so mixmag have started doing this thing whereby a dj/producer of their choice curates ten pages of the mag and mixes the cover cd. the first time they did it was february 2012, with minus boss richie hawtin the man put in charge. he wanted to interview sonny moore aka skrillex as part of it, and i got to moderate. this is a transcript of the conversation.
richie: hi, sonny…
sonny: dude, what’s up?
not much, how you doing?
good, we’re in the mountains a couple of hours north of denver, colorado in a cabin/lodge thing. the balcony overlooks the slopes so we’re looking at boarders and skiers right now. it’s beautiful; i came out here to do this private party. it was super cool with all the pro skate boarders and athletes out like tony hawk, the jackass guys. i’ve been board shopping, hanging out; it’s been really cool.
didn’t you just get off a boat?
yeah it was called holy ship. this guy puts on a hard festival but rented a cruise liner and put on some edm.
was it a good or bad thing to be trapped on-board?
it was a blast. it was just enough for three days. it wasn’t a relaxing trip – it was hectic and crazy. we hit a sand trap and got stuck! i actually heard behind the scenes they were going to evacuate – this was only the first trip out, coming into the first island. the start of the second day coming to bahamas from florida. they mentioned evacuating and i was like “oh no’ show’s over”. we had 5 giant tugboats pulling us, scuba divers using chisels to break rocks under the boat. we finally got moving though!
i was wondering, how do you do so many dates and stay sane? you seem 200% the whole time.
i have been touring since i was 16, so i’m coming up on 8 years of touring. not many people know that. people think i just stumbled on some bandwagon, but i’ve slept on floors for years, made no money for years with my best friends. i never thought id’ get to this place now, even making electronic music. no one cared what skrillex was doing. dubstep wasn’t popular when i first started to make it; it was still very underground.
you know, we were doing ‘dubstep patios’ once a month with 40 of our friends, with a shitty pa, on the smoking patio of a bar. it was the best time, constantly making music and having people around you… i still have my same crew from when i slept on couches and floors [with the rock band].
that’s what i like about edm – the direct connection to the people and promoters. there’s no in between – its pure and really fun like you say. was it different in the band, or in the rock venues? is there a big difference?
the rock scene is a lot more egotistical. it’s a lot more competitive, people want to out-do each other and be the star, whereas in edm i’ve noticed everybody from all genres is really supportive and cool. everyone remixes each other and plays each other’s records. there’s more camaraderie.
looking at the us charts, you have a lot of guest vocalists now – tiesto with buster rhymes, diplo with someone else. on one side i think that’s great, but is that why everything is so big – the cross-pollination with other genres? is that good, bad – how do you feel about it?
you have to do something that’s honest. tiesto will always be tiesto and make the record he makes. he’s been doing it a long time – i guess it makes sense for him to work with busta rhymes. for me it wouldn’t make sense. i wouldn’t do it for the sake of doing it. mainstream doesn’t have to be bad. adele is mainstream but i think she is the most incredible singer-songwriter out there.
for me, no matter what i do, my choices revolve around what’s honest for me. aside from ellie goulding on my recent release, all the collabs are underground artists. even in the states she’s indie. i wanna work with the people i have connections with, with people who it makes sense at the time to work with.
how do you feel being the poster boy for a new generation of electronic music? do you feel part of heritage or is it a new thing you’re doing in your own direction?
well check this out: before this [interview] i was out with some label people talking about servicing my new ep and doing a radio campaign. i said the only people i ever want to service my records to are the actual djs that are real tastemakers, people who can still decide what gets played on the radio. in the us it’s all politics and programming. i don’t wanna be a part of that. to do certain things – like get played on so many radio stations or whatever – you have to play their events and all these other politics are involved. i’d rather get no radio play than be involved in all that.
for me, like, when people call me the poster boy of this edm crossover to mainstream… ah, man, when i was making “scary monsters and nice sprites” we didn’t spend any money, we did it on a laptop, there were no songwriters, no plans, we just made the song and at the time that was not a pop song. it’s not 3 and half minutes, it’s not verse-chorus, verse-chorus, it’s definitely not easy listening. it’s just an online fruit – there were no plans, no radio campaigns.
i’m not defending myself but that’s the truth – if you look at that positively, music that was underground can now be popular, just not in pop format. it’s successful, and that opens doors for other people to make non-pop music. “scary monsters…” has sold in the us, canada, england, australia and it’s not a pop song.
