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Music by VICE

How Skrillex Won Bonnaroo

He’s already the voice of our generation. Now 85,000 jam band fans finally get it.

by Lauren Schwartzberg
Jun 17 2014, 9:50pm

Photo by Jeff Kravitz

It all started on a spaceship at 1:30am on Friday night in Manchester, Tennessee. Ravers, formerly outsiders at Bonnaroo, home of the jam band, felt redemption as Skrillex took the stage.

He stepped into his outer space module hanging at least 10 feet over the the Which Stage and began the first of his three shows of the weekend. At the end of the third, he became the official Winner of Bonnaroo.

From that ship high above a crowd of around 40,000, he invited Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley—son of Bob—on stage to get his reggae on, proving from the very jump that Skrillex was no one trick pony and this wouldn't be your typical dubstep show. After that telling introduction, he went into a hard-hitting remix of "The Circle of Life."

With that move, the dubstep god became completely at one with the crowd—cementing his role as the voice of a generation who grew up on The Lion King but reached adolescence and adulthood at the rave. Disney nostalgia fits right in with bass drops—how else would Frozen's "Let it Go" also have a dance remix? Raving is the new Mickey Mouse.

Just an hour and a half after Kanye West called himself "the biggest rock star on the planet" Skrillex, with a bit more subtlety, disproved that theory. For 24-hours at Bonnaroo, nobody else really mattered.

The next night brought the Skrillex-hosted Superjam—a Bonnaroo tradition where one musician plays host and invites a selection of guests, some of whom are a surprise, to perform mostly cover songs.

"I've been waiting for this for months," I overheard a girl saying as the show began.  "I would cry right now, but I'm on drugs."  


Damien "Jr. Gong" Marley at the Superjam. Photo by Jeff Kravitz

Have you ever heard hardstyle with a rapper? Skrillex can do that. He began with Damian Marley back on the mic, adding signature dubstep drops behind the reggae master. He brought on horns from the Big Gigantic, while Thundercat and Zedd alternated joining him on the drums. Guest after guest walked on stage, each time overwhelming the crowd into screaming oblivion.

Skrillex slipped in screeching electronics and bass-to-the-face drops, while also stepping off the boards to play electric guitar or let his superjam friends take control. Warpaint sang Technotronic's "Pump Up The Jam" and David Bowie's "Just Dance," A$AP Ferg rapped to Notorious B.I.G's "Juicy," before his own "Shabba," "Work" and A$AP Rocky's "Wild for the Night," Janelle Monae took on Michael Jackson and James Brown with "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "I Feel Good," respectively, followed by New Orleans rapper Mystikal, Robby Krieger of the Doors for some guitar and Cage the Elephant's Matt Shultz.


Janelle Monae singing in front of Skrillex and Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic. Photo by Jeff Kravitz. 

The biggest surprise of the three-hour jam session came when Ms. Lauryn Hill walked on stage just hours after her own full set. She was about 40 minutes late to that, but right on time for Skrillex's extravaganza.

By that point in the morning, Skrillex seemed ecstatic just to play hype man to the rap legend and allowed Ms. Hill to run through a sped up version of "Lost Ones," Bob Marley & The Wailers' "Jammin" and close off the Superjam with "Ready or Not."

We were not worthy. Skrillex looked overwhelmed and overjoyed too—even at 3:30 in the morning the crowd was expanding.

As the superjam ended, most of the late Saturday night crowd moved along to get their house on with Kaskade or trip out to the Glitch Mob or Darkside. Those shows ended by 5AM, though, and we all know ravers don't sleep.

The still-amped Skrillex had more in store for the tireless kandi kids. 

In addition to expanding the Silent Disco, Bonnaroo upped their dance music presence with the Kalliope stage. It played the World Cup on two giant screens and had mostly underground DJs playing all night long. At 6am on Sunday morning Skrillex appeared, as if sent from his magical space ship in heaven, to play a set for the 200 die-hards still going the fuck in. It was magical.

When he could've disappeared into the night with his epic superjam friends, he partied with the people—the generation he speaks both for and to. Skrillex was only there for us. And that is how Skrillex won Bonnaroo.


Skrillex is number one. Photo by Jeff Kravitz.

At the superjam he put it best himself: "It's been years since I actually played with a live band," after ripping off his glasses and whipping his hair as he played guitar. But then he backtracked, "I wouldn't even call this a live band. It's like…some alien race of music."

We are the aliens and Skrillex is our alien king. Dance on. 

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