Skrillex - Recess
In 2007, a young-ish Sonny Moore entered a Daft Punk concert, courtesy of a $150 ticket purchased off a scalper. He entered as a solo artist who had cut his teeth as a guitarist and lead singer of the band From First To Last, a mildly successful emo outfit. He left the concert with his mind blown, "I went alone, bought a ticket off a scalper for $150, got on the floor, and had the best time of my life. I didn't have a drink, no drugs. But I was high out of my mind. It changed my life." It seems that concert in 2007 set him down a path that has allowed him to take a strangehold over the genre of dubstep and attract the ire and admire of music fans all over the world, sparking more debate than ever about the boundaries and definition of music. This percieved ubiquity surrounding Skrillex and the Dubstep genre is even more puzzling when you consider this is his first ever full length album. Whilst Daft Punk never seem to be fully 'in' electronic music, even when they are releasing, Skrillex can't stay out of it. That concert though, and that experience is splattered all over Recess, in varying degrees of success.
Dubstep suffers from a raft of disturbing misconceptions, most of which are plain and easily navigated, some of which are argued vehemently by musical purists. Skrillex has always existed right on the precipice of musical acceptance anyway, so it is hardly a concern for him. From emo to dubstep, there's enough hot air blown by critics to keep a Zeppelin in the sky. But dubstep was around well before Skrillex released Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. It was seen as an injection of fresh blood in to a UK dance scene that had become stale and repetitive, as guitar music flooded the airwaves and Grime remained relegated to underground establishments. Skrillex's earliest dabble in electronica was relegated to traditional producer fare. He stuck to remixes and straight-laced club beats that pushed all the David Guetta buttons; inoffensive, enjoyable, bright, but ultimately forgettable.
Once Moore learnt to drop the bass, however, there was no turning back. The aforementioned Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites was his first pure indulgence, a throbbing techno stomp that blended the most pure dance elements with a bassline as fat as Meatloaf that curled its way seductively around the ambient noises he dropped in between. All of a sudden, Skrillex was dubstep. At my sisters 21st birthday, girls were shuffling well in to the night as this EP unfurled itself around the darkness, prompting 3 separate visits from the police. In the years since, a Friday or Saturday night rarely passes without those giant basslines rolling out over the darkness, infecting individuals in whatever way they deem themselves worthy of being infected.
Yet all of this is a long way from a Daft Punk show. Bear with us. Recess is immediate, it's loud, it's brutal, at first it is absolutely everything you expect and more from the man. "Stranger", the third track, takes you directly back to the days when dubstep was confined to the b-side of the latest pop hit. "I'll forget your name and you'll become a stranger", before the music cuts back in and a huge whiny synth operating on the minor scale pierces your ears, chained by a crazy rhythm that operates about 5 octaves below it. There's all this wide open space in the middle, which, at 10am on a Monday morning walking across the Harbour Bridge, felt kind of redundant, yet at The Electric Daisy Carnival would be filled with strobes having seizures and breathless dance that borders on frenetic. The title track utilises this theory as well, an earthy wood wind pulse exists high on the scale with searching bass vibrating away underneath it. The first four tracks are electronic insanity.
On A$ap Rocky's cultural pulse taker, Long. Live. A$ap, in 2013, he enlisted the help of Skrillex on "Wild For The Night", a threatening dance number that stood out as both a sign of things to come and a gesture of good will from the hip hop community, extending its hand in to the murky dance underground to extract its biggest star. On it, he raps "Middle finger to the critics, me and my nigga Skrillex". Skrillex is quite clearly white, and those who have ever heard a track where Eminem has featured will recognise that being referred to as someone's "nigga" by a hip hop head when you are white is the ultimate cosign. It is a welcome in to a world and a genre. Recess thrives on this. His utilisation of Fatman Scoop on the title track is a nice throwback for us mid 2000s pop lovers, and the track "Coast Is Clear" featuring Chance The Rapper is a brightly coloured funk freak out, with Chance inviting a female acquaintance to leave the club with him. Skrillex eventually joins him, as the second half of the record ensures a healthy helping of dub, but that trademark step is ever so slightly muted.
It's not a particularly joyful genre of music. Despite the image of tens of thousands of fans ecstatically forgetting any kind of inhibition, the movement began as an underground one and still retains that deceptive, furtive feel. Chemical enhancements play a huge role, and it's hard to fathom too many situations outside of a chemically induced euphoria where dubstep would worm its way in and provide a soundtrack. Skrillex, with Recess, has provided evidence of this in the refreshing way he's approached the full album format. The second half of the record favours old school electronic techniques, as he seeks to create atmosphere and emotion by filling the spaces that dubstep leaves empty. On "Doompy Poomp", an almost joyous, child-like beat bops along like a fat sausage popping in a hot pan, with giant funk synths lighting the sky. It's a revisionists take, and it's stellar. On "Fuck That", he revisits that electronic staple sound of a remix and pairs his wood wind with a repetitive sample and an insistent curve of percussion that steers clear of any bassline theatrics. The Daft Punk influence shines through, and whilst he doesn't possess anywhere near the ability of those two, it's nice to see him attempt to branch out, even if it isn't in the most adept of ways.
Recess is odd. Skrillex is the ambassador for the sound, and you'd expect a full length from him to be an orgy of giant beats and shimmering lights. It isn't, but it also doesn't truly show his production capabilities. He seems keen to stray from the relative safety of his established sound, yet he remains tethered to it, only able to scratch the surface of his capabilities. Hopefully this is a tipping point, and from here his experimental qualities will shine through.