A young producer with over six years of studio work under his belt, 19 year old Porter Robinson has taken over the international electronic dance world with his high energy beats and DJ sets. He plays Oakland’s Fox Theater this Friday, February 24.
We chatted with Porter while he was at home in North Carolina gearing up for new gigs around the country.
What were your musical influences growing up in North Carolina?
Location wasn’t really a factor, I grew up in a remote part of North Carolina where there was no electronic dance music. I kinda learned about dance music through video games and the internet. I wasn’t really going to shows or seeing DJs, but from ages 12 to 18 I spent all my time writing electronic dance music. It was pretty organic.
At what point did you realize that your music was starting to take off?
There were a few big events that indicated to me that things were getting serious but they continue to happen every day. For example, last week one landmark for me was signing to do a residency in Las Vegas, 10 times a year with the Wynn Properties—Surrender and XS. Early on, about a year and a half ago my song went No. 1 on Beatport before I had any sort of connections. I had still never seen a DJ at that point.
People started reaching out to me to get me to play at their clubs and festivals and stuff and I kinda had to learn how to play live music. I took a crash course and learned in like a month or so. 2011 was definitely my year.
How did you learn so fast?
I use a Traktor controller, a form of laptop DJing. I just connect my controller to my laptop and play the music that way—beatmatching, mixing and effects. It’s Pretty popular to use.
You say that 2011 was your year, what’s the plan for 2012 to make it even bigger?
Already, I’m playing Coachella and Ultra as well as doing a bus tour with a couple other artists who I can’t really announce yet. I’m also putting out an album at the end of 2012 and releasing a bunch of singles up till then. That’s the tentative plan, so far, and hopefully it all goes as planned.
You’re 19, what is it like to DJ in clubs and at events where you’re not even technically allowed to be?
Most of the time in the 21+ clubs, if I wanted to drink they would hook me up. It’s weird. For example, in Las Vegas they’re really strict. Their liquor license is on the line and there’s so much potential money they could be losing if they lost that license—millions of dollars. When I play there I get escorted in, play my performance, “ok, best ever, that was great,” then they escort me back up to my room in the hotel. It’s super VIP treatment but you can’t stay in the club.
Who in the industry do you currently look up to the most?
Wolfgang Gartner is one of them. Noisia. I’m a big fan of Deadmau5, Skirllex, Tiesto—a lot of the bigger names. I’m really a big fan of Diplo because he’s such an icon and all-around bad ass.
These days I’m really trying to do my own thing. In some ways I feel like I’ve seen it all and want to carve a new path and explore some new territory.
What’s your signature DJ style—something just you do that people identify you by?
I think I’m known for really rocking out during my sets. I mix really fast and switch up the song about every 30 seconds. I can play a two hour set with my hands in the air the entire time and people jumping nonstop. It’s pretty wild.
I feel like DJing as a style of performance can be a little weak if you’re just sitting there clapping your hands for six minutes while someone else’s song plays. You’re not actually engaging the audience, not doing any type of performance.
I sought to really give myself something to do while I was playing. How that manifested and really made something for the audience was mixing a lot of iconic, cool tracks without making mashups.
What have been the best places to travel for DJing?
Probably Hawaii, it was just insane. It was interesting, though. It’s the most beautiful place, and the clubs are great, but people tend to be a little older. Vail, Colorado was pretty sick.
I really like the cities, though. There’s some beautiful places I’ve been to but I’m not as much into that. I love NYC, Vancouver, Toronto and even Miami. I love coming to San Francisco. I have so many friends there and the vibe is just so dope. My favorite coffee place is there Phil’s. I just really love California.
Porter Robinson DJs Oakland’s Fox Theater on Friday, February 24 at 7:30pm. More info.