The Washington Post

Porter Robinson on performing live, writing new music and his quick rise to stardom

Porter Robinson performs at Echostage. (Photo by Joseph Victor Stefanchik for The Washington Post)

Before his riotous 90-minute electro-house set, I spoke with the well-dressed, well-spoken Robinson about the fans and the future of EDM.

So where are you coming from? Are you on tour?

I just drove up from North Carolina. Basically, I toured really hard, non-stop, for almost two years now and I was taking occasional breaks to be with my family. But I’ve voluntarily taken the past two months off and a couple more months from now to write music. A little bit of context for that — I don’t mean to over-answer here — I totally got into this to write music, not to tour and DJ. And even though that’s the more profitable side of it, all I care about is writing music.

Well, I did want to ask you about playing live real quick. I always wonder about you guys up there in those, like, spaceship decks. It feels far away to me. How do you forge a connection with an audience up there?

I think it’s important to form a connection with an audience to a point, but I also feel like there’s an instructive element to what you’re doing. And I think it’s necessary to challenge people. I think Louis C.K. spoke to this really well. He was doing an interview with Q in Canada and the guy asked him, “When you play in Canada, how do you tailor your set to the crowd?” He was like, “I don’t.” Why would you forgo your exoticism and pander? There’s no integrity in that. So I guess you don’t want to ignore a crowd and leave them high and dry and play stuff that they're totally not interested in. But I think a pure, connect-with-the -crowd approach is a little pandery and artless... I’m not trying to not answer your question. You get cues. You see audiences respond in terms of their level of energy and then you get feedback on Twitter later. Those things accumulate.

With the holidays coming up, this is the season for reflection. How do you feel about how things have g one for you this year? Are you surprised by your success?

I really am, man. My original goal was to have a song enter — there’s a music distribution site called Beatport — I just wanted to get a song on the top 100 chart for electro. And my first track went to number one. So that’s when I threw my expectations out the door and learned how to DJ and stuff. And so my expectations are always being exceeded. To reflect on this year, I feel like I’ve hit a limit — God, I have to chose my words carefully, here... I’m a little bit bored with the status quo. I’m writing a bunch of new material because I feel a responsibility to move things forward a little bit.

There’s a lot of talk about this being the year EDM has plateaued... And there’s this idea that that’s on artists like you. Do you talk to other artists about stuff like this?

This album I’m writing, it’s a lot of eclectic material and I strongly, strongly believe that it’s the best, most honest music I’ve ever written and a lot of it is dancey but more of it focuses on emotion and beauty and this feeling of divinity. That’s the reason I listen to music. My most successful song was “Language” and I think partly because it’s a nice, dancey record, but I’ll see people cry in the audience to that song, and that’s so much more interesting to me than making someone just jump up and down. I find that some modern dance music can be just... functional and artless. And I’m interested in writing music that takes risks. My point is that maybe the term EDM is pinned on me and my buddies, but maybe it’ll be less so if I experiment.

Chris Richards is The Washington Post's pop music critic. He has recently written about David Bowie's legacy of reinvention, Beyoncé's Super Bowl victory, viral go-go covers and rock star death waves.

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