“I make all my records in hotels, pretty much. Just wherever I can. I’ve made records in car rides, if we have like a long trip to a show. All I need is my laptop and my headphones. That’s all you really need, I think, for what I do.”
So says 24-year-old Sonny Moore, the dubstep practitioner of electronic arts better known as Skrillex. And if dubstep isn’t a word in your musical lexicon, don’t feel too bad. The bass, synthesizer and drum-loop genre has largely been an underground phenomena until fairly recently: the thumping, pulsing soundtrack to many a rave.
But with the advent of Skrillex, dubstep has exploded into the mainstream in a volcanic kaleidoscope of synthetic blips and beeps. Moore’s creative endeavors, for instance, recently netted him five Grammy nominations—including Best New Artist. Spin magazine featured him on the cover in October 2011. And his latest eight-song effort, Bangarang, cracked Billboard’s Top 20.
Spin reviewer Garret Kamps had this to say about what Skrillex represents—both who it appeals to … and who it doesn’t: “Sonny says he doesn’t really sleep, and when he says that, you believe him. … It totally suits his mystique/shtick as the hyperactive kid who can’t turn off his brain, much less his sound system. This in turn fits the image of how most adults view most kids today: frantic, addled, disoriented, frightening, distressingly deviant when it comes to technology. And this in turn gives dubstep (or the Americanized pejorative brostep, or whatever you want to call this stuff, and who really cares at this point) its allure and power: It genuinely scares certain people, comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable.”
Dubstep is mostly about sound, not lyrics. Thus, vocal outbursts in Skrillex’s songs are somewhat rare. When they do hit your ears, they’re generally neither positive nor negative. Instead, they’re often just sonic window dressing to be digitally sliced, diced, sampled and reloaded at a different frequency. “Right In,” for instance, repeats the words “Right/Right in” over and over and over and over again.
It’s notable, then, that some of Bangarang’s words are crude or obscene or both. And there’s enough of them to have earned the release a Parental Advisory sticker. Featured guest Sirah, a female rapper who frequently collaborates with Skrillex, ends the title track by saying, “Yo, I’m eatin’ Fun Dip right now, not giving a f‑‑‑.” She again employs that interjection on “Kyoto,” this time in a sexual context as she crudely describes how the bass beat gives a woman an orgasm. “B‑‑ch” and “a‑‑” also turn up a handful of times.
“Breakin’ a Sweat,” a collaboration with the surviving members of The Doors, includes repeated lines that could be heard as an innocuous description of what happens when we dance … or as a sexual double entendre: “I’m breakin’ a sweat/It’s all right/ Woo, that’s good/That’s good/Come on baby, light my fire.”
Perhaps the most interesting moment on Bangarang comes in the middle of “Breakin’ a Sweat” when we hear a snippet of a 1969 interview with Doors frontman Jim Morrison speculating about the future of music. “The new generation’s music … will have a synthesis of those two elements and some third thing,” he says. “It might rely heavily on electronics, tapes. I can kind of envision, maybe, one person with a lot of machines: tapes, electronic setups, singing or speaking, using machines.” Eerily prophetic, Morrison’s words are almost a perfect description of Skrillex.
If anything is clear listening to Bangarang, it’s that Sonny Moore is in love with sound, with the alchemical process of bringing it to metaphorical life and making it dance—and, of course, making fans dance—courtesy of his beloved Mac’s processing power.
The obvious caution here is that several tracks feature f-words and/or a crude sexual reference. Perhaps worthy of deeper philosophical consideration, however, are the implications of Moore’s mesmerizing mastery of the beat. It’s not at all hard to see how his hypnotic rhythms could fuel a dance party deep into the night, nay, morning. And it may be raves’ reputation for drug abuse that partly inspired Spin’s Kamp to observe that “his live show … tiptoes right along the line between religious experience and soccer riot.”
Right, right, right in … right, right, right, right in … right, right, right in.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.