skrillex explains his bonkers new video: “alexander mcqueen and the neverending story”
Sonny Moore talks to i-D about his new video, the reinvention of Justin Bieber and why he’ll never try to please the purists...
Former professional noise merchant turned bonafide hitmaker Skrillex, aka Sonny Moore, has had quite the year. Not only did he team up with Diplo to form banger botherers Jack Ü, he also played a massive part in resurrecting Justin Bieber's career with the double whammy of Where Are Ü Now and Bieber's own UK number 1 single, Sorry. Oh, and all the best songs on the latter's Purpose album feature his magic touch, too. So while he hasn't released an actual Skrillex album since last March, he's about to unleash a very Skrillex remix of GTA's Red Lips, featuring vocals from newcomer Sam Bruno. Accompanying the song is a batshit mental video directed by Grant Singer, who's previously worked with the likes of The Weeknd , Kanye West and Sky Ferreira.
Featuring terrifying double-jointed spider-like creatures, babies coming out of heads, people pulling their arms off and using them as weapons and some lovely frocks, it's a visual feast that takes cues from The Cell starring J.Lo and The NeverEnding Story. Seriously.
We had a chat with Skrillex -- who co-wrote, co-produced and co-edited the video -- to find out what the hell it's all about, and to also ask about working with Justin Bieber.
You're involved in so many different projects at the moment, I had to double check where Red Lips is from. Obviously it's a remix, but is there a new Skrillex album in the works or is this a one off?
This is a little one off. I just thought it would be cool to do and I was really inspired by the original song and I just wanted to flip it.
How busy are you at the moment?
It's really crazy right now. For me, it's nice to be home and take some time to finish stuff. How I work is really different -- I don't really plan on doing an album or anything until I have finished songs and then I work out what to do afterwards.
So the Red Lips video... Literally what the fuck is going on in it?
[Laughs] At its essence, it's cinematography. It's something that was meant to complement the music. The story is more arbitrary to the angle of just creating a visual to a song that is so surreal. The song has traditional sounds and new sounds for me, but it's a bit more serious than anything I've done before. It was fun to create images that accentuate the music.
It's pretty terrifying. Are you a fan of gothic horror or horror in general?
I don't know if horror is the right word, but certain images have always struck me. Impingement is the better word than horror; like when certain images stick with you and they're kind of creepy and beautiful. Movies like The Ring or The Cell, and even The NeverEnding Story.
What other reference points were there?
We designed the outfits and for that, I referenced a lot of Alexander McQueen -- especially his use of face masks. I wanted to decorate these creatures in ways that remind you of lots of different time periods but not one specifically. It felt like it was a galaxy far far away and a long long time ago, but you don't even know what period it was from. My references came from things that were naturally stuck in my head. Like The NeverEnding Story too - all the sand was real and the pink mountains in the background are a real backdrop.
How did you come to collaborate with Grant Singer?
We did my last video together for Burial and we used the same dancers in that video [for the new one], which was a conscious thing. The thing about working with Grant is that a lot of music video directors can be very stuck in exactly what they want to do, whereas Grant is the one guy who's capable of making incredible stuff, but he allows me to take the steering wheel when I need to. That's what I need, because I feel like the films are the end point of my songs -- the visual for me is when it's done, you know. He allows me to be free and he has no ego. As collaborative as it was, Grant really trusted specific things that came from my vision. The whole first shot of her laying down on the ground and the camera spinning round and panning out was the first thing that popped into my head. When you listen to the song and close your eyes it's so beautiful how Sam [Bruno] is singing, but there's something a bit weird about her, you know? Like something bad is going to happen.
It's quite expensive-looking considering it's a video for a remix.
I mean, I guess so. It's something that lives and there are no real rules in music anymore. Why not do something with your money that makes you happy? A lot of people blow coke up their nose and I decided to do something I was really proud of.
You mentioned Sam Bruno, the vocalist on the track. Given your current chart status as a genuine hitmaker, going forward do you think there's pressure to use big name vocalists now?
