If you’ve so much as glanced at Beatport’s Top 10 in the past week, you might have noticed something curious: until yesterday, eight of the tracks there belonged to a single artist and a single record: Skrillex and his Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP. (As of this morning, he was back down to having only seven tracks in the Top 10, but he hasn’t yet relinquished the top slot.)
You may be saying, “Skrill-who?” Though he’s hardly a household name in the electronic dance-music scene—albeit becoming one very quickly—the Los Angeles musician, real name Sonny Moore, is far better known in the world of alternative rock, where he became famous as the singer of the band From First to Last.
Signed to the iconic punk label Epitaph, From First to Last enjoyed a successful couple of years, but Moore left the band in 2007 to focus on his solo career—recording at home, releasing his music for free online, and touring with a mixed rock/electronic lineup. If not quite the DIY story it seems—Moore is reportedly signed to Atlantic for a solo album under his own name, and he remixed two songs for Lady Gaga—Moore’s risk-taking reinvention is undeniable, as is the rabid response from fans drawn to his bracing, aggressive, post-everything brand of electronic music, a high-octane hybrid that it’s hard to put a name to.
“I guess you could say that it’s a mixture of dubstep, electro-house, fidget,” Skrillex told us. “But I’m still only two releases into my career as Skrillex, so it could evolve into anything, really.”
One person who’s betting on that evolution is Deadmau5, whose mau5trap label released the Scary Monsters EP. Skrillex has another new track out this week, a remix of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are,” which finds him exploring a more stripped-down progressive/electro-house sound.
We spoke at length to Skrillex to find out more about the dark horse of the American electronic scene. Read on to find out what Skrillex means, how Warp Records changed his listening habits, and the real difference between the hardcore and rave scenes.
Congrats on snagging eight slots on Beatport’s Top 10 chart—that’s unheard of. How does it feel? (And do you wonder what went wrong with the ninth track that it didn’t make it in? We’re kidding, of course…)
It’s really crazy. To be honest, I was not expecting that at all. It’s amazing to see a dubstep track hit #1. I hope it opens doors for more artists in the genre to cross over to a broader audience. The other cool thing about it is that I’ve gotten a lot of recognition from artists that I love and grew up with as well.
So you’re a veteran musician, but you’re pretty new to the electronic dance-music scene. How did you build such a rabid following in such a short amount of time? Do you think it’s old fans from the post-hardcore scene, or have you been gaining electronic fans through heavy touring?
I think to the public eye you could say I was super new to this scene, but I’ve been putting out free tracks for well over a year as Skrillex, not to mention got an early start at doing A-list pop remixes as well. I just didn’t have the same public attention as other DJ/producers had up until a little before this release. What also helped was that I self-released a full on EP for free earlier this year in April that got a lot of attention from blogs and an insane amount of downloads.
How did you go from playing post-hardcore to making electronic music? Was it a gradual shift, or a sudden awakening? How did you discover electronic dance music?
It didn’t really feel like any shift. It’s like, whether I’m singing or programming, or painting or whatever… It’s all art and it’s all natural, and it all comes from the same place no matter what the via is. I’ve been listening to electronic music since I was very young.
Which artists got you started?
My first albums were super crossover, records like Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar and NIN’s Broken EP, Prodigy’s The Fat of the Land, to name of few. The funny thing about these releases (most of the coming out in the late ‘90s) were that all these artists were being played on MTV at a time where MTV was still a great source to find new great music. I later got deep into everything on Warp Records from around the age of 12 on, where I discovered Aphex Twin’s Come To Daddy EP . I became obsessed with glitch, acid, IDM, Autechre, Squarepusher, Prefuse 73… All that kind of stuff.
Your own music combines elements of techno, electro, dubstep, breaks and more. What would you say are the main musical inspirations behind your sound?
Everything! I know it sounds cliché, but really, everything. I still listen to all kinds of music. Rock, pop, electronica. I really love buying film scores as well.
What parallels do you see between the post-hardcore scene and the electronic dance music scene? Besides the music, do you think they differ in any significant ways?
In the post-hardcore scene you see way less drugs, furry boots, and glowsticks, but really it’s pretty much the same in the sense that it is a gathering of people with a common interest of music and lifestyle. But do be honest, in the recent years with artists like Justice, SebastiAn, Bloody Beetroots, etc. (which were all huge gateway artists for me into club/dance music scene) I see the two worlds becoming much closer together.
How did you hook up with Deadmau5 and Mau5trap recordings?
I became buddies with Joel through Tommy Lee at WMC this year. He has been an incredible supporter back when I released the free My Name Is Skrillex EP!
What does the name “Skrillex” mean, anyway? (We can’t help but think of “scrilla”… is it all about getting paid?)
Ha! It has nothing to do with scrilla or more. To be honest, I was completely unaware of that term when I made the name up. It’s just been a social network handle I’ve used for years. Throughout my teen years my friends would call me Skrillex or Skril or Skrilly. Just became a stupid nickname that came out of the social online networking handles. Really means nothing.
What’s your production setup like? What kind of gear and software are you using?
I’ve got the most minimal “rig,” if you’d even call it that. Macbook Pro, Ableton Live, some KRK’s (I actually did the whole Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP with the right speaker blown!) and some plugins. I don’t even use a MIDI controller. I’ve gotten very quick at drawing everything in with the trackpad. I prefer it that way actually. No hardware as of yet, though I do plan on expanding my studio and collecting more toys in the future. But what I have does the trick for now!
When playing live, what are you using for your performances?
Ableton Live and an M-Audio Trigger Finger.
Any insane or incredible tour moments as of late?
Ha, not that I can think of. To be honest, I’m a pretty mellow guy. Not big into partying too hard or anything. I can say, I’ve come across some Skrillex tattoos on this last tour I did with Deadmau5, which is pretty incredible!
What was it like getting asked to remix Lady Gaga? I would think that would be a pretty surreal phone call to receive.
Pretty awesome! Dave Rene at Interscope records has been a tremendous supporter in the early days of Skrillex. He believed in the music before there was any buzz at all. I owe a lot to him as well!
You have a unique perspective, caught between the mainstream (like those Gaga remixes) and the underground. So tell us, where do you think electronic music is headed?
I think with how a lot of rock production is going these days, electronic music will become more of a platform than anything. I think we’ll see the same fans and the same people going and buying tickets to rock and electronic shows. I think we’ll see a lot more collaborations between electronic and rock. tTe coolest thing about it though is that at one point, the means I go about to make records would have been considered blasphemy to producer purists, but now I feel like more than ever the art of sampling and creating music solely on computers is finally getting the respect it deserves.
What do you have coming up for releases?
Nothing yet! I think we are going to shoot some music videos off of Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP which should be fun.
Finally, can you tell us a good joke?
Chuck Norris doesn’t only walk on water, he swims on land.