There is a lot to recommend about a Skrillex show: Sonny Moore's pure rock charisma, an exceptionally well-designed light show, the raw enthusiasm of the dance-happy fans. But the main attractions are the drops, in which the dubstep star hits the crowd with a heavy, plunging bass line accompanied by wild, stuttering beats. Skrillex didn't invent the drop – it's been a convention of dubstep and electronic dance music for years – but he's a virtuoso of the style, and the man most likely to bring the sound fully into the mainstream. (Britney Spears gets credit as the first pop star to include a drop in a major hit, with her smash "Hold it Against Me" last year.)
If you've never heard a drop, it sounds like this:
This is one way of dancing to a drop:
The bass drop has an exciting effect on a studio recording, but to really understand its appeal, you need to witness it in a live setting. Skrillex uses it like a joy buzzer, periodically zapping the audience with a jolt of low end. It's an extremely physical thing – the bass gets so loud that the vibrations shake your body. It's as if he's reaching out and physically touching and pushing the crowd, enforcing the communal experience with a rattling sound that everyone feels at once, whether they are enjoying the music or not.
It's a thrilling feeling, and once you've experienced it a few times, you start jonesing for more. Skrillex is fully aware of this, and uses it to his advantage. All through last night's packed gig at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan, he stretched out on a variety of musical tangents, always circling back to reward the audience with increasingly visceral drops. In addition to including bits of his own hits "Rock N' Roll (Will Take You to the Mountain)," "Bangarang" and "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites," Skrillex added drops to familiar hits like Damian Marley's "Welcome to Jamrock" and the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize." These songs go over well with their high recognition factor, but they fit seamlessly into the set and served as a subtle argument for the flexibility of dubstep as a genre. Skrillex was particularly compelling whenever he integrated elements of dancehall and reggae, with the harsh bass tone and jagged rhythms contrasting nicely with the warm, relaxed melodies.
Skrillex is already popular enough to headline festivals and play several large gigs in one week in both Los Angeles and New York, but he's poised to get even bigger this year. He's up for Artist of the Year at the Grammys next weekend, and though he's a bit of a long shot in that race, it's a good indication that the record industry is keenly aware of his star power and potential to bring this niche sound into the mainstream. It wouldn't be surprising if Skrillex-style bass drops became a ubiquitous feature of pop music in the next few years – it's a fresh sound that could get shoehorned into a wide variety of tunes chasing after the zeitgeist. (Skrillex has already dropped the bass on Korn's latest album, The Path of Totality.) It's hard to imagine many artists beating Skrillex himself at his own game though, at least not any time soon. For now, this guy is the king of the drops.