Just 21, Porter Robinson is rounding the corner on his first decade of dancefloor domination. He’s been producing tracks since he was 13 and been a touring DJ almost as long, at first accompanied by his father and playing clubs he wouldn’t have been permitted to enter were he not the talent. But despite his success behind the decks — tours with Tiesto and Skrillex, tag-team DJ’ing with Zedd, main-stage appearances at Ultra Music Festival, Electric Zoo and Electric Daisy Carnival — he’s tired of the superstar DJ scene. And though you’d never call anyone with this much enthusiasm jaded, he’s ready for a change.
“I genuinely don’t want to be playing electro bangers anymore,” says Robinson from Tokyo in the midst of his latest and last tour, where he’s doing just that. “But when I do change the style of my show into the live thing I’m going to do later this year, I want the shift in focus to be clear.”
Last fall, Robinson signed to Astralwerks on the basis of an almost-finished album and a fast-rising trajectory as a hot young EDM star. But his forthcoming debut, “Worlds,” has more in common with the propulsive introspection of M83 and The xx than the massive bass drops of dubstep.
It’s a dramatic shift and a risk for someone still establishing his career, but so far, fans of his old electro bangers haven’t minded. On the afternoon of March 2, hours before the Academy Awards, Robinson posted the atmospheric “Sea of Voices” to his SoundCloud. The overwhelming fan response made the song a trending topic on Twitter, where it kept company with the stars streaming down the Oscars red carpet.
Robinson describes himself as “super pleased,” and feels his audience may be just as ready for a shift as he is. “Everyone seems to be refreshed by it. It’s really vindicating to me,” says Robinson.
While “Sea of Voices” features a vocal from singer Breanne Duren, the record is hardly a pop song in structure or tone. Millan’s voice is deployed more as an instrument rather than a conventional topline.
“Toplines usually suck,” states Robinson with his typical polite but brutal honesty. “I’ll send a song to a band or artist whose entire body of work I love and I’ll ask them to do a vocal for one of my songs and I’ll get it back and I’ll hate it so much. It might have to do with my possessiveness over my music.”
That possessiveness — or perhaps obsessiveness — is part of the reason why “Worlds” is still without a firm release date (though several sources hint that June might be the magic month). When he was the subject of a bidding war last year, he was shopping a nearly completed record. But he’s still tweaking his tracks, looking to firmly establish his sound. One of his models is the debut from French duo Justice, “Cross.”
“It really repeats itself intentionally and it insists upon its own methods,” he says. “I really am in love with the idea of an artistic signature. With my old music I was showing that I could do a bunch of different styles, and to me that’s not compelling at all. I would much rather an artist come out with a vision and insist upon one idea again and again and again.”
Other guest vocalists on “Worlds” include Sean Caskey of Australian indie band Last Dinosaurs and Breanne Duren, known for her work with Owl City. “I erred toward sweeter, cuter, more feminine voices,” says Robinson. “There’s something very charming to me about hearing these very sweet, clean voices talk about heavier subject matters.”
For now, one of those heavy subjects is the lingering anxiety Robinson has about upending his DJ career. And while he admits he might be overthinking things, he’s not turning back.
“It’s hard to regret making the choice that you think is right,” he says. “If you trust your instincts and it doesn’t turn out right, OK. But if you compromise and defer to what somebody else is telling you and it doesn’t work out, that feeling gnaws at me. That’s worse to me than the feeling of trusting yourself and having that blow up in your face.”