Reached on a late April afternoon, Skrillex sounds downright delighted to be stuck in Los Angeles traffic.
The globetrotting DJ/producer — born Sonny Moore — whoops while informing me that he’s stalled on the freeway en route to the studio with Bruno Mars, who also happens to be along for the ride.
“I love listening to music in the car,” he exclaims. “I’m hearing songs that aren’t mine and analyzing everything.”
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If the radio’s on, he won’t go long without hearing his own. 2015 marked the year that Moore became a bona fide hitmaker. The L.A. artist collected his seventh and eighth Grammy Awards alongside Diplo for their Jack Ü album and single “Where Are U Now” (which peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100), and he co-produced Justin Bieber’s Hot 100 No. 1 “Sorry” as well as five other tracks from the star’s chart-topping comeback album, Purpose.
Over the course of our 45-minute phone call, Moore gushes on a wide range of topics, taking the boilerplate Dance Power Players questions into more thoughtful territory like artistic responsibility and gender equality. His passion is near-palpable and he is unsurprisingly optimistic on electronic music’s future outlook.
“Electronic music isn’t a genre, it’s a platform,” he says. “It’s about how you make it. It’s like with band music, you use instruments, live music. It’s electronic dance music and that can be anything.”
Without further ado, Skrillex in his own words.
What are the biggest challenges facing dance music’s continued development?
The music industry. As a young kid going through the industry and having to deal with real-life f–king problems and business, that can take away creativity. So that’s always going to be a challenge — being a kid and holding onto that creativity even as you get older, that same creative you were getting into when you were 16. It’s that raw shit where you don’t care how it sounds. Holding onto that forever, it’s the most important thing and the biggest challenge.
And maybe even how quick other big companies are ready to just buy into EDM and not really help any taste or direction. They just buy it and want to become a business. For me, I’m a self-sustained guy. I have my own team, my own label, everything’s good. I’m doing my own shit. But I think there were some weird moments when it came to shows and what you could play and not play. You have major companies like Live Nation, SFX and Goldenvoice that are constantly at each other’s throats. I just want to play a show for the kids, like f–k all that shit. That can be a barrier, the politics.
What advice would you offer to newcomers to the scene?
Be a f–king kid. Don’t care. Don’t try to get people’s attention. Build your shit, people will find you. Have your essence come through your art and have your art speak loud. And hustle with your art, your image, your brand. How cool is that? You open a f–king Coca Cola, that red can, and you know you’re going to get what you want. Make that experience and try everything, break all the rules. And those are my favorite artists. When I hear it, it’s like, “What the fuck were you thinking when you made this?” This was not done before, like you’re not allowed to put melody with that sound… I want that. Break rules. Break them all.
What do you consider your greatest strength?
My greatest strength I would say is having an overall vision and being able to grow. I always talk about SuperJam, which is a thing I did at Bonnaroo with Zedd, Damian Marley, Lauryn Hill, Big Gigantic and members of The Doors and the Grateful Dead. All these people came out. Being able to take a bunch of awesome artists and put them together and create something new out of it. I feel like that’s my thing, you know?
How about your greatest weakness?
Girls probably. Like if I’m really feeling a girl, I just don’t want to work. I want to hang out with her. Maybe that’s like a partial weakness. My greatest weakness is bad vibes. Like if I know someone’s losering around and there’s just bad vibes it can really throw me off a lot. You got to be careful with that, you have to understand when it’s just not the right flow. Think about Whitney Houston, man, like when she passed away. They were flying her body from wherever she was to Atlanta where they had the ceremony and burial, and somebody in her entourage that’s been with her for years went in and snapped a photo of her casket and sent it to tabloids. You see what I’m saying? Man, you got to watch out for that. People that have bad intentions that are just there. And as the artist, you don’t see it half the time.
Since your rise to success, has it been hard to change how you interact with people and accept others into your circle?
Yeah, I mean it’s a challenge, just like any job has its challenges. But yeah man, it’s something that I have to be aware of. At the end of the day I have a good crew and that helps. It’s like “Is this person weird? Cool, let’s not hang out with them.” We’ll talk about that shit. Not that we’re talking shit on people, we just don’t have time for that. That’s a dangerous thing, man. It really is. Because like we’re sitting at the top. If someone’s bad up where we’re sitting, on the top of the genre, being in the culture, people are going to feel it at the bottom. That’s why some festivals are starting to feel real stale because you feel the shit at the top start to drip down to the bottom, onto the festival grounds, you know? When you’re sitting at the top of the food chain, you have to be responsible. It influences a lot of people when we put a song out or say something, a lot of the world is moved by that.
