“Two years ago,” remembers Porter Robinson, “I only had the inkling of the idea that I wanted to do something different. I needed to do something that was honest and real,” Porter explains. So he turned down countless DJ offers in 2013 to spend the entire year devoting himself to a process of introspection and reinvention. “I figured that one way to develop a unique identity as an artist would be to combine all my favorite things in music — it would result in something that is really personal, a collective expression of my taste and experience. Something nobody else has.”
And thus begat worlds (Astralwerks/Virgin EMI), a cinematic excursion that commingles Porter’s technological prowess with his love of evocative melody. His first studio album, it finds an unlikely common ground for Porter’s diverse inspirations: Kanye West’s Graduation, Daft Punk’s Discovery, The Postal Service, and an array of orchestral movie scores.
“Sea of Voices,” for instance, is just that: gauzy, feather-light vocals that float above an ethereal-shoegaze soundscape. That track trickles into the “Years of War,” which transfers those levitating vocals onto radiant synth pop propelled by a fuzzy beat. He prolongs that pop euphoria with the anthemic “Lionhearted,” which pushes-and-pulls between ambient sighs and power chords, further rewarding the listener with the glitched-out “Fellow Feeling,” an avant centerpiece that swells from violin-driven sentiment to industrial static, before settling into palpitating chords.
Not surprisingly, there’s never been anything conventional about Porter’s introduction to music. The artist’s first foray into music came through the arcade-stomping game Dance Dance Revolution. (These days, he’s graduated to StepMania, which, yes, he totally dominates.) “A huge amount of music that I listened to for a long time, like 200 people have probably ever heard these songs,” he says. “And a lot of it was bad, C-grade emulations of dance music being made in Europe. But something about the tempo was super-interesting to me.”
At age 12, the autodidact started futzing around with cuts and beats on his mom’s computer using pirated software. (He’s since paid for and repped everything he nicked, as an act of voluntary reparation.) He came into his own in 2010, when he scored a No.1 Beatport hit with his crunchy, twitchy single “Say My Name,” which lead to his first gig at a tiny club in Santa Cruz, Calif. “It was very much baptism by fire because I had never seen a DJ,” Porter says of the lack of any discernible scene in Chapel Hill. “I had to more or less do it based on what I had learned on the Internet.”
Needless to say, he was a quick study. His grassroots following exploded through the release of a successful EP and series of high profile DJ gigs. Then, in 2012, Porter scored an iTunes No.1 with the shimmering “Language.” Porter found himself touring five days a week, crashing at his parents’ house when he was in town. “It took me to a place where I wasn’t writing music. And I was DJing a lot of other people’s music,” he says. “I think that helped speed up how sick I got of dance music and all of its tropes.”
Making worlds was an intriguing artistic challenge for him. “A huge part of my work has always been this effortful, expedited self-discovery,” Porter says. For worlds, “I would pick three things and say, ‘This song is going to have these three traits.’ And then I would start writing, and halfway through the song it would become something that I’d never heard before,” he says, citing the first track he recorded for worlds, “Divinity Made.”
The voluminous, ethereal hymn was born of his seemingly impossible self-challenge to write a song that was beautiful (“I really like pretty music, almost to the point of sappiness,” he admits), loud, yet vintage-sounding. That, in turn, calibrated the overall aesthetic for worlds, for which he also recruited fresh, unknown vocalists.
Even though his creative pulse no long hinges on BPMs, early incarnations of his newer, more melodic compositions still perked the ears of countless labels. And that led him to Astralwerks/Virgin EMI. “They were really supportive of my weirdness,” he says, laughing. Or his ambitions, as it were: because Porter’s live show will likewise be a unique experience — one that doesn’t involve him DJing.
“I don’t want to be the flag bearer for any genre. I don’t want to change the game,” he says. “I really just want to have my own signature, my own sound. I know it sounds crazy, but I want to start my legacy.”