Skrillex on His New Year's Eve Madison Square Garden Takeover With Diplo and Jack U
"Let's get weird." The Grammy-winning DJ speaks to Billboard about headlining the Garden, and why DJs should embrace obscure music.
After four consecutive years of Phish, Madison Square Garden is turning things up this New Years Eve with a high-octane dance party headlined by Skrillex and Diplo. The evening, which is sure to be heavy on hip-hop and house music, will include solo sets from both DJs, but the big draw is a joint performance by Jack Ü, the pair's supergroup. Jack Ü released its first single, "Take U There" featuring Kiesza, this summer, and followed it with a buzzy remix of Beyonce's "711" last week. Kiesza will also perform at The Garden on Dec. 31, along with guests A$AP Ferg, Rudimental and Yellow Claw. Tickets for the event are still available and can be purchased here.
We spoke with Skrillex (real name: Sonny Moore) about the challenges of spinning a 20,000 capacity stadium, and what fans can expect from Jack Ü in 2015. Hint: If you were surprised to learn that he and Diplo performed a surprise set during a Los Angeles SoulCycle class, you 'aint seen nothing yet.
Billboard: Some could argue that DJ sets are best seen at off-the-beaten-path warehouses, outdoor festivals, or dance clubs. Is it difficult to host a wild dance party in a massive stadium where fans are wedged in their seats? What do you do to work with that set-up?
Skrillex: I always make sure I have some kind of real, tangible connection with the audience no matter how big or small the room is. I don't want to be an effect of the room, I want to make that my responsibility. There are a lot of little things we do with our shows that help, like mounting these small cameras onto us so that we can show our point-of-view to the audience on the big screens. We also have cameramen on the ground who shoot the crowd in real-time, and we project those images onto the screens, too. So we plan our visuals out ahead of time, but intersperse the graphics with live imagery of what's happening around you. It's great energy.
The first time I went to Coachella, I remember all of the stages, even the massive mainstage, had tight cameras following the artists around during their performances. From the audience, it was like watching an old Woodstock DVD. It felt up close and personal despite the fact that you were in a sea of thousands of people. And communicating with the crowd is really important. DJing is something I love to do, but it's only one facet of who I am as an artist. I feel like if you can communicate your art effectively, you can reach a lot more people.
There will probably be a good amount of attendees at The Garden who are seeing you and Diplo for the first time. How do you explain Jack Ü's sound? How is it different from your independent acts?
The easiest way to explain Jack Ü is to say that if you took Skrillex and Diplo -- those independent sounds, personas and attitudes -- and fused them together right down the middle, that's Jack Ü. Maybe that sounds obvious, but it's not a highly conceptual project. A lot of it is just us, in our own environments, making exactly the kind of music we want to hear. That means some it's really obscure, and some of it isn't, but we're not overthinking the popularity potential. That's not what this is about. This is more about exploring.
It seems like DJs can get caught up in what's popular and lose sight of their own sound.
Exactly. If you think about your personal playlists on your computer, I'm sure there's a bunch of shit on there nobody has ever heard of, and that's cool. I don't mean to disrespect anybody, but I get frustrated with some DJ sets these days because I'm just like, 'Man, there's so much more music you can play,' you know? I'd love to see mainstage sets with more variety. Let's get weird. If I'm going to headline Madison Square Garden, the last thing I want do is be boring people. Granted, you don't want to get up there and play a bunch of weird, pretentious stuff that nobody can vibe with, so it's definitely a balance. The end goal with Jack Ü, more than anything, is to have fun. Jack Ü puts the U in fun. Boom. Headline! But the fact is that DJ sets don't have to be stacked with songs you know. Whether we're playing an obscure, obnoxious record or the prettiest song you've ever heard, the point is to make you feel something, and make your body move.
Has it sunken in that you're performing Madison Square Garden on New Years Eve? What's that feel like for an electronic artist who has, to be frank, had to spend a lot of time defending their sound?
It has felt kind of like the Grammys, in the sense that I don't think I'll be able to process it until it's over and done with. And actually, I think that's good. Don't get me wrong, we are very prepared, we're ready, but I've learned that overthinking things doesn't get you anywhere. As an artist, you're naturally competitive with yourself and you want to be the best. But the only real way to grow is by doing.
What can fans expect from Jack Ü in 2015?
Well first, I'm personally going to take a little time off in the first half of the year to work on some other projects. And that's all good because Diplo has a lot going on, too. He's working on more Major Lazer, not to mention his own stuff, so our schedules ebb and flow. But that's part of what makes Jack Ü work. It can be spontaneous. We probably played 30 shows this year but only 10 or so were officially announced, you know? We played house parties, we played beaches, we showed up to a f---ing SoulCycle class in L.A. and played a set in the room while everyone was, like, breathing so hard and yelling and spinning. It was f---ing wild. So to answer your question, yes, you'll for sure see us in 2015, no doubt. But you might have keep your ear to the ground.