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TBTS Reviews: Skrillex, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites

April 27, 2011

I’m a metalhead. I’ve never really been a fan of “techno.” Only in the last couple of years have I even acknowledged the notion that techno is really only one subgenre of electronic dance music. The divisions between these styles can be as nuanced (and hotly contested) as those of, say, heavy metal. For fun, ask your local metalhead to name every type of metal he can think of. It’ll be a long list. And heaven help you if there is more than one metalhead in the vicinity, as a loud debate is likely to ensue as to whether, for example, Gojira is “death metal” or “groove metal”, or whether Skid Row actually counts as metal at all. (Hint: First album, no. Second album, yes.)

Get more than one fan of dance music in a room, and similar debates on the subgenres, and various markers (and merits) thereof, are likely to spontaneously occur. For the most part, I believe we can establish that Skrillex falls under the “dubstep” subgenre of electronic dance music. I’m not here to argue this point, I’m just here to tell you how awesome Skrillex is.

Skrillex, Scary Monsters and Nice SpritesSkrillex is the nom de plume of Sonny Moore, a 23-year-old singer/producer from Los Angeles. He’s been in a couple of post-hardcore bands, and even toured with Deftones front-man Chino Moreno’s experimental side project Team Sleep in 2007. Since 2008, Moore/Skrillex has been releasing EPs on a label called Mau5trap Recordings, run by electronic dance producer and all-around badass Deadmau5. Skrillex released his debut, My Name is Skrillex in June 2010, and then Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites in October. Both are technically EPs as they only feature a half-dozen original songs followed by a handful of remixes.

I first heard of Skrillex through a friend on Facebook. This friend had posted a YouTube video of a Skrillex remix of a Benny Benassi song, “Cinema.” The track featured the slow-tempo-plus-frantic-drums duality prevalent in the dubstep genre. This is a rhythmic trick that I’ve always found fascinating; the technique of breaking up a slow beat into dozens of sub-beats and filling them with rhythmic patterns. Effectively, it adds energy to a slow song by tricking the ear into paying attention to these sub-beats instead of the song’s actual tempo. I’ve never heard the original Benassi track, but Skrillex’s remix uses the technique to great effect.

However, the real draw here is Skrillex’s signature breakdown. At 1:17, the song tears into a merciless, speaker-shredding breakdown that begs to be played at high volume. This is Skrillex’s calling-card. These brutal drums and complex, distorted, chopped up synthesizer melodies that sound like dragons belching are a major component of his music (check out the digital piano reviews that they used to achieve some of those sounds). Not bad for a guy who does all his work in a laptop in his apartment. Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites doesn’t have the Benassi song on it, but the EP is filled with similarly energetic dance music and equally devastating beats. These beats are usually punctuated by a cool little sample (my favorite being a clip of “speed stacker” Rachael Nedrow yelling “YES! OH MY GOSH!”)

Songs like “Rock n’ Roll (Will Take You to the Mountain)” and the title track are up-tempo and, with a few exceptions, feature hooks that are not quite vocal. This is another Skrillex signature. Many of his vocal lines are vocoded/autotuned, then chopped into rearranged syllables. The result is basically nonsense “words” set to a melody. You can sing along, sort of, but there are rarely any lyrics. “Kill Everybody” has lyrics, but they’re just “I want to kill everybody in the world” and “I want to eat your heart.” Dark stuff for what actually turns out to be a bouncy little number. “All I Ask of You” is a sweet tune with a female vocalist (identified as “Penny”) that is firmly planted in mainstream techno, and the hip-hop influenced “Scatta” features rhymes by Bare Noize and Foreign Beggars.

“Rock n’ Roll (Will Take You to the Mountain)” ends with a sample from a Glitch Mob video in which a grizzled old crankypants complains about electronic music: “You have technicians here, making noise… No one is a musician. They’re not artists because nobody can play the guitar!” There was a time when I would have grunted in agreement. But I think Skrillex appeals to me precisely because I once shared that sentiment. There is a musicality here that I feel is lacking in a lot of dance music. It also helps that Skrillex’s breakdowns are loud, heavy and borderline obnoxious. Pardon my French, but Skrillex is fucking metal!

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11 Comments
  1. April 27, 2011 2:33 pm

    You should check out Distance – he’s a metalhead that makes dubstep

  2. Linium permalink
    August 9, 2011 7:04 pm

    I love this article! Skrillex is amazing!

  3. Linium permalink
    August 9, 2011 7:06 pm

    P.S. “Get Up” by Korn and Skrillex… kjhasdh;dsjghAASUG (That is what you say when you want to say every positive word in the dictionary!

  4. Anonymous permalink
    October 9, 2011 5:30 am

    What a ridiculous review by an embarrassingly uninformed reviewer, stick to reviewing what you know.

    Bill Patrick said it best when he said that “skrillexs music sounds like transformers having aggressive sex.”

    • Anonymous permalink
      October 9, 2011 12:27 pm

      How, and on what points specifically, is this reviewer uninformed? Seems like he’s done a good amount of background research into the band and listened pretty attentively to the album in question.

    • Paul the Geek permalink
      October 16, 2011 12:13 pm

      “skrillexs music sounds like transformers having aggressive sex.”

      You say that like it’s a bad thing.

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