From Stacking to Skrillex: The Remarkable Story of Rachael Nedrow

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YES! OH MY GOSH!

Dubstep. You either love it or you hate it. But there’s no denying that one person has defined the genre. And that person is Sonny Moore, otherwise known as Skrillex. With his face-melting bass drops and emo-hipster appearance, there is no mistaking the music or the man. When his song “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” became a massive internet-fueled hit in late 2010 and won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording, the world of music was changed forever.

But there’s a certain aspect of the song that has intrigued millions of people. That mysterious voice. You know, the person screaming “YES! OH MY GOSH!” Who could that possibly be?

Well, guess what?

She’s in my math class.

Yes, Rachael Nedrow, the source of that ubiquitous vocal sample, is a freshman at Duke University just like me. And when I learned that she was the voice behind this riveting and bizarre song, I had to reach out to her for an interview. I wanted to know just how she came to be featured in a Skrillex song, how it affected her life, and what she thinks of Skrillex and his influence on music. So here it is: my first interview ever, with the voice of dubstep herself, Rachael Nedrow.

Noah: So how did your voice end up in Skrillex’s music?

Rachael: I was just posting YouTube videos, and Skrillex came upon one of my videos one day and then put it in his song. But he didn’t tell me at first. It was only, I think, two weeks after the song was posted on YouTube that I actually figured out, like “What the heck? My voice is in a song? What?” It was really weird.

Noah: What kind of YouTube videos were they?

Rachael: They were all cup stacking videos. I’d been posting videos for like a year prior to Skrillex finding mine. I’d just been posting random cup stacking videos because there’s a community of stackers on the internet. I didn’t think I’d become famous for posting stacking videos. It was only when Skrillex found them that something actually happened, so that was really cool.

Noah: What’s your history with cup stacking?

Rachael: I started in seventh grade. I literally just saw a video on YouTube and was like “Oh, that’s really cool. Let me try that.” And then I did, and I just practiced a lot, and I started posting YouTube videos.

Noah: Did you win any cup stacking awards?

Rachael: I’ve gone to worlds three times. I’ve won the Oregon state championships, which isn’t very cool. But I got second-fastest girl in the world the last worlds, which was 2012 in April, which was really fun. And I’ve been to Germany for stacking cups. And right now I’m the fastest girl in the U.S., so that’s good.

Noah: Wow. How did the song’s popularity and its Grammy win change your life?

Rachael: For one thing, this is really cynical and bad, but I’ve been making money off my YouTube videos since eighth grade, and when Skrillex found them it definitely helped me make more revenue off my videos, which is like a terribly cynical way of approaching it. But it was definitely super-cool. Like what does cup stacking have to do with dubstep at all? It was really cool to get involved in this new world that I never knew anything about. And I wouldn’t say I’m an EDM freak, but I really like and appreciate electronic music now. And meeting Skrillex was obviously like, the bomb-shiz.

Noah: So what kind of relationship do you have with Skrillex?

Rachael: I wouldn’t say we’re homies, but he knows who I am and I know who he is. We tweet occasionally. He’s really nice. I’m hoping that if he ever comes back to where I am, wherever I am, North Carolina or Oregon, that I’ll go and see him. Last time I saw him, he’s like, “Oh, I’d invite you on a tour bus, but you’re not 21 yet”, so I’m like “Oh, snap. When I’m 21 we’re gonna have a tour bus party.”

Noah: How would you describe his personality?

Rachael: I met him like two years ago now, and that’s a long time ago. He was super laid back. He’s like really short. I’m 5’2″, and he’s maybe 5’5″.  He’s like barely taller than me. I don’t know if he’s changed now, but at that time he was very down-to-earth. He didn’t seem like a superstar. He didn’t act like he’d just played a concert in front of tons of people. He was just really nice. And I asked him, “How did you find my video?” And he’s like, “Yeah, I was just surfing YouTube and I found it. And I was like, that would be perfect for my drop!” And I was like, “Oh, I’m glad you found it and you used my video. You changed my life dude.” Oh yeah, also, this is weird, but I don’t think I would have gotten into Duke if I hadn’t been sampled, because it definitely led to a lot of my YouTube stardom.

Noah: What’s it like having a popular YouTube channel and having lots of fans online?

