Porter Robinson’s interest in electronic music stems from the dancefloor, but not in the way you might imagine. An obsession with arcade game Dance Dance Revolution led to the 13-year-old Porter tentatively typing “DJ software” into Google and beginning to toy with basic production.
Fast-forward seven years and the 20-year-old is one of America’s biggest and brightest young producers, his debut single ‘Say My Name’ reaching N0. 1 on the Beatport electro-house chart, followed by the iTunes dance chart-topping ‘Spitfire’ EP on OWSLA and the world-conquering ‘Language’ on Ministry Of Sound. Already counting Tiësto, Skrillex, Deadmau5 and, er, Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee among his touring partners, Porter is part of a new breed of American electronic music producers as likely to be found playing the stadiums and enormodomes of the US as sweaty basement clubs and afterparties.
After a 2012 that saw him play huge shows across the globe, Porter retreated to his parents’ house in North Carolina to record his debut album, due out later this year. He took time out from the recording process to tell Mixmag why a DJ needs a home, the reason he turned down Katy Perry and the truth about wild-man Tommy Lee.
You started producing when you were 13. Did you know that it was something you could do as a full-time job?
No. I didn’t even realise it was something anyone could do as a full-time job! It’s hard to emphasise how little I knew of the dance music world back then. I came to it through playing video games.
Which games got you interested in electronic music?
The first was Dance Dance Revolution – the one with the dance mat. It had a great electronic score that sounded a bit like trance or UK hardcore. I actually went out and bought the soundtrack on CD.
Were you a bit of an anomaly among your friends when you started making electronic music?
At around 15, I had one friend who got into it alongside me and he still produces music now. But before then it seemed to everyone like some weird hobby I had. By the time I was getting serious about it and starting to understand the world of dance music a lot of my friends were becoming interested too.
You played the College Invasion Tour with Tiësto. Are your parents disappointed you didn’t go to college?
All of my time in high school had led up to me trying to get into the same college as my parents: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I got accepted around the same time ‘Say My Name’ went to No. 1 on Beatport. I sat down with my dad to talk it out, and he said it sounded like a once in a lifetime opportunity so why not defer a year. So I’ve got my conservative dad to thank for the life I’m living.
You’ve also toured with Skrillex and Tommy Lee. Did Tommy Lee live up to his wild-man reputation?
No. He definitely did not. He was so calm on tour that he could have been my uncle. I never saw him have a beer or do anything out of the ordinary. He’s a great guy to hang out with, really friendly and accommodating. I love Tommy Lee.
You released the ‘Spitfire’ EP on Skrillex’s OWSLA label. Do you think you’ll get your debut album out before his?
I’ve got a feeling I’ll get my album out first. The thing with that guy is that he’s constantly on tour and never willfully cancels a show. Even when his fees for a show were getting huge, he wouldn’t cancel a show he’d agreed to play for a few hundred bucks a few months earlier.
Do you find it hard to write on the road?
I’ve tried but I really can’t write music on the road. In many ways it’s because I use a program called FL Studio. It’s only compatible with laptops that run Windows, and most laptops that run Windows are garbage! I decided it was better for me to take time out and get away from touring and parties to record. There’s something about being at home with my brothers and dogs out in the woods that helps me think a little more clearly. There’s a rumour that Skrillex doesn’t even have a home which I find totally crazy!
We’ve heard that about Tiësto, too.
It’s incredible. I couldn’t do that. I admire them for their ability to tour non-stop, but I definitely live for relaxation and down-time.
You’ve also worked with Mat Zo. How did that come about?
I’m a really big fan of Mat’s music as I used to be a big trance kid. I tweeted about how much I loved the track he did with Arty, ‘Rebound’, and we started talking from there. When it came to sorting support slots for the Language tour I wanted to get Mat involved. I love Mat’s DJ sets, I think they’re fucking phenomenal! He had a track called ‘Easy’ he was working on and I asked if I could remix it. Then he asked if I wanted to do it as a collaboration which is what I wanted. The work on that track was really 50-50 down the line.
Mat also produces d’n’b as MRSA on Hospital Records. Have you ever considered working in a genre people don’t know you for?
I find the d’n’b scene quite intimidating because its a close knit thing and has the dubplate culture which I think I’d find hard to break into. I’m constantly playing around with different styles, though. I want to bring in elements of as many genres as possible.
You tweeted recently that “for the first time the album’s starting to feel like more than a skeleton or concept.” Has it been a tough process making your album?
It’s been very difficult. In part because I’m trying to make something fresh and unique and I’m not content to just sit back and emulate my older music. Stuff that would have been fine a year ago isn’t really up to scratch for me any more. I’m listening to a lot of indie bands at the moment like Two Door Cinema Club and a Canadian band called Stars. I’m trying to collaborate with a lot of people from that world on this album.
Where do you stand on the great ‘EDM’ debate? Do you think it matters if young American dance music fans know it came from Chicago and Detroit originally?
It’s questionable whether a lot of the electronic music coming out of America at the moment is rooted in the stuff that came out of Detroit and Chicago. It’s good to know the history but I’m not sure it matters that much to the average EDM fan. I turned down doing a remix for Katy Perry and all the headlines read, “Porter sticks to his dance roots” – but I’m not sure I have dance roots. The track just didn’t inspire me. Those kind of functional, club-focused EDM tracks that are created to make people jump in stadiums are as uninspiring to me as bad pop music.
Mat Zo & Porter Robinson’s ‘Easy’ is out on April 14 via Anjunabeats/Ministry of Sound