The SKRILLing Fields (part 1 of 3) : Monster Fresh Braves a SKRILLEX Concert [Bumbershoot 2012]
First of all, you’re welcome. I took a dubstep bullet for all of you readers out there that want to know more about Skrillex and the hype surrounding him, but not bad enough to actually investigate or do anything about it yourselves. Do you talk shit, because it’s the thing to do, but you feel guilty, because you know that you’re simply parroting what you’ve heard elsewhere? Do you know that you can actually be a fairly judgmental dick by nature, you’re aware that you only have some extremely superficial evidence to base your attacks around, and that, when it’s all said and done, these accusations might turn out to be completely unwarranted? I mean, Skrillex is definitely a popular guy to hate right now, so you’re not exactly being brave and going out on a limb by insulting the guy. But think about it, what if you don’t actually know what you’re talking about? What if this character isn’t really that bad? What if… what if you even wind up liking him? If you have to backtrack it’s gonna be even worse, but you’ve already opened your stupid fucking mouth and it’s too late; you’ve said what you’ve said and you’ve claimed what you’ve claimed. Now, what if someone else investigated this scene just enough to give your accusations a little more weight and validity or, at the very least, enough to convince you to lock up your goddamn yap once and for all on the subject? Well, like I was saying, I did go see a Skrillex show recently and I’m back with some news to report. What I’m getting at is, “I gotcha Skrillex review right here buddy!“
“… the worst accident I ever seen!” – Large Marge
We are not what’s known as a content farm folks. In fact, we’re pretty much the exact opposite. If we aren’t posting content non-stop, that’s only because we’re out there mining it. Sometimes that means that we have to go at it hard labor style and get all up in the trenches with this shit. Such was the case with the recent Skrillex show that was held at the Key Arena during Seattle‘s annual Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival. It was the last event during the last night of the 3-day festival and, being as we were already covering the whole thing throughout Labor Day weekend, I decided that it might be a wasted opportunity if I didn’t peep my head into catch a taste of this fiasco before leaving the premises.
Am I glad that I did it? Well, I have this article, so… I guess that’s something. I will say one thing though and that’s that I’ve noticed a pattern with a handful of other writers “braving” the Skrillex scene and reporting on it already. Reports that I’ve read by sites like Stereogum, generally involve some guy prefacing his review by stating that he’s never been a fan of the artist and didn’t have high hopes for the performance, before explaining away how changed he was, simply based on the scene and the fans. That’s right, while they are still trying to state that they aren’t completely won over by the music, the fans and the whole scene put everything in a new light for them. They “get it” now. “But, uh… don’t get me wrong guys… I, uh, still don’t like the dude or anything, it’s just… excuse, excuse for my own personal feelings, excuse, etc. etc.“ From there they get attacked and insulted in the comment section by clusters of people calling them idiots and/or pussies and I’ve generally felt bad for the writers and even felt like defending them a bit. That being said, there really is no need for them to be apologizing for their own feelings and they should probably just man up and embrace that shit if they like it. Anyway, my point is that, before walking through the doors of my own Skrillex show, I half wondered if I would wind up posting some similar recount of my own eye opening experience. SPOILER ALERT: I won’t be. This is not that article.
WHO IS SKRILLEX?
Before we get into the actual tale of my concert experience, let’s establish a few things, such as who Skrillex actually is. You know, drop the bass-ics. Since anything relating to his intentions as a musician would be nothing but speculation, I want to start off with some more factually based information. The actual birthname of the artist now calling himself Skrillex is “Sonny Moore.” He is currently only 24 years old, but has been in the professional music industry since joining the screamo outfit, From First to Last, as a vocalist (more the “whiner,” not so much the “screamer”) in 2004, at the age of 16. The group was actually fairly successful, signing to Epitaph, gaining a sizable following, and playing high profile festivals like Vans Warped Tour. Appearance-wise, they looked like they had won a local battle of the bands where the grand prize was a Hot Topic shopping spree.
