Twenty–five–year–old Porter Robinson (yes, that’s his actual name) is not quite a household name yet—but he’s close. If you think of well–known EDM artists, the first names that come to mind are probably David Guetta, Avicii, Daft Punk, Skrillex, and Calvin Harris, among others. That being said, Robinson is far from a nobody—even if you’re a casual electronic dance music fan, you’ve definitely heard his name and listened to “Shelter,” his 2016 collaboration with longtime friend Madeon, or Worlds, his 2014 debut studio album, at the very least. So why am I talking about him? To put it simply, Robinson is unique. With a complex visual and narrative style, he sets himself apart from his contemporaries.
A native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Robinson is entirely self–taught and began producing beats during his early teenage years, culminating in the release of his viral debut EP Spitfire at the age of 18. He immediately achieved international notice and gained attention in EDM circles, and has continued his to rise to stardom since then. After fanfare surrounding the release of Worlds, Robinson overcame personal issues with depression the following year to release “Shelter” and embark upon the 43–stop Shelter Live Tour with Madeon in 2016.
While Robinson’s music might generally fit the subgenre of electronic house most directly, he effectively incorporates aspects of synth–pop, techno–pop and dubstep in order to create a remarkably unique sound with each separate release. Additionally, as one progresses through the sonic painting that is Worlds, the distinctive and intriguing influences of Japanese culture and video game soundtracks are apparent to the listener’s ears. As both a DJ and a record producer, Robinson creates an entirely new product. One could liken him to a breath of fresh air in an EDM field where subgenres are saturated by artists with indistinguishable content. This extends to a lyrical and visual interconnectivity between his works.
In order to appreciate Robinson’s narrative structure, it is best to begin with “Shelter.” While lines such as “It’s a long way forward, so trust in me / I’ll give them shelter, like you’ve done for me” might seem innocuous at first, the colorful music video provides gripping context. Created in the form of a short anime film, it portrays the story of Rin, a teenage girl living in a virtual simulation. As the video progresses, the viewer learns that Rin is the sole survivor of an apocalyptic event on Earth and was sent into space by her father, from whose perspective the lyrics are delivered.
Let’s shift our attention back to Worlds. In relation to the dystopian vision of “Shelter,” song titles such as “Goodbye to a World” are rather fitting. Additionally, lyrics in “Sad Machine” include “Who survived? / Somebody new?” and “Since you’ve awakened her again / She depends on you,” and the vocals in “Flicker” are delivered entirely in Japanese. Such lines are directly applicable to Rin and her circumstances, providing greater detail and depth to an underlying plot. These records, full of sounds evoking nostalgia, joy, and loneliness, reflect a brilliant overarching connection in theme and perspective within Robinson’s music. In a sense, Worlds can be construed as a concept album tied together by “Shelter.” That is a complete rarity in all realms of EDM.
More recently, Robinson released the EP Virtual Self this past November under the eponymous alias Virtual Self. Departing from the sentimental vibes associated with Worlds, Virtual Self shifts Robinson’s focus towards a dazzling techno–pop approach. Once again, he reflects his multifaceted skillset with songs like the futuristic and buoyant “Particle Arts,” the stimulating and groovy “Ghost Voices,” and the up–tempo finale “EON BREAK.”
It’s exciting to see where Robinson’s talents and tastes will take him next and whether he will continue to reinvent the EDM genre on his own at such a relatively young age. If you’re looking for an artist with plenty of content to get hooked on and plenty more to look forward to, Porter Robinson is the one for you.