Music Diary Notes: The Pied Piper of Dubstep

I have mentioned the musical sub-genre Dubstep before, and the practitioners including Daft Punk, Deadmau5 and Skrillex. My son is a MASSIVE fan of this style of music, so I have become more aware of it than I would otherwise.

It is hard to describe the musical style to someone who hasn’t heard it, but from his bio at AllMusic they say he “combines the Benny Benassi and Deadmau5 styles of electro with the over the top samples and giant noises of acts like the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim.”

Here is the official video for his biggest hit, Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites. Note the use of vocal snippets as coloration rather than centerpiece, loads of samples and thunderous bass and noise.

He has gotten loads of press on sites such as the magazine Spin, who featured him earlier this year:

Of course, since his Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP (Atlantic/Mau5trap) debuted at No. 1 on iTunes’ dance chart in December, he hasn’t been home much. Moore toured with his mentor, festival hero Deadmau5 last year, but 2011 finds him bringing his frenetic pileup of crushing sub-bass, thumping electro beats, and neon synth patterns to headlining gigs and festivals.

In spite of being headlined by “Kanye West and Stevie Wonder”, Skrillex featured prominently in Spin’s coverage of Austin City Limits in September – with Spin giving him the nod for “Most Enthusiastic Crowd” and the following kudos:

: The house for Skrillex was absolutely packed before the DJ-producer born Sonny Moore even took the stage — and there was a crush of several thousand people rushing to get close as he dropped the first beats. If you were wondering where the teenagers were, the answer was simple: Skrillex. He worked them into a frenzy. Stevie Wonder may have played the main stage that night, but Skrillex was the crowd’s headliner.

And last week Harper Smith covered Skrillex as part of the Electric Daisy Carnival in Los Vegas:

“I had to run halfway across the festival to get to Skrillex’s performance,” says Smith. “And I was completely blind to what I was getting into — I had no idea what a big deal this guy is. It was packed! I can’t get backstage. Cell phones don’t work, so I can’t call his manager. I’m supposed to be onstage while he’s performing. It’s just a bad dream with tons of crazy outfits in your face. I can’t see shit. Finally, I see Skrillex walk past me up onstage. I yell his name. He stops, grabs my hand, and pulls me up through this massive amount of people. We finally get onstage and I stand next to him as he performs. I’m looking out over a sea of thousands of people. I can’t believe I’m standing there. He hits his first notes and starts dancing like a crazy person. Next thing I know there are dancers and sparks – I don’t even know how to describe it. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life.”

Earlier this year I saw something about Skrillex starting a new tour, and when we found out he was coming to Syracuse, NY (~2 hour drive). I told my 13-year old son that if he wanted to go, he needed to earn enough in extra chores and yardwork to pay for BOTH our tickets. My wife and older son (who I went with to Kid Cudi in the summer) had no interest. This was the fourth concert this year – we all started with Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion, then my older son and I saw Kid Cudi, then all saw Bruno Mars, now Skrillex.

This week the concert came around, so I left work early and as soon as he got home from school we hit the road … and he got to do his homework on the road. Knowing that there were four acts (3 warm-ups and Skrillex) meant likely a VERY late night.

While I won’t go into the details, my son described the show as ‘epic’ … and my ears are still ringing a couple of days later. One thing of note: of the four acts, there was only *one* ‘normal’ instrument played, which was the drummer from the electronica/hip-hop group ‘2 Fresh’. The method of making music earns these acts disdain from many, which Skrillex incorporates into ‘My Name is Skrillex’ by noting the critique ‘it can’t be rock music … nobody plays guitar’. Make no mistake – Skrillex is doing MUCH more than ‘just pressing play’.

But what really made an impression on me was the crowd – again I found myself as the ‘old man out’ with a bunch of 16-24 year old kids. The tickets said ’16+, bring your ID’ – and that was actually the topic of some conversation. The audience cut across just about all boundaries – there were a bunch of kids dressed in ‘costumes’, funky outfits, sports dudes, skater-chic, and so on. Just about every stereotype was on display. The crowd was definitely younger than at Kid Cudi by a couple of years – and I didn’t see any other parents attending with kids.

There were no seats, and the show was in the ‘Center of Progress’ building at the New York State Fairgrounds – which with all the tables out is like a huge hangar made of cement. Security was tight, with metal detectors and pat downs (separate lines for boys and girls), no outside bags, water, etc allowed. They were ready for whatever happened.

As the first act Nadastrom hit the stage, they immediate hit an uptempo note and got the crowd involved and energized … which is their job! Then came ‘Two Fresh’, which was an ‘electronica meets hip-hop act … and they really tested the enthusiasm of the crowd as they brought *potential* but really screamed out to have a rapper on top of their foundation. Apparently 12th Planet has some songs the crowd knew, and everyone got energized when he dove into the crowd. With each act the mood intensified and the crowd packed closer to the stage.

Yet nothing prepared me for when Skrillex hit the stage. Everything changed. The audience energy was positively electric, the stage show was thrilling (especially since it was one person behind an embankment), and everyone packed in. From the first beats, Skrillex was in absolute and total control of whatever happened from start to finish.

What he did was a combination of showmanship and musicianship – he had a flashy lightshow, and an amazing motion-capturing system portraying the various large figures behind him mimicking his actions. Yet he used traditional music ‘catch & release’ tricks to keep the audience guessing, call and response to involve them, stopped the music to have everyone ‘singing’, and changed up enough stuff that you never knew quite where he was going next.

At 23 years old, Skrillex has taken hold of the minds of a generation of young kids ready to not worry so much about the lyrics and just enjoy the hypnotic, disruptive and often surprising beats that the dubstep master lays down. He leads a massive audience wherever he goes – the accolades about ‘most enthusiastic audience’ certainly applied here: in a SRO crown packed tightly there was a single fight – and that was during the first act. When Skrillex performed everyone came together and just reveled in the music with a singularity of purpose I have seldom seen.

The security guards said the performers requested no videotaping (ok, that is my expression … the security dudes could have been my kids as well!), so I only grabbed some stills like the one above – and as a reference of how close we were, that was with my Droid Pro, and I didn’t use the zoom!

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!