Backstage with Skrillex

Words: Cole Louison
Photography: Ben Rayner

Part two of The Red Bulletin’s exclusive look into a life on tour with Skrillex

While Skrillex is a running, tapping, yelling blur much of the time, things change as it gets closer to show time. In the DJ booth for a run-through of the light show, he says very little, staring straight ahead at the control panel on the first mezzanine. “The blue spotlight they have on him,” he says, “is too hospital-y. I don’t like it. No way. Can we try different hues?”

The light goes out, someone in the dark makes a joke about John Hughes movies, and there’s laughter, but not from Sonny. He takes a sip from a red cup, a drag off an American Spirit, and stares straight ahead. Here, in the cockpit of the new spaceship, a mammoth, shadowy, angular thing of dark grey metal, it seems he really could take off and fly. Someone pushes a button and on come two finer, paler beams of light in the washed-out blue of old jeans.He nods. “Yeah. Yeah. OK. How does that look?”It looks good. Good vibes all around.

“We have no trouble with EDM,” says Caleb Meyer, a burly, goateed security guard, stationed between the crowd and the stage. Only a few minutes left before Skrillex will enter the spaceship. Meyer’s mumbling into his radio, trying to direct masses of concertgoers to their seats. They stampede around him, but Meyer seems relaxed. “Everybody’s just having fun here. The hardest thing to do is getting them to stay in their seats.” 

They don’t stay in their seats. The house is on its feet well before Skrillex appears onstage, in the light-radiating spaceship, and throws a switch that emits a low, throbbing hum out into the crowd. He sways out over his mixer and raises his hand to the 6,000 which wave towards him. The ship steadily rises in a nest of smoke and an explosion of spotlights. Within a minute he’s standing over the turntables, side mullet already soaked with sweat. “Everybody all right!?” he asks, as the lights reach and pull out into the audience, turning from crimson to Martian green. The crowd erupts.

Yes. Everybody’s all right, especially Sonny, despite recent criticism of his work and his music. As audiences and corporate interest in EDM grew, its credibility as a genre was questioned, by EDM insiders as well as watchers and critics. Deadmau5, fifth on that Forbes list, with $21m of yearly income, referred to Skrillex and other EDM artists as “button-pushers”. Since they don’t scratch records, he says, something is lost. Discussing this after the gig, Skrillex seems to be not so much above it as to simply not care. “It’s not controversial for me because I don’t give a f––k,” he says. “It doesn’t offend me. The Ramones played three chords. It wasn’t about those three chords. It was about the energy and the movement. So I love that criticism. It’s part of what makes this rebellious. That it’s not how people normally make music.”

“It’s not controversial for me because I don’t give a f––k”

He points out his basic set-up on this tour, and that anyone with a computer can make and upload EDM, yet very few are very good.“It all comes from the top down,” says Skrillex. “If you see the audience going crazy, then you see a real connection with the music. There can’t be anything fake up there, when you feel that real passion. And I think with my crowds, it’s the real thing.”There’s nothing fake about the hand-waving, joyous vibe of his audience. Backstage now, some of the Skrillex fans, are waiting nearby, led here by assistants for a meet-and-greet. Paxton Titus from Howell, Michigan, holds a pencil portrait of Skrillex that was done by his younger brother, Carver. “He does something totally different than what you hear on Sirius XM,” he says, referring to commercial-free subscription radio. “He shows you can be artful and not fall into the trap of electronic music where 95 per cent of the stuff is the same. Female vocals, a build-up to bass drop, then the drop and then the beat. It’s the same structure. Skrillex follows his own structure. He has his own monster sound.”

Mandee Edwards, 24, came here from St Louis, about 440 miles away, and spent two hours preparing her make-up, go-go boots, and a black-and-white waterfall-like hairpiece. “His music makes people happy,” she says.A door opens and Skrillex runs up to them with a loud “Heeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyy!” He shakes hands, hugs, poses for selfies, and signs pictures, passes, shirts, a chef’s jacket, a pack of cigarettes and an assortment of arms and hips he’s told will become tattoos. He promptly signs Titus’s brother’s portrait and has a photographer take a picture of it. After half an hour, his manager tells him it’s time to go; they have two shows in Toronto, and getting this entourage over the border in the middle of the night is no easy task. He thanks each fan, raises his hands in apology, then is led upstairs by two guys with radios. 

He’s always been very close to his fans. Be it meet-and-greets, Instagram or giving them his music first and free, it touches on the DIY ethos of the punk shows he played as a kid. It’s out of appreciation, but it’s also integral to him as an artist. Skrillex needs to create, but he also needs to put stuff out there. That openness is key. “It’s a quick way to make stuff and to get a reaction. If it’s too contrived, like a punk show at a venue with $20 beers, kids don’t subscribe to that. Kids subscribe to realness. There’s a YouTube video of a two-year-old rocking out to Skrillex. That’s cool, because at that age there’s nothing else that can persuade you. There’s no media. There’s no scene. Or stereotypes. You hear something and it makes you feel. I think that’s a good sign.”

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08 2014 The Red Bulletin

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