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"I think people are being exposed to these different things and realizing that it all goes back to the same thing — it all goes back to the fact that we're humans, and we're drawn to create, and we wanna make things that are beautiful that move ourselves and move other people. ... It's not, 'Dubstep is good music.' It's not, 'Electronic is good music.' It's fuckin' 'Good music is good music.' "
Through his own label, OWSLA, Moore offers downloads of Skrillex tracks as well as those of OWSLA signees Dillon Francis, Hundred Waters, Skream and more. And while Moore — unlike Smith — doesn't give his entire catalog away for free, he's but one of thousands of EDM artists eager to make their music as accessible as possible, erasing the boundaries between the creator and the listener.
"Pretty Lights put out records — how many years ago? — free online," says Moore. "He could have been some guy giving out free CDs, but because the Internet's there now and everyone's gotten all this attention and all this traffic, it gives an opportunity for the real new up-and-comers to just do it themselves. It's also growing because people do see it as a market, so you're going to have a lot of people just going for it, because it's — in a sense — a market that's just exploding."
On their YouTube channel, fraternal comedy-video producers the Fine Brothers host a series by the name of Elders React. A recent installment sees a gaggle of senior citizens responding to a succession of Skrillex videos; as of press time, the video had over 7.5 million views. To Skrillex, the elders react with a bevy of descriptors, from "electronic nonsense," "psychotic," "violent," "dark," "unidentifiable," "heavy metal gone awry," "a bunch of crap" and "a jackass in a bottle," to "with-it," "very, very clever" and a very matter-of-fact "techno dance music with someone screaming every once in a while." While many of the elders see this music as a way for kids to rebel against their parents, one self-professed child of the '60s goes so far as to say, "I would rather have my kid or grandkid listening to this than Justin Bieber or Britney Spears."
Indeed, Skrillex's music is made up of a divisive array of sounds. There are clear-cut melodies and hooks, and some of them are stirringly catchy, to be sure. But they're also ensconced in grating, tooth-rattling tones and backed by a spine of compressed kick and snare samples. "Is it called something?" the former flower child asks. The Fine Brothers' response: "Dubstep."
But that isn't entirely accurate. Though dubstep has become something of a slapdash label applied to every laptop-toting youngster with a funny haircut, its influences are rooted in an organic subgenre of reggae known as "dub" that was pioneered by '60s artists like Osbourne "King Tubby" Ruddock and Lee "Scratch" Perry. Arriving in late-'90s London, the term "dubstep" came to represent music that adheres to a fairly specific set of rules.
Like most dance music, dubstep is in a 4/4 time signature. More often than not, the tempo clocks in at 140 beats per minute — but delivered in halftime, giving the tempo a feel of 70 bpm. Then there's dubstep's characteristic "wobble bass," in which bass tones are rhythmically manipulated, typically via what's known as a low-frequency oscillator.
"I think when something is new and there's so much focus on it, after it becomes a cliché," Moore says. "People will call anything that sounds like noisy electronic music 'dubstep.' It's actually very specific technical classifications of what makes dubstep. Even just from the tempo. But at the end of the day, people are making electronic music in so many different ways, even in bands. ...
"The platform is what's so exciting about it. You can be so creative without having much. And I think that's just going to continue to grow. I think the significance isn't in dubstep. The word could've been 'electro.' That could have been the word of the year, you know?"
While some of the music Skrillex, Pretty Lights, 12th Planet and their fellows make can indeed be labeled "dubstep," many of their tracks can be called anything from house to trap to a 110-bpm variant known as — brace for impact — "moombahcore." But that's really just an offshoot of moombahton, which derives from reggaeton, which ... well. As with any niche musical movement, you can split hairs, split them again, and split them some more until your head spins.
"I'll tell you straight-up," says 12th Planet's Dadzie. "Twelve years ago, you could totally tell the difference on what was what. But now everything's just kind of, like, borrowed from each other. ... The artist can create fuckin' whatever they want. Like, you listen to a Skrillex EP, it has multiple different genres on it. Twelve years ago, I think artists couldn't go outside of their genre and stuff. I think that's a testament to everyone collaborating and borrowing from each other, making it new."
That all-embracing quality has brought an audience boom in Nashville. On Halloween of last year, Pretty Lights brought his "Illumination" extravaganza to Municipal Auditorium, attracting just shy of 8,000 attendees. Two months later, fellow EDM heavyweight Bassnectar played Bridgestone, drawing 9,673 fans to the arena on New Year's Eve; he'll do the same for NYE 2013 — only this time, he'll debut a brand-new 360-degree rotating stage setup. While Skrillex hasn't played a proper Nashville show in roughly two years, his December 2010 appearance at Mercy Lounge was an easy sellout. (According to Mercy Lounge's Mischke, as a result of Skrillex's onslaught of sub-bass that night, "a glass shelf full of bottles at the back bar shattered.")
In part, that's a reflection of Nashville's omnivorous musical tastes, which tend to surprise many visitors. Thanks to rock stars like Jack White, The Black Keys and Kings of Leon claiming Nashville as their hometown — not to mention local rock 'n' rollers-made-good like JEFF the Brotherhood, Those Darlins, The Features and PUJOL — the rest of the country is beginning to accept Music City as a hub for indie, punk and garage rock.
But as we grow accustomed to our identity as a hotbed of rock, pop and country, artists of innumerable genres and modus operandi surge all around us, thriving in scenes of their own making. Prolific MCs like Dee Goodz, Stix Izza and Openmic boost the local hip-hop scene, while DJs such as Wick-It the Instigator and KDSML make names for themselves within both the hip-hop and EDM worlds. If the world is growing accustomed to Music City being more than just country, there's no reason Nashvillians shouldn't embrace the idea of music that is more than just, y'know, dudes with guitars.
