Grammy-Nominated Skrillex Draws Eclectic Musical Crowd at 'Re:Generation' Premiere
“I’d never heard of Skrillex,” Doors drummer John Densmore tells THR of his collaborator in the documentary. "But my son wanted his autograph so I had to do it... Live drums and all that electronic tribal shit, it’ll be great!"
It’s odd that a film celebrating musical collaboration and stylistic conflation would premiere only four days before The Grammys, an awards show that honors musical artists by segregating them into generic categories --although perhaps not.
Re:Generation, a documentary directed by Amir Bar-Lev, was produced in association with The Grammys, along with GreenLight Media & Marketing and Hyundai. The film traces several orchestrated collaborations as five DJs explore sonic ideas in unfamiliar genres, in some ways a reminder that crossover is important but in other ways simply that genres like jazz and classical still exist in today’s musical landscape.
In the film, which premiered last night at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, Skrillex (a.k.a. Sonny Moore) embodies the cultural zeitgeist. The DJ, who is nominated for five Grammys this weekend, brings his popular dub-step style to the three former members of The Doors, all of whom seem initially perplexed by Moore’s gritty electronic noise. The other four DJs round out the scope of current electronic music: The Crystal Method examine funk win Detroit with Martha Reeves; Mark Ronson ventures into jazz with Erykah Badu, Mos Def and a slew a heavily talented musicians; hip-hop icon DJ Premier learns to conduct an orchestra alongside Nas; and Pretty Lights (a.k.a. Derek Smith) dabbles in country with LeAnn Rimes and Dr. Ralph Stanley.
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The collaborations have varying effect (Smith’s palpably awkward interactions with country legend Stanley are particularly engaging), but, in the end, a thesis of sorts is generated: In order to keep music alive, musicians must continually reinvigorate it. Unexpected alliances can breathe new life into a stagnant music scene.
“It’s important to maintain originality,” DJ Premier told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet. “That’s what I still continue to do and part of the extension of my originality is taking on a challenge like this to learn a genre of music that I didn’t really have down pat and I didn’t respect it as much as a I do now.” He added, “I don’t think I know everything but being that I’ve already earned my stripes as a hip-hop producer -- that’s something I can do 24/7 with my eyes closed -- to do something like this was a whole different approach because it’s not my world. I didn’t know how to listen to [classical music]. And now I want to go to an opera! This summer I’m going to try and go to an opera. And I’ll appreciate it this time!”
Premier, who also spun at the premiere’s after party at Hollywood’s new Juniper Hotel alongside Smith and Ronson, was accompanied down the carpet by Berklee College of Music’s Stephen Webber, the man who taught Premier how to conduct an orchestra in the film. This is significant not just because a classical artist like Webber rarely gets honored on a Hollywood red carpet, but because the arranged meeting of the two musicians, done specifically for a movie, has clearly resulted in a lasting connection. That’s true for the other involved artists, as well.
“The Grammy people put it together and at first I was reticent because I’d never heard of Skrillex,” John Densmore, drummer for The Doors, told The Hollywood Reporter of his participation in Re:Generation. “But my son wanted his autograph so I had to do it. That was the jumpstart and then I got into it. And I might jump onstage with [Skrillex]. Live drums and all that electronic tribal shit, it’ll be great! Not on a whole tour, but you never know.”
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For Moore, an artist who is clearly overwhelmed by the continually growing spotlight that shines on him, this project was not about capturing the creative process for posterity or generating a narrative for entertainment value. The DJ just wanted to make music, something he has been adamantly vocal about during the press for the film.
“It meant a lot to work with The Doors because they’re what I grew up listening to first and foremost,” Moore told The Hollywood Reporter in his only red carpet interview of the evening. “And it meant a lot to be part of the movie. It’s never easy and seeing yourself onscreen, especially in a documentary, which is something you don’t control, isn’t easy. But at the end of the day I do believe in the people that made the film. They wanted to capture something and it’s never going to be what your story is, but that’s the whole point. I don’t know what that’s going to be or what that means yet, but the experience was making a great song.”
Collaboration and genre crossover aren’t the only ideas Re:Generation examines. The film in itself may be a cultural zeitgeist, if only because electronic music, still on the rise, has arrived in the mainstream. Whether it’s Moore’s palatable dup-step, which imbues electronic music with rock tendencies, or Ronson’s broad appeal, the DJ is now a viable musician—which is something Bar-Lev conveys in the film. In a brief but memorable scene, Densmore tells Moore that “our singer” (meaning Jim Morrison) once said that music would one day be made by one guy with machines. “I think that’s you,” Densmore tells the young DJ.
Certainly there’s an element of entertainment here (Smith and his awkwardness provide much of that), but Re:Generation is a film about something. It may not be a political documentary or tackle a socially imperative issue, but ultimately it’s a reminder of the importance of being a fan of music, not of a specific genre of music. That, and music lives through unique partnerships -- even if they are forced upon you by film producers.