Here’s a shitty video for an even shittier song. This is from their debut album, which, believe it or not, was actually titled Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Body Count. Yikes. [Note to self: this is what you call a tragedy]
After years with a solid amount of success, something went down with Sonny Moore‘s vocals, forcing him to require surgery and he eventually quit the group. From there, he decided to become a solo artist and there was plenty of hype surrounding his impending full-length debut. Both acoustic and studio versions began to come out of songs that still featured him belting out vocals in the same typical whiny emo voice that tweens love and makes everyone else want to claw each other to death (it’s like a reverse dog whistle for those kids). Eventually an EP dropped called Gypsyhook, which featured said vocal-stylings, only poppier, laid over the incorporation of some electronically produced beats. It was the worst of both worlds and, apparently, it didn’t really fare well in either the electronic or rock communities.
Here’s a video clip of Moore as recently as 2009.
Somewhere in the mix, he was also producing beats under the alias of TWIPZ. Whether it was due to the disappointment of his EP or otherwise, his highly anticipated full-length, BELLS, was permanently shelved and Moore quickly managed to establish himself as dubstep phenom, SKRILLEX, by the following year. His appearance changed as well: Moore already looked a bit like an Edgar Frog-era Corey Feldman, but now he had added the Teddy Duchamp (Stand By Me) black frames and took a bic “Head Like A Hole“-style to the side of his Dream a Little Dream hair cut.
Along with dropping the bass, 2010 saw him dropping 2 separate EPs (My Name is Skrillex & Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites) before the year ended and 2011 added the release of 2 more (More Monsters and Sprites & Bangarang). His first material was self released, but he was quickly signed to Deadmau5‘ Mau5trap label. Successs came rather quick, and he has even received a handful of Grammys for his work.
Featured below is “First of the Year (equinox),” which is the first video/song that I ever truly remember paying conscious attention to by him. This thing blew up like crazy and was one of those videos that seemed to be all over Facebook for awhile. It’s from the 2011 EP, More Monsters and Sprites and features the trademark “wub wub wub” bass drops that everyone likes to refer to when mentioning dubstep music and Skrillex in particular. Personally, I’d rather watch the video to “First of the Month” by Bone Thugs (BBQ, crystal balls, ghost riding, and a hood castle, ya’ll!).
This video also features an aesthetic that appears to have been stolen outright from the work that director Chris Cunningham has been known to produce for electronic pioneer, and Moore hero, Aphex Twin. Needless to say, it wasn’t very impressive to me and seemed a bit derivative. Aside from the super-heavy, twisted bass drop, that tends to appear in the majority of the Skrillex work that I’ve heard since, it also seemed a little safe and uninteresting to me production-wise, so I haven’t really invested too much time or energy into really delving in or thinking about this guy’s material. There is a very well documented issue that some UK dubstep artists have taken with US artists like Skrillex, who have appropriated a genre that they essentially invented and put a very aggressive and, what some would call “masculine,” spin on it. One label that is often associated with heavy American dubstep that centers around that bass drop is “Brostep” and Skrillex is generally considered the man to deliver it. Of course, Moore himself has often tried, albeit somewhat unsuccessfully, to point out that he actually creates plenty of music that should technically fall under other classifications of electronic music.
Most arguments about personal taste aren’t really going to get you anywhere and not many of Skrillex‘ ardent supporters or his detractors are likely to budge in either direction–except for the reviewers that I mentioned above, of course. I myself, have remained fairly unaffected by the scene one way or the other; that is, until I saw him live last week. Now I can still only add to the conversation based on what I’ve experienced personally. That being said, a personal experience, arguably, holds more weight than a 3rd hand commentary on what has been endlessly regurgitated and reposted across the world wide web.
Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival
The Vaselines had just finished performing on the Sub Pop stage, which was constructed outside on the fountain lawn in Seattle Center. The Glasgow group was closing out the stage for the night, as well as for this year’s festival in general. I had run into DJ Busy B and Danger Dave from the Hollow Earth Radio show We Jam Econo and they were sharing their flask of whiskey with me during the show. Now we found ourselves heading out into the dark, making on our way out of festival premises. What had been a packed series of walkways, open stages, and vending booths, was now dying out like an abandoned carnival. The one place that was still supposedly still thriving was indoors at the main stage, which was being hosted inside of the Key Arena this year. I was fairly exhausted, but briefly mentioned how I had considered going in to see what the whole Skrillex deal was all about. Dave‘s face lit up and it was clear that they were both down to go try to get into this thing. That’s all that I needed.
