Porter Robinson talks Second Sky Festival, bringing ‘Nurture’ liveshow to Bay Area

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Vanessa Lim/Senior Staff

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If you ask Porter Robinson, the sky is truly the limit. The DJ, producer and Skrillex prodigy commanded the EDM scene for the better part of the decade, making waves with his EP Spitfire in 2011 and dominating the Billboard charts with his transportive full-length debut Worlds just three years later. For the musician wunderkind, it’s clear that things are only looking up.

He’s taken detours, from dropping the hit single “Shelter” with Madeon to exploring techno and electronica in a Grammy-nominated side project. His latest album, a shimmery, optimistic tribute to life called Nurture, has been universally embraced by fans and critics alike.

Now, he has his own music festival.

Last weekend, the second iteration of Robinson’s Second Sky Festival made its way back to the Bay Area, as eager festival crowds returned to participate in live music once again. For Robinson, the attention to detail has been paramount. 

“I can be honest and say that the two months that led up to this were unbelievably stressful and scary, because a festival is a huge responsibility,” Robinson said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “If the toilets are a problem or if the food is a problem, it all feels like a reflection on me, so I try to take this very seriously.”

The festival, hosted outdoors at the Oakland Arena, was as immersive as they come. Covered in green turf, the grounds featured a variety of geometric structures, from crystalline fields and blossoming trees to a giant stone shrine of the shapeless festival mascot (who, for the curious, is named Potaro).

“We’re sort of trying to make it feel like a theme park, hence working with Nassal, who did Harry Potter World, on the installations and decorations,” Robinson said, with aspirations for the ideal festival experience that continue to reach higher and higher. He joked that a Daft Punk reunion at a future Second Sky would be a dream come true. 

Second Sky initially began as an idea to create a place where a mix of the artist’s favorite music could coexist in a live setting for his fans. Robinson and his team ended up settling on the Bay Area due to a lack of young festivals in the area as well as its status as a prime location for EDM concerts.

“I love playing here. I love the diversity of the art and food and this wonderful energy here — there’s no place else in the world that quite feels like the bay,” Robinson said. “So I’m enormously grateful that Oakland hosted us this year and it’s a real honor to be able to play.”

Amid all the festival planning, Robinson looked forward most to bringing back a sense of community.

“In the wake of years of quarantining and not playing shows, I think for me, my favorite thing is being surrounded by everybody I know,” he said. “Ninety percent of the people who I know are here today, and that aspect of it — it makes my heart sing.”

Second Sky is for the fans, but for Robinson, it’s also an opportunity to engage with some of his musical peers and idols. The lineup featured a diverse range of acts from Wavedash to Jai Wolf, crossing over from EDM into funk, pop and R&B.

“I get to see all of my best friends in the world. I get to hear all of my favorite artists performing live and meet them,” Robinson said. “I met Jon Hopkins yesterday who I’d never met. I met Chaz from Toro y Moi, who lives here in Oakland.”

Nurture, his first album in seven years, is filled to the brim with electronic pop songs which find beauty in the everyday. And with live music and in-person gatherings resuming once more, Robinson’s new sound could not arrive at a better time.

“It’s just so abundantly joyous,” Robinson said. “And there was a time where I thought writing music where I sounded so confident, so sure of myself, wasn’t something that I could do.”

As Robinson’s fans looked forward to the Second Sky debut of his Nurture liveshow, they were also treated to “Air to Earth,” his experimental new DJ set of house and disco.

“I announced the project just being live only, only for DJ sets just to keep the pressure away from it,” Robinson explained. “In order for a project to be inspiring to me, I have to not feel a lot of creative pressure to make something, so we’ll see what happens.”

Robinson is a risk-taker, thriving on creative freedom and never staying in one lane. Grateful for his fans’ support, he’s enjoyed being able to live off spontaneity and explore whatever calls to him. Considering the crowd’s reception of “Air to Earth” as well as Nurture, it’s apparent his experimental ventures have paid off.

Though Robinson might not be sure what comes next, it’s evident that his passion — as well as his ardent fan base — will follow him through to his next endeavors.

And while the events of Sept. 18 to Sept. 19 made for a truly special post-pandemic celebration, Robinson declared that he’s already got his sights set on the next Second Sky: “I want people to be looking forward to the next year from the moment they leave.”

Vincent Tran is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].