Porter Robinson & Madeon On The Beauty Of Being On Stage Together & The Influence Of Japanese Culture On Their MusicWritten by Zanda Wilson on February 23, 2017
24-year old Porter Robinson and 22-year old Hugo Pierre Leclercq (better known as Madeon) have both grown up in the spotlight of the music industry. Hailing from the United States and France respectively, they’ve been producing since before they were teenagers, performing live on many occasions before they even turned 18. Their respective careers as musicians have followed a similar trajectory, with Robinson’s debut album Worlds released in 2014, just under a year before Madeon’s own debut LP Adventure was unveiled.
Soon, they’ll touch down in Australia; one of the final destinations on their ‘Shelter’ world tour, born from a single track they crafted in 2016. After a limited run of shows down under, they’ll perform a few final headline shows elsewhere before they end their collaboration with a final live set at Coachella 2017.
We shouldn’t be sad or shocked, though, because the beauty of the project was that it was always going to be temporary. “I think that’s what was appealing about it to us,” explains Madeon. “We were both done with making and releasing our albums and were in very similar places in terms of where our tastes and our visions were at, and where our careers were. We both knew that upcoming albums would be a long way away, so we thought that this was the moment that we can do this. So we knew it would be temporary, that’s what made it exciting as well.”
There’s no doubt their relationship is special, with their world tour for ‘Shelter’ already selling out show after show across the US and Europe. Watching this project unite people in such an intense way has already inspired Robinson to get back in the studio and make new music.
“It’s awesome, I don’t think there’s very much nuance to this particular thing – when you play a sold out crowd who are cheering for you, and they know all of your music there’s just really nothing like it,” he says. “For me, it was therapeutic beyond just being pleasurable. It’s nice but it also really inspired me when I got back in the studio, to have this certain renewed confidence. That was a real asset for me when writing music. It’s unspeakably great.”
The music business is often a hard slog for little reward, and for Madeon, just seeing how this project has impacted his fans around the world has been a reminder of how worthwhile the effort is. “What I got from it was that it reminded me that the immense effort that comes in making music is so worth it because for years to come if you write something that resonates with people then you’re going to get this insane pleasure for years, of a crowd being happy about hearing it. And it puts into perspective the initial effort.”
Video footage that has emerged of the tour from dates in the USA has shown shows filled with inspiring live singing, breathtaking lights and visual effects, and delight from the guys, who perform the whole set together live on stage. Madeon explains that the main focus when they were putting the show together was to really emphasise the interaction between himself and Porter as two personalities performing as one.
“It’s the first time that either of us are playing live on stage with somebody else,” he says. “That introduces a whole new dynamic; we can interact with each other and as an audience member you get to see this interaction between two humans and that’s something that’s brand new. So we tried to design sections of the show that really highlight that, and highlight us as humans on the stage as opposed to conductors lost in a multimedia show.”
“I think we already had this frame of reference from our existing shows, for how we would like this to look and how this type of show should be, and we went from there,” adds Robinson. “I think the biggest difference between this and our previous shows is that it’s a lot more live, there’s a lot more vocal moments and we’re a lot more exposed.”
Speaking of incredible live performers, Porter and Madeon have brought on Norwegian wunderkind Lido; a headliner in his own right, as tour support as well as local act Elk Road. Robinson explains that the inclusion of Lido for the tour was more about his music and less about the manner in which they performed on stage. “A lot of the support acts on the ‘Shelter’ American tour were not live, but we just love Lido generally and really, really like his music, and the fact that he plays live is just the icing on the cake.”
“It’s fortunate that when we started the conversation about which opening acts we wanted, we managed to get everyone that was at the top of our list,” interjects Madeon. “When we started talking about Australia, Lido was at the top of our list, so to me it’s been an incredible selection of artists that we’ve mostly selected because we love their music and we felt it made sense with ‘Shelter’. The actual format of how they performed wasn’t as much of a criteria.”
One gets the impression, though, that Lido’s use of live drums, guitar, vocals and more could make him a hard act to follow. “I think he is better than either of us vocally, at least better than me,” Robinson laughs, almost nervously. “He’s more of an instrumentalist too so it’s going to be cool for us to be challenged in that way.”
Shortly after the release of ‘Shelter’ the single, Porter Robinson unveiled his own short anime film as the official video for the track, a film that follows a heartbreaking story of young girl living out her life inside a simulation. Porter is a well-known Japanophile, and although this video was entirely his own project, it turns out Madeon was on board from the start. “Hugo is a big fan of anime; he actually has a more prolific knowledge of [Hayayo] Miyazaki’s films than I do. But this had been something that I had been working on for quite some time, and I just really felt that it fit ‘Shelter’ more than it could have fit any other music I’ve made.”
For Madeon, putting the creation of the video in the hands of his collaborator also took out a lot of the stresses of commissioning an outsider to create the video for such a special project. “When you’re a musician you’re not necessarily a director, so when you commission a music video you’re letting another artist use their vision to put it into visuals,” he says. “I was so lucky that instead of having some random director I’ve never met create the video for ‘Shelter’, that instead it was Porter that was in charge. It’s not my video, but I’m so grateful that it exists, and I think it ties into the song beautifully and clearly resonates with people in a way that neither of us could have expected.”
Creating his own anime film has been a long-harboured dream for Robinson, and seeing it come to life was clearly a highlight of his career as a creative so far. “It went way bigger than I could have hoped, it was just great,” he says. “And I’ve told Hugo and others that it’s a dream come true to the degree that if I ever feel depressed or horrible, remembering the fact that I got to go to Japan so many times to work on the video and have such control over it, and the fact that it exists, just makes me feel better. It’s so important to my life that this video is real, and I couldn’t be happier that it fits with ‘Shelter’ as a song.”
As it turns out, it’s not just Japanese anime that appeals to Robinson’s sensibilities as an artist. Japanese music has been a huge influence for both he and Madeon from the very start of their careers. “Japan is basically the reason I started making music initially,” says Robinson. “The first electronic music I ever heard was in Dance Dance Revolution, so it’s been an influence from the very early days. I like their sense of what’s appealing in fiction and it’s just a place that I very much love. Japanese media is just something that I’ve always liked; it’s hard to say why exactly.”
“I think we’ve both been influenced by Japanese pop music because it’s very interested in catchiness but it uses very different tools from western pop music to achieve that catchiness, and so it’s a very, very refreshing take on pop music,” Madeon adds. “The work of the bigger pop acts over there have had a big impact in our music.”
Going even deeper, the guys begin to explain the impact of Japan not just on their formative years musically but as a deeply entrenched aspect of the culture in which they were raised. “I think Nintendo was a huge influence on both Madeon and I. They’re a Japanese company,” says Porter.
“They’ve had a major effect on us since we were children. I guess to tie this thread, I feel like Japanese culture was pretty ubiquitous during our childhood; Pokémon was the biggest thing ever, Nintendo was massive and it was a real moment for Japanese pop culture abroad and it’s just very nostalgic for us and ties to some parts of our identity.”
“That’s very true it was especially massive and unavoidable in France,” Madeon explains. “France is the biggest consumer of Japanese media outside Japan, so mangas were something that every child my age would consume so it was very, very present.”
Although the immediate future for these two artists will be further solo work, it’s less clear what may come after that. Both Madeon and Porter seem to be at peace with the fact that music will likely be what they’ll pursue for some time to come, if for no other reason than it would be hard to pick up any other career at this point in their lives, although Robinson could undoubtedly go professional as a Dance Dance Revolution player if things were to go downhill from here.
“The way I feel about it is that as a child there was so many things I wanted to create and that I was excited about getting better at,” says Madeon. “At one point I decided on something, to become as good at it as I could instead of being mediocre at many things, so I picked music because it was something that I loved the most. I’ve recently realised that it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever be able to pick something else and catch up because my brain has been spending most of its time for the past twelve years thinking and theorising music. It’s such a core part of my identity and my knowledge base that I think it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll be able to invest as much time in anything else. So I’m content that music is probably the one thing I’ll be best at for the rest of my life.”
“Same here,” agrees Robinson. “If I thought about how incredibly difficult it would be, now that I know how hard it is to become great at any given task, given my experience with music – it’s almost discouraging to start something new because you know how deep it goes. I still feel that I’m improving a lot as I continue to write music, and it just runs so deep. We were focussed on music during our formative years and I think that’s something you only get one shot at.”