The revolution and rebirth of Skrillex

From post-hardcore to dubstep, Sonny Moore has been on a whirlwind journey to global success. And his 2023 double-album Quest For Fire and Don’t Get Too Close shows that you can simply never count Skrillex out…

The revolution and rebirth of Skrillex
Isabel Armitage
Marilyn Hue

Skrillex’s mainstream success happened with a big bang(arang). But ever since the From First To Last frontman broke away from his post-hardcore roots and made it big in the 2010s, he’s been put in a box for being largely associated with dubstep and EDM. In 2023, though, these labels need a major rethink.

There was once a time when publications asked if Skrillex – real name Sonny Moore – was ‘the most hated man in electronic music’. The Los Angeles DJ and producer had begun to make waves away following his years spent hustling in the underground, before he unleashed defining single Bangarang (feat. Sirah) in 2012. It marked the moment when the geeky producer with jet-black hair began to straddle genres – but not everyone got it. “It’s a shame, people are like, ‘Oh, I heard about him, he’s the crazy dubstep guy,’ and they listen expecting that,” Sonny told Pitchfork that same year. “If anything, I just want people to actually have their own opinions about me.”

Today, such a narrow viewpoint should no longer be the case: as Skrillex continues to mix things up, he’s solidified his position as one of the heavyweights of the scene. For starters, let’s look at the monumental move that was his February double-album, Quest For Fire and Don’t Get Too Close. The premier release is a blend of grime and drum’n’bass laced with elements of that iconic sound of dubstep and U.S. EDM. Its follow-up is emo to the core. The two albums are completely contrasting; one seemingly written for the masses with an eclectic mix of genres, and the other acting as more of a passion project, showcasing bold and adventurous vocal lines with a touch of classic Skrillex Auto-Tune.

Quest For Fire gained initial traction with a carefully-structured waterfall release strategy, drip-feeding the public. In fact, lead single Rumble was teased at various raves over the last five years – most recently with Skrillex’s close companions and collaborators, Fred Again.. and Fourtet. Last month, the newly-formed trio decided to play a ‘casual’ three-hour set in one of the most renowned music venues in the world: New York’s Madison Square Garden. Skrillex saw this as a perfect moment to reveal his second album by releasing it at the end of their set. Within 48 hours, the industry was shaken.

Even more importantly, both records showcase the talents of a wide range of artists. ‘Coming from the cracks and the crevices’ (as Trippie Redd sings on their song Way Back), Skrillex has always been entrenched deep within the scene, consistently paving the way for others and sharing his love for the underground. “A lot of that ‘figurehead’ stuff came with controversy,” he recalled to Dazed in 2019. “A lot of the ways journalists framed it was… that I was coming in and taking something and mainstreaming it – like it was this plan, this conspiracy, or something like that. For me, it was only about the underground.”

Hamdi is a great example of an artist that Skrillex supports, whose dubstep track Skanka was played at the MSG show, giving a voice to an emerging artist who is now signed to Earth Agency. Teen prodigy Prentiss and breakout pop star PinkPantheress, meanwhile, were amongst the fresh creatives featured on Don’t Get Too Close.

Alongside newcomers, both albums were also speckled with famous names giving Skrillex opportunity to tap into wider fanbases – collaborations with Justin Bieber and Missy Elliot to name but two have shown his ability to gain respect from individuals who are hugely famous in their own right. This year’s Don’t Go with JB is reminiscent of the legendary Where Are Ü Now with Diplo, which surpassed one billion plays since its release in 2015. And then, of course, there’s Warped Tour ’05 with pete WENTZ, a snippet of an old interview with Sonny and the Fall Out Boy bassist/lyricist. While it may just seem like a 48-second interlude, the line ‘This is a culmination of all your hard work’ feels apt, not to mention gladly nodding back to the pair’s respective emo pasts on an otherwise forward-thinking release.

But Skrillex’s reinvention doesn’t stop there. Ever-evolving, he’s also now turned his hand to the world of digital album art, with motion picture fast becoming the norm when releasing music. Case in point is the creature that adorns the visuals accompanying Don’t Get Too Close. This little porcupine acts as a poignant piece of art alongside the album with tracks Don’t Go, Bad For Me and 3am suggesting an emotional strain that is weaved throughout. With swords for spikes, dripping in blood, this unassuming animal seems to be extrapolating Skrillex’s rock’n’roll roots, providing a darkness that old-school From First To Last fans know and love. It may seem like a small detail from the outside, but it exemplifies a vast amount of thought, progression and dedication to his craft.

Ultimately, Quest For Fire and Don’t Get Too Close should help remove any preconceived notions of who Skrillex is and what he does. With a vast sonic sound palette reaching a growing web of new audiences – while still retaining much of his traditional identity – Sonny continues to push every boundary in the same inventive way that propelled him to fame in the first place. And with a new grown-up look and haircut to match, it’s time to start taking him more seriously.

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