'I Expected a Backlash': Porter Robinson Talks 'Virtual' Music, Denouncing EDM, and Online Games

Porter Robinson still misses the digital worlds he grew up in. The 21-year-old breakout star of the post-EDM “beatsy” scene, as he describes it, spent most of his adolescence immersed in so-called massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes. “The thing that’s different about MMORPGs as opposed to single-player games is that, if the company goes under, the world ceases to exist because you have to be connected to their server,” explains Robinson. “I could no longer access these places that were so, so dear to me. It was emotionally significant for me.”

Porter Robinson: The Billboard Photo Shoot

Robinson’s longing for these dead micro-universes drives his debut LP, "Worlds" (due Aug. 12 on Astralwerks/EMI), a gorgeous, and sometimes genius, departure from the big-stage EDM bangers with which he made his name. After four years of touring with “complextro” — a high-energy, rapid-fire mishmash of electronic textures that Skrillex popularized around 2010 -- Robinson realized the music he wanted to make was rooted in the virtual, not in the festival-going masses pogoing to massive beat drops.

In pursuit of the songs featured in the game, Robinson discovered the frenetic pounding electro of Berlin DJ Boys Noize and aggro enthusiast Wolfgang Gartner. Using free online software, he spliced together machine-gun mixes of distorted vocal snippets and shuddering bass hits. One of these early tracks, “Say My Name,” shot to No. 1 on the influential dance hub Beatport shortly after he posted it online. That’s when he started getting asked to tour.

“This dude was like, ‘I’ll pay you $500 to come to Portland [Ore.] and DJ,’ ” he says, “and I was like, ‘Well, shit -- let me learn how to DJ and I’ll get right on that!’ ”

Following supporting slots for Tiesto and Deadmau5 in 2011, Robinson’s debut EP, Spitfire (which peaked at No. 10 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart and No. 11 on Dance/Electronic Albums, and has sold 23,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan), became the first release on Skrillex’s OWSLA label. The next year, he performed at all the major EDM festivals before finding himself “with this kind of angst,” he recalls. “I felt [EDM] had gotten super-homogenized and limiting in terms of artistic expression.”