A World of Fantasy Which Reality and Nostalgia creates Inside of Porter Robinson
ーー We know one of your favorite Japanese words is “Otsukare-sama” and we really want to say “Otsukare-sama” for your great performances both at SONICMANIA and LIQUIDROOM. What is your general impression about those gigs?
Porter Robinson : The Japanese audience was better than I expected, and I have a positive impression of how my Japanese fans are like. The reputation of Japanese concert was that the audience is very cooperative and generally receptive of any kind of instructions. They cheer at the right timing and love to participate by doing crowd motions. I want to embrace that aspect. The crowd was just unbelievable and I was getting crazy chills and goose bumps. I know there are a lot of foreign artists who get weirded-out by the occasional silence they get from the Japanese crowd, but I was getting good chills. There were moments where no one in the crowd spoke a word, and it felt like a spiritual experience. LIQUIDROOM show was one of the best shows in my life for sure.
ーー You’re a well-known artist who is greatly inspired by Japanese culture and music. Explaining to those who are not familiar with you yet, how did you get inspired by Japanese culture and music? How di you get in touch, and what is the biggest part that attracts you?
Porter Robinson : The biggest part of why I’m so inspired by Japanese culture is because some of the first electronic music I’ve heard was Japanese electronic music. I was into games when I was younger, especially rhythm and music games. I was extremely into Dance Dance Revolution when I was 12 years old, which was the same year I started writing music. I would hear a lot of Japanese electronic music and I just loved it, because it was something I’ve never heard of before. None of my friends listened to such music, so I started trying to write something similar to it.
I think there is some certain sense that I get from watching Japanese movies, animations, or visual arts. I get a sentimental emotion from listening to many of the Japanese music, which is really touching to me. They are exactly my taste. Also, Japanese songwriting is, it’s hard to explain, but its style of chords and melodies are very touching to me. I just love it. Again, I get chills and goose bumps from listening to Japanese music, including Japanese pop music. There’s something about its sensitivity.
ーー Can you give us the names of Japanese acts and creative contents, like animation, that have influenced you a lot?
Porter Robinson : My favorite anime is Anohana (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai), which is about a ghost who tries to reconnect with her childhood friends. It’s a very beautiful and touching story.
On the music side, I’m of course a huge fan of Yasutaka Nakata. His style of songwriting inspired me a lot. Lately I’ve also become a big fan of KZ, who I’ve got a chance to perform with twice in Japan, which is great. I still love the music that I used to listen from Dance Dance Revolution, such as DJ TAKA and Naoki Maeda, who made a lot of music for Dance Dance Revolution. Besides these, I tend to listen to a lot of anime openings and original soundtracks, too. Theme songs in orchestra and piano are very sentimental and touching to me.
ーー Listening to your latest album Worlds, we certainly find a lot of inspirations from our culture. However, what makes us even more impressed is the fact that your music is truly touching our soul and scratching our emotion. You seem to have well captured our instinctive sense by understanding the importance of fragility in our culture, also getting a good point of our own nostalgic and bittersweet feelings. Generally, these senses must be quite hard to be understood by the people who live in a different country, especially in the States. How did you come up with such inspirations while growing up in the city of North Carolina ?
Porter Robinson : I think these types of emotions are often conveyed in Japanese art, but it could also be understood all around the world. Japan is an island that was isolated for a long portion of history, but I think the Japanese pop culture started being popular in the 90s. Western people like it when they encounter Japanese media, however, there seems to have a barrier in these kinds of things to be exchanged. I personally love to see these things being exchanged.
I Come from North Carolina, but in a way I don’t feel like I was raised there. I feel like I was raised more in the Internet world, and by the media of art, games and music.
