Music

How A Teenage DJ Went From Torrenting Software to Playing With Skrillex

Billie Eillish, Flosstradamus, Diplo, and Timbaland: 19-year-old Australian producer, Perto, has met with some of the worlds biggest names.
November 23, 2021, 12:24am
Perto producer
Australia's Perto, 19-years-old, with Billie Eillish (Photo via Perto Instagram)

I was working as a host at a bar in central Melbourne when I first met prodigious teenage DJ, Perto. He didn’t stand out amongst the black trench coats, silver earrings and on-trend haircuts of the crowd, huddling on the smoking platform. This is all despite his blood-red hair and chunky black combat boots. 

“You know, that’s Skrillex’s DJ,” a friend pointed out, logging on to Instagram to pull up a video of him backstage at a show. Glancing at the slender teen smoking cigarettes with his friends, it was hard to believe. On his way out, I grabbed him by the arm. “Are you Skrillex’s DJ?” I asked.

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I remember him laughing.

Six months later, I somehow wrangled an interview with the oft-described prodigy who now boasts studio sessions with Timbaland, Iann Dior, Banoffee and THE BLOSSOM. When I arrived at the foyer of his apartment complex, stepping into an elevator that slid up to the 39th floor, he smiled out from underneath a black beanie, housing a shaggy black cut. “Yeah, my friends used to joke about that,” he says “You're Skrillex’s DJ.” 

The main hall of his place is a mini-gallery for the multiple high-ankle combat boots that have become synonymous with his look. His twin brother, visiting from Sydney, and a producer housemate wait on a couch that's pushed against a window overlooking the city.

Though Perto, born Rupert Howarth, laughs at our first interaction — he was not, in fact, Skrillex's DJ — the rumour didn’t end up being far from the truth. At 19, he has collaborated and toured with some of the biggest artists on the global circuit. Skrillex included. 

“He was the reason why I started out. I was obsessed with him,” Perto tells VICE, looking out onto the city from his balcony, taking a sip of his iced coffee.

“He was the nicest dude I’ve ever met. Out of all the ultra-crazy famous people, he has been the most human.”

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Touring Asia alongside Skrillex at 16, Perto played shows to crowds of thousands in countries like Myanmar and Thailand. In the after hours, they’d club-hop into the night. 

“I don’t think [Skrillex] cared that I was freaking out so much,” he says. “I remember being up on stage with him and second guessing myself the entire time. I was like: ‘this can’t be real’. He was my childhood hero.”

When he was 10, Perto remembers listening to Skrillex’s “Bangarang” on the radio, and thinking ‘what the fuck is this?!’. Shortly afterwards, he rushed home and frantically torrented a copy of the music software Ableton.

“Me and a bunch of friends all started at the same time and we just pirated all the software and started trying to outdo each other,” he recalls. “They quit after two weeks – but I started getting really obsessed. I became fixated on making music forever. I just found it and never stopped.”

Hoarding his music on USBs, the eager talent would then hang around outside the shows of his favourite producers. The first group he came in contact with was Flosstradamus.

“I remember waiting outside of Metro Theatre in Sydney for 10 hours trying to throw them a USB, and since then we’ve just stayed in contact. Kurt, who’s the last remaining member, has been a mentor for many years. I used to bother the fuck out of him. I was, like, 12, so I didn’t know any better.”

Perto signed his first deal with Warner Music when he was 16 and dropped out of school the year after. When he was at school, he’d sit in class, keeping to himself, nonchalantly making music. To stay above board, his label sent his teachers a letter confirming that he really was working and not just fucking around at home. 

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Somewhere between the meetings and studio sessions, he rubbed shoulders with international icons, including Billie Eillish.

“I’d just linked up with Timbaland one day and he was just like: ‘I’ve got this thing with Billie we should cook for her’. It was the week her album dropped, so she was the biggest person in the world.” 

I ask him what it’s like hanging out with ultra famous people, and he laughs. “They’re all super weird,” he says. “It makes zero sense to me.”

One particular day, involving Timbaland and a ready-to-go Kanye West, sticks to his memory. “We were there the day Kanye was there and we listened through four hours of him just freestyling about being a Trump supporter,” he said. “It was so wild.”

Despite his proximity to fame at such a young age, the egotistical antics of other artists have barely made a dent on Perto. He’s humble, thoughtful and quietly warm. As he speaks, he looks from his hands to me, smiling slightly, planting a genuine “thanks” every time I compliment him on his journey so far. 

“I’ve always been very precious about what I release,” he says. “Up until now I’ve been really cautious ‘cause I’m still so young. I don’t want to push out a bunch of stuff and when I’m 30 switch to ambient music. I don’t want to pocket myself this early. I’m still figuring out what I wanna do. There’s been so many phases.”

Having found a suitable place for what he does best, Perto is now signed to management firm Blood Company, which houses the likes of  Skrillex and 100gecs. He also has an arsenal of tracks ready to go, with the last two years of COVID backdropping his prolific musical output.

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“I have to make a song a day or I feel like a failure,” he says “I wrote an entire album last week, and I’ve got a production tape that I’ve finished with friends that’s coming out soon.”

Though he initially hated the quiet of isolation and daily Zoom calls, Perto found that alone he could bust out a song in an hour. Nonetheless, he maintains that the studio is his preferred way of working: pushing out music in an allotted amount of time and having fun. 

As COVID restrictions come to an end, Perto is already thinking about his next steps. When asked if he’ll move overseas, he excitedly explains an upcoming tour around Europe, including performances with Florida singer, rapper, songwriter and producer Glaive, as well as Connecticut rapper and producer ericdoa.

It’s clear that he’s finally ready to move further into the spotlight, shedding his conservativeness around the idea of being a celebrity to build a name that garners him more attention from fans. 

“Next year I’m just gonna drop everything,” he says. “I feel like it’s been a long time coming for me to stop holding my breath and let everything out. I really just want to get out as much as possible.”

“Come to my next show,” he insists. “I’m playing at Max Watts next month.”

When I tell him I’ll grab a ticket, he waves away my offer: “nah, just turn up.”

If there’s one thing that’s become clear throughout our conversation it’s this: that despite his rejections of flattery, Perto – by way of talent or sheer tenacity – is primed to become a household name. But he isn’t in it for the hype or the fame.  All he wants, at the end of the day, is to continue doing the thing he loves: “make music and see what happens.”


Follow Julie Fenwick on Twitter and Instagram.