This word gets blindly thrown around all over the electronic music world, from song to song. As DJs and producers boast about starting revolutions, no one has really stepped up to redefine any aspects of the current state of dance music. This was eventually bound to change and depended on time. Well, the time has finally come.
Reform can come from unexpected places; although we were already familiar with the creativeness and raw talent of Porter Robinson, something this high caliber could not have been predicted.
Although “Worlds” was unforeseen from a producer who mainly focused on Progressive and Electro House, it was only a matter of time until we heard something from him that\’s completely distant from trendy genres. We first began to see his desire to innovate at one of the highest points of his career after the release of Language; go and revisit some of his 2013 sets and you’d find selected tracks screaming to break out of the norm. What Porter has now created is something bigger than a mere compilation of 12 well-produced tracks.
Ultimately, Porter Robinson has created his very own world which is portrayed through mediums of music, visualization, and pure emotion. He invites us to take on the journey with him on his \”Worlds\” tour that celebrates all of the crucial aspects of what\’s important to him: innovation, fiction, and love.
No further introduction is needed; if you haven\’t explored the realms Porter has created via music over the last few years, this interview may be meaningless. Other than that, I proudly present my in-depth interview with Porter Robinson. NOTE: I tried to focus on questions I truly had about \”Worlds\” in its entirety rather than the whole \”what do you like to do outside of DJing\” sort of thing.
EDM Chicago: First of all, I’d like to personally thank you for taking time to have this last minute interview. I speak for the entire EDM Chicago blog when I say that we’re huge fans of what you do. I also hope you’re aware that Chicago has so much love for the Porter Robinson story in its entirety and we will continue to support what you do in the long-run.
How was your show at the Canopy Club in the University of Illinois?
Porter Robinson: First of all, thank you, and it was really cool. I like playing in college towns. Champaign/Urbana is a lot like Chapel Hill which is where I’m from.
EDMC: A little history lesson: how would you describe the dance music world when you first started getting into production?
PR: I actually didn\’t know it very well; I was making electronic music but I wasn’t going to clubs or festivals to see DJs or any shit like that. I didn\’t really know what the scene was like. Maybe things started popping for me around the same time the whole EDM thing started happening. I feel like I kind of rose alongside of that scene.
PR: I don’t think my influences have necessarily changed. My approach to music changed; I hit my stride and began to focus on writing more honest, sincere, personal material. I don’t think I\’ve been listening to vastly different music between the two eras.
EDMC: What would you (in present time) say to a young Porter?
PR: I don’t know if I’d want to change anything from my younger self. I rose in a place I’m pretty happy about. I think the nature of this question is what advice I would give to young producers and I would say to blow up by standing out rather than following the trend or flavor. Those are the guys that really have longevity and it’s a more verifying way to right music anyway.
EDMC: We’re both aware of the trends and flavors that follow the huge explosion in the dance music culture. Following that, how do you feel about what goes on at the festival main stage?
PR: This year I didn’t go to Ultra, but I listened to a lot of the sets because I like to keep up with what’s going on. I was really surprised with how little the music changed on the main stage from 2013 (when Porter rocked the main stage with his Ultra set) to 2014. It was almost no different in terms of the sound; there’s no innovation. I don’t hate EDM and I don’t hate party music, it\’s just not the stuff I want to do as Porter Robinson. I wanted to make more beautiful music, but it doesn’t mean I have this “death to dance music” approach at all. It’s fun! Sometimes when I hear a crazy unique sound in Electro or Trap, I still like hearing that freshness. There are a few artists I still listen to; I keep up with the Skrillex sets. When he DJs, there’s always 10-20 songs I hear where I’m like “Woah, what is that?” I don’t get that sense of ambition from a lot of artists on the main stage, playing songs you already know.
EDMC: When did you decide to “reinvent” yourself? Was there a specific moment or event?
PR: No, not really. I think it kind of started for me when I was on the Language tour about two years ago. I was writing more soul-baring work and I fell in love with music all over again. I had no choice but to continue writing.