I used to play MMORPG, which is an online game with millions of people playing all at the same time. I also played Final Fantasy and other virtual world video games. At that time there were news on how people got addicted to those kind of games, and I myself was very immersed to those games. I think these games make a great effort to give the players a feeling that they are really in the world, and you are your character. The games are so beautiful with landscapes, and you’re going on an adventure meeting strangers. It has got the fantasy element, which got me a lot. Looking back to the game, MMORPG is so nostalgic to me. What happens is that if it’s not profitable anymore, the developers close the game so no one can play anymore ever again. In other games like Packman or Mario, you are able to start from the start with the same exact settings, but in this online RPG games, once they are gone you can never go back. This could be so painful to you because you immerse yourself so deeply in this world where you make friends and build cities or the entire world, but then they are suddenly all gone. The world getting built then being destroyed seemed really beautiful and poetic to me, though. Even a year until the closures of these games, I started to have this nostalgic and magnifying sense of what they were really like, and I realized how I love the feeling of imaging a memory. This sentimental feeling became very important to my music.
In Anime, it really touches me when they convey “Natsukashi” or nostalgic feeling, focusing on their childhood or growing up. Also the visuals and music together just touches you. So I think what’s important in my show is to take that kind of multimedia approach, where videos and lines are important as my music, to immerse you in.
ーー We happened to play your whole album on our way back from a summer beach. Soon afterwards, everyone in the car went in complete silence, having been taken away to a nice sentimental journey. Some of us were even moved to tears when songs like Sad Machine or Sea Of Voices came along, since those songs had a perfect matching to the scenery flowing out of the window. It was a typical sunset view in the ordinary Japanese countryside, and it was in fact a great surprise for us wondering if these Japanese sceneries influenced you. If so, how did you get familiar with them?
Porter Robinson : I think that I’m inspired by any kind of beautiful scenery everywhere in the world. I do have love for the Japanese scenery, and I even used it in the Flickr music video, which is quite nice. But I think the bigger thing is and what I was happy about this question was that I recommend people to listen to this (Worlds) album one or two ways. One is to listen while playing some sort of mindless games, something to occupy your hands with but to keep you there, keeping you from reading twitter or texting. Something mild that occupies your senses. The other way I suggest, which is even better is to listen in trains and while driving in a car. It’s a great way to keep your attention there without distraction. Everything outside the window is moving and hypnotic. Though, I can’t legally tell my fans to go drive and listen to my music, because you know if anything bad happens…Anyway I’m so happy that you got to listen to my music on your way back from the beach! I have so many memories associated with listening to music on the way to the beach. I live 4 hours drive away from the beach and I have a distinctive memory from years ago of our family driving to the beach. My brother was playing music on our way to the beach, and when my youngest brother, who was 4 years old at that time, said “Oh, we’re finally on the highway to the beach”, a J-POP song called A Highway To The Beach started playing! Our whole family remembers this. Anyway, the fact you listened to Worlds on your way back from the beach just makes me happy.
ーー Our most favorite song in the last album is Flicker, and we really love its music video as well. It features the scenery flowing out of Shinkansen’s window, and we thought your music has a lot of connections to the visual perception. How does your creative idea work between those two elements? Do you already have that kind of visual concept in your mind when you start producing the song? Or does it come up after you complete the production?
Porter Robinson : It really depends on the song but the importance is that there always is a relationship between the visuals and the audio. Some songs are inspired by an image, a movie, a video, or a painting. Show visuals are always inspired by the music but there’s always a connection in between. What varies is which comes first. I spend a lot of time on Internet collecting images that evokes my sense that could be inspired by a song or vice a versa, which they are useful at the end. I give these images out to my VJ, music video directors, artists who made the album cover, which are very useful to them as well. These documents of collected images are always important when I work with these visual artists. I always have them ready-to-go.
ーー Regarding your live-set, we feel one of the greatest attractions is the seamless collaboration between audio and visual, and your performance at LIQUIDROOM was simply breathtaking both from audio and visual point of view. Can you let us know a bit about how these two elements work together on stage, let’s say, more from the technical point of view ?
Porter Robinson : I like to keep the technology part under wraps to preserve some of the mysteries, but I don’t think it’s anything unusual. I use my live set visuals during my DJ set as well, and when we do our DJ set, my VJ is pretty open about it. He uses Resolume and triggers a lot. It’s actually beyond my understandings.