That’s why it’s important to surround yourself with good people.
So important. At the same time, I don’t treat people different. I don’t hold my head above people. If you work at McDonald’s or you’re a CEO, I treat everybody the same.
There’s nothing stronger then a group of women coming in on a creative platform to all see and work towards a vision. We come from all different backgrounds, cities, paths of life and joined together to create, believe and dream towards something. These are the Ladies that make it all happen. These are the Women of OWSLA. I’m so lucky and fortunate to have these powerful, beautiful and inspiring women on my team. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. Happy #internationalwomensday
What’s an important life lesson you’ve learned over the past year?
I don’t know if life lesson is the right thing for this answer, but what’s so cool is that OWSLA is such a collective. And a lot of my creative comes from me and also other people that we’re employing. We’re employing a lot of young people and we really empower females in our circle. And we have almost half females and half males working in our crew and especially when you empower females on the creative side with a good vision, like shit is just so on fire. And I feel like girls are naturally even more passionate in the industry than guys at some point, because they want to be equal and they’re really trying to prove something. And I mean that in an awesome way.
And it keeps you on toes as a guy, you want to be presentable, you want to have your shit together so they feel protected. Like naturally, you want to be a better person for them… it’s weird. Just kind of like a family dynamic that this whole creative thing is. We’ve really been shifting towards that way. OWSLA is like not even a record label, we’re a creative group, creative people. And that’s the whole thing — we create stuff, like you give us a record, we’ll create music videos, we’ll create content, we’ll create clothing, we’ll create everything out of a song, you know. And show it to the world, create a world around it, that’s what we do.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions that exist around dance music?
You know, I kind of like the misconceptions because it makes me feel younger when people still think that you press one button and a whole song happens or something like that. You just like press a button and then anybody can start hitting buttons and then all of a sudden everything is there. That’s a huge misconception.
Hey Bruno, what’s the biggest misconception about dance music? (laughs) So from Bruno Mars, he says the misconception of dance music is “untz untz untz.” But it’s really sometimes “untz boom kak, untz boom kak.”
You need that snare.
That’s right, you need that snare! I never want to make music that everyone understands, and my favorite music is stuff that took me a second to understand and then you really understand it later and it makes a lot more sense and influences you even more. I guess that’s not entirely true, ’cause I did records with Justin Bieber, but at the same time we’re sitting in that studio and he hasn’t put anything out that’s cracked the top ten in years and who knows what would have happened. But at the same time, I felt like I was challenging myself with what pop music could sound like. Taking moombahton, that genre that I felt so inspired by when Dave Nada and Nadastrom and Munchi were making it, and like that reggaeton, and it’s “How am I going to put this in a pop song?” Because I was like feeling this shit again.
What have been some of your biggest music production revelations?
I’m actually working with Bruno Mars right now. I’m not going to give specifics of what it sounds like, but what we’re doing is so f–king different, awesome and next level and sounds like nothing else that’s happened before. Every time I get in the studio with somebody else and collaborate, that’s when I always have revelations and learn about stuff. And I just love stepping outside of what I know and there’s no other music position that can do that. Like as a singer, you’re in a band. I think what we are musically in our head space, there’s no other way. I can step outside my box anytime and that wasn’t possible before. I guess that’s aligned with the exponential growth in technology and knowledge, the fact that everything there is so accessible now, you can just f–king choose your own destiny. Goosebumps that shit. (Parodies a creepy voice) Choose your own story.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment over the past year?
Hard to say, man. Getting a No. 1 for “Sorry” with Justin Bieber was pretty f–king sick, because my own personal music got big in a different way. We sell records, but it’s not on radio and to have a song that’s like that on radio… even “Where Are U Now” and other Jack U records, that shit’s pretty cool. And where the label has grown, that’s a big accomplishment. A bunch of shit, man, just being alive today. I’ve always tried to look at least five or six years ahead of me, and even though it’s kind of like a sketch on a canvas, I kind of see the end point in 13 years or so. And so that’s cool, to be here right now and still see all this opportunity.
What do you see coming ahead five years from now?
Just more creativity. More directing, more bringing people together to create a vision. And I don’t know what exactly that means in five years or less, but it has to be with everything I’ve already been doing. I want to do everything. I want to do everything in art. And I want to travel the world more. I want to go skydiving more. F–king make a bunch of people happy and I want to have my friends with me, you know. That’s really what it’s all about.