EDMC: So you basically retouched the feeling you had when you first started producing. By the way, congratulations on what may be the biggest milestone of your career with the release of Worlds. Am I right?
PR: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s the most important thing I’ve ever done. It’s definitely the most important to me.
EDMC: What was your DAW (digital audio workstation) of choice? I know you used FL Studio for a lot of your old work. Any specific plug-ins or favored synths you implemented?
PR: I still use FL Studio. I don’t think there were too many plug-ins I haven’t used before. The only thing different was my approach. Sample collection is also really important. I just think the style of music I was writing, establishing tracks like Divinity, were happy, melodic moments slowed down. I just hadn’t heard anything like that before so there weren’t rules to composing it. If you’re writing a Big-room track and it doesn’t sound quite as good as everything out there, it’s not gonna go anywhere. It was really liberating! I didn’t have to think about production as much as I normally would; I’ve been producing for 10 years now, I’m 22, and the production aspect almost comes naturally to me. I instead got to focus on songwriting.
EDMC: Divinity happens to be my favorite song in the album. It sounds like a massive, beautiful tune slowed down to the 100s (beats per minute) and it definitely is the first of its kind. It has a rather familiar feeling to it.
PR: It’s one of my favorites and the first I wrote in that style. It’s actually at 90 BPM; there’s a lot of quick progression on the 16th note and it makes everyone think it’s faster. Typically when you’re at 90 in EDM, it’s close to Drumstep. I wanted to focus on it being really loud but pretty as well. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback of people saying “this sounds like waltz, but it’s cool!”
EDMC: I can’t imagine how people react to Divinity live because of the tempo. It seems to be too slow for everyone to “fucking jump!”
PR: People kind of put their hands up; you see some people trying to jump to it but they quickly realize it’s awkward. I wish I had an anti-gravity machine in the show so you could jump at that speed and it would feel float-y and good
EDMC: If you had an anti-gravity machine, you’d be able to point whose confusingly jumping! You should think about getting one for your next tour. Was Divinity the first track you produced on Worlds?
PR: It was definitely the first that felt “Worlds” to me. I think the first song I started on was Fellow Feeling and that track was three project files big.
EDMC: Worlds almost feels like a soundtrack to something greater, like a movie. How was the experience like creating your own visual world to compliment the album? Is Worlds ultimately an accurate map of your mind?
PR: Yeah, I think the concept art and tour visuals along with the album cover are close depictions of my taste. Where I wouldn’t say that Worlds itself is a whole story or narrative, it’s more about stories; it’s an appreciation of imaginary places and fiction in its whole.
EDMC: Knowing that you’re into Japanese culture, how is it different to play here in the states versus Japan? Also what’s your favorite thing about it and what could we as an American youth learn from it?
PR: The first electronic music I heard was in DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) so my appreciation for Japan doesn’t come from me going there. I’ve loved Japanese culture and anime for like a decade now. Then when I finally got to go there, it was even better than I expected. I love playing in Japan; I haven’t brought the Worlds tour there yet, but they really liked the album.
EDMC: I used to be a big fan of Initial D; the culture and media seems so much more fiction-y and creative out there. DDR always felt like an escape from what all the other kids were doing like playing arcade shooters.
PR: I definitely know that feeling.
EDMC: You had a two-night New Year’s run in Chicago back in 2012. What would you say to someone who was at that particular event and will be attending your Worlds show? How would you prepare them for the differences assuming that they haven’t explored your new work?
PR: I mean, if they haven’t really listened to my new music then I would have no interest in reassuring them. It’s not gonna be the same thing. New Year’s Eve is a party and I don’t think that my new show is supposed to be like that. It’s beautiful at times and something different and I think those are the critical points. I also recognize that I did do fun DJ stuff for years and I can’t fault anyone for not getting the memo, but that’s why I’m trying to get the word out, you know what I mean?
EDMC: The Worlds show itself has gotten a lot of positive feedback as if all of your fans are on the same page as you. I’ve literally not seen a single person on social media say they’ve had a bad time at your show! How does it feel in general?