ーー While experiencing your live-set at LIQUIDROOM, we felt like your music embraces a lot of tender, sweet, heartwarming aspects, but at the same time, we found some dark elements like madness, demolition or fear. Even in the major chord songs, we still find those shadows underneath. Is this interpretation correct? If so, is it how you see the recent world ?
Porter Robinson: I think the interpretation is correct. Some of the darker moments in the album and shows were definitely the reflection of frustrations towards my own music and electronic music in general. Some not anymore, but when I was writing the album, I had a lot of frustrations over electronic music in general on how it had lost its emotion and its authenticity. It just became so big of a business that there were so many artists and DJs who did not care about the music anymore and just wanted to make a lot of money in short amount of time. There were even artists who fake played their DJ sets and had someone else write music for them. It just felt that something I loved was getting damaged. Though, I think some of that was part of my own insecurity that people wouldn’t like my new music, and what I was doing was different from my status quo. I think I had a lot of fear. I was outspoken sometime on how everything was so bad, but I don’t know if I feel that way anymore. Electronic music can be welcoming to both crazy fun party music and more sentimental stuff. I think they can coexist. Some of my negativity towards electronic music scene is very literal in my song Fellow Feeling. I don’t know if it’s necessary anymore but I still like to play it as it’s part of my life. I like surprise and novelty. I don’t want my show to be too repetitive, and it’s always good to play Fellow Feeling as a contrast and to make the beautiful part more beautiful. I like to put a little drama.
ーー At the end of the main set, you played another favorite of ours, Goodbye To A World. By experiencing it together with audio and visual, we think we’ve got the true concept and message of the song. In your scenario, have humans disappeared from this planet when the “machine” sends the last broken message? We’re quite curious to know what kind of picture you convey in your mind.
Porter Robinson: The most important thing for me in Worlds in general, wasn’t to tell a literal story but to evoke and bring out the feeling of storytelling, fiction and fantasy. For example, if you listen to the song Sad Machine, you won’t be able to reconnect the lyrics into one story that makes sense. There are elements that remind you of storytelling. I didn’t have an actual series of events in my mind. I just wanted it to feel that way. I guess I like the vague dreamlike events that don’t connect, and the surrealism. A Goodbye To A World is pretty literal, since at the end of the song you are experiencing a death that is essentially beautiful and peaceful in a way.
ーー When we listened to your performance at BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix, we were of course surprised at first, but later appreciated your great love for our local music. How was the reaction from other general fans in the West who got to know you through Say My Name or Spitfire?
Porter Robinson : It’s a good question. Western music fans are more interested in authenticity and realness. I think fans in the West would rather listen to something bad and honest than something that’s perfect and 100% fake. With my Essential Mix… It’s kind of hard to explain, but for example if I kept writing songs like Say My Name, which is more party, EDM and electro focused, or pop music that I didn’t like, people would start rejecting me. However if I started writing things that I really enjoy and love, even though my fans didn’t like J-POP or anime songs, they trust me to be honest with them. They value sincere expressions. I had fans saying, “I don’t like what he (Porter) is doing but I respect it”, which is so great. I would rather make something that they don’t like but do respect. I think over all what BBC introduces are sounds and styles that people in Western countries haven’t heard before. People are calling the kind of genre or the music I play, future base, which did not have a name before and it was just random kids on Internet making that kind of music that Western people did not know at that time.
The time I made the mix for BBC Essential Mix, which was a DJ set I played for 2 hours and they put up on the Internet, was the moment for me where I was getting a lot of inspiration from electronic music even after I lost so much faith in it. I’ve always wondered how my Japanese fans or music fans in Japan would think when they find out the amount of Japanese influence in music, and when they hear me play Japanese songs. It could probably be a bit confusing for them on why I like Japanese music and why I’m playing these songs in the West. I want to get more involved in the Japanese music scenes and show that I want to contribute more as I’ve been influenced by it.
