Sonny Moore, known to most of the world as Skrillex, recently gave a pretty rare in depth interview with Pitchfork to discuss his love for music, when he started making his own electronic music, his influences and much more. The most interesting piece from the interview comes from when Skrillex introduced himself to one of his idols, Aphex Twin and was completely ignored. Luckly the two got to hangout properly on the recent Future Music Festival tour and Richard D James explained the reason why!
Read on for the full pitchfork interview....
It’s Friday afternoon during SXSW, and Skrillex is DJing in his own hotel room. Around 10 people– friends, publicists, managers– casually mill around the spacious suite, which boasts a sizable balcony overlooking the corner of Brazos and 6th Streets. Soon, that slab of pavement will be overrun by a throbbing mass of well-inebriated humanity. For now, though, it’s calm.
Back inside the suite, Skrillex, aka 24-year-old Californian Sonny Moore, is nothing but a genial host. He’s giving hugs, offering refreshments, and generally shooting the shit with his assembled crew, most of whom he’s known for years. Perched on the room’s fancy-legged writing desk is a set of Pioneer CDJs, which Moore will return to compulsively during my hour-long visit. “Sorry, I have ADD,” he says at one point after zoning out on the spinning circles, twinkling lights, and fast faders in front of him. He’s not being rude. He just can’t help himself. “Do you DJ?” he asks me. “I don’t.” “Oh, it’s easy, man.”
It’s this inclusionary, non-stop attitude that helped Moore become one of the biggest DJs in the world. He played more than 300 shows around the world last year, ranging from packed basement parties to seizure-inducing festival-headliner sets, and in turn became the face of today’s explosion of hard-charging American dance music. And with such popularity comes increased attention, and it hasn’t all been positive. For various reasons– his asymmetrical hair, past history as the leader of screamo act From First to Last, collaborations with Korn and what’s left of the Doors, not-so-nuanced attitude toward sound and vision– Moore has faced down a torrent of scorn, much of it purely superficial.
“It’s a shame, people are like, ‘Oh, I heard about him, he’s the crazy dubstep guy,’ and they listen expecting that,” he says. “If anything, I just want people to actually have their own opinions about me.”
Because these tangental qualities are so upfront, it can be easy to dismiss Moore as a caricature of the dubstep auteurs whose 12″s are celebrated as a more cerebral alternative to his purely visceral style. But in the past year, Moore has become increasingly adept at translating the lurching dynamics of loud-quiet-loud rock music into shrapnel-spitting rave anthems, frantically oscillating between bits of melodic filigree and his signature earth-cracking bass drops. Like Justice before him, Moore’s music is so brash that polarization is all but inevitable. But when his sub-bass hits a packed venue, like a slow-motion wrecking ball to the gut, it triggers a staggering, quick-hit dance euphoria.
In person, he’s excitable, friendly. We retire to the suite’s bedroom to chat; Moore, in all black, folds his Samba-clad feet beneath him on the bed, like a teenager might.
“For me, DJing is the least egotistical thing. It’s just like:
‘What do you want to listen to?’ It’s not something you can capture on the Grammys.”
Pitchfork: You wrote on Facebook that Aphex Twin’s electro-ballad “Flim” is your favorite song ever, and I’ve also read that you like Burial a lot, too. That’s a little surprising since most of your music is a lot bigger and louder and harder.
Sonny Moore: I listen to all types of music, and I have a lot of music that’s moodier than anything you’ve heard me do. If you see different sets, it’s always different songs. And as far as kids saying “Where does it drop?” when I posted the Aphex Twin song on Facebook… I wouldn’t say it’s appalling, but it is weird to me. There are a couple things you have to realize. One: The people commenting on Facebook have opinions that are really loud and, a lot of times, those opinions are considered more than they need to be. There’s a broader general audience. But the really opinionated people always want to defend or offend: “Fuck you, it’s the fucking Aphex! Skrillex should never…” Then there’s the other guy that’s like, “Dude! There’s no drops!” But I know every break and hit to “Flim” verbatim; I’ve listened to it more than any other song in my whole life. I first found out about Aphex in San Francisco when I was 11 or 12. Korn was on MTV playing their favorite videos, and [Korn guitarist] Munky picked “Come to Daddy”. So I saved up my money and got the Come to Daddy EP.
