October 24, 2014

In The Studio With... Porter Robinson’s Spitfire

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Already, 2011 has been a big year for Porter Robinson.

The Chapel Hill, N.C.-based DJ/producer has played some of America’s largest festivals; he’s supported Skrillex and Tiësto on separate tours; and he was commissioned to offer up a gnarly, underground remix of Lady Gaga’s otherwise anthemic “The Edge of Glory.”

His fresh, youthful take on EDM borrows from a slew of disparate styles—dubstep drops, trancey fills, Moombahton beats—and now he’s released Spitfire, a debut EP on Skrillex’s OWSLA imprint. It has already topped the online retail charts—and, oh, he’s only 19 years-old.

We recently caught up with the youthful Robinson for some studio talk.

DJ Times: Where’s your studio? How do you work?

Robinson: [Laughs] My “studio” is a single PC in my bedroom at my parents’ house. Remember that I’m 19—this year would be my first year in college if I wasn’t playing a show every single day—and so, my stuff is still there. It’d make no sense for me to be paying rent on a place I’m never at. I can’t work on the road at all. I can only make music at home, so I don’t write while I’m touring.

DJ Times: So how do you create music?

Robinson: I started with Sony’s ACID, and then progressed to FL Studio, which is now is my only sequencer/DAW. As far as VSTs go, I use the standard ones: [FL Studio] Sytrus, [Native Instruments] Massive, [LennarDigital] Sylenth1. I don’t use any hardware at all, although I own a [Roland] JP-8000.

DJ Times: What was the process for the Spitfire EP?

Robinson: I started working on it nine months before it came out. I was in high school until June. That means I had five or six months where I was home Monday through Friday going to high school and I was only playing gigs on the weekends. During that time, every day I got home from school and immediately went to work on the EP, and then I flew out and played gigs on the weekends. Since the summer, I’ve been touring full time, and it’s been way harder to make music since then. I think the only song I’ve made since summer started was “Vandalism.”

DJ Times: Give me an idea of how you created one of the tunes from the EP. Let’s take the title track as an example.

Robinson: I stumbled across those chords while toying around on the piano and they stuck with me for months. Whenever I’m playing piano, I almost automatically tap out those chords. “Spitfire” started as my typical approach—it’d be a somewhat trancey, epic breakdown that would build into hard electro. But somehow it became dubstep. That song happened miraculously quickly.

DJ Times: As for remixes, what do you try to do with them? Using the Lady Gaga track as an example, what kind of spin did you want to put on that?

Robinson: I want each remix to be unique, but my approach to the Gaga one was probably the most consciously chosen. I knew that, by remixing perhaps the biggest pop act in the world, I was going to risk looking—and more importantly—sounding cheesy. So I changed the key to minor and I gave the song perhaps the weirdest, creepiest, most brooding drop I’ve ever made.

DJ Times: What’s your musical background?

Robinson: I didn’t have a musical background at all, but that’s not so rare amongst EDM producers. I started unintentionally teaching myself to play piano right about the time that I started producing. I had a MIDI keyboard—I didn’t know how to connect it to my computer—and I’d tap out little melodies on it. Over the course of seven years of producing, I became pretty competent at piano.

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