ーー We feel one of the biggest differences between J-Pop and the music in the West should be the approach to the chord progression and voicing. Although it’s getting closer to more Western feel, our style still remains more complicated and more “layered”, while Western music is getting more simple and more “three fingered”. Do you think there’s any chance for our local music to be more potential worldwide without changing these fundamental approaches?
Porter Robinson : This is so exciting to me! I love this question. The best indicator of what’s coming next in Western music is independent music or underground music. Right now there are so many Japanese chord influences in Indie music or underground net music. Indie artists are directly inspired by Japanese culture so they use Kawaii style art, but more importantly is the musical sense. There are a lot of people now studying J-POP music, myself included, learning the chord voicings and those types of moves and techniques. So I think there are good chances that the J-POP styles to become more popular. I think the most Japanese chord progressions that I wrote is in the remix song of Nero’s The Thrill, which most people didn’t hear because it was at the very end of it: The last 50 seconds of the song is pure and real attempt of Japanese songs.
The most inspiring part of Japanese songs to me is their musicality. When I try to describe Japanese chords and songwriting to people in the West, I use Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s song Furisodeshion as an example.
The pre-chorus of the song is, to Western listeners, it’s “insanity”, but it sounds so beautiful to me. There’s a key change with so much borrowed chords that almost completely loses the track, though comes right back to the standard chord progression at the chorus, which I find extremely beautiful. I just love that pre-chorus so much. I’ve tried again and again to make something similar. It’s hard to say if these things would catch up in the West, though. K-POP has taken a lot of influence from Western music and it has become pretty successful in the West. I don’t know if it’s a good idea for J-POP to do the same as K-POP to emerge in the West. I just think it could lose its authenticity, and people should emphasize on what makes them special and their uniqueness as oppose to impress somebody else. I would be extremely sad if J-POP loses its traditional sense and its Enka inspiration. However, the contemporary Jazz chords is the best part in J-POP music, which I hope it could get popular in Western music scenes, and it’s already happening in Western indie music scenes.
ーー Maybe the Jazzy chord progression in J-POP music is something considered too complicated compared to K-POP music?
Porter Robinson : Yeah, but it touches me. I’ve gotten more bored of those “three fingered” stuff. I don’t want to be negative and I know there’s always going to be a place for those simple chord progressions, too. I just want to make a way to channel the Jazzy chord influence in my music by not only imitating but also taking some part of the essence out of it, combining with what I like. Maybe by using more Western chord progressions and using Japanese chord voicings and complicated voicings. If these combinations happen it could be so beautiful.
ーー You’re the established artist in the Western market, having worked with the big names like Lady Gaga, Tiësto or Skrillex, but also having a great understanding to our local music. From our point of view, you can be a great ambassador for our local music to go worldwide. Are you ready to take such role maybe by introducing some of our local talents to the world?
Porter Robinson: I would love nothing more. But I think it’s a question of doing it in the right way. I want to make sense when I do it. I’m really interested in doing some production and songwriting here. I think that would be holding my fans hands and introducing them gently to things that are new to them. I just love J-POP so much that I would love J-POP to have a great future. We’ve seen Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and BABYMETAL do great in the West, and I want those things to continuously happen. I would be honored if I could be part of it.
ーー Nowadays, many DJs play their own tracks, but still, their set consists of many tracks produced by other people. In the meanwhile, you’re now shifting your performance more to your own live-set, but you are also ranked at No.57 on DJ Top 100. How do you interpret this situation? Do you think it should be understood as the new definition of DJ? Or is your public image getting different from what you’re really trying to achieve as an artist ?
