Rebel Music: Skrillex Distills Punk Influences on Groundbreaking Electronica Album

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Given that the name Skrillex, the moniker under which Sonny Moore records and tours, is so clearly associated with electronic music, it's rather surprising to hear that a Metallica show was the first concert he ever attended.

"That was when I was living in San Francisco in 1998," he says via phone from his Los Angeles studio where he was putting the finishing touches on music for the new Transformers movie. "From there, at a younger age I was more into heavy metal than punk rock. I saw bands like Machinehead, System of a Down, Slipknot."

After he moved back to his Los Angeles birthplace when he was 12, he gravitated toward "L.A. street punk."

"I remember watching bands like the Dickies and Dee Dee Ramone who played the Troubadour," he says. "I was like 12 years old. [I listened to a] lot of street punk like the Casualties. That band used to play at Troubadour all the time. But MTV was so good at that time in the '90s. You could discover so much shit and that's when I remember seeing the Prodigy's 'Breathe' video. To me that was punk rock. It sounded the same even though it was electronic, so that's kind of how those influences crept in and hip-hop as well. Everyone that skateboarded was listening to hip-hop. That all sort of created a hybrid of all the stuff I grew up with."

At first, Moore joined the punk band From First to Last. He sang lead vocals with the group but heavy touring started to take a toll on his voice and he started to think about other musical endeavors.

"We were touring around in a band trailer across the U.S. when I was 16 years old," he says. "Your guarantees were 150 bucks for the night so we had to sell as much merch as we could, you know, maxing our credit cards at the beginning to make it work. It was fun. That's like growing up at its fullest just being out there. But I wonder if the problems with my throat were part of me wanting to move on anyway. I don't know what it was. It might have been both because I knew I wanted to go off and do my own thing at some point, and I've always loved producing and that sort of thing."

In 2009, he released his first EP as Skrillex and then followed it up in 2010 with Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites and then More Monsters and Sprites, albums which established him as a cutting-edge electronic artist who was experimenting with a new style of music called dubstep. Released earlier this year, Recess has been promoted as his first studio record, a bit of a misnomer given the amount of music he's put out.

"With electronic music, it's never really about making album albums," he says. "You know it's about giving people a lot of stuff over whatever period of time. Before Recess probably for me it was easy because I had full albums with stuff including singles, remixes and EPs. So I guess music is changing. There's people in the media that kind of really make a big deal about certain things and I guess it is different in a sense that a lot more songs turn out at once, but I've never felt like [Recess] was my debut album because I had so much success with my other work and experience, you know. Not to mention doing multiple records with my other band. It just kind of felt like I've always been making music in the last 10 years now so it's just another one for the log."

He says the recording process for Recess was only slightly different than his previous endeavors.

"I've been finishing the tail end of my previous releases as Skrillex and going to places like Asia and Russia," he says. "So the record in essence was kind of made how all my other records were, like in hotels and airplanes and different cities and Korea and Japan and London and Seattle and wherever. Every time you make music, you're a different person. You change so much. You sort of do what you do when you do it. I guess you know when you are that."

He also found time to write the score for Harmony Korine's film Spring Breakers. While Korine's film features mainstream Hollywood stars like James Franco, it's shot as if it were an underground arthouse flick and fits well within Korine's oeuvre of experimental cinema.

"A lot of people were so surprised that I could make different styles of music and didn't realize I could do stuff like Spring Breakers or anything like that," Moore says. "When I make Skrillex music, the whole idea is to have a connection or impact in a festival or club environment. That's why it's so fun in a different way when you do something like Spring Breakers, it's really not about that. Yeah, I mean it was different but it was fun. Yeah, that's why I was ecstatic because I was a huge fan of what Harmony has been doing. He kind of gave me the freedom to be myself but also create stuff."

The electronic music scene is undoubtedly going to evolve and change as time goes on, so what does Moore think the future is going to be like?

"Electronic music I think is going to do less of just the pure rave scene and more of a music thing," he says. "I think you'll see more collaborations and there's a culture there that connects things like Skrillex and A$AP Rocky, and Chance the Rapper, whatever these things are and more of a musical thing than just a rave thing. Also, you'll see bands embracing the electronic platform as a producing tool; you know everyone's using electronics to make music. Whether it's Arcade Fire or Foster the People or pure electronic bands, guys like Major Lazer who are taking vocals and making rave tunes out of them. Just becoming musically more a platform and a genre so there's no bubble. I mean until people stop buying software, there's no electronic music bubble."

Skrillex, Dillon Francis, What So Not, Milo and Otis

8 p.m. Tuesday, May 27. Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, 2014 Sycamore St., 216-861-4080. Tickets: $49.50,

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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