Porter Robinson has had a momentous year.
In April 2021, the acclaimed songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist returned with his highly anticipated second album ‘Nurture’. For Porter, this was a project he needed the world to hear.
Across its 14 tracks, 'Nurture' is a toast to life and all its beauty. Porter displays a level of vulnerability with his lyricism, accounting his experience breaking free of creative blocks, allowing himself to rediscover his love for making music and how life’s simple pleasures can inspire art.
Following the release of 'Nurture', Porter embarked on a North American tour – a tour that cabinets the album through an ethereal use of technology to create other-worldly visuals. The tour began with Porter’s music festival Second Sky, a two-day event in Oakland, California that hosted 40,000 of Porters devout fans and performances from the likes of Jai Wolf, Madeon, Jon Hopkins and more.
Once completing the North America leg of the Nurture tour, Porter brought the shows to the UK – with stops in Dublin, Edinburgh, Manchester and London.
Clash caught up with the EDM trailblazer the day after his London show to discuss the production of the show, life a year on from 'Nurture' and how beautiful it is just to be alive.
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Nice to connect, Porter! How has the tour been?
Honestly, the crowds in Europe have been really good. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t played here in five or six years, but I have noticed that even the most obscure songs are being sung by the entire crowd all the way to the back. It just feels incredible to have been held up in my room for two years and then go to a country I haven’t been in ages and have people singing my songs back to me. It’s an unbelievable feeling, truly.
I feel such a strong sense of responsibility for the people who come to the show because they have spent time, money and have based their plans and days around it, so I always feel I put pressure on myself to make sure that I leave any negativity behind.
Yesterday, I was having kind of bad day. I felt under the weather and hadn’t slept well. But when I see people giving so much at the shows and carrying me through it, it’s so beautiful to me.
Last night, I honestly screamed “I love being alive” at the top of my lungs into the microphone.
Does it ever get old seeing how dedicated your fans are? Especially the fans in the UK and Europe as you haven’t been able to play for them in a while?
It absolutely never gets old. For me, I feel so trusted. When I get back home and get in the studio to write music, so long as I’m sincere and follow whatever musical whim I have, I know that people will give it a fair shot and I really appreciate that.
Especially with the music changing so much over the years, it’s very meaningful to me that people still listen. It’s something I can’t take for granted – that people have this hardcore devotion for me and my music.
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Would I be right in saying that the live shows for 'Nurture' are a lot more experimental than that which you have done in the past?
Yes and no. I’ll spare you the long story about trying different things with the shows in the past. But, in 2017 I came here [London] to work on Virtual Self, a side project where I was experimenting with blending different styles of electronic music from around the years 1998 to 2003. I guess my music has always been kind of emo, but when I came here for Virtual Self I was playing around with genres like jungle, trance and gabber and all these different, historical genres of dance music. So, in a sense, that would be seen as experimental.
But with this tour, I definitely was trying something new. I guess the risk, or at least the experimental side to the show, was that I wasn’t behind the decks – which was a lot more vulnerable. It’s basically just me up there, but what’s great about that is that there is this real potential for these moments of sincerity. Like I mentioned before, I have these overwhelming moments where I am just exclaiming my love for life.
Is this a new-found love for life?
I think I have just realised that there are so many things that we take for granted. There are parts of reality that are mind-bendingly amazing. For example, I’m in a hotel right now and there’s some wine glasses here – if I really take this wine glass in and look at the way the glass bends the light, it’s amazing! like if I had never seen that before, it would blow my fucking mind! We filter out all this information about the world because we are so used to it – but, if you stop for a moment and think about it, it’s actually really amazing.
Here's another silly anecdote. When I was Dublin, people told me I needed to try a crisp sandwich. I had never heard of that before – even though it sounds like the kind of thing Americans would like because it’s terribly unhealthy. I ate one on stage for a laugh and it honestly was the highlight of the set. Simple things like that just make me appreciate what I do.
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Can I ask about the visual production in the shows? I know that you have utilised the visuals to kind of bring the music alive and create this almost ethereal world. What is the process of bringing those ideas to life – who was involved, what technology is involved and what is it like seeing it all come to life?
Totally! It’s one of my favourite parts of this whole process, doing the visuals. Usually, the way I begin is by kind of imagining what I could do to make these songs come alive. So, I’ll usually just write down a ton of ideas of what certain visuals could be. I developed the art direction for this album with an artist named Samuel Burgess-Johnson [worked with Beabadoobea, The 1975, Tove Lo], we scribbled down a lot of ideas that included nature, subliminal spaces and up-close iPhone photos of different assets of reality – like up-close photos of blades a grass, for example.
