Though the interview timed out at a mere 15 minutes, the amount of insight Porter Robinson dropped on me could have filled an hour. On Saturday night, the young producer headlined Astralwerks‘ Beatgasm Pool Party at The Clevelander Hotel, a little over 12 hours before his debut on Ultra Music Festival’s Live Stage. Though the hotel’s pool area had been packed since 4pm with fans anxiously awaiting the man of the hour, Porter still had a few minutes to sit down and chat before his night began, about the lingering impact of Worlds, festivals, and much more.
Since the release of Worlds, have you noticed a stylistic difference in other artists’ releases?
I hope that Worlds has given some people a platform to approach music from a more songwriting perspective than a DJing perspective. I think there’s definitely a bunch of young artists who got their production chops up by making EDM and are probably now being more inspired by more left-of-center records and I applaud that, but I think the thing to note I guess is that for me, what was special and important to Worlds was that it was deeply personal; I was channelling a ton of influences that have been there for decades and I think it’s kind of unlikely that if someone really looked deep into their personality and taste that they would come up with something that sounds exactly like what I do. I hope the core message of the album gets translated, not just the aesthetic and the style.
What was the biggest challenge in bringing the Worlds tour to Ultra?
Honestly on the logistical side, I don’t really have to do that much. I have close friends and allies of mine who have been there for years whose jobs are to figure this out. They’re my team, people who are really doing it for me. As far as bringing the live show to Ultra the real question is more like how is this personal, only-my-own-music live show going to translate amongst a very DJ-centric festival. My hope is that it will stand out positively in contrast.
I feel like when I do my live show at a more indie, eclectic festival, I’m the DJ guy. But when I do my live show at an EDM festival I’m the live guy. And so I think there’s definitely something to be said for standing out and it’s nothing that I’m afraid of. And I think in a certain way it’s better to be unique than have something be perfect and polished. I think a perfect big room set from beginning to end can be slightly forgettable, but a set where there’s chances for fuck-ups and maybe not every song is the most exciting thing someone’s ever heard, there’s something special about that as long as it can keep someone’s attention.
Do you feel any pressure to change your set and style for festival season ?
I don’t feel that pressure because in a way, I feel like that might be pandering a little bit and it’s something I want to steer clear of: doing stuff for the wrong reasons. I don’t see it as this dichotomy where dance music is bad and pretty music is good. I see it as sincerity and authenticity. And I just try to do my best at all times, just stay real and do stuff that I’m proud of. I’ve had regrets; it’s been when I had to compromise or when I thought what I was doing wasn’t dope or a good opportunity. Again and again I keep getting punished for it because I’m willing to compromise. And I know the way I phrased that makes it seem like it happens to me all the time, but most of my regrets when it comes to my music career are times when I didn’t follow my gut. I wouldn’t want to change the show too much for Ultra.
What’s the one thing you miss about the Worlds tour?
I miss everyone who was on it. Being with Lemaître, being with Giraffage, everyone on the tour was awesome and the novelty of it was great, too. I never looked up at the crowd during the first show in Vancouver. I was singing and playing keys, but I never looked up…too fucking scared. I didn’t know if they hated it or loved it. The next show was the biggest show on the tour – like 7000 people – so I definitely looked up that time (laughs). Doing that tour and embarking on something I’ve never done before, not knowing if it was going to work but thankfully the result was a positive response, that feeling is going to stick with me to the casket.
Is there anyone you might sneak over to watch at Ultra tomorrow?
Skrillex, for sure. As far as fun, party-banger DJ sets, he’s the best. I listen to his sets for fun while I’m playing video games. I love the Jack Ü record, I just love everything he’s doing. And it’s weird because I think some people might take that as a contradiction of a lot of the stuff I was saying a year ago – and that might be true – but the thing is with Skrillex you never get the sense that he’s playing something because he’s trying to get his new record on the radio. He has excellent taste as is proved by his awesomely curated label so I think his taste in dance records is really great. I’m not the type of guy who goes to see a lot of other people, but I will go out of my way to see Sonny.
If given the chance to write the score for a movie, what film genre would you like it to be?
Definitely anime, that’s a given. I know that answer is so on the nose for me, but I spend so much time listening to music. Honestly the only music that’s given me chills in the last two months was OSTs and opening songs. My obsession with anime borders on unhealthy.
