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Best Of North America Awards 2017

24-year-old Porter Robinson doesn’t jump off tables during live performances, or run from one end of the stage to the other yelling buzzwords into a mic. For the most part he stands, bobbing demurely, in front of a contained setup that includes, among other things, a Roland Gaia synth and an Akai controller. Robinson doesn’t need grandiose physicality to capture an audience’s interest — he breaks apart his songs in order to reconstruct them live, imparting his literal touch at every show.

Giving humanness to studio-produced tracks is alluring, but it’s only one piece of the Porter Robinson live experience. Graphics play a great role in his tours, and are a visual road map to the songs. For Robinson’s Worlds tour, he partnered with Invisible Light Network, not to create the kind of cool, splashy abstracts common during most dance sets, but a story. Combining anime influences with a Tumblr aesthetic and pixel art, an entire universe was crafted, with fully realized characters that chased love, experienced longing, and went on adventures. In all, over two-dozen people worked on bringing the Worlds tour production to life, an effort that let people connect with Robinson’s music on a deeper level.

As if this wasn’t enough, Robinson has a history of performing unreleased material and alternate versions of songs at live shows. Some artists do this as early promotion for a release, or as an exercise to tweak material as they’re working on it. Robinson does it so the shows are unique experiences. One of the most talked-about instances of this is an edit of ‘Fresh Static Snow’, a lilting ode to loneliness which when performed live, is flipped on its head. Here, at shows, the song instead abruptly dives into garishly dark and brutish synths as an ominous deer skull appears on screen. Without fail, it makes every crowd go nuts. Robinson has never released this edit.

At the end of the day, hearing Porter Robinson is one thing, but seeing him is quite another. Rarely do artists unpack their material to this level, and the result is a genuine, immersive experience. To see Robinson live doesn’t just give the viewer additional context for songs they already know and love, it whisks you away from this Earth, if only for a brief time.

The other nominees:

Bob Moses

Want to catch the Best of North America DJs in action? BoNA tour dates include LA, Washington, Miami, San Francisco and New York. More info here.