Porter Robinson : In the DJMag and poll rankings, my ranking is falling. I actually never asked my fans to vote on these things, since I don’t want to be understood only as a DJ. For that reason, I don’t want to campaign nor convince people to vote for me. It would be confusing for me to be a number one DJ, not that I think I could be in that position. I don’t see me in the future of EDM or just as a plain DJ. No other DJs play my music, but that was by design. I purposefully made my music to make it hard for other DJs to play on their set. For example I don’t have songs with drumbeats in the beginning and making it easy to clash in to other songs and harmonies, nor DJ friendly buildups like “one two three GO!” I wanted to create music that people can enjoy live with EDM instruments in the song writing contents. So far I don’t see any other artists doing the same thing. What I want in the future of electronic music is to have people just do what they love and to be real, which sounds simplistic. I think people are best at making art when they are excited about it, and when they love what they are doing. That’s what inspiration is about: Love of creating things. I wrote music for a long time trying to be somebody else. I’ve been writing music for 11 years and I could say I’ve done well in the last few years. I hope that people can express their love of music by being authentic.
ーー Talking about the public image, since your career started under the great support by Skrillex or Tiësto, many people still tend to categorize you in the field of EDM/Dub-Step, while your recent music have gone way more diversified and eclectic. We feel your music still doesn’t walk away from these genres completely either, while embracing some of those sounds when matching to the concept. What is your general feel about this “category” thing? Do you feel bothered to be included in such broader category like EDM? Or do you think you are also changing the definition of EDM?
Poretr Robinson : I like to consider myself categorized outside of EDM, but I still use some of its elements. EDM has changed a lot definition wise in the West. At first it was a category of everything for dance and electronic music, however, it quickly gained reputation as rave and more simplistic than it used to be. There are a lot of artists with alternative sounds who do not want to be called EDM anymore. I think I took that kind of mentality for a while, denying myself to be called EDM. Yet, like I said before, I think my views are changing, and I think that being scared of being called EDM is born from insecurity and fear.
I now think the importance is that when someone listens to my music and feels something; these categories and genres don’t matter. But I’m still trying to figure out my feelings on this. I think at least in America, DJs like Hardwell, Tiësto or Skrillex represents EDM, and it’s a genre of energetic, super crazy DJ set. House, Progressive House, or Techno DJs don’t even call their music EDM, and it seems like EDM has become more of a subgenre. I used to be so bothered about that genre, but not anymore. I had played shows where Hardwell played, and there’s no reason to be upset about his fans liking my music.
ーー What is your upcoming plan to the end of the year? When can we expect your next album ?
Porter Robinsn : My Worlds tour has been successful. I think it’s the most successful thing I’ve ever done in my career. This year has been more focused on touring than being home and writing music.
There were people tweeting “I didn’t like the Worlds album but I saw him live and now I can’t stop listening to it.” So if it’s convincing people I think I should try to show it to every city at least once. I though have to admit that it’s hard to be on tour because I do want to write music now. I know it’s important to tour and I do want people to see me play, but you know… in my heart, I’m dying to write music at home. I myself like to keep the level of productivity. I would probably feel the same way even if I were like, um, selling insurance or something. LOL. Playing shows are productive but I want to make something at the same time. I just don’t have any ideas yet for the next album, since I’m touring now. I had so many ideas stocked when I wrote the Worlds album. I write all my ideas in my phone assorted by categories, such as music video ideas, chord progressions I like, production ideas, lyrical ideas, song ideas, etc… and I made a new list recently with a lot of ideas and inspirations that I can’t wait to go home and try them.
ーー During this trip, have you managed to discover something interesting to get more inspiration for your future work?
Porter Robinson : More than anywhere else, I have so many ideas now from this 11 days of trip in Japan. There are so many inspirations from it. So I guess I can’t really say that touring is not productive, as you earn so many inspirations from music and culture you hear or see in the world.
ーー Please give a message to your Japanese fans.
Porter Robinson: I want to say thank you so so so so much to my Japanese fans. I saw many of the same people at the shows, at the front line with the same signs or wearing shirts originally made for me. Even though I’m not big here yet, the level of dedication from fans in Japan was inspiring to me. I just want to thank everyone who has been supporting me and recommending my music to his or her friends. This trip and shows have been incredible.