Sonny Moore didn't start off with a stacked deck of cards. Born in Northeast Los Angeles, the creative youth grew up first in San Francisco before attending boarding school in the Mojave Desert. When he was 14, he switched to home schooling because of excessive bullying. Two years later, he found out he was adopted. He ran off to Florida to take out his angst as lead singer of the post-hardcore band From First to Last before he was even 18.
He left that band to pursue a solo career soon after. He moved back to LA and started messing around with electronic music, making beats on a laptop computer. Without a place to call home, he crashed on American dubstep producer 12th Planet's couch. In 2008, he started performing club nights under the stage name Skrillex. By 2012, he'd be the first “EDM” producer to win a Grammy, and he'd walk away with three of them.
Skrillex became famous for his aggressively glitchy style, but any attempt by fans or the media to paint him into a corner quickly became impossible. In less than a decade, Skrillex has risen beyond the dance music world to be one of the most sought-after producers in rock, hip-hop and the most elite of pop music circles. He's earned a reputation as a friendly dude, started his own multi-genre record label, appeared in a Disney movie, created his own hair-style and even made Justin Bieber cool.
Whether you love him or hate him, Skrillex is one of the most important musical figures of the last 10 years, so we put together a list of his 20 best works. The diversity and scope is staggering, but be warned: The bass will get brutal.
20. Skrillex, “With You, Friends (Long Drive)”
Even in his early days, Skrillex loved to show off his softer side. The songwriter in him peeps out on lyrics “Please tell my lover I'm down on my knees / and I really really miss you / Oh, I love you.” The romantic message is lost in the vocal chops, demonstrating even at this stage Skrill's affinity for using the voice as an electronic instrument, but the emotional impact remains throughout the song's soft piano melody and energetic synth breakdown.
19. Skrillex, “Ruffneck (Full Flex)”
The second single from third EP, "More Monsters and Sprites," is everything fans love about early Skrillex sounds. Pretty strings, buggy electronic noise, piano relief and low register booms so heavy, they'll break your mother's back. The “drop” sounds like Leatherface just ripped through your ear canal, exactly the stye Skrillex built his reputation on.
18. Skrillex and The Doors, “Breakn' a Sweat”
Jim Morrison famously predicted that music production would go electric in the '60s, but he never could have imagined what Skrillex could do with his band, The Doors, some 40 years later. Originally created for the 2012 documentary "Re:GENERATION_music_project," it featured proudly on the producer's hit EP, "Bangarang." Once again, Skrillex proved the diversity of his sound and the timeless connection between inspiration and the inspired.
17. Skrillex, “Weekends!!!” (With Sirah)
One of the artist's first releases under the Skrillex moniker and initial joint effort with frequent collaborator Sirah stands strong as one of his best. It's not his hardest or most complex, but it's for sure one of the catchiest in his catalog. It helped usher in the familiar American dubstep sound and spawned a million copycats. Just try not to sing that vocal for the rest of the day.
16. Skrillex and Wolfgang Gartner, “Devil's Den”
Wolfgang Gartner is credited as the master of “complextro,” a dense take on rock-leaning electro sounds that equate to a maestro's fingers flying over a guitar neck or piano keys. His laser-blasting speed mashed against Skrillex's bone-crunching bass drops makes for one gnarly soundscape. It's pure evil and absolutely addictive.
15. Skrillex, “Summit” (with Ellie Goulding)
This song sounds like a video game. In fact, it is featured in the web-based Skrillex Quest, created by the dubstep king in collaboration with browser-adventure builder John Oda in 2012. While it still carries Skrillex's signature edge, it balances the glitch with expansive melodies and angelic vocals from Skrillex's then-girlfriend Ellie Goulding. Skrill's wail is in there, too, of course.
14. Skrillex, “Doompy Poomp”
This lopsided cut from 2014's "Recess" stands out as one of Skrilly's wackiest experimentations. There will be no massive drop, no screaming samples. “Doompy Poomp” simply slugs along on a slight lean, raking up white noise and dirty textures as it flops about on a cartoonish beat. The video, directed by Fleur & Manu, takes a page from the movie "Groundhog Day" to bring its surreal qualities to life.
13. Skrillex and Mr. Bangladesh, “El Chapo” (with The Game)
Recent years have seen Skrillex flexing his hip-hop muscles, and this monster of a beat is positively deadly when The Game steps to the mic. With additional production credits to Mr. Bangladesh (the man behind Ludacris's “What's Your Fantasy”), it's dark, bossy and full of regal horns. It's an anthem fit for an international crime kingpin, and it took Skrillex to the No. 7 position on the Billboard hip-hop single chart.
