Feb. 2 2011 10:36 AM

Skrillex mastermind Sonny Moore ditches metalcore for electronic dance music

Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, Skrillex’s new EP, debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes dance chart.
Photo by Ethan Saks
When he was a teenager, Sonny Moore belted out melodies as the frontman for metalcore heavyweights From First to Last. But since leaving the band in 2007, he’s traded the pink eye shadow for a pair of black-framed glasses and a MacBook outfitted with Ableton Live.

You can still find evidence of Moore’s days as an emo-kid heartthrob—type his name into Google and you’ll find a fan website (“Your #1 Source for Everything Sonny!”) with photos, mp3s and fan art. But these days, the 23-year-old is performing under the name Skrillex and building a following as a DJ and electronic-music producer. His new EP, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, debuted late last year at No. 1 on the iTunes dance chart. Next Wednesday and Thursday, he’ll play at Voyeur, the Downtown nightclub.

The jump from metalcore to dance music might seem like a curious one—“Always the first question,” Moore says—but he always planned to go solo.

“I’d always been making electronic music my whole life, so it wasn’t about moving from a hardcore band to changing the music,” he says by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “I joined [From First to Last] when I was 16 and kind of, like, did guitar and sang and even some programming, but throughout the whole time, I kind of knew I was going to do my own thing.”

Moore’s enjoyed steady buzz since the release of his first solo effort, Gypsyhook, in 2009 (under the name “Sonny”). But he’s seen a huge boost in his public profile with the release of Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. In the last couple months, he’s maintained a tight schedule of touring, producing tracks and hyping the EP.

Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites is a tough dance record to nail down. Sure, “All I Ask of You (feat. Penny)” features the diva vocals and thumping beat of a mainstream rave hit. But Skrillex mixes in wacky stuff with more conventional nightclub fare: In “Rock N’ Roll (Will Take You to the Mountain),” snippets of disparate dance-music styles are glued into one bonkers groove. In “Scatta (feat. Foreign Beggars and Bare Noize),” a massive bass gurgles and growls like a sarlacc, the gaping sand beast in Star Wars Episode VI: return of the Jedi.

He’s influenced by the whole spectrum of electronic music—“everything from IDM to house,” he says, “to breaks to drum-and-bass to glitch and hip-hop”—but what really inspires him are the noisy, metallic bass sounds you’d hear in hard dubstep.

“The vowel-y sounds and the vocal-y sounds are, like, what I really want. The talking monster part,” he says. “The bass is something you can feel on a subsonic level. It’s just a nice physical feeling.”

Though Skrillex sounds like a radical departure from the metal breakdowns and piercing vocals of From First to Last, the two acts are pretty similar at a fundamental level: They’re cathartic, dramatic and inadvertently campy. It’s pure entertainment, landing somewhere between Alice Cooper and musical theater.

Moore can come across as an amateur DJ—he recently had to cancel a show because his laptop broke down and he didn’t have a backup, inciting snickering on a DJ tech message board—but he’s a natural performer. Videos of a From First to Last show at SOMA in 2005 show him conducting a circle pit (“counterfucking-clockwise!”) and ordering a packed crowd to sing along. He brings the same spirit to Skrillex shows, goading on the audience as he works a MacBook.

“It’s very energetic, and it’s like a rock show, too,” he says. “People are dancing, but sometimes it can get a little crazy.”

He’s working on a live version of Skrillex that will incorporate instruments. But he doesn’t plan to join a band any time soon, content with just his laptop.

“I mix and produce and write everything,” he says.

“It’s just one man.”

Skrillex plays with Tommy Lee & DJ Aero at Voyeur on Wednesday, Feb. 9, and Thursday, Feb. 10. myspace.com/skrillex