Features

Skrillex Goes to Space

Interviews

By Kyle Kramer

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Photos courtesy of Google / Image by Alex Cook

There is no room for cynicism in space. Well, technically, there’s nothing but room in space. But not only are space travelers better off conserving their oxygen for something other than sharing their bad opinions, it’s also hard not to be stunned into silence by the sheer beauty of it all. Space is so vast, so beautiful, so unknowable, that it can only be awesome, in the literal, awe-inducing sense of the word. With its infinite possibilities and promises of unreachable alien worlds, space is a canvas for the imagination. It’s given us fascinating sci-fi worlds, ancient mythologies, and new technologies. Naturally, Skrillex is into it.

Skrillex uses the word “awesome” a lot, in a way that’s almost contemplative, when we talk on the phone. In the last five years, the post-hardcore singer turned laptop producer has become the de facto figurehead of electronic music, with all the polarizing reactions that come with that. His name, which is both fun to say and the perfect subtly sci-fi-sounding set of syllables, is convenient shorthand for media commentators weighing in on today’s most viral buzzwords: Teens! Molly! EDM! Apps! Music festivals! Dubstep! Snapchat! Teens again! Electronic music purists wring their hands over his irreverent sound and status as the face of their genre, placing his music under the pejorative of “brostep,” while rock music traditionalists fret over what it means that one of the biggest musicians in the world is a guy who doesn’t play traditional instruments and who draws crowds of neon-clad raver kids. And, naturally, tons of people love him, in part for exactly those reasons. If anyone has grounds to be a little jaded about the role he’s been thrust into, it would be Skrillex. Yet the 27-year-old, whose real name is Sonny Moore, instead takes a stance of radical positivity—about, it seems, pretty much everything.

While positivity is the default in electronic music, and PLUR (Peace Love Unity Respect) is a credo, that doesn’t always translate to an enthusiastic embrace of new ideas. Dance music can, particularly to outsiders, seem bizarrely regimented, with its fixation on granular details and tempos. Skrillex, though, approaches music—and, seemingly, all his creative endeavors—with a simpler premise: What would sound cool? His songs are full of sounds we associate with things like laser cannons and computer glitches—sci-fi movie special effects rendered in full IMAX overload and piled on top of each other to the point of absurdity. Basically, laser sounds are dope, but the one thing that’s even doper than laser sounds is more laser sounds. That much-maligned 2010s EDM staple, the drop (of which Skrillex’s 2011 hit “Bangarang” is still the chef d’oeuvre), has gradually given way to bass and synth lines that squeal uncontrollably, like a tangled mess of goo being crammed into a too-small box.

His music is particularly good at interacting with the pop world without exactly crossing over into it. On 2014’s Recess, Chance the Rapper makes an electrifying, totally organic appearance with just a few vocal lines, dodging the collaborative trap where rappers feel like tacked-on presences to attract more fans. Skrillex and Diplo’s recent joint project under the name Jack Ü achieves the same trick with 2 Chainz yelling the gleefully dumb phrase “yeah I’m the shit / I should have Febreze on me.” With Justin Bieber’s appearance on Jack Ü's “Where Are Ü Now,” the vocals are sublimely left on their own and matched by equally plaintive screeches of noise. Skrillex is the perfect millennial artist: He draws from all over the place, does what he thinks would be fun, and sees if it works. It usually does. He doesn’t throw stuff together to create some sort of culture clash; he’s legitimately excited by the hyperactive, technology-enabled world we live in. That’s what makes him grating and undesirable to a lot of people, but it’s what makes him sweet to an even larger crowd.

It’s also why, presumably, he was the person Google sought out to be the first partner in a new Android product they’re launching called Editions, which is the premise under which I’m able to get on the phone with him. The project is basically a series artist-designed phone cases that activate interactive content on user’s (Android) phone. Which, sure, whatever. Artists do brand collaborations all the time. Skrillex's, though, involves sending 13 satellites into space to take pictures of Earth, which will then be broadcast to users' phones as rotating wallpapers. At night, the phone will offer a geotargeted guide to constellations. It’s space! That final frontier, that realm of no cynicism!

