Man of the moment Porter Robinson is flying high right now. At just 20 years old he's already toured with the likes of Tiesto and Skrillex, remixed Lady Gaga and Avicii, won critical acclaim from Deadmau5, Wolfgang Gartner and many more - and with the release of his new single 'Language', he stands on the brink of world dance music domination.
With 'Language' fresh out this week in the UK on Ministry of Sound Recordings, a growing army of UK fans and a debut DJ set at Ministry of Sound lined up for 27th October, what better time to talk to dance music's hottest property? Here's what he had to say about 'Language', his idols, new music, and being inspired by arcane arcade games...
Hi Porter! Let's start at the beginning - how, when and why did you first get into DJing and producing music?
Well I actually started producing before I started DJing – I started making music when I was about 12 years old. I grew up in a really rural part of North Carolina where we didn’t really have clubs or dance music, so I first got into electronic music through video games and the internet. There was this really notorious Japanese arcade game called Dance Revolution – I got crazy good at that and that’s really what started me listening to electronic music, and after that I hopped around discovering different styles. I started DJing when I was 18.
Tell us more about your new single 'Language' - what inspired the track, and how did you come to write it?
I’ve been well known in the USA for about 2 years now for making quite aggressive, hard electro and electro house, so I decided to experiment with other styles. I wanted to write something emotional that would give people goosebumps. Typically I write tracks chronologically, with each element in order from beginning to end, but this time round I wrote that big iconic melody first and ended up following a completely different process to produce the track. The vocal was done by Heather Bright, who’d originally written some other stuff for me, and this particular vocal was originally written for a song called ‘Unison’ on my last EP. ‘Language’ had no vocal at first, but then I started experimenting and took the ‘Unison’ vocal, put it on the second breakdown and it really worked. I think it’s quite interesting structurally that ‘Language’ has no vocal until about 3 minutes into the track.
What inspired the storyline and the stunning visuals in the ‘Language’ video?
To me the strongest part of the video is the visual aesthetic. The story is simple and easy to follow, but the most compelling part of it is the visual style. I’ve been really strongly influenced by net.art and some incredibly beautiful art that you can find online, for example on Tumblr. I found a picture on Tumblr of a creature that was made by being cut out of its surroundings, and that was the inspiration for the creature in the video.
So when we started working on the video, I sent Jonathan (Desbiens, the director) a bunch of images I had saved – around 30-40 images of how I wanted the visual style of the video to be. Jonathan understood what I was looking for brilliantly and he absolutely nailed it, I was so thrilled with the end result.
So far, 'Language' has had a phenomenal response from fans worldwide – how does that feel?
My primary concern when I started out was how to make the track successful in the US – I had absolutely no idea of the impact that it would have internationally. Signing ‘Language’ to Ministry of Sound ended up being a fantastic choice, because the track has been such a success in the UK and had a phenomenal response. I was shocked by the impact it’s had, but really pleased!
What's the best compliment you've ever received about your music?
There’s a story I came across on Tumblr from a guy who had a brain tumour and decided to have it surgically removed, and basically got through it with the girl he loved and ‘Language’ – it’s by far the best story ever. Very personal, very moving and incredibly touching.
How would you describe the Porter Robinson sound, and how has it changed since you started producing?
When I first started getting fans, I was known for and wanted to make really complex, glitchy, detailed music, because at that time the prevalent style of house music on Beatport and in the US was Dutch house - I wanted to do something that was more complicated, more rebellious. Now that more complex sound has also gone mainstream after people like Wolfgang Gartner, Deadmau5 and myself starting making and playing it. Lately I’m enjoying beautiful stuff – I’m listening to way more bands than I’ve ever listened to before (like 2 Door Cinema Club, Lemaitre, Phoenix, more disco-edged stuff), and it’s having a really positive effect on the music I’m writing and allowing me to do something fresh.
I wish I could have a side project for all of the different kinds of music that I’d like to make, but I just don’t have enough time to do it all!
What's your studio set up and what programs do you use to produce - hardware, software, plugins, synths?