Then I usually have a look for artists who can provide different visual ideas and can give me lots of different ideas to work with. In the end, we usually only use a small percentage of all the work I commission, but it’s because I want to have a lot of options.
Then I have like a selection of visuals to work with and sequence of what the live show will look like. I have like 900 animated gifs at my disposal and myself and six or seven visual artists in my house in North Carolina sitting at a bunch of computers and using video editing software to edit the visuals. It’s like with any other form of creativity where I start with a plan and it won’t end up like that whatsoever.
What we did end up with, though, was this insane show. One visual is where the stage essentially turns into a laptop – it’s like this whole gag where you’re like googling Porter Robinson, you see like quick google searches of me and clips of my old music, videos of me streaming when I was 18 years old and like fan art and a video of a guy giving my album a really horrible review – that one always gets a big scream!
But yeah, it’s a multi-week process where I get to work with a bunch of really cool artists. Sometimes, there are moments where we are all pulling our hair out – but then there are breakthroughs where we make it happen.
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Of course, none of these shows would have happened if it wasn’t for your stunning record 'Nurture', which turned one just yesterday! Tell us about the inspiration for this stunning record.
I used to measure my life in terms of whether or not this album had come out yet. I would be in the back of an uber and have an anxious thought that I may get into a car accident and I would think ‘I can’t die yet, because the album hasn’t come out yet’.
I would tell my family where all the files were in case something ever happened to me, because I needed it to come out. It really felt like my sole purpose in life was to prove to myself that I could make music again because this came after a huge creative block.
Amazingly, or perhaps obviously to people who have been through something like this, the thing that really helped me get unstuck was to try and resist that notion that the only thing I was good for was my work and creativity. I used to lock myself away in the studio for 16-hours a day and just force myself to work on something. I felt like I was done. Like I couldn’t make music anymore.
It was almost egotistical to sit there and think that I needed to prove to myself that I needed to make music. What I really needed was external input, like I needed to listen to other people’s music, look at art and watch movies, I needed to fall in love – I met my fiancé around that time. I needed to travel and just experience different things.
This album, at one point, was the most important thing in my life. And the fact it’s now turned one and I can go to places like Belgium, where I haven’t been for eight years, and hear people screaming the lyrics back at me – it’s impossible to describe what that means to me.
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I have to ask about your festival, Second Sky, which is returning this Hallowe'en in Oakland, California. I was watching the set from last year this morning and I can’t fathom what it must be like seeing 40,000 people there purely to celebrate you and your artistry. Is it emotional or even overwhelming for you to think about how many people lives you have touched with your music? Is it something you try not to think about, because I feel like that would definitely freak me out!
You know, you’re the first person who has ever said that to me before. I do feel like that, especially when people come up to me after the show and say things like “this album saved my life”. I don’t take that lightly. I just have to remember that it’s not me. They saved themselves.
My favourite thing about Second Sky, though, is when I talk to the guests after they have been out in the crowd and they tell me how just genuinely sweet and nice everyone is. I have no concern that anything terrible might happen out there because everyone just looks out for each other.
My parents run a little booth we have at Second Sky for the Robinson Malawi fund, which is a fund for treating paediatric cancer in Malawi. It’s the same cancer that my younger brother had – who is in total remission now, by the way – but my parents always come back and tell me just how genuinely sweet and amazing the fans are.
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Can you tell us anything about Second Sky 2022?
It’s on Hallowe'en weekend which is different. But I think it will be cool, because a lot of my fans are into cosplay, so that will be a cool connection like the whole cosplay and Hallowe'en thing. It will be fun to see.
I can’t say anything else, but I will say that I am extremely excited about the line-up this year. I can’t believe some of the people we have got playing!
Finally, you seem to be the kind of person who is constantly creating, is there anything in the works right now or any ideas coming into fruition?
I am always trying to work on new music right now. I’m finding myself walking down the street and taking photos of different things and just falling in love with a new aesthetic. But I am writing music! I don’t know what form it will take, whether it’s an album or an EP.
I’ve just been having a great time writing music at the minute. But yes, there is definitely new music in the works.
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Second Sky runs between October 29th – 30th.
Words: Isabella Miller
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz
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