Monday, November 25, 2013

Skrillex at Building Six, the o2, 22nd November 2013

I've never been so profoundly affected by a gig in my life.  It wasn't anything so high-falutin' as musical virtuosity or poetic, lyrical genius.  No, Skrillex affected me on a far more fundamental level: by deafening me. This gig was fuckin' loud man, the kind of loudness where you walk into a place and think “ooh, that's a bit loud”.  About an hour later your eardrums have been completely blown out and the jet engine exhaust screaming into your ear becomes the new normal.  Even now, writing this more than a day after I walked out of the club, a shrill, high-pitched pain rings in my ears. Julianne Moore in Children of Men said this tinny scream is the death scream of ear cells – a requiem of frequencies that you''ll never hear again.  I don't know if that's true or not, but the idea is disquieting.  Is this kind of thing worth sacrificing your senses for?

Skrillex is the pseudonym of Sonny Moore, former singer of various hardcore bands who spotted the burgeoning dubstep trend and promptly switched genres.  His brand of hyper-aggressive, pop-trash dubstep is heavily rock influenced, with powerfully pulsing synth lines in place of guitars and a constant, body-shaking boom from the bass.  Since his rise to the top of the pile he's put out a number of hugely successful songs, played sets all over the world, dated Ellie Goulding and co-written the soundtrack of the best film of 2013.

Despite this success, Skrillex isn't thought of particularly highly.  This is perhaps understating things: dubstep fans despise him for infecting their pet genre with a cheesy pop sensibility, serious musos won't give him the time of day and those in the general public that have heard of him regard him as a trivial manchild with stupid glasses and a ridiculous haircut.  This isn't surprising - his music isn't for everyone – but for those that crave a bit of aural brutalisation it's just the ticket.  I'm firmly within this group:  you can only sit around sipping a glass of wine and listening to bloody acoustic guitars before you feel the urge rising inside you to freak the fuck out and go bonkers to silly/trashy music.

Before I get bonkers, I've got to get into the club.  The security at Building Six is about comparable to boarding a plane.  After getting my photo-ID scanned into their database, having my socks searched for drugs and my wallet rustled through I'm finally in.  Stepping inside the place is absolutely ram-a-jam.  Building Six is a pretty big club but you can't move without having to squeeze yourself through a mass of sweaty, writhing,  happy flesh.  

Eventually I carve out a space for myself in a crowd that, to put it bluntly, looks pretty damn drugged out.  After a bit of straightforward dubstep to get us in the mood, the music takes a swerve and suddenly we're listening to the greatest hits of Bob Marley and the Wailers.  In the stygian depths of a dark, dank nightclub Marley's positivity is a breath of fresh air.  

It turns out to be an oddly appropriate build-up for Skrillex, who, for all the opprobrium thrown at him turns out to be a rather loveable sort of chap.  He's short and wiry, jumping up and down behind his decks excitedly, getting off on the way his basslines roll right through the crowd.  He's uncynical in way that only Americans can really be, restricting himself to platitudes like “Oh my god guys I'm so happy to be here!” or “Let's hear some noise London – yeah!”.  Not exactly Oscar Wilde levels of repartee but his heart in the right place and anyway, as witty as Wilde was his bon mots never got a thousand people going mental for a big drop.

As for the music?  Well, as Woody Allen said “the body knows what it wants” - and it turns out my body wants big dirty stinking bass.  Skrillex's music is as shallow as a puddle, his not-so-secret weapon the big bass drop that's been endemic to pop music since about 2009.  It's dumb.  It's repetitive.  It's  completely tasteless.  But boy oh boy is it fun to dance to.  He pulls out some of his biggest hits relatively early on, the crowd whooping maniacally over the synth swell of the first bars of Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites: the greatest minds of my generation lolling their heads from side to side in an anoxic daze, shaking their asses hypnotically to the crazy pulsating beat.

Soon after comes his collaboration with with Damian Marley Make It Bun Dem, a car crash of dub reggae with Skrillex's wubbiness.  It's great: the bass thumping through the body kinetic dancefloor of Building Six, my heart beating to the rhythm.  Skrillex's rock roots shine through in the epically cheesy Bangarang, a very, very silly song with an undeniably insistent and irresistible pumping beat and one hell of a big drop.

It's songs like these when realise the genius of Skrillex's formula – a weird portmanteau of rock and dance that's neither one nor the other.  This isn't just about putting some electric guitar sample in a dance song, or adding some bleepy bloopy backing track to an indie number – it's a telepod fusion of the two.  Behind me forms a mosh pit full of gasping wet sweaty bodies, eyes rolling madly around their skulls like marbles in a porcelain teacup.  It's primal and instinctive; the characters in a Hogarth painting wrapped in glow sticks and illuminated by sickly sharp green laser light. 

At the climax of Skrillex's many thumping drops, there's a whoosh as pipes spray choking clouds of dry ice down upon us.  The stuff leaves an acrid taste on the tongue, temporarily blinding you in a nightclub fug.  Getting caught up in this kind of surging, searing barely controlled dance panic feels dangerous.  I walk out of there a damaged man: ears blown to fuck, eyes stinging with sweat, clothes stuck to my skin, an unsettled stomach rolling in my gut and a mind ringing like a badly forged bell.  Was it worth all the pain?  Fuck yeah it was.

Photographs by Chris Wilcox

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