For his new album and 40-city tour, Worlds, powerhouse producer Porter Robinson wanted to de-emphasize dubstep's epic bass drops, and give the kids some some beautiful, immersive sounds and visions. He wanted images that transported his audience into the hyperreal, neon-hued worlds of Tumblr art and MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games).
To that end, Worlds features gigantic LED screens on which pixelated, video-game esque lands unfold. Imagine an immense visual vocabulary of Manga comics and anime—akin to Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, with its lush colors, and highly-considered frame-by-frame movement—blown-up into a multimedia show tailor-made for arena-sized stages. Then, couple that with a healthy dose of Tumblr-esque looping GIFs—that's what awaits concertgoers of Porter Robinson's Worlds.
“The whole idea behind the record is this feeling of evoking fictional universes, so it's supposed to feel like fantasy,” Robinson told The Creators Project. “Fictional universes in games have been dear to me my entire life, and I think that kind of escapism is just so beautiful, so I wanted my album to feel that way.” Robinson cited Magic: The Gathering, Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes, Halo, Rhythm Heaven, and Miyazaki movies as vital influences in crafting Worlds. These and many other fictional styles all point towards what he calls “one sensibility”: a record and live show dedicated to multisensory storytelling.
Robinson describes Worlds as “glitchy surrealism,” but says it's important that this idea not be misconstrued as trippy or psychedelic.”Neither of those are right aesthetically,” he said. “When I talk about 'surrealism', I mean in a way that evokes fantasy, game worlds, glitch—much of which is treated as literal within the universe.”
For Robinson, the MMORPG worlds are about absolute mystery, awe, and immersion. They make no efforts to explain themselves, making them feel like rich, unexplored territories. “I've never liked the outdoors, in particular, and I feel very sure that my love of landscape-style imagery came from MMORPGs,” Robinson admits. “As an adult, I think there's a real sense of romance and tragedy and drama that I get from the fact that these games just died and couldn't be accessed anymore. People don't get to experience apocalypses very often.”
Over the course of two years, Robinson compiled a mood board based on various images from net artists. Whenever he saw something that looked “Worlds-y”—his word for something vast, beautiful or surreal—he'd add it to a 16-page “style bible.” This helped him coalesce the vibes he wanted his visual team to create.
To do this, Robinson enlisted Elliot Kealoha Blanchard of Invisible Light Network (ILN), to create the sights, and Laura Escudé (aka Alluxe) from Electronic Creatives to program the show. Kealoha essentially functioned as Robinson's illustrator, bringing Worlds' visual concepts and animated sequences to life, while Escudé designed the tech that allows Robinson the ability to manipulate both sounds and images on the fly.
“In addition to ILN creating the visuals, me and my VJ, ghostdad, requested that ILN bounce all of their content into alpha channels and backgrounds so that we could separate the characters from the backgrounds and make new content that way,” Robinson added. “[We] spent four days, dusk-till-dawn, working in Adobe Premiere editing the visuals frame-by-frame to each song.”
“During that process, we probably created about half the content of the show, which often consisted of re-using and fucking with the layers we made with ILN,” he added.
“Tumblr is huge for us, as is Vimeo,” said Blanchard. “It's hard for me to put my finger on any specific users and I think that's the beauty of it. There is now this incredible firehose, and it changes how you think, and it's almost too much, actually—there is absolutely a point as an artist where one can have too much inspiration.”
But Robinson and Blanchard didn't just want to sample sample Tumblr and video game worlds—they wanted to create something new. As Blanchard observed, this creative urgency is now feeding right back into the Tumblr art world: “It's been very cool to see the work having its own life on Tumblr—there's been a lot of fan art based on the visuals,” he said. “I even heard that some fans are attending Worlds shows in cosplay based on the characters we created, which is mind blowing.”
Escudé, who, in the past, has designed and programmed shows for both Bon Iver and Kanye West, harnessed technology to make Worlds a reality. For one, she helped Robinson take backing track elements from the album and make them playable, sampling drums and synth sounds, and adding specific effects for each. This allows Robinson the ability to improvise both audio and visuals throughout each show.
“All of the backing tracks, playable elements, and effects are custom patches created inside Ableton Live which allows Porter to control the music in real-time,” Escudé said. “Each song has different elements to perform, and the controllers and effects automatically change to these sounds in different parts of the set.”
“It was exciting to see Porter choose certain elements and then immediately be able to physically perform them,” she added. “It was especially exciting when we introduced the drum controller because he could suddenly play these big and powerful drum sounds that really bring a bombastic energy to the show.”
Robinson said the massive effort spent conceptualizing Worlds and bringing it into reality was rewarding. Ultimately, the live show is exactly how he imagined it.
For a Tumblr subculture weaned on MMORPGs, manga, and anime, it's a validation of their tastes and interests. In a very real sense, Worlds is more than just one artist's personal vision—it's a collection of daydreams and fantasia culled from entire subcultures. As Blanchard noted with the emergence of Worlds'-based fan art and cosplay, the show is much more than just Robinson's. That, in and of itself, is quite a feat.
For more info, including tour dates and tickets, visit Porter Robinson's website.