PR: It’s just amazing. The feeling of being understood deeply by my fans is something that I don’t know if I felt in the past. There have always been those Porter fans that closely follow what I do, but if feels really gratifying to meet folks now who are like “hey, what you do really gets to me” instead of people being like “yo, dude I fucking rolled so hard to your set.” Like, that has nothing to do with my life experience; I don’t know anything about that. Again, I’m not saying people shouldn’t have fun or shouldn’t party. Hearing people tell me how deep this music has touched them is what’s really meaningful to me and you can’t underestimate that feeling. I totally cherish it.
EDMC: Speaking of the tour in general, could you give a brief summary on your set up? How do you implement live instruments and such?
PR: Yeah, I have a Roland SPD-SX for playing drum samples and occasional synth stabs which is triggered by hitting it with a drum stick. I use a Roland System 1, an actual synthesizer, to play lead melodies. A Livid Ohm serves as a four-channel mixer; it helps me break down the song into four separate parts (drums, bass, lead, vocals) which allows me to be more creative, where as a DJ you can’t separate the mixdown like that. Every single moment of the Worlds tour is actually four different tracks playing at the same time and often times there’s an element pulled out that I’m playing live, whether it’s the lead melody or drumline or vocals. I have an Akai sampler keyboard where I made playable versions of lots of sounds from Worlds. I also have my microphone.
EDMC: How’s the live singing going? In the Carson Daly video, everyone’s singing Sad Machine with you; how does it feel performing live like that?
PR: I was really nervous when I first decided that I had to sing. Now, some of my favorite parts of the set are where I sing; it just feels so raw and I love that. I’m not nervous about it anymore, if people don’t like then alright, that’s cool! People say “oh, if you have haters then…” and I’m like, yeah I’m just gonna keep doing my thing.
EDMC: This may be soon to ask, but what do you have in store for us in the future? There were a bunch of IDs (unidentified tracks) in your sets last year; do you ever plan to retouch any old work or turn it into something new?
PR: I don’t think so. I think a lot of the IDs in my 2013 sets weren’t tracks I was making. It was more music that I found that no one else ever found! I dug really deep for my DJ sets; there were tons of songs no one ever discovered. I think the next project will sound more like Worlds instead of Spitfire.
EDMC: Alright, well thank you man! You’re a big inspiration, especially for your age, to those looking for reform in the dance music world; I feel like you’re truly leading the change. You push people like me, even outside of the music world, to want to help change all sorts of things for the better, and I can’t thank you enough for that. I hope to hear from you in the future!
PR: Awesome man thanks so much for the interview and I’m happy to help inspire.
Innovation is sometimes overestimated in the dance music world. Many people hear producers discover new sounds and think it\’s fresh, where in reality, it ends up being a new song with the same formula used to write other songs that share similarities. What Porter Robinson has done with \”Worlds\” is break the boundaries of composing music bounded by certain genres.
You cannot simply describe the style; at this point, Porter has his own signature style that constantly evolves. In his live show, he had many of his old tracks filling in the gaps of his new atmospheric tunes. Porter fluidly juxtaposes his old production with his new work, editing them specially to accommodate the show. It is then when you realize that even though there are many differences between his old music and new, his strong-points still live on. For example, Porter is simply a melodic genius, which can be seen when you compare songs like The Seconds from 2011 and Sad Machine now.
Many aspect of the \”Worlds\” show made it obvious that Porter wanted to connect to his fans; from live vocals to the transparent table that holds all of his equipment, a connection is definitely made. This is no ordinary DJ set and must definitely be witnessed in person. During the performance, Porter showcases the beauty of \”Worlds\” and at the same time revisits the classics that brought him to us.
There\’s no doubt on my mind that Porter Robinson comfortably sits as one of the most innovative producers in the current music sphere. Even though he gained stardom at a young age, he has matured in a matter of four years to become a powerhouse in the industry. To say that I am excited for his next move is an understatement; no matter what type of music he will bring to the table in the future, I can rest assured that it will be nothing short of brilliant.
Photos courtesy of Peter Krypciak Photography