Skrillex and his producing partner in Diplo will forever be linked in the memory of 2015, because their Jack Ü project helped jumpstart Justin Bieber’s massive comeback, but that’s not the only thing the two shared last year. The producers both found public redemption in their own ways. In Diplo’s case, he rehabilitated his negative reputation and character, while Skrillex’s diversified work behind the boards allowed him to move further away from being the face of “brostep.” With Skrillex turning 28 today, it’s a good time to recap his turnaround.
Before taking a look at Skrillex’s newly established standing in the music industry and public alike, it’s important to cover exactly how he, probably unfairly, earned the negative perception. It stemmed from Skrillex’s fast rise to the top, which seemingly came out of nowhere and as a result, drew the ire of his contemporaries and skeptical audiences alike.
Before becoming one of the biggest names in EDM, Skrillex performed under his birth name, Sonny Moore, from 2004 to 2007 as the lead singer of the post-hardcore band From First to Last. While Moore fronted the group, they released two relatively successful albums, Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Bodycount and Heroine. However, Moore’s fragile vocal chords and a desire to pursue a solo career led to his departure in 2007.
Contrary to popular belief, Moore’s transition from post-hardcore to EDM didn’t quite happen overnight. Before adopting his current alias, Moore toured as a solo artist throughout 2008 and 2009 while attempting to find his sound. His self-released debut EP, My Name Is Skrillex, wasn’t actually released until June 2010, but signing to Deadmau5’s record label did wonders for his career. It quickly skyrocketed following the October 2010 EP, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, a reference to the late David Bowie’s 1980 album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).
Skrillex’s meteoric rise (at one point he held 8 out of 10 spots in Beatport’s Top 10) was initially met with open arms. He earned props from the likes of Spin and dubstep luminaries Skream and 12th Planet, the latter of which had this to say about Skrillex’s music: “It’s beautiful, it’s musical, and it’s uplifting, but also face-punching and face-melting at the same time.”
However, the inevitable backlash was right around the corner, with a September 2011 Guardian interview entitled “Is Skrillex the most hated man in dubstep?” leading the charge. Instead of highlighting Skrillex’s enjoyment of the “joys of life” and happiness with his success, the writer seemed to take satisfaction in pointing out detractors and mocking a “naive” desire to connect with crowds. And of course, the profile didn’t pass up an opportunity to mock Skrillex’s appearance: “Anything that can make a superstar of a lank-haired, slighly gauche enthusiast such as Moore has to have some cultural interest.” Skrillex essentially became shorthand for the dismissive wank of millenial culture at large.
Inexplicably, taking criticism in stride and having a good time while performing was portrayed as a bad thing. It’s no small wonder Skrillex later told the same publication that the profile was the very reason why he stopped doing interviews. At this point, Skrillex released a follow-up EP earlier that year, More Monsters and Sprites, and he continued to let his music do the talking by releasing Bangarang EP at the end of 2011.
Not surprisingly, Skrillex mostly stayed out of the media spotlight (save a decidedly more flattering 2012 Rolling Stone profile and collecting six Grammys between 2012 and 2013) until it was time to promote his debut full-length, Recess, in 2014. At this point, the tide actually began to turn with some surprisingly (“Skrillex’s signature head-throttling dubstep is among the most exuberant, cheerful sounds in music”) positive reviews (Recess, as did the 2013 EP Leaving, expanded his palette considerably”).
And so the stage was finally set for Skrillex’s biggest year yet. After forming Jack Ü with Diplo in 2013, the duo finally released their debut album in late February 2015. The full-length featured a surprise appearance by Justin Bieber, who performed “Where Are Ü Now” with the duo at Ultra 2015 to kick off its success as one of the biggest singles of the year.
Incredibly, “Where Are Ü Now” was so ubiquitous that the New York Times published a feature about its creation and of course, it made pretty much every Song of the Summer and Best Of 2015 list. As big as the single was for Jack Ü and Bieber, Skrillex’s involvement with Bieber’s redemption tour didn’t stop there.
The producer branched out even further by producing five additional tracks on the Canadian’s critically and commercially successful album, Purpose: “I’ll Show You,” “Sorry,” “The Feeling,” “Children,” and “Hit The Ground,” each with a different vibe. Most notably, “Sorry” topped the Billboard Hot 100 on the strength of its tropical house-and-moombahton-influenced sound.
Skrillex didn’t spend 2015 solely working with Diplo and Bieber. He put his stamp on hip-hop as well, teaming up with producer Bangladesh for “El Chapo,” one of The Game’s lead singles for The Documentary 2. As with Skrillex’s collaborations with Bieber, it doesn’t make sense on paper. However, the versatile West Coast rapper adapts to the horn-driven beat, throwing in some Spanish for good measure. In addition, Skrillex produced “Drum Machine” for Big Grams, a trio including OutKast’s Big Boi and indie electronic group Phantogram and the massive hit (and frequently synced for commercial use) “Burial,” with Yogi and Pusha T.
Admittedly, these songs weren’t Skrillex’s first forays into hip-hop (he produced A$AP Rocky’s “Wild for the Night”) but it’s further proof that he’s moved away from his brostep days toward mainstream acceptance. Combined with his work with Bieber, Skrillex has made himself more than just an EDM figurehead. Now, he’s a producer who’s equally capable of crafting Top 40 ready and hip-hop beats. Skrillex has always been a relentlessly hard worker with the ability to make great music. It just took a collaboration with Diplo and Justin Bieber for the world to take notice.