Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Essay: I listened to Skrillex


I have never given myself over to the allure of Skrillex, like many of generation, but unlike them I'm determined to find out why.  I went through his oeuvre and picked out a selection of tracks that I thought best represented his progression in sound.  Come with me on a (ramshackle) listening experience...

Rock N Roll - Sounds like a cocaine-fueled version of Bangarang.  The beat is propulsive, reminiscent of Kavinsky's Testarossa Autodrive, with a sub-Daft Punk chorus interspersed with girly sound clips.  The bass-drop, such as it is, is an 8 bit stop and start which is punctuated by the final chorus, a finishing sprint that is more contemporary in it's continuity.  The lyrics are no indicator as to the message of the music, which seems to be 'forward movement'.  It makes it feel somewhat like a chase, which induces the thrill of fear, whilst also making you move quite rapidly by way of it's speedy BPM's.  Close to being a good track here, but too patchy in its execution.

First of the year - starts with a Caribbean jauntiness that leads into piano plonk and crowd noise.  Vocal manipulation lays over the top before the 'call 911 now' signals the bass-drop and it's hold-release-hold intensity.  It thrills in much the same way Metallica used to -  push and throw yourself around, not for any reason, just because why-the-fuck-not?  The beat picks up before bass-dropping again, this time with more vocal layering, a couple more synths and the volume turned up a little.  Again, not much here to hold onto after the music stops, in fact the thing that sticks most in my head is the screwed-up vocal call of 'random' that punctuated each bar in the bass-drop breakdowns.

Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites - Rising synths fall in followed by a hollow kick drum.  The chopped female vocals are back, followed again by the exasperated female scream, this time 'oh my god', followed by you-guessed-it, a bass-drop.  Hang on, is this another version of Rock N Roll? Or First of the Year?  Another synth 'verse', with the short vocal clip before we do it all again.  Hearing this after hearing his later work first, I can definitely hear what attracted people to him, even if it is aggressively repetitive.  The last vocal verse is quite effective if again built around nothing more than uninterpreted vocals and a repetitious piano loop

Breakn a Sweat - Middle Easterns drums are interrupted by those organs, with a little Skrillex guitar action.  The call and response section of "Breakn a Sweat, it's alright' is as terrible as it sounds, as is the vocal clip of 'C'mon baby light my fire'.  Oh dear.  Devoid of heavy basslines and replaced with kitschy references, this track sinks.

Bangarang - The interesting thing about this track is that it's the one I like the most, and yet it is the most commercial of what I've listened to so far.  That's not to say I love it, as the usual tics Skrillex has become noted for still grate as the song goes on, and even moreso upon repeated listens.  But there is definitely a tempering of the style here, but again, without any real emotional anchor in either the music or lyrics, the song feels empty and forgettable.

Make it bun Dem - The collaboration with Damian Jr Gong Marley feels like it sounds, like it doesn't seem to fit.  Although Marley sounds pretty engaged over the course of track, Skrillex delivers some window-dressing wonk here that does little more than suggest that another style would have sounded better instead of his trademark chop-drop-and-roll..  The ceiling of synths in lieu of a bass-drop breakdown feels unnecessary and like everything else, just slapped on top.  Give this a miss.

After listening to a bunch of tracks that I think are pretty representative of his discography thus far, I don't think my opinions have changed a lot.  I think there are aspects of his music I like, but those aspects are quickly (and loudly) blunted to death by all the stuff I don't like.

Given that he's been around for a couple of years now, we can definitely see a template emerging of his sound.  The choppy synths, the girly vocals, the bass-drops.  For him to make his music timeless, and make it as palatable in my head phones as it is at festivals, he has to find a way to generate emotion with his music.

He has shown an ability to do just that, but more often that not he can't sustain it in a track, or even worse, the track has no direction whatsoever.  If he can discover the magical formula that makes us care for his music (by making it scary, or thrilling, or sad or whatever) then I can start to appreciate all of his music and not just components of it.

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