With four EPs, three GRAMMY Awards (including Best Dance/Electronica Album), 300 shows a year and a long-awaited debut album on his plate, Skrillex is the biggest—and busiest—dance producer on the planet. He’s remixed Lady Gaga, La Roux, Bruno Mars and more, and has recorded with the surviving members of The Doors. He also swears by Ozone for “tightening up your mix,” and loves to mess around with Trash.
Oh, and did you know he’s only 24?
Sonny Moore, aka Skrillex, is ensconced in a plush recording studio in downtown Los Angeles, calmly awaiting the arrival of a pair of rock legends. A film crew is there to document the moment—one of five segments that will end up in director Amir Bar-Lev’s Re:Generation, a documentary tribute to our modern obsession with electronically manipulated music, as seen through the eyes of some of its top producers. As Skrillex preps an agro-dubstep beat to blast over the monitors, we suddenly catch a glimpse of his guests: Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek, also known as one half of The Doors. Later in the day, drummer John Densmore is expected to drop in, making this the first time all three will have played together on a track in more than 30 years.
“At the time I started making electronic music, it wasn’t a certain scene,” Skrillex says. “It was just something we liked to do. The Doors, I felt like they were the same way. There was no plan. They just made music and they were themselves. They were like, in the Amazon with a machete, just chopping away, just going for it and not really knowing where they were going. So we really connected, and I think we made a really good record.”
For Krieger, Manzarek and Densmore, the session was little more than a loose jam, but Skrillex set about chopping and screwing a few select loops into a finished song called “Breakn’ a Sweat,” one of the more tribal-sounding highlights of his Bangarang EP, released last December. It’s just a taste of what the 24-year-old L.A. native has tapped into since 2007, when he quit his gig as frontman for the screamo-thrash outfit From First To Last to devote himself full-time to DJing and producing.
Drawing inspiration from the nu-school work of Flux Pavilion, Doctor P, Noisia and other artists from the UK and Europe, Skrillex has virtually remade dubstep—a club-ready amalgam of dub, drum-and-bass, speed garage and other alt-techno styles—into a sound all his own. His toothy synth lines dominate the midrange, and can cut through a packed dance floor like a samurai sword through butter. Both his splashy snares and floor-scraping drops (the essential “hook” in dubstep) figure prominently in a production style that’s sleek and metallic, but also free-spirited and accessible.
Beyond the music, what’s incredible about Skrillex’s rise—he was nominated for five GRAMMYs this year, including Best New Artist—is that his notoriety is almost exclusively fan-driven, with little-to-no marketing muscle behind it. He released his 2010 debut EP My Name Is Skrillex for free on his MySpace page, and followed that mere months later with Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (released officially through Deadmau5’s Mau5trap label, in a joint venture with Big Beat Records), which took over Beatport’s Top 10 within days. One standout track from that EP, “Kill Everybody” (more than 25 million plays on YouTube to date), showcases Skrillex’s signature “talking” synths—a staple of his live set, and a big part of why his Mothership Tour was one of the biggest-selling traveling road shows of 2011.
“It was 322 shows in 2011—almost every night!” he says, feigning exhaustion. It’s clear he thrives on the energy. Watching Skrillex for any length of time, even in relaxed interviews, is a study in kinetics: he’s always moving, always listening and always thinking of his fans when he brings them a new idea, whether it’s on his laptop or during one of his epic sets. “It’s crazy, and it’s not easy. It’s like having a child. I haven’t had a child, but I’ve heard people talk about kids. You’re up all night, you don’t sleep, and there’s a lot of attention. You have to feed them when they need to be fed, and you have to wake up when they need your attention. You just have to be there—they’re so precious and fragile and cute, and it’s also the most rewarding thing ever.”
“If somebody is calling you a sellout, usually it’s a regurgitated word that people use when you get big.”
Getting to your music and how you make it, we’ve heard that you’re a fan of iZotope Ozone. What are some of your favorite features, and how do use them when you’re mastering?
Ozone is just super-versatile. The Multiband Stereo Imaging is really nice, and you can bus a ton of things to it for different reasons. I’m actually next to [dubstep producer and DJ] Flux Pavilion right now, and he says it’s fucking wicked for everything, really. Everybody uses it. I use it as a multi-band compressor on individual channels—I’ll bus out multiple channels if I just want some stereo imaging, and the EQ in there is very nice too. I use the Multiband Dynamics and the Harmonic Exciter on a lot of shit, and the Maximizer too. I really use it all. It’s just cool to have so many choices in one.
I think where it’s really helped me is to create the illusion of a lot of stereo stuff going on, without getting the phase problems. You can use Ozone’s stereo imaging and take frequencies above seven thousand [7 kHz], or even a little bit lower, and you can widen everything up there, so that the mix starts to sound a lot wider. In an environment where you’re performing live, where a lot of times you have distortion and different high frequencies bouncing around the room, you don’t necessarily need those to be as present, but when the higher end stuff starts phasing, because you’ve widened everything, it almost tightens up your mix. For how bright and how chaotic my mixes are, I think they work really well in the club because I’ve widened the stereo image. If you do that at a lower frequency band, you get phasing and lose the notation, or lose the actual definition of the synth line. But if you brighten things up at the very top of everything, it gives the illusion of a big wide mix.
Please read the complete interview with Skrillex on the iZotope website.