Pitchfork: How soon after that did you begin making your own electronic music?
SM: I was 14 when I started Fruity Loops. I have this old tower in storage, the computer crashed but the discs are still there. One day, I wanna try to [retrieve the files] ’cause I have so many songs from Fruity Loops, man. Just really weird deep techno/mellow acid– like no real genre, just making things. At that time, I was listening to all the Warp Records stuff. Aphex Twin and Squarepusher were just these bearded bedroom geeks, and that was cool to me! Around 16, I started going to warehouse parties in L.A. and DJing. I’d play that stuff, and no one [danced]. I didn’t get it. I was like, “Dude! It’s so much more complex! Listen to what’s going on!” But that’s what made me realize it’s not necessarily about complexity. Everything has its purpose, though.
I actually hung out with [Aphex Twin] at Future Music Festival. People ask him to play [live], but he doesn’t get off on playing, he just likes to make music for himself.
Pitchfork: What was it like meeting him?
SM: Well, the first time we met was when I played Lowlands Festival last year near Amsterdam. It was him and then me right after on the same stage. He had this full laser show, and I watched the whole thing in the front of the house. I’d always hear about him never playing songs anyone knows– just doing white noise for two hours or whatever– but halfway through his set, he started bringing out tracks from The Richard D. James Album and I Care Because You Do, even some old Caustic Window stuff. Just going for it. He played “Pigeon Street”, which is like a really short song that just goes, [sings] “doo-doo-doo, meow-meow-meow-meow.” It’s the weirdest song. [laughs] But you could tell he was actually trying to please the crowd. Anyway, after my set, I walked offstage and saw him sitting down with a beer. I’m like, “Fuck, if there was any time to just say hi…” So I go up to him: “Hey, I just wanted to say you had a great show.” He doesn’t even look at me and then walks off. My heart breaks.
After that, we were heading to Australia for the Future Music Festival and, the first day I’m there, I feel this arm on me. I turn around and it’s Richard. He’s like, “Hey man, good to see you!” He was so nice. He told me he had gotten in a little bit of an argument with his tour manager the day I went up to him. Anyway, we hung out and it was really awesome.
Pitchfork: Were you surprised when Skrillex really started taking off?
SM: Well, I don’t want to sound overly humble because that’s almost egotistical in its own right, but I feel like I’m not trying to do anything. I’m just existing and making the music I want to make. To see all this stuff happen is a crazy fuckin’ thing. From First to Last got a big [label] deal, but I left that band because it wasn’t the music I wanted to do. I was just making electronic music for fun after that. I hit a point in my life where I was cool with being broke and having a real cheap apartment.
Also, I didn’t want to be a guy that’s [in the spotlight]. So it’s funny to see that happen again now. I don’t want to be that. I’m just making music and hanging out with my friends and, if we’re gonna do a show, we can make it special and bring robots out or something. It’s a platform to do crazy, fun shit.
At the same time, we have different productions. We did five shows in New York recently, and most of them were just me DJing, and that’s more about the vibe. We did this underground basement party where it was late and I played a lot deeper and a lot longer– those are my favorite shows to do, anyway.
Pitchfork: What did you think about the Grammy performance with Foo Fighters and Deadmau5 this year– it seemed to me like they just brought in a rock band to “legitimize” electronic music.
SM: They actually asked us to be on that as well. And, all due respect to all those artists, but that’s not what I do. I don’t play on TV. My performances are different because you’re captivated more by everything around you rather than just staring at something. And I try to cater to the venue. If I’m on a rooftop where girls are on the tables dancing, I’m gonna play something to fit that. It’s always a different experience. That’s the purpose. For me, as much as it feels like there’s ego involved with anyone who’s up there on a stage, DJing is the least egotistical thing. It’s not even about me– it’s about the vibe and the people hanging out and having drinks. Like: “What do you want to listen to?” It’s not something you can capture on the Grammys.
