. “All is fair” means there are no rules and brostep was used as a derogatory term. All is fair in love and brostep. So it’s supposed to be over-the-top and fun and crazy and kind of a joke. I don’t really take my music that seriously. I put a lot of effort into it and I love the music I make, but the music I like is stuff that makes me smile. Not stuff to make you scratch your head or stroke your chin at. Maybe other people like their music like that but I don’t take it in that way and I never have.
And reappropriating brostep as a positive term is a bit like the emo scene did with the term emo…
Exactly. Not to knock on old-school dubstep, because those are my friends and people who originated the genre, but when they originated the genre there were no girls at the shows and we have way more girls who come to my shows. Although I don’t really play one style, but it was the dubstep style stuff that got the most attention in the beginning and they identify me with that sound.
And song titles are so easy to make up. I just think of the first thing that comes into my head. Like Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, it just sounded like that. It was super scary and then it was nice and like that back-and-forth. So what else were you gonna call it?
Maybe not the first thing that would have popped into my head, but I see where you’re coming from. Do you feel that the American dubstep scene is more welcoming than the old one? You did mention there being more women at the shows.
I’ve never played a whole set of dubstep—I was getting at the brostep term with that. But at the end of the day my songs are so diverse and with all my collaborations my live shows don’t really sound like anybody else.
Whatever you would like to call the scene or the style you’re currently working with, what would you say was next for the scene and yourself?
I’m of course most familiar with the American scene, and over there it isn’t strange for me to play Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites and then play Disclosure for the kids. For my fans. Electronic music as a whole is almost it’s own genre, and it doesn’t really matter what it’s called beyond that so long as it’s good. So much of it cross-pollinates anyway. There are a lot of styles coming up, like Future Bass, post-dubstep, post-trap—it’s all coming together here in the US.
I think the stuff that me and Diplo are doing connects more with the younger generation than the traditional big-room house. For me, EDM is about putting out all the newest and the freshest sounds. If you come to my set then you’ll hear it, a lot of the stuff is indefinable.
I’m curious to see what I’m in for.
ROLLING THE RRRRRS
Back to the hardcore punk stuff about—sorry if I’m obsessing about this—but crowd control is a big part of the frontman’s job at hardcore shows. I’m curious if you think that shaped the way you approach your performances.
I guess being a performer is a product of you being yourself and you being yourself is a product of what you came up in. It’s not premeditated; I just naturally may feel like picking up the microphone and talk to the audience sometimes. But the music should speak for itself most of the time. How much I engage the audience depends on the crowd and each night.
Regarding the Sónar festival, you mentioned the diversity of the set. How do you feel about the diversity at the festival? We have some extremely different types of electronic artists playing… Some of them more commercial than others.
I play a lot of festivals all over the world that are mixed like this and rarely all electronic. A lot of friends of mine are playing there and I’m excited to see them. I also have a lot of friends in Iceland. I did some touring with Björk in America a couple of years ago and I became friends with her and all of her crew and her twelve background singer girls.
My music pulls from so many directions, that I don’t think I fit in anywhere anyway.
Björk is also someone who moved from punk to electronic stuff! What did you think of the new album?
I thought it was awesome. I really like it. It’s very pretty and has some reminiscence of her older stuff, like the really orchestral stuff and I think the more albums she’s coming out with the more she’s rolling her Rs. She’s getting super hard with that. And I love the artwork on the album, she looks really cool.
I read somewhere that it seemed like the more tender the subject matter of the lyrics got, the harsher the Icelandic accent and the rolling Rs became and that she may have been trying to create an imbalance between the two.
Yeah I noticed that too. I really like that.
So, I don’t want to keep you too long but I’m curious what’s coming up. Got any interesting collaborations coming up—is there a new album on the way?
I need to keep it secret, but I’m about to reveal something really soon. I’m always working with a lot of interesting artists, a lot of rappers and different artists. I released an album last year so I’m taking a little time but I have a lot of stuff I haven’t released and some stuff is gonna come out.
Alright, thanks a lot for taking the time to chat with me. I’m looking forward to the show.
Thank you so much, bro. Hope to see you at the show, talk to you soon.
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