Like it or not, the most important electronic album this year probably wasn’t Aphex Twin’s ‘Syro’, but an LP from a man who was all of 13-years-old when Richard D. James last released an Aphex album, yet has credited the cantankerous Cornishman with being his original inspiration to start producing electronic music.
Skrillex’s ‘Recess’ almost seemed to arrive just as out the blue as well — sure, as a ubiquitous presence at awards ceremonies, festivals and gossip websites Sonny John Moore is as far from being an Aphex-like hermit figure as Steve Aoki is from being ‘any good’ — but after four years of EPs and singles like 2011’s breakthrough ‘Bangarang’ and last year’s ‘Try It Out’ few were expecting the former emo rocker turned EDM superstar to produce something as archaic as an actual album, especially since his trademark sound is so hyperactive it can be too much to take after 45 seconds, let alone 45 minutes.
But for millions of teenage ravers, Skrillex’s music has all the punk energy and attitude of Aphex’s ‘Come To Daddy’ and is just as likely to terrify their moral guardians, even as its thrust him into the heart of the mainstream and millions of dollars into his pockets. Sure, electronica purists would probably scream ‘blasphemy’ at the comparison and much as ‘Recess’ contains plenty of what some would call dancefloor bombs, for others they’re more ammunition in an ongoing campaign to portray him as purveyor of boneheaded bullshit, even if the odd forays into ragga, hip-hop and two-step showed him to be a little more diverse than you might expect.
Yet say what you will about Skrillex — and plenty have in online tirades we can’t repeat here — you can’t accuse him of taking himself too seriously. Hence the tongue-in-cheek title of ‘Recess’ opening track ‘All Is Fair In Love and Brostep’ — a title which takes the piss as much as its bladder-voiding bass drops do — and the fact that he’s described his Jack U collaboration with Diplo as being motivated by a desire to “make the most annoying sounds ever”.
It’s a natural meeting of minds — particularly since many of the ragga vocals and dancehall influences on ‘Recess’ could have been ripped from one of Diplo’s Major Lazer productions — and seems to have already achieved its aim to irritate when the pair were apparently booed off stage at this year’s Burning Man festival for dropping DJ Snake and L’il Jon’s ‘Turn Down For What’, although Diplo later tweeted that they actually played techno for 90 minutes before leaving to cheers, and the end was “just a joke”.
Whatever the truth of what happened in Nevada, the Ultra festival definitely seemed to get the punchline when Diplo and Skrillex enthralled the hordes with a headline set. Skrillex solo managed to conquer Lollapalooza and Glastonbury with a Friday night set on the Other Stage, widely regarded as one of the festival’s highlights, although God knows what anyone who’d been munching mushrooms in the green fields must have thought when they saw a spaceship blasting out blistering basslines descend onto Somerset.
Skrillex’s Mothership tour also touched down right across the USA this year although it’s from his new studio complex in his Los Angeles hometown rather than deep in an alien spacecraft that he’s really plotting the next stage of world domination. For it’s from in there that Skrillex’s Nest HQ website is disseminating the music of his OWLSA label and other like-minded souls across the world, including old hands like Riton and AC Slater, and with links to ambient electronica and nu-jazz tracks to be found on there, it’s clear Skrillex’s tastes go far beyond ear-bleeding.
A man much in demand, Skrillex has signed up for production duties on Usher’s new album, who will presumably be hoping for the same touch he brought to the 2013 club hit ‘Wild For the Night’ he penned for A$AP Rocky.
He’s also been hobnobbing with Madonna — or more accurately appearing to do most of the mixing for her when she was booked to ‘DJ’ at a recent fashion event in New York. Plus, he’s continued his film work, following his score for Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers in 2012 by adding “crazy sounds” to Transformers 4: Age of Extinction. In some ways it’s an even better match for Skrillex’s sound than Spring Breakers’ lurid adolescent riot, not just because it’s big, brash and determinedly dumb but because — for all that some would have you believe — there might actually be more to Skrillex than meets the eye.