The rise of Skrillex: how an emo singer became the king of bass music

Aged 17. Long, dyed black hair, lip piercings, and eyeliner. It’s 2005, and Sonny Moore sings for Florida post-hardcore band From First to Last. FFTL was coming up in the alternative rock scene and gaining nationwide notoriety.

Sonny had lived through a turbulent upbringing. He was born in Highland Park, Los Angeles, but at the age of two, his family relocated to Forest Hill, a neighborhood of San Francisco. He was adopted by family friends from his Scientologist parents at an early age, an identity challenging truth that was not revealed to him until his teens.  

He was severely bullied at school, resulting in his withdrawal from the public education system at age 12 and subsequent homeschooling. He was detached, lost, and misunderstood. In his loneliest hours, Sonny found salvage when turning to music. 

Sonny lives and breathes hardcore music – it’s his identity. Embodied in the way he looks, talks and moves. He’s young, on the cusp of breaking through to the big leagues, becoming a figurehead in a scene that incites religious fervour from bands and fans alike.

Simultaneously, Sonny was fascinated with electronic music and raving. This dual passion would result in weekends spent attending punk gigs in the Mexican Neighbourhoods of East Los Angeles, and others attending raves and clubs in Silverlake and Echo Park.  

By 2007, Moore had been releasing and touring music with FFTL  for three years – a tenure that created a profound effect on his vocal cords. His voice was straining and hurting more by the day. Despite undertaking a successful vocal surgical procedure, Sonny left the band, one of the most consistent and stable areas of his life – to pursue a solo career.

Shortly after announcing his departure from the band, Sonny launched a MySpace that housed three demo tracks – ‘Signal’, ‘Equinox’ and ‘Glow Worm’ under the moniker Skrillex. 

Sonny began to DJ these tracks in parties and clubs throughout the Los Angeles area, gaining notoriety for the heaviness of his music coming up through the newfound dubstep scene. Skrillex’s music was often described as “the metal of electronic music.”

Moore released his first EP in 2010, entitled ‘Hi My Name is Skrillex.’ Amongst his acclaimed programming on UK rock giants Bring Me The Horizon’s third album, this caught the attention of electronic gatekeeper deadmau5. 

deadmau5 was a regular at the clubs in Hollywood that Skrillex would DJ at. He kept seeing this crazy haired kid tearing up the decks. Not only was he a gifted DJ, but the music he was playing was extreme and confronting at the time – something that deadmau5 was always seeking out in up and coming artists. Not playing by rules, doing something different. 

Skrillex was signed to mau5trap recordings not long after, embarking on a nationwide tour supporting deadmau5. Skrillex’s second EP, ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’ was released through the label. The release gained worldwide attention with the singles ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’.

Many years later, Skrillex and deadmau5 went on to feud on Twitter in a very public matter. Skrillex publicly called out deadmau5 for bullying up-and-coming future bass artist Marshmello.

“Marshmello is this young kid who looks up to deadmau5, and the first tweet he gets from deadmau5 is talking sh*t about him. That’s when I had to stand up and be like, ‘Stop being a f*cking bully to people.’” 

Within a matter of months, Skrillex went from a Hollywood club DJ to a household name. The dubstep pioneer was relentlessly touring the world, walking into love and affection from fans of all countries and cultures each time the plane touched down. These fans united with his music, exorcising their demons in his rocket-fueled sets that would rattle the roofs of their city venues.

As the years went on, Sonny’s music expanded with his mind. Early on he was pigeon-holed into the dark, dubstep corner of EDM, but he was determined to show the world how much more he was capable of.

In 2013, Skrillex banded together with Major Lazer’s Diplo to form the dance super-duo Jack Ü. The duo’s arrival and ascent on the scene was rapid and intense. Their debut single ‘Take Ü There’ was released late in 2014, to shrieks of excitement from the dance music world. 

This led to the collaboration with Justin Bieber, the worldwide phenomenon ‘Where are Ü Now’, which took over the Billboard charts all of 2015.  

Aged 32. The long, black dyed hair has stood the test of time, the piercings and makeup, less so. Sonny Moore, known to the world as Skrillex, is one of the most respected and large scale electronic artists of his generation. 

Sonny’s music under the ‘Skrillex’ project has taken him throughout the world’s stadiums ten times over. His music has graced the billboard charts dozens of times, under his moniker as well as ‘Jack Ü’.

Skrillex has held the Grammy Award in his hands eight times. Receiving praise for his music while looking out to a crowd of heroes who were, in many ways, his equals.

This is the same guy who was so badly bullied at school that he wasn’t able to attend anymore. The same guy who found out he was adopted as a teenager, an uncertain and scary experience at the best of times. 

Sonny had the music within him, and he wasn’t going to give up until the world knew it. If you hear it inside of you, never turn it down. Turn it up and show the world the sounds you hear inside your head.