A sweaty mass of revellers pulses, arms raised in worship, illuminated only by the bright lights around the DJ. The tension rises to palpable levels as the frantic, programmed drums move the crowd. Silence for an apprehensive moment before the shamanic figure on stage shouts: “Alright, drop the bass!”
Euphoria sweeps across the room, accompanying the low-end assault even the least discerning listeners have now come to know as dubstep’s weapon of choice. This priest of bass with an extremely dodgy haircut is Sonny Moore, better known as Skrillex.
This scene was uploaded to YouTube by an audience member. It’s only had around 2,000 hits. It’s a familiar, unremarkable video: one dubstep fan-video plucked from the multitude. And the show could be anywhere in the world. 

But just years ago this would have been a rarity, the sort of experience witnessed only by the few inducted into the London dubstep scene on small, grimy club nights. This video was filmed in Arkansas, ‘The Natural State’, home of Johnny Cash and Bill Clinton. So how did Skrillex bring bass-music from an underground London scene to the conservative ears of the American South?
Electronic music is largely alien to these less cosmopolitan states. A quick search of the acts on in Southern or Midwestern towns delivers everything from bluegrass to industrial metal, but you’ll have to search hard to find a programmed bass drop. Skrillex is fully aware of this. He told the Guardian: "It doesn't matter if it's some place with lots of clubs where people are used to dancing. It might be some place in Arkansas where they're only used to rock clubs, and they react in this very different physical way - but it's all good, it's still sexy!”
It’s these rock clubs that are the key. Knowing what the fans are used to has allowed Skrillex to expand the borders of the dubstep empire beyond anyone’s expectations. Unlike many electronic artists, he feels at home in the aggression of rock music. At 16 he became lead singer in emo/hardcore band From First to Last. The band captured the weepy hearts of angsty teens worldwide, selling hundreds of thousands of records and touring these venues for the first time.
Now aged 24, rock clubs are still Sonny Moore’s turf. He knows the audience and continues to make direct, antagonistic music that any rocker can comprehend. One critic said his “belligerent, attitudinal techno” betrayed his roots in the hardcore scene. Maybe rocking hard is just what comes naturally to him. Maybe he just doesn’t understand subtlety.
But From First to Last were never a purists’ band. The critics dismissed them as another mediocre attempt to give hardcore punk some tenderness. Their second album was titled Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has A Body Count and there is one very revealing, age-related, word in that title. Sonny Moore, it seems, knows his audience.
While it’s true that dubstep has not yet penetrated the older demographic, Skrillex’s fans are noticeably younger than most. Fellow mainstream DJ, Example, confessed that he found one of the populist dub-star’s London shows particularly exciting, claiming: “His music is like the new punk rock and most of his fans are young kids. Everyone at Koko seemed to be around 18 and they were moshing for the whole gig.”
You only need to glance at online comments to realise Skrillex’s market. Feedback on the Arkansan fan-video is telling. Davethebritishdinosa says: “This was my my first concert ever. So happy I could see someone like this. All the sweating was worth it.” jfkcry has similar feelings: “Yea that was my first ever dubstep concert. It just blew my mind away. Best night of my life. So ready to go to another one.” These comments are typical of the online conversation surrounding the young producer. They appear all over YouTube on videos of shows in the Midwest and South. And they tell us a lot about Skrillex’s fans.
These aren’t dubstep aficionados, they’re not ravers or beat-junkies. They’re just kids going to their first live show and enjoying the visceral collective experience of live bass music. And it would be great if Skrillex provided a way into the more nuanced, creative areas of a genre, but these kids seem to stop at the conclusion: Skrillex = dubstep. Take a look at his “similar artists” on Last.fm – a list compiled from the musical taste of over 400,000 Skrillex fans – and you won’t find Kode9, Coki, or even Skream without a long scroll down through the Neros and the Flux Pavilions.
His targeted marketing towards younger tastes goes hand in hand with an exploitative betrayal of dubstep’s roots. In order to mass-market dubstep to the youth audience, Skrillex has hijacked its original sound, cleverly tweaking it until it appeals to teenagers who like rock music. Since the introduction of the electric guitar in 1948, technology has shaped rock music. Rock and electronic genres do not have to be diametrically opposed. Think The Prodigy, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails.
This is no new phenomenon. Music has always commandeered before it is popularised. Elvis Presley wasn’t the first man to sing rock and roll, but he was the first white man to do it in a commercially viable way. Pendulum weren’t the first outfit to make drum and bass (not by a long shot), but they were the first to distil it down to a formula that sells records to rock kids. Skrillex is a product that’s easy to buy into.
Added to this local music scenes are in decline, giving rise to a burgeoning, global online community, where kids can expand their tastes quickly and effectively for free. As the commenters and forum-trolls prove, today’s young rockers are discovering there’s actually not much difference between a rave and a mosh pit. And Skrillex makes no distinction between the two.
Moore’s American interpretation of the dubstep genre is certainly a mosh-worthy one. His bass drops are intense assaults on the senses – as abrasive on the first listen as on the twelfth. But he provides little more than this. While he claims to be a Warp records devotee, his sound is not often lauded for its subtlety. And plonking a variety of electronic genres, piecemeal, between these moments of auditory violence has not done much to convince people of his diversity.
His music has been derided as ‘brostep’ – a genre in line with the pints-in-the-air approach to dance music that does so well within the pissed-up mainstream clubbing culture. One critic called his music: “blindingly obvious, lowest-common-denominator electro utterly lacking in subtlety, nuance and originality.” But it gets people moving, despite what the critics say. And if anyone in dance music has a buzz about them right now, it’s Skrillex.
In just over a year, the title track from his 2010 record, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, has had over 59 million views on YouTube. To put that into perspective, that’s double the number of views dance superstar Deadmau5 ever got for a track. The word “phenomenon” is overused, but it’s quite justifiable when it comes to the attention Mr Moore is getting.
Scarily, even those with their roots in dubstep support his cause. In an interview with the Guardian, Skream, a huge figure in dubstep’s rise, said: "His production is so fucking clean but twisted, but the real thing is how he's shaken everything up without even knowing it. He's almost done to dubstep what me and Benga did to garage." Presumably the old guard of the genre can see the storm that’s coming. Dubstep is becoming mainstream and, if they pick the right side, they might land themselves huge new fanbases. Even the surviving members of The Doors have jumped on board, collaborating with him on the track “Breakin’ a Sweat” – surely a sign of the coming apocalypse.
And now the musical establishment are jumping on board. In December last year he received five Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist – a remarkably rare thing, especially for someone who streams all his records for free online. It remains to be seen whether he will win, but he’s certainly got something that’s working.
In 2011 he played well over 300 shows, often two or three in one day. In between these he released two EPs, six singles and featured on five other artists’ records, including Korn’s new dubstep-influenced LP – The Path of Totality – that he helped to produce. Say what you like about his talents, but you can’t call him lazy.
Whether it’s intentional or not, Skrillex has come with just the right formula at just the right time. He’s taken the distinctive flavour of dubstep and tinkered with its recipe. Ultimately, he’s created a bland dish, obliterating the intricate flavours. But for many, he’s given them a first, enticing taste of something truly alien. Kids in hick towns are throwing shapes to processed bass. Something big is happening.

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