Porter Robinson: The Vision of “Worlds”



In a stunning display of self-fulfilling prophecy, Porter Robinson’s debut Worlds album (out now via Astralwerks), is every bit of the “one foot in the EDM world and one foot out” vision he described to Life + Times last August. Inspired by virtual reality and immersive fantasy, Worlds is a soundscape born from cinematic instrumentals (“Fellow Feeling” is the epitome of this) and strategically placed synth effects – a combination that conveys the human aspect of electronic dance music that is largely devoid within the EDM industry. Much like the album’s producer, Worlds is authentic, untainted by trends, and full of depth. At the age of 22, Porter has already proven himself to be a creative visionary and ingenious trendsetter well beyond his years.

Life + Times: I have to preface this interview by saying I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a really long time.
Porter Robinson
: Oh cool!

L+T: In a non-creepy way. I remember last summer when we spoke before Made in America, you went into detail about what you had as a vision for the album before it was named Worlds. It sounds like your plans really pieced together very well. So, congrats on that!
: Thank you very much. Yeah, I’m very happy with the album. I think that it seems like something that should be self-evident, but it’s novel to me. It’s great for me to be in a place where I’m, like, thrilled with music because there was a long time where I had a lot of angst about it. I wrote a billion songs for this album, and only 12 survived…so, I feel great.

L+T: I can tell you’re excited about it. In our last interview, you brought out that you wanted to go for a more vintage inspired, lo-fi sound. That’s definitely been achieved. Going into songwriting for this album particularly, how was this different than your past releases?
: I think it signals a really clear change in philosophy really. I think that [in] my earliest music I was really eager to impress other musicians and to impress producers. It was music for producers. I think that I was really focused on the engineering side of it. Producers produce. I don’t even think it was even so much a musician as, like, focusing on a craft of it and less on the art. I think it’s been a slow, gradual shift towards focusing more on artistic expression with all my material – kind of starting at least for me it was “Language” and my song called “Easy.” I mean really, I think that with a release like Spitfire focused on being diverse and showing people, ‘Hey! Look at all these things I can do.’ And now I’m like instead of that I’m trying to…make sure it feels like it has a real strong signature. The reason for that is because it was a lot of introspection that went into this album. I really tried to figure out exactly who I was, and even why I was making a record, whether I should continue to make music, and what it is I loved about music. I went back and listened to all my favorite albums and wrote down why I even liked it. It was a really fundamental, from the ground up (Pause) I wanted to figure out what I even like and then make my own favorite album. This had nothing to do with anyone else. It didn’t have to do with my fans. It didn’t have to do with the people that go to a festival. It certainly didn’t have to do with trying to make something for other DJs. It was really, like, a deeply personal album. I mean, I think that’s the biggest difference for me. This music is not for DJs. It’s not for festivals. It’s really for me. And I think [it’s] a much for gratifying way to write music and I think that’s more sincere, more honest results that is way more Porter than anything I’ve done before.

L+T: Awesome. I am excited for this. It’s a welcome change for what’s currently taking place in electronic dance music. Kudos to you! As far as the live shows go, I’m really excited that Lemaitre will be a part of the tour. Last summer, you said you wanted to include some cool imagery to your live show. Have you started conceptualizing for the tour yet?
: The visual aspect of the show has been in progress for quite some length in time. I love surrealism, but I like a dreamlike surrealism. I don’t really like trippy, psychedelic type of stuff. That’s not me, but I do like video game-y, dreamy dream world. (Laughs) I could use the word “dream” less. That’s the kind of direction I’ve been giving including literally hundreds of reference images. Each song has its own video or own little world you explore. The live show is going to be really different than the DJ set. Obviously I’m not going to be playing other people’s songs. I’m going to be playing all original Porter music. It’s gonna be career-spanning. I’ll be playing old tracks, but updated versions of them with, like, a melody from an old Porter song, but put on a more Worlds type sound. Those are the kind of ideas I’m working on. I’m still designing the show. As far as how it is live, I am singing on some parts of the record, so I’ll be singing in the live show and I’ll be running multi-tracks so I’ll have access [to] drums, bass, leads, chords, synth effects, vocals. I’ll be able to isolate those. So, other than just playing out one finished WAV file or one finished MP3 like a DJ would, I’ll have access to the individual stems that comprise the song and I’ll be able to isolate those vocals or go a cappella if I want to for, like, a solo or something. I’ll be triggering samples and playing multi-sample versions of instruments in songs. So, I’ll be playing a lead melody. To me, it will be somewhere between a DJ set and a live show. It’s by no means live like it’s a band – but what sense would that make? That’s not how I wrote the music. That’s not me. I’m gonna try and make it sound as much like the record as possible while introducing some newness in the mix and making sure that it’s really clear that distinction from a Porter Robinson DJ set. I want it to be really obvious to people to not be expecting me to drop the hottest bangers of the year or whatever.