There’s no better place for Skrillex and his imagination to run free (theoretically, people who buy the case will also be able to get periodic exclusive media, including music, although when I ask if that means a new album, Skrillex responds “I don’t want to start that rumor”). Throughout our conversation, Skrillex chats with the enthusiasm of a friend describing his favorite movies (which he does, twice), but it kind of seems like that’s just his approach. When it comes to summing up his foray into the stratosphere, he has the same, characteristic, down for whatever attitude: That was the whole idea: Send a satellite to space and get some tight photos.” Awesome.

Noisey: Were you a sci-fi kid growing up?
Skrillex: It’s funny. I appreciate sci-fi more now than I did growing up. I didn’t, like, love Star Trek. I liked Star Wars, but I wasn’t like a huge Star Wars head. I loved H.R. Giger art and Alien as a young kid. That movie was really awesome to me. But I love space. Even more than the alien part of it, I love looking at space photos and documentaries of space. You ever see that movie Mission to Mars?

No, I didn’t.
It’s not like the most incredible movie ever, but there’s a scene at the very end that’s really cool. Basically they go to Mars, and they go inside the face on Mars, and they find out it’s like this old spaceship from like a galaxy far, far away. All these spaceships came to Mars way before Earth was, like, a livable planet, and Mars was like the first Earth. And then shit hit the fan on Mars, they all left, and dropped their DNA on Earth, and that’s how human DNA started. And so like the face on Mars is one of those spaceships that was left over. So the last scene is like a really crazy looking scene that kind of explains how we got here and stuff. I don’t even know why I started talking about that movie. [Laughs] That was something that was cool when I was a little kid, watching that movie. And that kind of stuck with me as far as me being into science fiction goes.

Do you have any favorite space facts?
Not really space facts. I just think space is cool. I like the fact that space is so big and it seems so scary and so hard to understand, but at the same time it’s built of the same compounds that we have on Earth. H2O and molecules—it’s the same shit that we have here. It’s not as incomprehensible as people think. There’s obviously ideas of black holes and like parallel dimensions and all that stuff that we have no idea about, but at the same time it’s like all the physical parts of space you can find here on Earth, and we’re all made up of the same thing. So that’s pretty cool.

Do you think we can travel through wormholes?
Probably. Actually, I have no idea. Did you see Interstellar? Interstellar’s rad. I mean, I’d love to see someone do it. I think in our generation we’re going to see people going into space a lot more. Now space is privatized, so you don’t have to have government, which I think is awesome. Now you have people like SpaceX. They don’t give a fuck about anything else except innovating and pushing the envelope and that’s why—I love the fact that you can use space imagery and emojis and all of that, but at the end of the day the reason that we have FaceTime on our iPhones is because somebody thought it was a cool idea and saw Star Trek when they were probably smoking weed in college and were like ‘yo, let’s try to make that one day.’ All the aesthetic uses of space and technology and sci-fi all are building blocks and inspirations for actual engineers and innovators that use those inspirations to create new technology. I think that’s why it’s pretty cool to have that stuff.

Speaking of emojis, what does the alien emoji mean to you? That’s a pretty ambiguous emoji.
Probably what it means to everyone else. I mean, emoji is kind of like the universal communication pad. It’s faces. It’s emotions. You send like a little happy face to someone who’s Chinese, who can’t speak English, and they’re like ‘oh damn, this American, this white guy, he’s happy.’ And then you can send the alien thing and it’s like ‘what does he mean?’ I think the emoji is pretty rad, and it’s really cute.

Do you have a new album in the works? Is there music that people can expect soon?
I’m doing a lot of writing. I’m working on a lot of other people’s records right now and just finished this album with Diplo, Jack Ü. We really finished it like a week before it came out, too. But Diplo and I are working on a lot of new stuff.

You’re like the EDM guy now. Like when labels are like ‘we need an electronic remix of this song, let’s call up Skrillex!’ what’s that like?
It’s pretty awesome, actually. I get to do what I love and people appreciate it in so many different ways. I get to meet and collaborate with people you would never even dream of or expect. People in my wildest dreams—even with Google, you would never expect music taking me there. Working with the Doors or even KoRn, who I grew up listening to, it’s just so crazy. I’ve always just kept doing my own thing, which is always just trying to make new sounds with a lot of energy, and that’s always what I’ve tried to do. And that can be done in so many ways. Even if it’s like Harmony Korine and Cliff Martinez and Spring Breakers. From that to producing a metal, brostep record with KoRn. There’s so many ways I can express myself.

