Some people set themselves up for being easy targets. They accidentally run head first into a stage that was set up for them; they unintentionally light their hair on fire and it gets added to their Wikipedia entry. You know, the usual stuff. After a while, these stories start to construct the persona of a modern Mr. Magoo, a man who is equally beloved and mocked for his charming, yet almost fatally clumsy, demeanor. Now what if Mr. Magoo wrote some of the most divisive music of the last five years? Well, his name would be Mr. Sonny Moore, aka Skrillex. Just the sight of the name probably caused some sort of reaction within you as music fans rarely sit on the fence when it comes to the productions of young Sonny. Some of those who detract from his music will mock the heavy “drops” and unorthodox organization in his songs with a recycled utterance similar to “it sounds like [Transformer A] fighting/having sex with [Dinosaur B]” while others who adore Skrillex will not accept any moniker for the man that isn’t some mildly unsettling form of deification. On his latest full length album, Recess, EDM’s own Mr. Magoo has one theme for all those who have voiced an opinion about him, regardless of what that opinion is: go fuck yourselves, I’m no one-trick-pony. Unapologetically spiteful? Absolutely. Justified? Maybe, but as he sees it, both lazy praise and lazy condemnation require a proper musical retort in the form of newly integrated song structures, genre blending and featured artists who can empathize with his lack of support in the musical community.
Ironically, as it pertains to how the traditional Skrillex tracks were perceived, both those who love and hate the man’s work use a version of “nice drop, bro” to critique his tracks, with sarcasm being present for those that disdain the bass heavy moment. Regardless of how one feels about the songs themselves, this musical phrase only speaks to one aspect of his music and doesn’t contain any sort of productive criticism. Unfortunately for Skrillex, this lackadaisical assessment went viral and began to culturally define his musical catalog, kindling his ire. In the opening track of Recess, instead of fighting it, Skrillex owns the brostep epithet on “All is Fair in Love & Brostep” by simultaneously satiating long-time fans of the infamous drop while mocking the serious nature of those who used the term brostep as a weapon against him by equating their campaign to actual war, as in “all is fair in love & war.” The album continues to change course with “Doompy Poomp” that starts off with Skrillex outright telling the listeners they wouldn’t expect the Mario Kart like bounciness in the track they are about to hear. He even reaches back in EDM history and produces the grimy UK-style dubstep that purists love (“Fuck That”) then moves into a ballad (“Ease My Mind”) that unravels reggae rhythms into the more familiar cut-up, humanoid-like Synth leads. The misdirection concludes with a track (“Fire Away”) rooted in deep house that has Skrillex belting out “Fuck this place that we call home,” expressing both lyrical and musical contempt for his “home” of 140 bpm brostep by showing his range in a melodically driven, and ethereal, songscape. All these tracks provided a wide range of canvases for an eclectic and diverse group of musicians to contribute to as well.
Skrillex gathered a veritable ‘island of misfit musicians’ that, like him, seemed to live on the fringes of musical acceptance. Whether it’s G-Dragon & CL from the annals of K-Pop, Fatman Scoop hailing from the land of hip hop hype-men or Ragga Twins bringing in the underbelly of English jungle, all of these artists come from a background that is littered with dismissive opinions of their work, something Skrillex is all too familiar with. In contrast, Skrillex also culled in artists that are praised by more cerebral types like the NPR-pushed rap darling, Chance the Rapper or the indie songwriter, Kid Harpoon. Each artist’s inclusion has a point to prove. G-Dragon & CL come from a style of music more often associated with the infamous video game, and scourge to the EDM elitist, Dance Dance Revolution, yet they are used in a track (“Dirty Vibe”) co-produced with EDM royalty, Diplo, that has no real ‘drop’ present while being more structurally similar to early Wu-Tang than any brostep song. It becomes almost non-sensical to use past criticisms of his music. Likewise, in “Coast Is Clear,” the effusive Chance steers away from his usual humor-laiden, yet simply profound, rhymes and instead repeatedly asks someone “Do you wanna fuck?” directing critics away from praising any wordplay and forcing them to comment on the fact that Skrillex has a fully-instrumented song founded on blue note filled chord progressions that has Chance spitting lyrics that could be meant to sarcastically mock “club rap.” It’s a song that is both intentionally dumb and smart, a theme that runs throughout Recess.
The icing on the cake of this new LP is that it is entitled Recess. If this is what Skrillex is doing in his free time, what is he doing at school? One could only guess as each track on this landmark release could be a jumping off point into any style of music, not just electronic. By showing his musical range, Skrillex is doing his best to make it so he can’t be easily pigeonholed anymore. The whole production is a practice in musical diversity in both style and collaboration that expresses anger and spite in the most coy fashion possible. Unlike some EDM producers these days, he let his work do the talking instead of just taking to Twitter to fight strangers about the quality of his music. When it comes down to it, this physically clumsy American EDM producer may not have silenced all of his critics with Recess, but he certainly made them work a little harder.