Well my studio is about 5 feet away from my bed in my bedroom at my parents’ house – it can barely be called a studio, really! I wrote ‘Language’ on a five year old computer and in terms of a hardware I really only have a computer, mouse, keyboard & speakers! I do have a new computer now though and spent about a month setting it up. Pretty much everything I do is on software – I use a lot of Native Instruments, Massive, Sylenth 1, Vengeance sample CDs. Lately I’ve been using a plugin called Omnisphere that has a lot of awesome ambient textures. And in the last month I’ve started using the EastWest composers’ collection which has some incredible orchestral components.
What's been your proudest achievement to date and why?
My goal at first was to gain recognition from my idols – for people like Wolfgang Gartner and Deadmau5 to take interest in my music and to enjoy it. For me, the defining moments have been when they’ve reached out and been interested – and I love picking their brains and talking to them, I have a tendency to idolise! I also always wanted to have a Beatport #1, which ‘Language’ achieved earlier this year. But really, everything so far has been pretty amazing, it’s all happened so fast!
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
I would always have said Wolfgang Gartner or Deadmau5 and that would be great, but also there’s this trance producer called Andy Blueman, who’s since retired from that scene to make film scores – he’s incredibly talented and I’d love to work with him.
There’s also a Japanese composer called Shigeru Umabayashi who has done the film scores for films like ‘House of Flying Daggers’, ‘Curse of the Golden Flower’ and loads more – he creates these incredibly beautiful scores and I would love to pick his brains.
I think people are most excited by weird, unexpected collaborations that are totally new, and that idea really appeals to me, too.
What are your top tracks right now?
I’ve been playing Gesaffelstein – ‘Control Movement’ out a lot, it’s this weird electro techno minimal track – my sets are usually really high-energy, so to introduce this really minimal track is a fun moment for the crowds. And I love Gesaffelstein, he’s very talented.
There’s also a remix by Mikkas – who remixed my track ‘Unison’ – called ‘Out The Water’ that I’ve been playing out a lot lately, the melody is really really cool and I’m really enjoying it.
You’ve just been announced to play your debut set at Ministry of Sound on 27th October – what are you most looking forward to about playing here?
I think this gig will have a really unique dynamic – since I starting DJing in the US a couple of years ago, I’ve been well known for a certain style of dance music, whereas in the UK I’m mainly well known for ‘Language’. So I think it’ll be a really interesting challenge to play to a totally different audience. I’ve only played 1 show in London before, but this is going to be totally different to any gigs I’ve done before and I’m really looking forward to it.
If you weren't in music, what would you be doing with your life?
Right now I’d be at university – I got accepted into the University of North Carolina where both my parents went and where my godfather is Chancellor, so it’s somewhere that’s been a big part of my life. My Dad said that if I got accepted there, I was free to do what I wanted and make music, as long as I had the option to go back to study if I wanted or needed to. So I deferred my place, and my parents have been incredibly supportive. My Dad’s a lawyer so he does contracts for me!
What's coming up next for you, and what would you still like to achieve that you haven't already in your music career?
I’m in the process of writing another EP at the moment and I’ve just finished a track with Mat Zo. I’m really fond of it – it’s a mix of ‘Language’-style sounds and disco sounds with a soulful vocal. It’s a charming track and really fun, it’s an homage to Daft Punk because their second album ‘Discovery’ is my favourite album of all time and Mat’s too. So we thought, let’s write something like that but with some trance/progressive sounds in the mix. It’s kind of a thrill ride...
I also have some really big concepts in mind for 2013 – but unfortunately I can’t really talk about those yet!
I still feel that I have a lot of momentum artistically and my fans have been amazing so far and so incredibly loyal – so I feel really emboldened and inspired by their loyalty and the fact that they’ve followed me through different music shifts throughout the early days, the ‘Spitfire’ EP, ‘Language’ and so on. I feel really blessed and I’m really looking forward to everything that’s coming up next!
Thanks, Porter - so are we!!
'Language' is out now on Ministry of Sound Recordings - click here to download 'Language'.
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