Skrillex: Eight Wild Nights and Busy Days With the Superstar

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Ext. warehouse rooftop, downtown L.A. – afternoon

"See that big mountain right there? Just below that, that's where I grew up," Skrillex says. He is standing on the roof of a Pillsbury dough factory that his friend Jeremy has converted into a woodworking warehouse and showroom. "That's Mount Washington. It's part of northeast L.A."

His father was an insurance-claims investigator, whom Skrillex describes as "a politically incorrect dude who doesn't give a fuck." His mother was a housewife. They raised him with no punishment, total honesty (he even told them the first time he got drunk) and unconditional support for anything he wanted to do. This set in motion his somewhat quirky lifelong disgust with rules of any sort and people who impose their beliefs on others.

When he was two, the family moved to San Francisco. By elementary school, Moore's musical ambitions were firmly in place: He wanted to be Michael Jackson. "I would dress up like him every day," he remembers. "And I'd perform for my parents all the time. I'd even go to school in a hat, a white shirt and black pants with high-water shoes."

At 12, his family returned to L.A. and he became a skate punk, listening to the Dickies and the Subhumans, and smoking cigarettes. "One day, the teacher said, 'You can't smoke and go to school,'" Moore recalls, still indignant. "So I stood up and said, 'I smoke. So I'll go somewhere else.' I walked out that day. I don't think anyone should tell anyone what to do."

That was the end of his formal schooling. In keeping with his parents' philosophy of unconditional support, they sent him to the home of a tutor every day, where, along with roughly 10 other kids, he received an hourlong lesson and homework.

Around this time, Moore started playing with local bands, but none of them could keep pace with his workaholism. "We were doing practice three times a week and I was pissed off," Moore remembers. "I was like, 'Only three times a week? Let's play every day!'" He left his most serious early group, the pop-punk crew At Risk, when the parents of his bandmates began getting too meddlesome.

While trawling MySpace, looking for emo girls to sleep with and new bands to jam with, Moore met an older kid in Georgia named Matt Good, who had a screamo band called From First to Last. Moore sent Good some videos of himself playing guitar, and one day Good told him, "We kicked out our singer, and I'm gonna start singing. Want to come and try out for guitar?"

And that's when Moore's life changed. Not just because of the offer, but because at the same time a family friend told him he'd run into his mother. "No," Moore responded when he heard the name of the woman, "she's just a friend of the family."

But afterward, he realized that there'd been clues all along that the woman actually was his mother. He'd even asked his parents once if he'd been adopted, after he overheard a conversation that seemed to suggest it. This time, Skrillex confronted them more directly. When they told him it was true, his reaction, as he recalls, was "Fuck you!" He'd rarely been angry with them before, but suddenly he felt like an idiot – like everybody had known but him. And so, with the family rule of honesty shattered, Skrillex reacted like he did in school: "I told my parents to fuck off and got out of there. I was talking to that band on the Internet anyway. And so I said, 'Fine, I'm coming to Georgia.'"

Skrillex doesn't especially like talking about the circumstances of his adoption, and he hasn't seen his biological mom since he was a teen and his biological dad in four years. "I don't have time to fixate on who I was," he says. "I'm doing too much right now. And I don't want to ever analyze what I should be or shouldn't be compared to someone else who wasn't in my life."

As for his adoptive mom and dad, things eventually returned to normal. "I love them to death," he says. "I want to take care of them as they grow old."

From First to Last had just signed to Epitaph Records. Moore impressed the bandmates enough that they didn't just make him their guitarist – they made him the singer. He recorded two albums with them, made it into the Top 40 and began pulling a larger salary at 17 than his father ever did. But, he recalls, "Almost right away, I didn't have a real connection with them."

The nightly screamo-ing also damaged his vocal cords, leading to his operation. But the bigger problem was he just wasn't enjoying himself. (A friend around at the time says that members of the group were negative to be with and often belittled Moore.) One night, after three years in the band, he felt a little sick before a concert in Philadelphia, canceled the show and never returned.

So by the time he was 19, Moore was living in a loft in downtown L.A. and learning to DJ with help from a neighbor – taking his MySpace handle, Skrillex, as his DJ name. He signed a solo deal with Atlantic as Sonny and released an emo-electro-pop EP, Gypsyhook. The Sonny LP recorded afterward (and never released) is the missing link between From First to Last and Skrillex: It is almost its own genre, swapping the pop for the electronic aggression he'd been experimenting with as a DJ and producer.

From the rooftop, Skrillex points out the spots where he cut his teeth as a DJ. "See that blue building?" he asks. "We used to throw parties there. Also that orange building. Pretty much every building around this general area." He stubs out his cigarette. "The parties were fun, but you never want them to be at your place."

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