“Where’s my Nickelodeon generation at?”
Skrillex hollered this question midway through his set at the Cross Insurance Arena, and judging from the response a whole lot of its local members were in the building. He was referring, of course, to the generation that grew up on “Rugrats,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” and green slime as tykes, and that as young adults has made electronic dance music (EDM) the new rock ‘n’ roll and Skrillex one of the biggest rock stars in the country.
Skrillex’s performance revealed how he achieved this designation. He’s an energetic, personable showman who arrived atop a “mothership” (not unlike Parliament back in the 1970s, if Michael Bay directed their stage show) and hopped around amid lasers, fog and 16-bit video game graphics, whipping the crowd into periodical frenzies and making plain how hard he was working as he went along. The display was part carnival, part spectacle and proudly populist, the way Kiss concerts likely felt to teenagers in the 1970s.
Some of the crowd came solely to join Skrillex’s party, while others no doubt came to catch a rare glimpse in the Portland area of the type of extravagant, big-budget EDM bashes that have taken up permanent residence in cities like Las Vegas and Miami. Openers Milo and Otis, What So Not, and GTA gave the evening a festival vibe, splicing their original house and hip-hop cuts with remixes of songs by the likes of Kanye West and System of a Down, and taking no breaks between sets for two hours straight. All were highly capable and rapturously received, and provided a seamless stream of music to clear the runway for the mothership.
Skrillex’s live show is most famous for his bass “drops,” in which his frantic rhythms seem to plunge through a trapdoor to very deep and easily danceable terrain. These drops distill his music to the very essence of what his audience finds most euphoric about it, and they become a tool he can use to hit that pleasure center again and again. The effect is powerful, and if it can feel a tad manipulative when you step back and analyze it, you can’t deny the results. Like his entire set, these drops are so loud that they almost become physical entities; the heavy vibrations immerse you in the moment, but also disorient you to the point where you may feel slightly seasick.
If you listen carefully to what’s going on underneath all that pummeling volume, Skrillex will escort you through decades of dance music, from disco and dancehall to jungle and house, up through his beloved dubstep. He injects those subgenres with so many steroids that longtime dance music fans will find little to recognize in it. Even the pop nuances of his immaculately engineered albums, such as this year’s terrific “Recess” — which he played much of — are all but lost. No big deal: when you witness thousands of young people dressed in neon-colored costumes, smiling for group photos, dancing and pogoing for hours on end, joyfully throwing their arms in the air, it’s difficult to argue with the Nickelodeon generation.
Robert Ker is a freelance music writer in Portland, where he and his wife own the vintage store Find. Contact him at: