About a year ago, I went to my first show at Canopy Club in Urbana, which happened to be a stop on Porter Robinson’s Worlds tour. This concert completely changed the way I viewed electronic dance music. The lights and the stories being shown on the LED screen behind Robinson made me fall absolutely in love with the beauty that EDM shows could hold. It opened my eyes to ideas, sounds and “worlds” that I didn’t know existed.
Worlds channels Robinson’s nostalgia for video games (specifically Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, or MMORPGs) that he played as a child. These games connected thousands of players across the world to one server, where each player created a character and their story. The endless, beautiful, digital landscapes in these games inspired Robinson aesthetically to create digital sceneries of his own. Many of the MMORPGs that he played lost users and eventually died, unable to be accessed online anymore. His album is a tribute to these games and the places within them where he essentially grew up and cannot return to.
The visuals shown behind Robinson during his set are images created in the style of anime and manga. His show takes the audience on a journey through different fictional, cartoon worlds, inspiring a surreal experience. He has stated that the album was not created to be “trippy” or “psychedelic,” but rather to explore fantasy, escapism, and “glitch surrealism.” I personally appreciate this refreshing take on the album, as so much of today’s EDM and rave culture seems to rely on “trippy” music and images.
Robinson’s live show is especially compelling because he has total control over the music and the visuals the whole time. Samples of backing tracks as well as special effects from his album are made playable by the push of a button, making it easy for him to improvise and change things up. A drum controller allows him to physically show powerful moments in the music.
Worlds was a surprising release for Robinson, who previously produced mostly fast paced, heavy-bass music. Robinson experiments with many different genres on Worlds. Highlights of the album include “Divinity” and “Lionhearted,” two house anthems. “Flicker” and “Fresh Static Snow” incorporate exciting funk and disco elements. “Sea of Voices” is especially unique, as the first three minutes have no beat, just ambient orchestral chord progressions. “Sad Machine,” which features a duet between Robinson and a female robot voice on vocals, sums up the album well with an indie-dance vibe.
“Every place you’ve ever imagined…it’s real. There is a fictional city in your mind and you know every corner of it. Your mind is a world. Each of us is a place.” The intense experience of reading profound ideas and phrases like these typed out on the LED screen while listening to Worlds changed the way I listen to music and attend concerts, and I’m so thankful that Robinson created this beautiful compilation of sounds and places to share with the world.