Nuevo Culture

Dancing Astronaut’s 2023 Artist of the Year: Skrillex

“QFF/DGTC 23.” This simple, cryptic message—alongside a bevy of what could only be assumed to be track previews—that Skrillex shared on New Year’s Day was the surest sign of what was then to come. After nearly a decade of rumors surrounding the potential release of a Recess successor, Skrillex seemed primed to finally follow through with his sophomore LP. Just two days later, he released “Rumble,” the Fred again.. and Flowdan collaboration that kickstarted Skrillex’s early campaign for his eventual title of Dancing Astronaut‘s 2023 Artist of the Year. 

Shortly after the release of “Rumble,” Skrillex took to Twitter to shed light on his absence, which included the abrupt cancellation of two festival dates in the summer of 2022. He’d come out the other side of that year— the “toughest” of his life—for the better, and ready to attack 2023 with renewed purpose and “a new sense of peace.” The result: two studio albums, a headline set at Coachella’s main stage under the Pangbourne House Mafia (PHM) banner,  and a sold-out evening at Madison Square Garden that effectively turned one of the nation’s largest and most highly-regarded arenas into an intimate club for five hours, open to close. Porter Robinson notably joined the supergroup, rounded out by Four Tet, for a performance of the Quest For Fire fan favorite, “Still Here (with the ones that I came with).” In a testament to both Skrillex’s and PHM’s impact, the show sold out two minutes after it went on sale. 

There, Skrillex did something that cemented his status as Dancing Astronaut’s 2023 Artist of the Year: he dropped his second album, Don’t Get Too Close, just 24 hours after the release of Quest For Fire. In the dance space, where the single is the dominating format, releasing one album is an accomplishment, if not a feat. To release not one but two LPs in as many days is unheard of, but Skrillex did just that, emphatically asserting that he is, in fact, “still here”—and he’s making history in the process.  

It’s impossible to separate the back-to-back albums and the excitement that they generated from the tour de force that was Skrillex in the live space. It all started in the UK back in January with a run of pop-up shows alongside Fred again.. and Four Tet. Little did everyone know, this stint would be a precursor for more to come. On the surface, the trio—affectionately dubbed the “Pangbourne House Mafia,” owed to their time in an English town called Pangbourne—might seem like an unlikely pairing. Delve deeper, though, and the complementary nature of their dance/electronic sensibilities (spanning three generations), their values, and their love for their craft and for the community surrounding it are clear. PHM’s UK run would eventually give way to a similar series of pop-up shows in New York City the week leading up to Quest For Fire and Don’t Get Too Close, punctuated with a smattering of intimate club sets and a surprise takeover of Times Square. 

Then, Coachella happened. After an unexpected series of events, namely Frank Ocean’s withdrawal from the festival’s second weekend, Skrillex, Fred again.., and Four Tet stepped up to close out the main stage at one of the world’s most prestigious festivals. Thousands gathered in person and millions more did at home. It was nothing short of a historic set—the first of its kind to take place at Coachella’s main stage, marking a defining moment for this decade of dance music. 

Skrillex singularly rounded out the remainder of the year with a continued run of pop-up shows and select headlines at various festivals around the globe, like Ultra Japan, Movement Festival, Exit Festival, HARD Summer, and more. And we couldn’t continue without mention of his five-hour, open-to-close return to Red Rocks, which many in attendance claimed was his greatest performance of all time. 

Even on the heels of two albums, Skrillex still put out a steady stream of music, including singles like “Fine Day Anthem” with Boys Noize, “Pepper” with Flowdan and Lil Baby, and perhaps most notably, “Baby again..” with Fred again.. and Flowdan. And there’s still two more Skrillex albums potentially to come; in April, he added “SKRLX” and “CONTRA” to his original “QFF/DGTC” teaser. 

Skrillex’s return to the metaphorical mountain top is one that many felt was only a matter of time, but after years of waiting, some had turned the page. But Skrillex wrote a decisive new chapter this year, and even those who’d disengaged found themselves following along. While Skrillex had already cemented his legacy a long time ago, 2023 emphatically extended a resume that many—including us—put on a shortlist of dance music’s greatest to ever do it.

Dancing Astronaut is proud to name Skrillex our 2023 Artist of the Year.

Featured image: Ultra

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