MAXIMALIST. This is the best way to describe Skrillex's first tour, the Mothership Tour, and everything he has done since. His music is aggressive, unrelenting and battle-ready. There's also the over-the-top stage production, which has been known to feature Skrillex perched within his spaceship, while a gigantic video game avatar mimicks his every movement on the screen behind him. Wild lights, roaring explosions, raging fires, thundering bass, overall chaos.
“The bass was a warhead, landing with a boom, sticking around with a wobble,” wrote The New York Times about the Mothership Tour in 2011. Slate called it “something like a nuclear assault set to a dance beat.”
This extreme sonic and visual maximalism has defined electronic dance music in recent years. Go big, go bigger, and go biggest. But that's about to change -- at least for Skrillex. He announced today that he will embark on a new MotherShip tour, hitting the biggest venues of his career (full dates below) with support from Dillon Francis, DJ Snake, What So Not and Milo & Otis. This time around, he has something different in mind.
In collaboration with Red Bull, Skrillex and his production team have been working since December in a 10,000 square-foot warehouse in downtown Los Angeles trying to perfect the new production and design of Skrillex's upcoming tour (for a sneak peek, see the video above).
Make no mistake about it – the upcoming Skrillex tour will be huge. It will take about eight 53 foot tractor-trailer trucks to transport. There will be lights, video, special effects, pyrotechnics, you name it.
The warehouse, located just a couple blocks away from Skrillex's home, has provided his team the opportunity to develop and realize a fresh stage setup. Parts of it have been used for Skrillex's recent Takeover shows in California, but the new production will be fully unveiled in April at Coachella. For the past few months, his team of about a dozen people, sometimes working around the clock, have had the space to experiment with new ideas, designs and technologies, and also to rehearse, which, believe it or not, has never happened before.
The Skrillex Experience
“I was the guy Sonny called in 2011, when he was looking for someone to put together the Mothership Tour,” says Skrillex's production director, Corey Johnson, referring to Skrillex by his real name, Sonny Moore. “That was his first large-scale tour, and it was the first time I did tour design work. It was very ambitious for us: Sonny wore a suit with 22 different sensors on it that controlled his video game character in real time! We've been chasing that ever since, but we haven't had the time or resources to reset and come up with new ideas. This warehouse project was the perfect solution for our needs.”
“In the past,” he continues, “we've never been able to rehearse, ever. So we wanted to create this lab where all our people could come together and work in a more free-form environment rather than throw things together at the last minute. We're not starting over, but we are resetting: new lighting, new video, new spaceship, new everything. This warehouse was a catalyst to allow this all to happen in a natural way, which is how Sonny makes his music. Everything – our whole organization – is very evolutionary.”
For us, it's not about creating the craziest and most technologically advanced thing. We're just developing tools to represent Sonny's music visually and performing those tools in a very effective way that resonates with the music. We're literally trying to bring his music to vision.
This current moment in Skrillex's evolution has him moving away from the maximalism that has defined his tours in the past. The fear is that a massive stage production will distract from the music, and the music is what Moore wants to be the focus of The Skrillex Experience.
“We've pulled back the technology side this time,” confirms Johnson. “Don't get me wrong, the show is still very technologically based, but we don't want it to impede the performance – we don't want to bury Sonny in production. In the dance music production world, there's this mentality that everything has to be massive. I feel like we've peaked out – the whole scene is peaking now – with this idea that we have to keep putting more and more stuff on the stage.
"For us, it's not about creating the craziest and most technologically advanced thing. We're just developing tools to represent Sonny's music visually and performing those tools in a very effective way that resonates with the music. We're literally trying to bring his music to vision.”
Make no mistake about it – the upcoming Skrillex tour will be huge. It will take about eight 53 foot tractor-trailer trucks to transport. There will be lights, video, special effects, pyrotechnics, you name it. In addition to Skrillex, about six other people are involved in what Johnson calls “the visual band,” namely the light, video, pyro and effects specialists who perform along with Skrillex's largely improvised sets. One of the components the crew is currently working with in the warehouse is the transparent video wall that was recently used on the Nine Inch Nails tour.
As a production designer, you go into a project like this thinking you should design the biggest, most complex spaceship ever. But that's not what Sonny wants. He wants a spaceship that helps people connect to his music, but doesn't subtract from it.
“We're doing a lot of negative space content and trying to push the limits between lighting and video,” says Johnson. “We have this one shot where a UFO is floating over Sonny and we have lights behind the video shooting out to these little satellites. And Sonny's new spaceship is stealth bomber-inspired, really angled, really futuristic, and with a retro 'Blade Runner' style. It's the most insane part of the show.”
The New Spaceship
Miguel Risueño, who has been also with Moore since the Mothership Tour, is one of the production designers working on Skrillex's new spaceship. “Sonny told us he wanted a next-level spaceship, but that he wanted it to be very simple,” says Risueño. “As a production designer, you go into a project like this thinking you should design the biggest, most complex spaceship ever. But that's not what Sonny wants. He wants a spaceship that helps people connect to his music, but doesn't subtract from it. I guess after four years of working together, we are all pickier with our weapons.”
Weapons. This is the word Skrillex's production team uses to describe the lights, the video, the spaceship, and the various technologies used for the shows.
“Sonny is more picky with his music, and we are way more picky with our weapons,” explains Risueño. “Every weapon was created for a specific reason, and we wanted to make sure the weapons help to connect Sonny's music with the audience. This connection with the music is first; everything else is secondary.”
“For Sonny, it's all about creative community,” adds Johnson. “It's all about culture, music, art, working together, and doing it together in a new world paradigm. It's about pushing our limits, and trying things out, and trying to have fun with our lives. That's what Sonny's about, and that's what we try to embody in everything we do. This warehouse is just one iteration of that larger creative mentality, and that larger goal of connecting through the music.”