We entered in through the side entrance for press without question. By all accounts, they probably shouldn’t have been letting anyone else in at that point, media or otherwise. I had worked my way into the good graces of the security at the Sub Pop stage over the last 2 days and the guy running things over there had already explained to me that I’d probably want to start heading into the Key much earlier if I had planned to catch the Skrillex set. He also told me that the line had already started and, even by then, it was already getting pretty sizable. Mind you, this was way earlier in the day, so I was positive that it had to be good and jammed up with fools by now. When I asked him if the line was comprised of a rapeload of frat boys, he said no. Apparently, it was full of, what he described as, a bunch of children.
We shuffled down some stadium steps and toward the same floor entrance that I had been instructed to use for media the day before during the Sharon Jones show. Before they got relocated to Oklahoma City and were transformed into the Thunder, the Sonics used to play here. That means that the setup of the building is essentially that of a sports arena, with circular concrete levels, alcoves of concession stands, and the typical numbered entrances into the seated areas. I believe that this one was for row number 104 and it contained a stairwell that leads down to floor access. Two younger staff members were blocking it off and I was pretty sure that, if they were doing the job that they were supposed to be doing, they probably wouldn’t let us through. That wasn’t going to stop me from trying though.
The conversation went something like this:
“Hey, are you not letting anyone down at all? I was sent to this entrance last time, for press.”
“Yeah, we can’t let anyone through.”
“Ok, that’s cool. I figured as much.” [*flashing my photo pass again*] “They just told me to come through this way before, because I’m shooting and we’re media and everything. They said this is the media entrance to get to the floor for press.”
“Yeah. Sorry. It’s full. Not supposed to… yada yada.”
“No problem, man” [*half turning to leave*] “I just wanted to check just in case, since we’re press. Media, media… press, press. Press, media, press. Thanks anyway.”
“Oh wait! Are you guys press?”
“Oh… well, I think you can come through here then, actually. Just talk to those guys down there and tell them that you’re with the press.”
“Oh… alright. Thanks.”
We stepped through the curtain and could instantly tell how crazy it was in there. Everyone was going off and, with the chairs removed from earlier in the weekend, the ground level of the Key Arena had mutated into a raging dancefloor. Skrillex was a tiny unidentifiable figure being dwarfed by a massive stage setup that included giant projection screens, a laser light show, and pyrotechnics. Yep… we were going to have to try and get down there.
As to be expected, there was the typical hand rail leading down the center of a cement staircase. The stairs themselves divided multiple rows of hard plastic stadium seats that were filled with hyped up teenagers. Staying on the right side, we walked about half way down before bumping into another young member of the security staff. It was loud as fuck, so I just relayed to him really quickly how the guys before him told us to talk to the guys after him and we kept it moving. Once we reached the bottom, we came to 2 large men (one of them Samoan and one Mexican?), facing towards us on either side of the rail and operating as human barricades between the patrons with the seats and the flailing maniacs on the floor below. I began to try and explain our “press situation” to them and let them know that we were sent their way by their colleagues. They seemed nice enough, but they still looked confused as to exactly how to handle it. We were only at the beginning stages of trying to discern which way things were going to go, when shit went haywire.
A Potential Riot/Disaster/Fist Fight
Seeing that the security was distracted, a group of hooligan wingnut dipshits decided to take this opportunity to try and rush the floor. The problem was that they were planning to rush through me. From there, I suppose that they intended for me to operate as their human shield/battering ram, being forced face-first through the two large men in front of me by a tsunami of teen-ravers pushing me from behind. I was knocked into the rail, but my instant reaction to the blind-siding was that, “I am incredibly strong!!” and I pushed myself back off of the rail, repelling the mob somewhat easily, like I had PCP strength. Then, like Wile E. Coyote running off of a cliff, the realization hit me that, “I am a lot older than I used to be and I don’t think that I actually am all that strong anymore.“ That’s when my arms buckled and by ribcage went smashing back into the metal bar that I was gripping onto. I was about to be crushed. Using whatever strength I could muster up, I pushed off of the rail again and gave myself some breathing room. I looked in front of me and realized that there was, at most, about a-foot-and-a-half to two-foot gap between me and the security. I seemed to be the last thing separating them from the crowd, which is pretty fucked up, because it means that those kids still didn’t have the guts to collide with those two beasts without using us as their barrier. The other thing that I noticed was that, even though the railing was actually constructed of a handful of smaller segments with intermittent gaps to allow people to cross from one side to the next, the other side was still completely vacant. It was a controlled and focused mob, hiding behind us as protection.
