He's got the beat: Rising electronic dance music star Porter Robinson knew he wanted to be an EDM artist at the age of 12. "My older brother brought home a copy of Dance Dance Revolution and I was hooked," says the 19-year-old. "I was one of those kids flailing around the video arcades, and in Chapel Hill (N.C.), there's not much of an EDM culture. So when I heard this music, I knew that was what I wanted to do."
In fact, the first time Robinson went to an EDM concert (aka rave), he was playing it. "It was the day before I went out on my first tour. I'd never seen a DJ play," he says. "I'd been practicing for months, but I got very nervous" watching how the other DJs interacted with the crowd. On the other hand, his naivete proved to be a boon. "Inexperience helped distinguish me," he says. "Not knowing the conventions and tropes of being a DJ freed me up to become the artist I am now."
Youthful energy: For the past seven years, he's been juggling school and mastering computer programs to create his dramatic brand of electro-house. "My parents were really supportive as long as I did well in school. Luckily, I got a 4.0 GPA and got into UNC (University of North Carolina) Chapel Hill," he says. "I decided not to go, because it would have been a struggle to make a living. But if I had gone, I would have studied psychology and sociology." He graduated from high school last year and has since been working the EDM circuit tirelessly.
Hard work pays off: Robinson has been rewarded handsomely for his multitasking prowess. Grammy winner Skrillex signed the teen to his label OWSLA last summer after Robinson's debut EP Spitfire sailed to No. 1 on the EDM go-to chart published by music retailer Beatport. He opened for superstar EDM artist Tiesto on last year's College Invasion tour. "Skrillex and Tiesto have been my music mentors," he says. "Tiesto is very strict, he has extensive tastes and high standards. He'd tell me straight up if he didn't like what I wrote."
He's also earned raves from deadmau5, who is notoriously picky about the qualifications of an EDM artist. "Porter Robinson plans, produces and plays his own music," deadmau5 told USA TODAY. "Being a DJ generally means being a human iPod. Porter is an authentic artist."
Boundless energy: Tiesto's protégé flies the coop this year. He takes the lead with The Language tour, kicking off at the sold-out Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas on June 10 and wrapping up in Detroit on July 13. In February, he kicked off an exclusive DJ residency with Wynn Las Vegas at Encore Beach Club, Surrender and XS, which will keep him pretty busy through the rest of the year. "Touring is a brutal travel schedule, and for a brief period, I'd finish playing a show at 4 a.m. and have to catch a flight at 6 a.m., so we'd go directly from venue to airport," he says. "I'd nap for two hours, tops. My body just eventually became acclimated. My lifestyle is a privileged one, though."
Highlights of the road: "The best part of doing a bus tour is getting to hang out with fans and famous people," he says. "We spend a lot of time together, so I learn about (other artists') struggles and how they honed their craft. Festivals are the best — there's always a guaranteed massive crowd. It's like a big family reunion."