One of the many excellent things about being Skrillex is that you can rehearse for your Coachella performance in a hotel room. Just a few days before the festival, he and Diplo – who will perform together as Jack Ü – are still figuring out most of their set, which will end up being a highlight of the weekend, complete with a Kanye West guest spot.
"If you work until the last moment," says Skrillex, 28, "you have the best show ever." For Skrillex, the last couple of years have been adventurous ones, as he put aside the skronky dubstep that made him famous in favor of Jack Ü's populist bombast and an unlikely turn as a hitmaking producer for Justin Bieber. "You just gotta go on with that feeling of inspiration," Skrillex says. "And a lot of times you end up somewhere you don't ever expect to be."
Doesn't Justin Bieber seem like the kind of kid who might have tried to beat you up in high school?
I was a different kid, and, sure, I was harassed a little. But it wasn't like I was a little bitch. I'd fight back!
Well, I did say "tried."
I've always been just chameleoning around, just hanging out with different people. The hip-hop kids, the rock kids, the skaters and jocks and whoever else. I had fun with everybody.
Deadmau5 claimed that you allowed yourself to be "used as a goddamn tool" by Biebs.
If he was a real friend, he would come to me and be like, "Yo, you shouldn't be working for Justin Bieber," rather than blowing it up all over the Internet and going out of his way to make people feel wrong for making a choice in their life. And I would say to him, "I enjoy working with Justin Bieber!" I'm a fan of his voice. And if you're a producer and you get an opportunity to work with someone who's the biggest artist in the world – for better or for worse – what would you say? Would you say no?
How does your Jack Ü collaboration with Diplo work?
It changes every single day. In general, we like to take a piano or guitar and write something simple with a singer or songwriter, and then we'll come together and figure out the production later. The idea is taking pop songs and doing something really unexpected with production and sound.
You've been working with rappers lately, including Rick Ross on a song for Suicide Squad. What hip-hop producers do you admire?
Timbaland is still one of my favorite producers ever, with his drums. He inspired me growing up. And the diversity of the people who he's worked with, from fuckin' Björk to Justin Timberlake, and even that record from what's his name, from Audioslave.
Chris Cornell! A lot of people think that record is garbage, though.
But it's so much better that he made a garbage record than no record. I respect any artist for trying shit.
You started in emo. What would it take to get you excited about a rock act now?
Music's gotta be dangerous, and that's what I feel like rock has lacked. The most dangerous music right now is electronic music and hip-hop. The best artists take limited resources and create the most out of them, and that's what people are doing with computers and samplers. It's like, "We don't have enough money to get a whole studio and a whole band, so we just do the shit ourselves in our bedrooms." But the kids are going to inevitably start punk bands again. It's going to happen.
There's a lot of talk about an "EDM bubble" that might be bursting, but clearly electronic music isn't going anywhere.
A lot of people who ask about the state of EDM don't know what they're asking. Are you asking me how long people are going to make EDM? Like what David Guetta's making? Avicii? Or are you asking how long people are going to make computer music? Because people won't stop making music on the computer until computers go away. But as far as a certain culture and aspect of EDM, yeah, I do believe that it will go away, because the ratio of businesspeople is trumping the ratio of actual artistry.
What are your plans for your next album as Skrillex?
It doesn't have to be an album anymore. It's good to re-evaluate and start from the ground up of what it means to make music and what it means to release music. Every three years or so, I kinda step back for a second and wait for a bite of inspiration to throw me in the next direction. I'm just taking my time.
Do you have a sense of where it's going sonically?
I have a lot of awesome ideas, I just don't want to give too many away. If someone else does it first, then I'll have to think of something else, you know?
Can you just hum one for me?
[Laughs, hums supermelodic riff] That's a fuckin' hit right there!