Something in me snapped and, as I spun around pushing them back, I roared, “Back the fuck up!!“ For a moment, time stalled while I realized that I had basically just fended off a stampede, but I knew that the only thing that had made them stop was the exact same thing that had made them charge in the first place: collective momentum and will power. They were temporarily frozen, as well, and, although this was all happening within moments, I believe that each of these weak individuals were waiting to assess their collective will in real time to determine if they were all still together on this idea. One particular goon, who stood a few steps up, was looking down at me and appeared to be thinking about trying something. “Don’t fucking touch me again.“ This kid could have been 17 or he could have been 24 (probably somewhere in between)–I can’t even tell anymore–but he was clean shaven, with a youngish face and a well kept haircut. I saw his eyes shift quickly to the side of his head like he was weighing his options and then he charged at me in an attempt to shove me backwards down the staircase. It didn’t work out too well for him and I knocked his punk ass in the chest driving him back instead. I don’t usually get into situations like this, but what kind of ignorant, reckless motherfucker tries to push a stranger down a concrete stairwell? I had a really clean shot to knock him across the jaw of his smooth little suburban baby face and was already hearing his cheek bone cracking in my mind, but that’s when he delivered what was probably one of the most disarming responses imaginable. Immediately after I came back at him, he put his hands up in defeat and, with one of the calmest, most matter-of-fact and emotionless deliveries that I had ever heard, he said, “My bad.” He spoke these words as if there was any possible scenario in which aggressively flinging himself towards me could have somehow truly been by a genuine accident. Then he followed with, “Sorry. My mistake. I apologize.”
Man, fuck this kid. Fuck this whole scene. The uprising was over and the people had failed. My old-man back was sore and the condition of my camera equipment had been compromised by getting itself forcefully crammed into my spine and ribcage. I was already done with this Skrillex show and we hadn’t even seen any of it yet. We stepped through to the other side of the rail and, as we began to exit back up through the stairs, a few higher ranking members of the security team were rushing in late to the diffuse a situation that had already fizzled out. I turned around to tell them that we were just leaving and showed them the press passes but, to my surprise, they just chose to escort us down to the floor instead. Alright, shit… let’s go ahead and do this thing, I guess.
[SIDE NOTE: Apparently, something similar went down earlier in the day with the M83 performance, where the crowd rushed the floor, with many people making it through and others being literally tripped up and tackled by security. Some audience members were pissed about how much room still appeared to be available on the floor that they were being barricaded from. ]
[FULL DISCLOSURE: They used to hold the main stage shows in Memorial Stadium with a spacial 100 yard football field for the floor, but that changed last year. In 1997, Beck's show was well over capacity on that stage, which resulted in people standing on the turnstiles to hold open the giant garage style doors that blocked us out. I was one of the people who slipped in with that crowd and I even tried to climb on stage to breakdance during the set--I was pulled off and assaulted by security. 2 years earlier, the packed Mercer Arena (another former venue/Bumbershoot staple) had it's doors blasted open by a mob for the Sweetwater, PUSA, and Built to Spill lineup. That time I was just sort of forced--to my benefit, yet against my own will--into the building by a sea of people like a wave pool. I used to sneak into this festival every year and have partaken in my share of deviant behavior, which is why I started working this media game, in the first place: I still wanted to get in for free, but didn't want to have to deal with that shit anymore. So, what makes this Skrillex situation any different? It's simple, these fucking kids were slamming into me--not doors, not gates, and not jumping fences. They tried to push me down a fucking staircase and one even tried to come at me directly. I'm still pretty sure that I should have hit that kid in the face, even after he apologized; So, I now apologize to you for not being able to write that article instead, because it would have been a much more climactic way to end the Bumbershoot weekend. If you're still confused, there's a simple way to determine if your actions are shady or not, in the future; just use this one simple rule and ask yourself, "Am I dubstepping on anyone else's toes?" Then, you should have your answer.]
(featuring lasers, first person shooters, and internet memes)