No, never. Never has and never will be. I have the opportunity to do both and it will always be like that I think.
Does the idea of getting unknown singers and giving them a platform excite you?
Yeah, definitely. That's another bi-product and plus for me. It really comes down to hearing something that inspires me and I don't really care where that's from, as long as it's good.
You've helped resurrect Justin Bieber's career this year, with both Jack Ü and his own album. Why do you think you work so well together?
If I'm inspired by great art and great vocals, it's really easy for me to make music. Working with Justin was a way for me to try something completely different that I wouldn't be able to do on my own. Same goes for him. I think that's what collaborating really is -- like me and A$AP [Rocky] doing Wild For The Night. At that time, you didn't hear hip-hop or EDM or bass music together like that. Back then, it was so different for both of us. It was a progression for us. Now that sort of style is normal, a lot of people make that crossover sound. With anyone I work with I try and do something different and new.
Do you think the mainstream has moved closer to you or have you moved closer to the mainstream?
Interesting... I guess one of my main goals is that I want to do as much as I can before I die. I think naturally I'll be closer to everything if I'm doing more things. I'm just trying to check as many things off my list as possible.
Do you think working with big pop stars is still seen as a risky move or are the barriers coming down more now?
Risky? Or risqué? I think risqué is the best shit to do.
I guess it was risky for you and for Justin, but in different ways.
I'm not trying to make you be a Justin Bieber fan, but do you enjoy the work we did together? Can you hear the merit in it?
Yeah. Sorry is a banger.
Great. So if you were in the studio while we were making it and you heard the undeniable songs and we felt it too and were like 'Yo, I don't care what anyone thinks, we love these songs' and then friends of mine who don't listen to Justin Bieber come over and they're jazzed over it and I'm jazzed over it and he's jazzed over it, then it doesn't feel risky at all. We were like 'Even if this doesn't sell shit we've made good music and tried and no one can throw tomatoes at us for that.'
In your acceptance speech at the American Music Awards recently you said, "We're here to keep pushing music forward and break stereotypes and boundaries." What did you mean by that?
Pushing music forward is about doing things that haven't been done yet. That's the first thing. Breaking stereotypes and boundaries is like, well Justin Bieber is the perfect example -- like I don't care if he fucking got a DUI or toilet-papered a fucking house. We're in the studio to work and make good music for the world. As cliché as it sounds, it's the most true thing: the world is fucked up and when you have positive music out there it just lifts people up. The reason I want Justin Bieber to win so much is that he's the most famous artist in the whole world. For better or for worse, you know. He's the most famous icon in the world so if we can give him the tools to help him win, then that's better for the world.
Is there anyone you're really keen to work with that you haven't yet?
There are so many great people I want to work with right now. I mean, Adele. She's killing it right now. I've always wanted to work with her.
I'd love to hear a ballad-banger hybrid.
Yeah exactly. Something really emotional.
Have you been working with M.I.A?
Yeah I have. It's amazing stuff. Really great.
What do you make of Adele's decision to not stream her new album?
You know what, I've always battled not to stream my albums, too. I feel like you want to get people's attention right away. When you're looking at it, streaming it just feels less personal. I don't know if it's better or worse for Adele to have done that, but who the fuck cares, she's killing it right now anyway.
Will there be another Jack Ü album do you think?
Yeah we're working on stuff right now; working on a lot of collaborations and just fleshing it out.
Also, finally, you referenced it in your Grammy speech, but have you ever been to Croydon yet?
I have man, only once. It was after SW4 years ago. What's cool about that is that I wasn't calling myself dubstep, and I never tried to label myself that or take that term and use it for myself, but so much influence came from there and the support I had from that crew was real. Even when the dubstep purists were hating on me, the actual guys who came from that world like Skream and Benga were always so cool to me.
You can never please the purists, don't worry.
Yeah. And I don't really want to.