12. A$AP Rocky, “Wild For the Night” (with Skrillex and Birdy Nam Nam)
Some songs must take a long journey to reach their peak, and this chart-climbing banger is a perfect example. It started as "Birdy Nam Nam" track “Goin' In,” released through Skrill's label OWSLA, featuring a jumpy beat and a pretty cool vocal sample. Skrillex got his hands on it, darkened it up, bulked up the bass and released a “Goin' Hard” remix. Then, he slowed the beat and threw some pitched-down A$AP Rocky vocals on top, giving birth to the song's final and most gangstalicious form.
11. Skrillex and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, “Make it Bun Dem”
Sonny puts the “dub” back into his dubstep on this reggae-tinged chune. Dedicated to all the rude boys of the world, the juxtaposition of in-your-face bass and stabbing synth lines against a laid back Caribbean rhythm makes for one killer composition. Soundboys beware.
10. Skrillex, “First of the Year (Equinox)”
Surely one of Skrillex's most cinematic creations, the lead single from 2011's "More Monsters and Sprites" EP was nominated for a Grammy. It didn't win, but the producer did take home three awards out of five nominations that award season, signifying EDM's complete and undeniable arrival into the mainstream music scene.
9. Benny Benassi, “Cinema” (Skrillex Remix with Gary Go)
You know your remix is good when the original producer can't drop his hit without working into your version. This wobbly reinvention broke Skrillex into even more hearts and minds, earning him a Grammy for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical. The b-boy bridge might be the best part.
8. Dog Blood, “Next Order”
Before getting in the studio with Diplo, Skrillex shares his sound deck with another mid-aught electro pioneer. German techno and hip-hop enthusiast Boys Noize brought his analog knowledge to the table and let Skrillex teach him something about computerized beat building. Together, they made music full of swaggy attitude and spacey vibes. The side project begat two EPs and a remix collection, plus a couple of sick festival performances at Ultra Music Festival and Coachella in 2013.
7. Skrillex, “My Name is Skrillex”
His name emerges out of radio static, as if the world is being tuned into a new sound that will change the course of music forever. As far as musical introductions go, this is the most literal and quite possibly one of the coolest. With a sound quite reminiscent of French duo Justice, a noted and admitted inspiration to the young producer, it echoes his guitar-heavy past and disco-tized future through a heavily distorted array of filters. It's absolutely delicious and a must-listen for any fan who hopped on the Skrillex train after 2010.
6. Skrillex and Yogi, “Burial” (with Pusha T, Moody Good, TrollPhace)
Is that the elephant-stomp horn-line from the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" theme song? Probably not, but it's fun to pretend. This god-level rap track goes beyond the trap-dance phenomenon. “Burial” is its own beast, degrading into aggressive noise and hand claps by the end of its approximately four minutes, wrapping up in some Middle Eastern violin.
5. Skrillex, “Reason”
The dubstep dynamo shocked audiences in January of 2013 with the toned-down sound of his "Leaving" EP. It marked a moment of sonic departure and artistic maturity with increased emphasis on melodic lines and less reliance on the old build-drop formula he'd become famous for. The EP as a whole feels less gimmicky and more emotionally personal, and this track is a total stand out.
4. Jack Ü, “Take U There” (with Kiesza)
This wonky earworm served as the world's first taste of Skrillex and Diplo's super-duo collaboration. The song starts off innocent enough with light but powerful vocals from then-rising star Kiesza, but it's the surprising trap-style drop that takes this song and listeners around the world over the edge. This track dominated festivals around the world in 2015, ushering in an new era of Skriplo dominance.
3. Skrillex, “Bangarang” (with Sirah)
Shouts to all my lost boys, this rowdy title-track is a serious fan favorite. It took Skrillex's fame to a new level, earning him a Billboard award nomination and a string of Grammys. It remains one of his biggest commercial successes to date, getting airplay on U.S. rock radio and stations across Europe. Plus, it pays homage to '90s film "Hook," something everyone Skrillex's age agrees on.
2. Skrillex, “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”
For many, this song is definitive of the Skrillex sound. It's the song that took him from up-and-coming producer to full-on American dubstep legend. It set the pace for the genre and even for producers working outside of its shaky parameters. It's a stylistic watermark for EDM and dance music in general, and no conversation about Skrillex is complete without it. P.S.: the vocal is from this video of a girl stacking cups.
1. Jack Ü, “Where Are U Now?” (with Justin Bieber)
Once upon a time, a collaboration between the harshest dubstep producer and the most controversial pop phenom would have been more than unthinkable. Literally no one saw this coming — except for Justin Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun. Thank god for his foresight, though, because Jack Ü's Bieber breakthrough is one of the greatest radio-ready anthems the world has ever seen. Dance music is pop music, and pop music is EDM, thanks in no small part to Skrillex's hard work these past six years. Skrillex collaborated with Bieber heavily on the singer's runaway hit album, "Purpose," and there's no doubt in anyone's mind that the half-shaven producer will continue to be a musical force to be reckoned with for many years to come.