Skrillex at Spring Awakening Music Festival | Photos and review
This week, highly regarded Dutch bass-music producer Martyn was quoted in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper saying, "dubstep in the U.S. has taken the place of nu-metal." Nu-metal being the stand-in genre term for bands like Korn and Incubus. The former actually released an album last year that incorporates much of dubstep's low-end mayhem into its thrashing guitars and guttural screaming. Yesterday, the first day of the inaugural all-electronic DJ rave-fest Spring Awakening saw a close-out set from Skrillex, easily dubstep's biggest name and probably one if its most polarizing. His stature has made him a lightning rod for all the criticism being hurled at the dance-music sound that's done so much to invigorate America's newfound love of everything propelled by an electronic beat.
Dubstep, in the most general terms, is not easy-going music. It's brash, loud, intense and certainly not for the faint of heart. As such, once introduced to its speaker-rattling insanity, you'll not walk away indifferent. It either blows your mind (and your eardrums) or it's an aberration, the opposite of all things you deem musical and good. Much like metal. As you might expect, those that fall in love with dubstep tend to be of the more youthful variety, and believe me, Spring Awakening is populated by a sea of fresh faces all of which practice some level of Skrillex worship. Tour t-shirts served as a base-level show of support. Then there was the homemade shirt Sharpied with "Skrillinois," the facepaint displaying the "ill" in Skrillex as three slashes—inspired by his logo—and, notably among girls, a plethora of haircuts mimicking the DJ's signature 'do. We can call that last category of devotees Skrillettes.
Needless to say, if you were at Spring Awakening last night, Skrillex is probably A-OK in your book. And hearing his rambunctious live DJ set, I could certainly understand why. While interviewing Flux Pavilion, another dubstep act playing the fest this weekend, he pointed out that Skrillex's music, while raging, still has soul. It is the many imitators that have popped up around him to overpopulate the dubstep scene that haven't managed to achieve that balance of cold aggression and warm euphoria. I agree. Skrillex's is music taken to extremes. His set—which broadcast from a huge Star Wars-inspired spacecraft—was teeming with songs that built up with lush, warm vocals, like his remixes of La Roux's "In for the Kill," Avicii's "Le7els" or Nero's "Me & You," and then peaked on a blissful high before descending into the Transformers-like metallic crunch and bass bombast that is the Skrillex sound. Every time, that whomp whomp whomp smacked us in the face and mayhem ensued.
Whether dancing in their seats from the stadium seating of Soldier Field or front-and-center on the grounds of the field itself, people freaked out in their own way, judgers be damned. Frat boys ran to and fro, did backflips and butted chests. Girls giggled, twirled glowsticks and raved out on the shoulders of their mostly shirtless co-eds. The whole experience was only intensified by the swirling wind and rain that overtook the second half of his set. Tweeting about the experience, I couldn't help but note that I felt like I was witnessing the end of civilization, but at least everyone was having a good time. The thing is, every time a new fringe musical movement explodes, some journalist somewhere decides that the kids that flock to it have lost their minds and music is ruined. First it was punk, then there were the '80s hair bands, then Megadeth and the like, grunge, Insane Clown Posse and, of course, nu-metal. At least in Skrillex I can find some commonality with the dance music world that I've loved for so long. Namely that it inspires dancing—and who I am I to fault a bunch of free spirits that want to get together and do exactly that?