From First to Last recently released their first album in over five years, which got me thinking about the band, as well as their most famous ex-member, Skrillex.
When Sonny Moore left From First to Last in 2005, a bootleg EP made up of various electro recordings leaked online. I had a burnt copy given generously to me by the most lovely yet covetable emo babe at my high school and absolutely adored it. That’s how we did it back in the glory days of Optical Disc Authoring – burning CD’s, for the commoner. You went out, bought a stack of blank CD’s, spent valuable time putting that shit onto disc – then you would actually have to see this person in real life and give them a palpable, physical object. Forget about indolently sending a YouTube lyric video of the new As I Die Bleeding and Bloody and Real Dead song to your buddy that you were too lazy to even listen to, Whippersnapper.
Ah, the nostalgia. Every night after All Saints and before Blue Heelers, I would spin that faceless silver disc on my Philips portable; aspiring with grandeur to become a sub-par midi player in my own right, releasing muffled recordings of blips and beeps and vocalised “OOOOoooo”s just like my mascara-donning teen emo idol.
I keenly followed Sonny’s progress, eagerly anticipating an official, high-quality release. I waited. And waited. Occasionally a remixed track would appear on YouTube or an obscure Micronesian music website, but no new material ever surfaced. I was saddened for perhaps a week; until I explored the genre of electronic music as a whole – decided it sucked – and went back to skating, not caring about John Howard, and commiserating over the departure of Head from Korn, or whatever else 17-year-olds got up to in the summer of 2005/2006.
It wasn’t until a few years later that the young musician aligned his proverbial ducks and released an EP under the name Sonny Moore. And young he was – 16 years old when FFTL’s ‘Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Body Count‘ was released, 19 when he departed the band, and 21 when the Gypsyhook EP dropped.
I remember being really impressed by the EP, which was relatively unknown at the time. Electronic music was something still entirely new to me, and I’m not at all ashamed to admit I thoroughly enjoyed the release. I listened to it again for the purposes of this article; songs like ‘Mora’ and ‘Copaface2’ still feel relevant and hold up well – although I did enjoy the less polished versions of the tracks on his earlier bootleg.
Until this point, Sonny Moore was just another frontman branching out with an obscure solo record. But things rapidly changed for Sonny-Jim following the release of the ‘My Name Is Skrillex‘ EP via his MySpace page in 2010. I honestly thought MySpace music died an embarrassing death from the unyielding sword of the short-lived, yet powerful, Facebook music player long before 2010, but evidently not.
MySpace. Hi, Tom.
The EP was a definitive move from ambient electronic music rooted in heavier and emotive genres, to a grittier, tightly produced force of straight up dance and dubstep. Gone were the vocal melodies, replaced by the harsh signature tone and bass ‘drops’ the genre is so frustratingly famous for. Sorry to any dubstep fans out there, but this is an opinion piece, and my opinion is dubstep is poo, and if you like dubstep then I don’t like you. I can’t help but reference South Park, eloquently summing up the craze in the episode “You’re Getting Old”.
The EP thrust Skrillex into the limelight. With a relentless touring schedule – 322 shows in 2011 alone – and savvy marketing, coupled with the rising popularity of the ‘heavier’ shades of mainstream dance music, he amassed a huge fanbase. People were beginning to take notice, and Skrilly and his village of savvy marketing personnel created a genuine buzz around the artist formerly known as Sonny Moore.
With the release of ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites‘ and ‘More Monsters and Sprites‘ in 2010 and 2011 respectively, he established himself as one of the most successful DJ and producers on the scene. He became wildly prolific, dominating the venomous slayings and gratuitous praise from fans and critics around the globe – everyone knew who Skrilli Vanilli was. If not, you must have been living under a rock untainted by the outwardly aggressive “WOOOO AAAARRRRGGGGHHHh” of dubstep. A magical, beautiful, peaceful rock.
Then, Grammys happened. Old Skrill cleaned up with three in 2012 for the aforementioned albums, and another three in 2013 following the release of Bangarang. Skrilldog had well and truly carved his niche, aggressively ravaging it for all it was worth with a legion of fans in tow; humping every opportunity along the way into fruition. Once he found his place in the scene, he captured the hearts and minds of countless ‘individuals’ the world over. Australia was no exception. We almost adopted him as our own – waves of basic, bodybuilding, suspiciously hairless anabolic connoisseurs flocked to raging steroid swap meets like Stereofields and Strawberrysonic just to witness the enigmatic young Chinese woman lay down some serious fax-machine-fucking funnelled through a pair of tin brogues.