Pitchfork: I noticed almost all of the songs you put out last year are up on your official YouTube page, which is unique, especially for a major-label artist.
SM: I’ve been in a major label deal for the last four years for a project that wasn’t even Skrillex; I did Skrillex on the side and, since we’re in a deal, it formulated around that. But we’re not really using the major label as a major label, it’s more for the administrative stuff. We do everything in our own team. Every one of the 300-something shows we’ve done over the last year, all those deals have gone transparently through us. At the end of the day, everything goes through me. It’s very hands on. It’s all our vision. That’s what I’m really proud of. They’re all my friends. My tour manager is 25. Him and I have been touring together since I was 17, I found him when he was a runner in a venue in North Carolina– he took me to get deodorant one day when I was in my old band, and we’ve been best friends ever since.
I’ve been touring for eight years now. When you live long enough and you step outside the routine of things, you just realize that you gotta be happy and honest to yourself. That’s all. Do things that make you happy. I don’t need anything to live, I don’t need this hotel room. I don’t buy anything excessively, I don’t even spend money. It doesn’t matter. I just want to be happy. That’s cool to me.
Every decision I make, I want to feel honest about. I’m not chasing opportunity. I don’t wanna do something for money if I’m not interested in it. Not to say a phone company or whatever is bad, but I’m not excited about it. That’s not what I do.
Pitchfork: You’ve released EPs and remixes, but does the idea of putting out a proper album matter to you?
SM: Yeah, I wanna put out an album. It’s weird because coming into this, there was never any pressure to make an album. It was more like, “I have this song, or this EP, and we’ll just put it out for free.” Deadmau5 heard my shit on a blog and wants to put us out? OK, cool, sure. We just took it case by case. A lot of DJs can put out a single a year, and have a career that way, and play clubs all over the world. We put out 20-something tracks last year across the EPs and remixes. But, if I want to be conceptual and the time is right, I can make an album that’s like: Here’s my sound. Because I have some new shit that’s way different than what I’ve done that still could rock a party. I’m not saying I’m trying to change shit, but making this new music got me re-inspired.
I got a lot of reggae-infused shit. Still a lot of dubstep, but kind of going back to the roots of dub. It’s not as banging, but it is banging, if that makes sense. It’s like when you hear, [sings] “This is how we do it.” It’s not as cheesy as that, but it makes you want to dance for sure. It’s my funkiest stuff yet, but I’m not trying to be weird and funky now, or something. I got a lot of stuff, man. I could play you some shit. I have this kinda weird, kinda more techno… let me play you some…
[We move into the living room, where Moore cues up a snarling, death-disco track and starts messing around with it. The drop-less instrumental sounds like Daft Punk's "Rollin' & Scratchin'" as remixed by Trent Reznor. "Fun," he says, after playing the track for about 10 minutes, "I could just forget about everything and do that for hours."]
Pitchfork: That definitely sounded a bit different than your other stuff.
SM: I like making fucking fun music that I like. The last thing I ever want is to have other people’s opinions change how I want to make music. That’s the scary thing. I’ll be honest, it’s not fucking easy. I try to avoid seeing what people say about me. People come up to me and say, “Man, so many people hate on you, just do your thing.” And I’m “OK, man, don’t fucking tell me about it anymore.” I’ll fail, to myself at least, if I let that get the best of me and try to be something that isn’t me. I’m not trying to please anybody. That’s what I did before, in bands and stuff.
Pitchfork: Do you have any theories about why you’ve been singled out as somebody that people hate?
SM: If you try to understand, that’s diving in and reading what people say about you, and you can’t do that because, fuck man, it’s strange. It causes a stigma. For a long time, I was so oblivious to it because I play these shows and everyone’s having a great time. I remember doing my first big Skrillex interview, where I talked with the writer for hours. We touched on everything. And then they chopped it down to a one-minute thing with the headline: “Skrillex Talks Back to the Haters” and it got like a million views. They made it look like I was just defending myself the whole time. It’s strange because, before someone has a chance to have their own opinion about you, they already have an opinion about you. That’s the thing about press and media, it’s out of your control.