(laughs) It’s some of the only music that makes me feel stuff lately, and I really understand what makes that music work. I’ve studied the chord theory behind it and I’m really interested in the melodic tropes they use. I could definitely write a score for a film especially if it was centered on beautiful emotive stuff instead of a battle anime.
I’ve gotten offers to score things especially in the wake of Worlds, but I thought, “Isn’t this sort of a compromise too, to write for someone else’s work?” Don’t get me wrong, film scoring is a very functional exercise. For a certain scene you need a certain feeling. When you’re writing music that feeling isn’t prescribed, it’s what you’re currently feeling. For many of my favorite artists, their film score works just are not my favorite. I listen to their albums. And so then there’s that part of me that says shouldn’t I write another album instead?
But wouldn’t that be the next challenge for you? You’ve done an album and tour, and a score would be a new thing.
It definitely has the novelty aspect and it’s something I think I’ll do in life, but I’m trying to find the next thing that’s really exciting for me. I’m very scared about losing enthusiasm. I will avoid a song for weeks because I’m afraid of losing my enthusiasm for it. Inspiration is so scarce for me and writing music has always been really frustrating and difficult. It’s never come to me naturally. Don’t get me wrong, I could easily phone in a electro album tonight and it would be easy. And if it was something as simple as make another song like ‘Divinity’ I could do that too, but to me it’s really important that as your ability increases as an artist that your standards also increase.
I would be so scared to just be happy with what I do…the thought of that just makes me terrified, to be stagnate and not make anything good. It makes me a slower songwriter but I think it makes me a better songwriter, and that’s what’s most important – to have a finished project that’s good.
If there was one thing about dance music you’d like to change, what would it be and why?
(long pause) There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to speak on what other people are doing. I’ve fallen into some hatery before and I’ve always kinda regretted that. I don’t have to expedite the process of getting rid of shitty music; that just happens eventually. There are tons of amazing acts who aren’t getting any shine and there are plenty of fakes that are getting a lot of exposure, but I don’t see it as my job, I don’t want to be this ambassador of what’s good and what’s not. I want to be this ambassador of only what’s good.
What then, can you say is the one thing we’re doing right?
I think this year there has been a real awesome emphasis on novelty. Especially in the Soundcloud scene, there’s been a lot of artists that are trying to come up with something new and I keep hearing tracks and go, ‘He didn’t quite nail what he was trying to go for there, but I respect it. I see what he was trying to do and it was weird but I like that and I’m going to play it.’ That’s very 2015. In 2013- 2014, music fell into this stagnant place and this year it’s starting to pick up. I’m finding new music on Soundcloud everyday and I’m proud of electronic music and I think it’s gonna get better.
Has it been difficult to transition from album mode back into regular production mode, or has there been no difference in your approach?
It’s been really hard. I went home and tried to write music after Worlds and after the tour was over and it was really difficult. There was a lot of depression and frustration.
Did you find yourself almost rewriting Worlds and having to take a step back from the music?
I was actually starting to write stuff that I liked but then I’d be like, “Oh this is too Worlds.” I always want a sense of momentum in my music and I don’t want to repeat myself. Stagnation really scares me. But I will say, the next thing I do will be more similar to Worlds than Worlds was to the Electro House. It’s been a move towards sincerity and it’s like I’m circling finding myself with music. Ultimately, I wrote stuff that sounded like Worlds and wrote stuff that was off the deep end and cried – not out of frustrations, but because it was so emotional. It’s weird and I want whatever I do to be fitting all the time and I’m trying to figure out what the next move is.
One thing that was very liberating was taking myself out of second album mode. That was my first approach: let’s just start writing the next album. I have 30 demos right now. I have stuff I could turn into an album. Maybe I could write a collab thing here or a remix here and that stuff came way more naturally because the pressure was off. It wasn’t like this next project needs to be the best thing I’ve ever done. I finished a remix which is practically unheard of from me in the last year. It’s just crazy to me, finishing a track. I refuse to procrastinate. I force myself to work every day because so many of my songs have been just past the point of ‘fuck it, I’m done for the day but I’m just gonna try one more thing’ and then I wrote the riff for ‘Sad Machine’ and that was one of the best songs I ever wrote and certainly one of the most popular. I said just one more idea and that just happened to be the critical idea.