“scary monsters…” has now created a new definition of pop song. does that scare you? are you being pulled to pop? is that ok? is that what you wanted?
i don’t wanna be famous. i don’t wanna be a famous singer in the rock star sense. i’m not trying to do that. i feel strange walking outside my house and in local coffee shops being recognised. it’s scary. i appreciate it, but sometimes it’s scary. but i’d still be making this music even if no one was listening.
you’re on the road all the time which brings me to your unseen schooling – 8 years on the road plugging away. this exposure now, which seems to some people like it’s happened quickly, has taken a long time and a lot of hard work and dedication…
absolutely. you know man; there are times when you’re travelling alone. just the other day i had a crazy travel schedule, i was alone, i had midi controllers to carry, a million phone calls to do… it’s hard work, but so rewarding.
i think people get jaded when they make deals for money, then it becomes a job. what we’ve done is so organic, we’ve done what we wanted to do, that’s why it’s so rewarding.
you mention your team. how big is your team that help you get through the days and weeks and nights of this?
my manger has been together with me since i was 16. we’ve been through everything and seen highs and lows together. i mean, i’m not trying to toot my own horn, but we walked away from million dollar deals with the band, we didn’t care, it wasn’t the music i wanted to make. these people [around me] are the unsung heroes who look out for me.
sure. so i’m gunna take it back a bit. how old were you in 1993?
i was born in ‘88 so just a couple years old, man.
that was the first big surge of interest in electronic music – moby, prodigy, these big parties in san francisco and la. do you remember that?
i did know it was happening at the time but i know about it from people talking about it now.
it was an exciting time for a lot of us back then because we thought this music was really going to break in america. and it did for maybe moby and prodigy and a couple of other people, but for a lot of bands, promoters and fans it exploded then suddenly imploded and was wiped away by typical rock ‘n’ roll and nirvana. is this another disco moment, another rave in ‘93 or do the kids get it enough that they’re going to sustain it? is this their sound track now?
even electronic music, like, i mean, i was sneaking into nightclubs at 16 years old during my band days. i was listening to edm and idm but i think that scene wasn’t as artist driven before. the songs you were dancing to – those artists never came out, or would tour europe – the scene was happening somewhere else.
it’s not just about partying any more, it’s about artists, touring, records. i think it’s the first time you’re seeing loads of artists putting on incredible live shows. it’s not just a guy playing records. it’s a show now. but who knows – i always say to my team “if it ends tomorrow, i’d have a smile on my face”. we worked hard. we had the best time. we did what we wanted to do. i do believe in this thing though – we all do.
you make a good point about showmanship. when i started to hear about you and saw your shows – 20 years ago if we’d have seen one person on stage with a laptop (not just at a rave but a concert) we would have been like ‘what the fuck?’ it took 20 years to get that. the production, lighting – all that has finally figured out a way to work with these shows for the people. it’s not just about the music, it’s about the scene growing up in a way more people can understand.
sure – you’re putting your heart into more things than just the studio now. shit, we’ve been behind tables for years and now this thing is getting bigger so, fuck, let’s put some money back into something we enjoy. we’re doing this motion capture thing – it was like the first apollo mission to the moon. it took us years of trial and error to perfect but it’s so fun.
for me i have plastikman, so when it’s all working it’s great, but it takes a lot of energy to get going. sometimes it’s good to just turn up and dj. is that the same for you? do you have different levels of live show?
absolutely, i totally agree. the skrillex show is not the biggest but with the motion capture and image mapping it takes a lot of effort but, when it works, those shows are so fucking good. the smaller ones are less stressful – the super underground parties you roll up with laptop, no tour manager, no crew, you can just jump on an aeroplane. i still like clubs for the intimacy; you get a different kick and high off the different levels of shows.
is there room for electronic musicians and djs to becomes stars without all this content behind them – flashing lights, videos?
absolutely, man. at the end of the day a good song will speak louder than anything. think about burial, no one even knows what he looks like, he doesn’t play shows, but people still love him. he doesn’t want to be a rock star. even aphex twin – he doesn’t put out many releases or do marketing but he can still turn up and rock it. if people can connect with the music – that will always speak louder than anything. i’ve tried to put my songs first not the marketing.
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so from my generation, what do the cities new york, chicago and detroit mean to you? anything?
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new york house meant most to me. robyn s i know from childhood – i grew up with that. what it really means to me, is [the fact that] it’s crazy that back then detroit guys had to go to new york to hear what new york djs were playing, you had to find the records and bring them back to detroit to play them.
there was no internet; you had to travel these scenes. it was hustle and bustle, man, you guys were travelling, not blogging on hype machine, but traveling for inspiration.
[laughs] yeah, that was the only way to do it back then.
yeah it wasn’t like “here’s a usb with a fucking catalogue of my last 3 years’ work on it” – you had to travel. that’s what that means to me i think.
so where do we go from here? electronic music has steered clear of being too big and mainstream so it can always innovate and change. will success hold it back?
all i know is i’m gunna continue to do what i do. do what’s right for me. i don’t do a lot of press and i don’t wanna be a poster boy. if some guy comes along with even heavier dubstep and 20 producers and singers and eye liner and dancers on stage, if he takes my thunder, i’m always gunna do what i do best, hang out with friends and make songs that i love. i’ll never do anything outside my honest zone. i’m transparent, what you see is what you get. i’ve been in a situation before with the band where we did things for money not everyone was happy with. it’s not right; you have to do you own thing.
it’s been a great chat, so thanks for doing this.