It’s a shame. People are like, “Oh, I heard about him, he’s the crazy dubstep guy,” and they listen expecting that. But if you take a step back from the different connotations and you observe things for what they are… there are a lot of artists that might be misunderstood. If anything, I just want people to actually have their own opinions about me. I don’t care if people hate me. I mean, I get it. When you were young, you were like, “The Backstreet Boys are gay!” And kids are on computers now. I’ll post something on Facebook, and then, within two seconds, there are comments: “Fuck you dude… you suck… pussy… bitch… faggot… you ruined dubstep… emo.” But if you look at their profiles, they’re so young. To everyone else on the street, there’s this really elitist, big group of haters everywhere. But fine. No offense to young kids.
To me, it’s all about making music and playing shows. I think it’s healthy to talk about why something is better or worse, but everything’s connected with that, too. Like, I see someone take a photo of me and they [start typing on their cellphone] and they’re putting it on Twitter and Facebook, and it’s tagged “Skrillex,” and now there are more people talking about me right away. It creates this discussion about so many things, but I guess that’s just how it is.
Pitchfork: To me, what you’re doing isn’t all that different than something like Justice, and I remember a lot of hardcore dance music fans thought that sounded like shit when it came out.
SM: It’s funny you say that because one of the parts of my Grammy speeches that wasn’t put on YouTube was when I said [Justice's] Cross should have won a Grammy. That is a fucking perfect album. I’m afraid to step up to that because that’s a real album. You can play those songs out and you can listen to the whole thing through on your own. They did something completely different. I mean, I was ripping off the French guys on My Name is Skrillex before I was doing dubstep anyway.
I remember seeing the full Daft Punk pyramid show in 2007. I went alone, drove up in my Honda Fit, bought a ticket off a scalper for $150, got on the floor, and had the best time of my life. I didn’t have a drink, no drugs. But I was high out of my mind. It changed my life. This is gonna sound really lame, but try to take it the right way: There have been a couple times where I’ve been so proud of what I’ve done live, like I feel like I’ve given someone the same kind of feeling I got at that Daft Punk show. And that feels so good.
So I had just stood with 15,000 people watching Daft Punk, and then Justice became this thing, and then I’m going to Dim Mak Tuesdays in Cinespace and getting $75 to play these parties. Even at that point, I thought EDM was already blown up. Around that time, in my heart, I was just like, “Man, I wish I could make my own music. I don’t need to be Daft Punk, but like…” I loved how they would throw on some suits, make a big production, and come out. Daft Punk are mysterious, but they’re not trying to be mysterious. Have you seen that funny video interview they did? It’s amazing. They’re in their full suits in the studio, and they’re like, “Our brains are engineered into the system.” They’re poking fun at the whole robot thing:
Pitchfork: I also read that you worked with Kanye West, who’s a pretty big Daft Punk fan, too. What happened there?
SM: Well, basically we had a show on the same night in Vegas and he invited me to hang with him. We just worked on beats in his hotel room. He had something that he needed some advice on, but we just kind of hung out. It’s cool to meet people, man. I don’t expect anything; it’s the opposite of jaded, but it’s a similar feeling, in a sense.
I’ve been able to meet so many people that I admire, like I just brought SebastiAn out on a couple dates in Europe. It’s cool when you see someone who you think would be pretentious, like Mr. Oizo or SebastiAn, dropping my tracks. You know what else I really like? When Jack White did that Insane Clown Posse song. That’s so fucking cool to me, so badass. He’s like, “People see me as the coolest guy– whatever.” Because it’s not about being the coolest guy, it’s about being yourself. That’s what I like. It’s hard to do sometimes when it’s crazy, and you’re like, “Why am I doing this?” But then you gotta realize what you wanted in the beginning, and what you want out of it now, and how you can make that a reality.
via Pitchfork by Ryan Dombal