L+T: Wow. That’s definitely going to be different. I’ll just be frank with you, are you nervous about doing this new live set versus what people may expect from the past?
: Um, no. It’s what I have to do. (Pause) It might be a tougher call for me if there was any doubt in my mind that this is exactly the art and exactly the show that I need to make. I think if I were more timid or had more fear in my heart I would not have made this album. I didn’t get addicted to the lifestyle, you know. I don’t go out and spend a bunch of money. All I spend money on is clothes and food. I have no real need to maintain some lifestyle. I’m just gonna do the art and do my show exactly as I see fit. As long as people are still showing up at the end of the day, it’s cool. Then if not, I’m gonna end up with integrity. (Pause) I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I keep expecting this backlash to everything I do. The day of the release for “Sea of Voices” I expected to hear so much anger and hatred thrown at me. It never came. In fact I got, like, an overwhelmingly positive response on all of the songs – like “Sad Machine” has picked up so much faster than “Language” or “Easy” ever did and it’s getting views, like, way faster. I’m finally seeing people discussing the music too and that makes me so happy. When people release an EDM song, I don’t feel like it goes critically discussed. I think it gets released and EDM fans like it I guess, but it doesn’t really inspire people to talk about it much. It just kind of exists. With this new music, I’m seeing so much discussion on the ideas behind it, why I have written it, and what it could be inspired by. That’s so great. That’s exactly the kind of discourse I want happening around my music.

L+T: Like you said, with a lot of the EDM tracks that are dropped they simply exist. They are so repetitive. You’re just waiting for the next big drop and so forth. However, with Worlds there’s more meaning and emotion behind it. Sometimes when EDM tracks are released, unfortunately, there’s rarely any emotion behind it.
: Yeah, I think the genre has gotten really homogenized. A lot of it is all the same. When you listen to an EDM track, if you wait for the drop and then ten seconds after you’ve heard it you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m bored.’ I wanted to write songs that were compelling all throughout. I love big instrumental sections and all of the songs on the record basically have some moment that’s explosive. It’s not like the entire song is in service of that moment. That’s the difference to me – like every big EDM song literally if you cut out the drop there’s nothing to listen to. There’s no point. I wanted to make sure that all of these songs without any of the drums without any of the explosions would still function as songs. “Function” isn’t the right word – but still be listenable songs that are interesting and pull you in. I think from that perspective I felt good about having the explosive, kind of drop-y type sections in my songs.

L+T: I can tell you put a lot of thought and detail into this album. I’m curious also, why the name Worlds?
: For me the name Worlds kind of (Pause) I guess it’s sort of longwinded. When I was a kid, I was basically into online role playing games, stuff like World of Warcraft – games where there’s millions of people playing at the same time all in the same kind of virtual world. The thing that’s different about those games as opposed to a normal video game –where like ten years later after you got bored of the game, you could go back, plug it in and play it again and just kind of enjoy the nostalgia. These games they’re online and they require there to be a server to host the games, you know. The servers are run by the people who make the game. In other words, if the game goes under or it stops being profitable, this game or virtual world that you lived in – there’s no single player mode. These things are so immersive and they pull you in so much. You can’t go back to those places. That happened to me with two of my favorites that were these games that were very sentimental and I loved dearly. These worlds kind of died. I can never go back to those places. I feel like everyone has some part of them that – for some people, it’s literature. For some people, it’s movies. For other people, it’s comic books. For some people, it’s anime. For me, it’s a video game. Everyone has some degree of ability to manage fictional places as though they were real; and they feel real to us. The role of stories and culture is so significant. To me, this album is not about reality. It’s not about going out and getting the kids to go vote. It’s not about social activism or combating inequality. It’s very much about escapism. It’s very much about fiction and fantasy to me. That’s the main motif behind everything. It’s all meant to be kind of dreamlike and imaginative. So that to me is where the Worlds name stems from. That’s where the feeling behind virtually every song comes from.

Porter Robinson kicks off his Worlds tour on August 28th. Click here for a list of tour dates. Purchase Worlds by clicking here.

Photo Credit – Rachel Epstein (Local Wolves)