Skrillex’s Resurgence to the Global Stage
Written by Meghan Bohannon
April 7, 2023
For the past few years, Skrillex has been something of a dormant volcano in my life. Five years ago, he headlined the 9th annual SnowGlobe Music Festival in Lake Tahoe, California, which happened to be the first music festival I’d ever attended. Surrounded by towering pine trees and crisp, snowy air, I soaked in the blaring dubstep sounds of “Bangarang”, one of Skrillex’s first successful singles. In that moment, my love for electronic music was born.
Since that night, my taste in electronic music has evolved. But, as Skrillex has shown with the explosion of his double album, so has he. With 26 new tracks, he’s completely rebranded. And, like a tsunami that’s been building for miles, his influence is affecting more than just the EDM world.
Released on February 17th of this year, “Quest for Fire” is Skrillex’s second studio album in nine years. The very next day, Skrillex along with music producers Fred Again and Four Tet popped up in Times Square for a spontaneous yet electrifying set that took social media and the world by surprise. While the surprise jam sesh marked the launch of the first album, fans were in for a treat: his third studio album, titled “Don’t Get Too Close” was released that same night during his sold out show at Madison Square Garden.
This prolific feat–releasing two albums in two days– is a testament to Skrillex’s years of experience, years of putting in work behind the scenes, years of staying immersed and networking. In fact, every single song between the two albums includes the artistry of at least one other music producer. “Don’t Get Too Close”, for instance, features a plethora of artists that the modern pop or hip-hop lover would appreciate, such as Justin Bieber, Trippie Redd, Kid Cudi, Yung lean, Trippie Redd, and PinkPantheress. It’s indicative of how fun it can be when artists of different genres collaborate and an illustration of the globalizing music world.
At the start of the year, Skrillex, Fred Again, and Four Tet popped up at last-minute secret shows throughout London, all of which sold out within seconds.I’d consider Skrillex’s resurgence a byproduct of the era of “Fred Againia” a term coined by the British clubbing publication MixMag, defining Fred Again’s global popularity by the high number of sold out shows. Skrillex’s sold-out Madison Square Garden performance exemplifies the same enthusiasm being brought to America.
A lot of the tracks on “Quest for Fire” seem to echo the heartfelt, electronica-based sound of “Fred Againia”, based in UK garage and breakbeats rhythms. All in all, this is a huge contrast from the dubstep, derogatively coined “bro-step” by some critics, from which he originated. Tracks like “Rumble”, which opens with an echoed, glitchy gate effect and features rap verses from UK MC Flowdan, make a clear statement about the growing popularity of genres that originated in the UK. Flowdan himself comes from a background of grime as well as drum and bass, both genres that originated in the UK between the 90s and 2000s. “Rumble” is a track that showcases the blend of these classic UK sounds– high BPMs, syncopated beats, and the use of electronic synthesizers during production.
Several other tracks on the album make impressive connections between artists on both sides of the pond and across genre lines. The most global collaboration on “Quest for Fire” can be seen in “XENA”, a track which features Palestinian singer Nai Barghouti. In an interview with Fanack.com, Barghouti has explained that it is part of her artist's mission to be a symbol for unheard voices, especially female music artists in Palestine. Her feature on the album reverberates this sentiment– and the power of music to unite people across the globe. The track itself matches the grandeur of the collab– Barghouti’s hypnotizing voice feeds into the anticipation of the three distinct bass-heavy beat drops, and each drop is launched by a high-pitched war-cry.
Here in Boston, I’ve already heard tracks from the album exploding at local clubs- but one in particular has drawn the crowd the most- “RATATA” - a track which samples 90s Missy Elliot. In a city that holds a reputation for being slow on trends– from fashion to music- Missy Elliot’s upbeat voice blaring “This the kinda beat that go Ra-ta-ta” seems to please everyone. A fun spin on the classic “trap EDM”, which is usually defined by aggressive rap and head-banger-style drops, this track is characterized by a more powerful female voice, and a bubbly, clicky beat drop. Another track on the album boosts Boston pride- with Brookline’s very-own Eli Keszler featured on “A Street I Know.”
The most obvious storyline amongst the albums is the affair between Skrillex and his fellow collaborators in the real world. Like characters that come alive from the book they were born in, Skrillex and his featured artists curate a live listening experience through the constant sampling and resampling within the albums themselves. Take “Still Here”, a collaboration with Porter Robinson, who is often categorized as synthpop, as well as Bibi Bourelly, a Berlin-born, German-American singer who co-wrote Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.” The track opens with the same, rapid breakbeats that can be heard elsewhere on the album but leads into a beat drop that is reminiscent of Porter Robinson’s classic, dreamy, whimsical melody which echoes in the background. While the beginning of the track uses a sample from Snoh Alegra’s “Time”, the chorus sung by Bibi Bourelly is later sampled on “Painting Rainbows,” a track from “Don’t Get Too Close.” One sample in the song even exposes a key virtue of the post-pandemic music industry- that an electronic music artist’s popularity is once again defined by their success in the live-show realm. Halfway through the song, the Porter-Robinson-esque melody kicks off with a vocal sample that recreates a live-festival experience– “Is anybody here with your family, like your sister or your brother? Is anybody here with your best friend? Is anybody here with your team, more than like twenty? Make some noise right now.”
Meanwhile, some tracks are completely void of beat drops and high energy– instead, they seem to stand alone and tell an emotional story about Skrillex’s artist journey. “Warped Tour ‘05 with pete WENTZ” samples an interview from Skrillex’s time as the lead vocalist for post-hard core band “From First to Last.” The 48 second song consists only of an audio clip of Skrillex, at the time going by his real name, Sonny Moore, with Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, with an inspirational melody supplemented in the background. As interviewer Pete explains in the track, “This is like the culmination of like all your hard work. I mean, you guys were struggling for a while. You were living on people’s floors, and out here you are. It’s like the dream every band dreams of.”
Almost every track on the album involves a dramatic collaboration, so much so that it kind of hurt my brain while listening. A mix of vastly different genres, I was impressed with how Skrillex has dragged such a myriad of people into one not-so-cohesive, but quite fun, project. If there’s one thing Skrillex has done and will continue to do, it’s bring people together. While every new track he’s released has its own flare, there’s certainly something for everyone.