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Q&A: Skrillex on the Future of Dance Music and Pitfalls of Fame

'I get messages from ten-year-olds saying, 'Hey, I'm making dubstep,' says DJ

Skrillex performs during Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee.
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
July 10, 2012 1:15 PM ET

Few artists are busier this summer than Skrillex, who is taking his loud, full-sensory-overload live show across giant venues from San Francisco's Golden Gate Park to New York's Randalls Island. When we caught up with the DJ backstage at Bonnaroo last month, he was finishing a remix due that day and taking part in an XM Radio show backstage, all before his 1:30 a.m. set. "My body naturally wants to sleep later at night or in the morning just when the sun is about to come up," he says. He took a break to chat with Rolling Stone about EDM's recent explosion, his current obsession with dub roots music and why he doesn't consider himself part of any particular scene.

When did you realize that the music you were making was part of a movement?
It was underground when I first started, especially bass music. In L.A., no more than 200 people came to local dubstep shows – this was around 2006, 2007. At Smog in LA, it was a big night if 150 people came. I feel like it started out without any major marketing promotion, singles, pop songs or anything. But when we'd show up in these cities all over the world, people knew what was going on. The venues were packed.

Why do you think it suddenly resonated with so many people?
I have no idea, really. The only way I can really give you an answer for that is if I listen to what people say. There's so many different ideas. If I think about the reasons why this is working then it might fuck with the way I do things. That's when ego happens, if you accentuate the things you don't really need, you know?

Where do you hope to take your sound in the next few years?
I've got so much stuff that I'm making, man. I'm doing film stuff right now with Harmony Korine – I'm scoring that film Spring Breakers. It's not dance music or anything.

[My music] doesn't have to sound like anything at any certain time. It's just what I feel like doing. I'm not trying to be part of this scene, you know, even though I'm really proud of where I come from and support that. [He pauses, distracted at crowd gathering and snapping photos of him] Sorry. There's people all around just fucking photoing me. I just got distracted. It just got to me.

You're probably the most recognizable DJ on the planet.
It's like when you see this [holds up iPhone] everywhere. That's a strange thing because that was never the reason I wanted to do this. And when I was in my old band I didn't want to be famous. I didn't like that part of it. We just signed to a major label and it's kind of funny how it happens.

People must follow you and snap pictures all the time. When has it been at its worst?
To be honest, I don't mind when people come up and say 'Hi.' It's really cool. It's funny. I don't take it too seriously. Before, [celebrities] would sit at a restaurant, people would stare and say, 'That's so-and-so.' But now there's no shame, cameras everywhere, people filming from far away. It's like, 'Guys, come on!' I get it if you're a paparazzi and it's your job you're trying to make money, but even then it's weird.

How else has your life changed in the last year?
I can't even begin to describe it. I haven't been able to soak it up as much. I finally have a legitimate place. It's still just a little empty warehouse right now. There's nothing in it. They are just doing the final inspections because it's new construction.

What is it like when "the drop" happens in a big space? Do you even call it the drop?
It's funny. Like so many words, it didn't have very much significance. It's funny how things are created by press, in a way. Rolling Stone wrote about it. They wrote about "the drop." It was more of a term when producers talked about the buildup, the intro, "the drop" for communication purposes, you know? But it makes sense. It's what it is. It doesn't have to have a drop. It doesn't make a song. But for certain songs it's kind of a structural thing.

How do you feel about being considered part of a movement?
I don't really know how to consider it, really. People call me so many things. It's a platform. People don't understand what we're doing. It's kind of like if you watch the A Tribe Called Quest documentary [Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest]. It explains how the MC's came up around DJ culture; Everyone had a boombox. If you're a kid and hung out in the basketball court or in the parks, you had boomboxes. And you had blank cassette tapes and you made mixtapes right there and recorded shit on the radio, and then showed your friends and played the new tracks. They'd have block parties and hang out and MCs would come up. It's kind of curation and creation at the same time. DJing and EDM is about, 'How quick can we get new music to come out?' and 'How fast can we show people things?' and include everyone in on a lot of shit, because it's all different sounds, and that's the mentality that goes behind making tracks and DJing. Electronic dance music can be so many things. If you can dance to it, and it's produced electronically, I guess it could be anything in the future.

And the turnover can be so fast.
Yeah. It's going to change so much. Typical sounds that you would say are a fad, or not a fad but won't be as timely anymore, new sounds are going to come and it's going to keep going forever and it's going to be so cool. There's a lot of cool shit.

Any sounds you're obsessed with right now?
I've been getting more into dub roots, not necessarily dubstep roots, but making it into my own sounds which is a little bit more future-sounding with the old school elements and vocals. There's a lot of cool stuff out there happening, a lot of underground producers blowing me away and blowing everyone away. People will see some cool shit.

Like who?
French Fries is really great. We just actually signed Birdy Nam Nam [to OWSLA, Skrillex's label]. It
's kind of trap, hip-hop, techno, a four piece live turntable set, and it's fucking the best live show I've ever seen. Oh, my God. There are some live videos, but you have to see them live. They are playing Hard Summer [festival] in L.A. They are so amazing. There's a lot of cool shit, man, that no one knows about that's gonna be awesome. It's going to keep going. People are going to be more creative. Kids are so young, dude. We get messages from ten-year-olds going, 'Hey, I'm making dubstep, can you send this song to Skrillex?' And it's not like they're great songs, but it's great because they're young and they're creating. Maybe they will do something great one day, you know?

The greatest gift of all time is that you can make creation infectious because people spend less time being negative ... If you log all the time with negativity in the while world, I wonder how much better the world would be if people sat down and did something positive. It spirals. That's the whole purpose of OWSLA, basically.

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Song Stories

“Whoomp! (There It Is)”

Tag Team | 1993

Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

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