People always associate you with the genre of dubstep, but that doesn’t seem like as much of a thing now. Do you think dubstep is over?
It’s not over. It’s just evolved. It’s so hard to categorize what dubstep is anymore. It’s definitely still alive. There’s definitely a whole new school of kids making it almost like back to where it kind of sounds like if Skream were still making dubstep but the sounds were more current. Almost like higher sound design but still sounding like old school. So there’s a lot going on right now. They call it riddim. And that’s a strong movement. There are kids that are selling out like thousand-cap venues across Middle America playing this stuff that’s pretty underground. So it’s definitely not dead, but I think what people thought of it, the idea of it changed.

I never labeled myself dubstep, but it’s kind of what happens when you produce a record in Beatport. I definitely took inspirations from that. I didn’t really care if people call me that either. I don’t really care what people label me as. I just make the music I like, and before Scary Monsters came out, I had a different sound, and my sound’s always changing and evolving. It’s natural for that to happen, for people to use words. You need words to categorize, and I don’t hate that at all.

Speaking of words, you were singing a little bit on the Jack Ü album. Do you have an interest in getting back to singing and those band roots at all?
It’s funny because when I’m in the studio and I collaborate, there’s no plan. Everything happens on a whim, literally. Not to sound so vague and ambiguous. But when we made that record it wasn’t like ‘OK my plan is to go back to my roots and singing.’ We were just in the studio and I came up—I help write a lot of lyrics with artists I work with, so I was just singing some stuff, and Diplo was like ‘just go in there and sing it.’ So we sang it and kept it. And yeah it was just random, so that could definitely happen again.

I read that your mother died recently. How have you dealt with that?
I don't know if you've ever lost someone important to you before, but when that happens you just everything sort of stops and you really reflect and you know a lot of emotions come out and you kind of become yourself. And not to sound cliché, but through that you really appreciate life and living and the people around you. If anything it just makes you sad at how negative the world can be and how negative people can be when at the end of the day you can walk down the street next to a negative person and you're looking at the same world, but through their eyes it's different from what you see. So it's up to you how you want to see the world and how you manifest the reality. And I guess I've tried to be really, really positive lately and keep the people that I care about around me close and not take things for granted and know that life is a precious and fragile thing and it can be gone in a second and it's important to enjoy it while we have it. Being a negative person you're just wasting your life away. It's up to you. Why be negative when life is so short?

I know you're a big Aphex Twin fan. What did you think of the new Aphex Twin album?
I really liked it. I loved it, actually. I bought like five of the vinyls of it and gave them to my friends. It's awesome. I don't know if you're a big Aphex Twin fan, but it's just like cool. It's definitely a really good record. It's got vibes of Windowlicker and Druqks on there. I feel like you never know with him. I've actually been on tour with him once in Australia and hung out with him a couple times, and he's a really nice guy.

There'd be a set that he played that was a lot more recognizable, and then there'd be a set that he played for like 30 minutes and it's just like noise. You didn't know what the new Aphex Twin record was going to be. It could have been a ‘fuck you’ record. But he actually, I feel like, made a record for his fans. And maybe that wasn't his idea at all. I can't speak for him and how he makes records, but he went back to the whole like acid-y house thing and ended up with a really pretty piano piece like he does with a lot of his records, which is kind of what you wanted—I guess what I kind of wanted out of an Aphex Twin record. And he got a Grammy.

OK, this is a really superficial question, but how does it work, maintenance-wise, with the side shave haricut? That's become kind of a trademark with you. How often do you have to shave the side of your head?
It's so easy. I get the front, and I just get like my friend on tour to help me get the back, but it only takes like a minute. I just like it. I'm just used to it right now. When I shave it it just feels so nice when you rub your head.

What's it like to be so strongly associated with a specific haircut like that?
It's funny. I don't even think about that really. I've always had long hair, and then ever since I shaved it it became such a different thing, you know? But I never really thought of it that way. I'll change my hair sometime, but I'm just so used to it and it's so easy and it just feels good when your head gets shaved, you get to touch your little side and it's like prickly.

It's cool. I wish I had an iconic haircut. It seems like a lot of pressure, but it's cool.
It's just natural. It was organic. I just happened I guess. I didn't think that was going to be such a focus, but it's cool.

Kyle Kramer loves space. Follow him for cool space facts on Twitter.