Int. the Hollywood Palladium – late night
The Palladium is packed wall-to-wall with sweaty bodies, nearly every one of them waiting hungrily for the drop. Skrillex stands onstage behind his MacBook, bringing down the levels on his remix of Benny Benassi's "Cinema" until the audience is singing a cappella, lighters raised in the air. Skrillex points an index finger high, as if to say, "Wait for it." The vocals echo, speed up, a voice orders "Drop the bass," and then, here it comes, a growling, woofer-shuddering WAH-WAH topped by screeching electro laser-fire. It is auditory, vibrational adrenaline. And the crowd explodes – the rave kids, the hard-rock kids, the hip-hop kids, the pop kids, all the tribes. Heads nod violently, hands flail in the air, girls are launched onto shoulders, a mosh pit erupts in the center of the dance floor.
Four minutes later, drenched in sweat, Skrillex bounds off the stage. After other shows this week, Skrillex has asked if the mixes sounded OK, if the parts where his overheated MacBook went dead hurt the vibe, if the crowd was into it. But tonight, he has no doubts.
"That was the show," he says. "One of those magical moments." He leads the way to his backstage dressing room, as his "dogs" (as he calls his inner circle) press in behind him. Something happened in the room tonight: From the front of the house to the back of the balcony, everyone seemed to be in the mix and on the ride. "I don't think I'll be remembered in a big Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin way," Skrillex says as he crosses the threshold of his dressing room, the small crowd spilling in behind him. "I think I'll be remembered in this way: by the people who were there, who can't capture or explain it." He pauses, and tries to clarify. "I'm not trying to brag or anything. It's not about me. It's about facilitating a good time for everyone."
And this is the secret of Skrillex: He's not an entertainer, but the host of a party that never stops. Not party in the sense of copious drug-taking – he's never done acid or Ecstasy because he's scared they will change his brain forever, and he's worried cocaine will come with a hangover that'll keep him from working (though a quart of vodka and diet Red Bull evidently doesn't). But party in the sense of constant good times, close friends and overstimulation.
Onstage, he's not so much performing as conducting an experience for every person in the room. Before the shows, he obsessively walks through each venue, making sure the audience can hear the high end from every spot and the lights don't blind anyone in the front. And during the shows, when the music doesn't get everyone dancing, he resorts to peer pressure. "Fuck your camera phones," he urged the crowd at Cinespace four nights earlier. "You can't party through a screen. Put your phones away!"
Most nights end with Skrillex DJ'ing at an afterparty, someone's house, a studio or a hotel room. It's as if he has an addiction to playing music, and needs to do it every night to prevent himself from feeling some sort of existential pain. It is a compulsion brought on not necessarily by a need to perform and be seen, but to bring people together and give them a good time. "I'm transparent, man," he elaborates, lighting a cigarette. "What you see is what you get: I love music. I love hanging out with other people. I feel good when I make someone else happy. I want that energy in the room. You know, no one can be alone. That's why I DJ."
When pressed, he looks into his past to explain his need to make sure everyone's happy. "That's my mom's side," he finally says. "My mom was so loving, but annoyingly overhospitable. I'll have already eaten, like, 10 things, and my mom would be like, 'You want something else?' No, thanks. 'Do you want this?' No, I don't want anything else. 'OK, do you want this other thing, then?' No, no, I'm full. 'Do you want me to go to the store to get this one thing you like?' No, no more anything!
"And I can get that way: If I get a couple drinks in me, that's when I start to reintroduce my friends over and over again."
Though many have placed Skrillex in the role of young angry white male – the Kurt Cobain or Eminem of dance music – he says they've got the wrong guy. "I'm not angry," he responds. "I'm happy, dude!"
He pauses, and reconsiders: "But not too happy. I'm on a mission."
Int. Atlantic Records studio indoor parking lot, Hollywood – evening
As Skrillex exits the car, he runs into Craig Kallman, Atlantic's CEO. He pulls Skrillex aside and says he's received a number of calls inquiring into the possibility of Skrillex doing a reality show.
"No," Skrillex says firmly.
"What about one of the late-night talk shows? They're all calling for you."
"I don't want to be everywhere," Skrillex grumbles. "I barely want to be anywhere."
So why is it that Skrillex avoids publicity? Because he wants to retain some semblance of a normal life? Or wants to remain relatively underground and credible?
All that may be true. But there is a much bigger reason: He's worried you'll judge him. Sure, he was touring the world in a rock band at 16, but that excitement was tempered by serious acne, which hamstrung his social life. "I used to hide my face with my hair all the time," he admits. "That's why I have long hair."
But a year and a half ago, "I shaved the side of my head as a kind of a way to get over that," he says defiantly. "I was like, 'Fuck it, now I can't hide my face! I'm not here to be pretty. I'm here to make music.'"
He goes quiet again. "But I won't lie: That's why I don't like to be in the spotlight and in the press. I don't like to see myself."
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