"Nashville — that's where the industry's at," says Dadzie. "You've got country and Western on lock, and, like, hip-hop and gospel and all kinds of markets, you know? It might not be the biggest in terms of straight-up dance music. But in terms of music in general, Nashville is Top Three. Between L.A., Nashville and New York, you've gotta make it in one of those markets, for sure."
Moore, a longtime Angeleno, and Denver native Smith have more connections to Nashville than you might expect. Eight years ago — before Skrillex was a household name, and long before Moore had won three Grammys, co-scored Harmony Korine's upcoming Spring Breakers and voiced his cameo as a DJ in Disney's new animated film Wreck-It Ralph — he was a 16-year-old touring as the lead vocalist for an emo outfit called From First to Last. At a tour stop in Charlotte, N.C., he found himself in need of deodorant. Someone steered him to an 18-year-old by the name of Robert H. Dyar Jr., who was working security.
Dyar — who prefers the nickname "Road Hog," though "R.H." is also acceptable — lent the young man a stick, and the two became fast friends. Road Hog would go on to serve as From First to Last's tour manager, and later as the T.M. for Moore's solo project, Sonny. But when Moore moved on from the world of the guy-liner'd mic-swingers and on to his electronic material, he and R.H. lost touch.
Until, that is, a serendipitous run-in in Paris brought the two back together. After some coaxing, Road Hog — by then living in Nashville — was convinced to return as Moore's tour manager. Shortly after, Skrillex's career soared into the stratosphere. Now that hulking, bearded, blue-eyed farm boy you see looming a full foot taller than Skrillex everywhere he goes, pulling Moore out of moshpits gone awry in YouTube clips, is Road Hog.
"I think Nashville's got a great scene, and I think that it's growing," R.H. says. He points to guys like Jeremy Todd (aka COACH), host of The High Watt's weekly Y2K dance parties, and Joseph Howard (aka Fan Fiction), creator of the EDM blog Nashville Nights, for growing the city's EDM scene. Also worthy of "big ups," he says, are venues such as 12th & Porter, Mai and Mercy Lounge, which host EDM events "when it's been cool and popular, and when it hasn't been, just because they love the music." If not for their efforts, he says, an event like With Your Friends Fest wouldn't be possible in Nashville.
"You can't just bring big electronic shows into a city that has no scene and expect it to just make sense," R.H. says. "It's the same way with a lot of good music in this city, whether it be, like, a Fly Golden Eagle or a James Wallace and the Naked Light, or going to see PUJOL play or whatever. It's just music, it's good times. When people have a good attitude about it and they're doing what they love and they're having a good time, that translates."
"Ever since I started touring a few years ago, that part of the country has shown mad love to the electronic shows," Smith says of Nashville. He too has professional connections to Music City — namely, via booking agent Hunter Williams of the Nashville-based Progressive Global Agency.
"It's always been packed-out, and it's always been hyped — like, super-hyped," Smith says. "Some markets, some cities will sell out an electronic show, but it won't be as energetic as another city or whatever. So I've always thought of Nashville as, like, this super-hyped-on-electronic-music — on the new North American movement — city."
The idea to team up for an outdoor gig came after the success of a post-Lollapalooza Skrillex-Pretty Lights package show in Chicago in August 2011. Both Skrillex's and Pretty Lights' camps agreed on Nashville, and Moore and Smith met up to discuss the details while playing Full Flex Express, Skrillex's cross-Canadian summer 2012 train tour, a sort of EDM take on the Grateful Dead/Joplin/Band Festival Express tour of 1970.
Smith pushed hard for Nas to play With Your Friends, while Moore was gunning for an appearance from Santigold. Both artists happened to be available, and the lineup was filled out with Pretty Lights Music signees (Eliot Lipp, Michal Menert), an OWSLA signee (Dillon Francis) and close friends TOKiMONSTA, 12th Planet and Two Fresh. Also featured will be art installations and, naturally, a carnival ride.
Skrillex will headline With Your Friends on Friday night, with an opening set from Pretty Lights. With his mini opening set, Smith promises to play the sort of "chill, down-tempo hip-hop" he doesn't typically feature in his full sets. On Saturday the two will flip-flop, with Skrillex planning to feature some of the "unreleased techno and stuff" he's recently been working on in his opening set.
For hip-hop fans, Nas will perform his Saturday set with help from a nine-piece band. While both Smith and Moore remain tight-lipped about the details, VIP ticketholders are promised "something so special" for the post-show festivities.
Moore and Smith see it as their responsibility to open their young fans' minds to a broader scope of music with events like With Your Friends. Smith even admits that some Skrillex diehards might think Pretty Lights "sucks," and vice versa. But he hopes that will change.
"As the music gets more popular," Smith says of the growing wave of EDM, "the crowd gets younger. And if the crowd gets younger, they're not as exposed to different genres of music. So it's almost our responsibility to expose people to different genres and whatnot. ... And I feel like we are trying to be ambassadors of that — opening your mind and just being like, 'This is what good music is.' "
But even more than being ambassadors for musical open-mindedness, the pair reiterates again and again the theme that drives them as artists: inclusion.
"If you create an atmosphere — especially for young kids — they have that memory of being on the side of the river and like, 'Michal Menert was there, TOKiMONSTA was there, and these really diverse things,' " says Moore, his voice full of earnest excitement. "You want to have a good effect on people."
And yes, he intends to bring his spaceship.