His success can be attributed to a few things – his music is evidently extremely popular with a vast number of people, for a start. At the end of the day, different strokes for different folks, and a lot of people love dubstep; including industry mugs. From an industry perspective, his success makes perfect sense. Industry awards distributed by industry bigwigs can at the best of times be a popularity contest, and commercial dance music is arguably one of the most popular and profitable genres out there. Naturally, a hype is created, the music sells, and awards are won. When awards are won, a hype is created, and music sells. When music sells, a hype is created, and awards are won. You see the pattern here.
Picture this. You’re a successful record company executive, living the coke-fuelled lifestyle from the success of Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water when BAM. Steve Jobs (R.I.P, Brah) blasts into the world with his powerfully innovative dick, unapologetically fucking CD’s and everything they stand for in the ass. Since the launch of iTunes, obtaining music has become a muddy current of legitimate internet sales, illegal downloads, and paid streaming services. With profit revenues more unstable than ever in a post-CD landscape, you must relentlessly push acts like Skrillex – who sell records and concert tickets effortlessly – to keep putting those caviar stuffed lobster tails on the table, and keep the cash money flowing free. You have to. For your wife, Helen. For your daughter, Britney; even if she does steal cash out your wallet sometimes, and you just know she’s seeing that piece of shit guy, Greg, again, and pisses her allowance up the wall every weekend at fucking Eve nightclub. Fucking Britney.
Secondly, love or hate the guy, you have to somewhat appreciate his unquestionably keen talent for self-marketing. As much as Coke is just a shitty drink, it’s also COCA-COLA, and in the same regard Skrillex is equal parts producer and DJ as well as razor sharp brand advertising and multi-faceted business model.
I won’t hypothesise on his level of personal integrity, but he has managed to secure a furiously loyal fanbase. By consistently maintaining contact with fans via social media pages and blogs, and by regularly releasing paid and free content – instantly recognisable and branded as Skrillex – he keeps his followers happy, engaged, and creates a strong sense of brand loyalty. His brand success shows in the statistics; with over 18 million Facebook followers, 4 million Twitter followers, and a YouTube channel with billions of combined views. He also has a paid subscription service to his website for exclusive content – not to mention countless endorsements, including big players such as Red Bull. I certainly don’t believe he was ever trying to fulfil an agenda of becoming a ‘massive’ or hugely successful artist, but to not capitalise on his rampant success and popularity would be fiscally idiotic. Especially when you have a marketing reach that exceeds most musicians, let alone corporations. And while money is no marker for real accomplishment, it speaks volumes of your musical market share. According to Forbes, Skizzy raked in US $15 million in 2012 alone. Skrillex is business.
With a high level of commercial success also comes equal levels of criticism and scrutiny – and understandably so. Lovers of music and art almost have a cultural responsibility to analyse and critique various forms of art. While there are many that dislike his music, I have to believe that people ultimately value authenticity as most important, so his loyal group of followers must find truth and integrity in his content. When you are incredibly popular, a role model with the capacity to influence millions with your actions, you also kind of have an obligation to be morally and ethically responsible. You could at least give him credit for a maintaining squeaky clean image – luckily – or you’d have swarms of 15-year-old private school girls hopped up on red bull and shaving the sides of their head during orgy smoke breaks. With William H Macy, for some reason.
But people have a tendency to lay it on pretty thick. You can attack the guys musical integrity, or perhaps lack thereof – sure. But when people rip someone to shreds just for being wildly successful, it tends to reflect more negatively on the ones casting judgment as opposed to the millionaire rolling on a pile of money with a Whisky-soaked honey.
That’s a common sentiment shared about Skrilleezy across the globe – but it’s a quintessentially Australian thing to take it to the extreme. Ah, Australia. Blazing summer days, golden beaches, footy, and cutting some poor fucker down for being successful. In other countries, they’re like “Yeah, Skrillex. Personally I’m not a fan, but since he’s not doing anything that directly affects me, whatever.” In Australia, we’re all, like ”Burn her. To death.”
It may be fair to say whilst Skrillex’s success probably (definitely) isn’t attributed to being ‘the best’ DJ/Producer around, and certainly not with pure and unbridled musical integrity – he’s done it with the help of slick marketing tactics and an obscene amount of hard work. Even more importantly? He’s done it with the help of you, good sir/madam. Every armchair culture critic dissing him about his dumb hair, or dumb dumb face, or dumb idiot music, or stupid dumb music, or awfully dumb, terrible, crappy music, has indirectly contributed to the lining of his tight leather pockets.
Writer/Managing Editor for IPHYB
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