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Skrillex's music is a lot of things: good, bad — even elegant

Skrillex's electronic dance music starts with bass that comes from the basement. It has been called bombastic and cartoonish, but it also could earn him a Grammy.
Skrillex's electronic dance music starts with bass that comes from the basement. It has been called bombastic and cartoonish, but it also could earn him a Grammy. The Washington Post

Not feeling Skrillex? Join the online mob by pelting his music with the adjective of your choice. Cartoonish, puerile, indulgent, impatient, bombastic. Pitchfork, the taste-making indie rock site, recently brushed it off as "inelegant."

And plenty of words stick to the 24-year-old's outsize dance tracks, but that one doesn't. This music is elegant against all odds. It's the New York Giants' defensive line doing Swan Lake. It's digital flatulence made mysteriously anthemic. It's cartoonish, puerile, indulgent, impatient, bombastic — all precisely folded into the shape of pop.

That's why there's a pretty good chance Skrillex will be the guy jumping onstage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles next month to accept the trophy for best new artist at the 54th Grammy Awards. And if he does, he'll have done it without a proper album to his name.

Instead, the Los Angeles-raised DJ and producer Sonny Moore have been releasing songs piecemeal since 2010, occasionally packaging them as seven-, eight- or nine-song EPs. Bangarang, his fourth EP, was released digitally in December. Hard copies landed in stores Tuesday.

But fans have known these beats for months. On the road, where most of his shows sell out, Skrillex embodies information-age workaholism, spending endless hours hunched over his computer, sculpting new music and avoiding sleep. He's often tinkering with mixes minutes before stepping onstage. To see him perform live is to watch him pull fresh tracks from his laptop as if yanking mutant fish from the sea. (Announced tour dates don't include venues anywhere near Central Kentucky, according to his Web site, Skrillex.com.)

The stage also is where Skrillex has burnished his reputation as the mascot for EDM, an umbrella acronym for the various dialects of electronic dance music that swept across suburbia last year. And if Skrillex looks like a rock 'n' roll frontman, it's because he used to be one, for the screamo band From First to Last. Now, he bangs his head from behind a computer screen, using old-school stage moves to push a new-school sound.

And that sound is bass. Bass that descends from dubstep, the genre of British dance music in which the low end curves and wobbles its way around crisp, skittering beats. Bass that registers somewhere between engines revving and dragons belching. Bass that makes your corneas shake.

Even when his frequencies approach mid-range, the bass remains the centerpiece of every Skrillex track. He decorates it with nü-metal riffage and video game bling-blong. He braces it with a classic disco pulse. He lets it bark like a pet monster on a short leash: womp-womp-womp. The sound is destined to become a sonic time stamp, synonymous with the 2010s the way fuzzed-out guitars remind us of peace and love, and glassy synthesizers conjure Aqua Net and the Reagan administration.

Which isn't to say that Skrillex has no latter-day competition. Other producer-DJs enjoyed similar climbs in 2011, with the likes of Deadmau5, Avicii, Kaskade, David Guetta, Bassnectar, Nero and the Swedish House Mafia each bringing accessible brands of house, electro and dubstep to the halls of America's high schools.

But Skrillex stands as the little prince of this world because his music doesn't reside at EDM's center so much as stretch to its edges — without pulling itself apart. It's remarkably flexible stuff that can sound foreign and familiar, combative and comforting, stupid and smart, all at once.

You can hear that on the Bangarang EP more than on any other Skrillex release. The opening stutters of Right In owe a debt to the dance-floor euphoria of Daft Punk, but Skrillex's signature bass starts convulsing before the song even reaches the 30-second mark. Breakn a Sweat is a more patient, less aggressive tune — but it might be because Skrillex was trying to mind his manners: It's a collaboration with the surviving members of the Doors.

Running just shy of 40 minutes, the EP also illustrates Skrillex's biggest flaw: He often barrels through his tracks with a systematic zeal, as if wolfing down a sleeve of Oreo cookies. But things mellow out somewhat on Summit, an ethereal denouement featuring British singer Ellie Goulding in which the bass never quite goes Incredible Hulk.

Too bad it's canceled out by the finale, an Orchestral Suite that revisits the melodic motifs of Skrillex's earlier singles via classical instruments. Let's just hope it's a joke and cue back to the first track for another ride.

And another. And maybe another. OK, one more.

Should Skrillex win a Grammy for building pop's best new roller coaster? He has popularized a sound that feels impossible to ignore and uniquely of its time. Crank it loud enough, and it's hard not to throw your hands up and scream, "Yes!"

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