Rachael: It’s interesting. It’s weird because before, my demographic was just 12-year-olds that were aspiring cup stackers. But now I have this weird mixed demographic that’s like, 25-year-old obsessed Skrillex fans, plus 12-year-olds. But I like getting comments on my videos like “You’ve inspired me to stack”. And then you get the occasional racist comment, but I’m like, whatever. I’ve learned to not mind them, and the death threats, those are just dumb. Occasionally I get a really sweet, one-page letter, and I’m like, I’m so glad that I’ve inspired you to stack cups. I just like being a mentor, it’s kind of fun.

Noah: So what kind of music are you into?

Rachael: It’s bad, I’m pretty mainstream. I listen to a lot of hip-hop and pop. I listen to a lot of electronic music when I’m stacking, because it pumps you up a little bit. I’m not gonna lie, I’m really not a huge country person, and that’s probably why I’m not a huge Taylor Swift fan even though I do like pop. I probably should branch out a little but, but I feel like I’m pretty much stuck in those three broad categories.

Noah: How do you feel about Skrillex’s music? Do you think he deserves all of those Grammys?

Rachael: I feel like the Skrillex wave has passed over now, because he hasn’t released anything new in forever. But obviously, it takes a lot of talent to make songs that sound good. And there’s a certain group of people who really like his music, which I do, but I like more of the trancey stuff. I don’t like as much the dubstep, like [makes dubsteppy noise], you know? I like “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”, but I’m obviously super-biased, and I’m not part of that demographic that’s in love with dubstep. But I would say he deserves it, because it requires some high level of talent that I don’t really understand. Good for him, yeah.

Noah: On his Facebook page, Skrillex said that his favorite song of all time is “Flim” by an electronic artist called Aphex Twin. [I play the song for her.] What is your reaction to Skrillex saying that “Flim” is his favorite song?

Rachael: It’s like elevator music. Yeah, it’s so calming. Which is kind of surprising. I don’t think your favorite songs have to be like the ones you make, I guess. But have you listened to his new EP? Those are his songs that are more like, off-the-record, they’re more calm and less dubsteppy and angry-sounding. I think he has two sides to his music. And it’s good to produce different stuff, and that’s what he’s doing. He’s like, “I don’t care.” He’s not a huge money-driven person. He’s more like, “I want to create what I want to create.” He’s gonna make new stuff just because he wants to.

Noah: Skrillex influenced a lot of mainstream artists to incorporate dubstep into their music. So I’m going to give you three samples of different songs. The first is a Britney Spears song, the second is a Rihanna song, and the third is by Jay-Z and Kanye West. [I play the songs for her.] 

Rachael (while listening to “Who Gon Stop Me”): Have you listened to the original by Flux Pavilion? It’s like the whole song, just without the rapping. It’s like the exact same song.

Noah: No, but I’ll definitely check that out. Do you think these songs would sound like they do if Skrillex hadn’t become massively popular?

Rachael: You have a good point. I do think that he influenced the entire music industry in a way. People aren’t going to admit that they changed their song because of Skrillex, people aren’t going to say that. But I do think it had a big influence, and that’s what became mainstream in a way. Why shouldn’t they put it in their song, because it obviously worked for him. And it’s really fun to dance to electronic music. It makes people’s songs a little bit more interesting. But I really don’t know anything about electronic music, I’m just in the song.

Noah: Okay, then you might not know the answer to this next question, but I’ll ask it anyway. Why do you think Skrillex was the one who popularized dubstep? What was it about him and his music?

Rachael: Hmmm. He was just this kid who started making music. He wasn’t even famous, he just posted this thing on YouTube, and it became really huge. I don’t think people had heard this kind of music in like, ever. Don’t you think? It’s like dark, and [makes another dubsteppy noise]. People are like, “What is this?” And somehow it caught on, and people like to get high to it, and dance like crazy at music festivals. I don’t know about many other dubstep artists, so I don’t know how similar their styles of music are, and why they didn’t become popular. It doesn’t make sense to me either.

Noah: Do you think the reaction against Skrillex was justified? People say that he ruined dubstep by making it really popular and taking it away from its core group of fans.

Rachael: I don’t know if I’m thinking about about the same thing you are, but a few months after he won the Grammy, it kind of passed and people were like, “Wow, Skrillex is so mainstream and dubstep sucks”, you know what I mean? It was this super-cool thing for maybe two years, and then people were like, “There’s way cooler stuff now.”  But the core group of fans doesn’t have to be the same. You can have like the hipster dubstep fans and then the mainstream dubstep fans. But how similar are other artists to Skrillex? There could be two different groups supporting two different kinds of dubstep.

Noah: Do you think Skrillex’s success was good or bad for electronic dance music as a whole?

Rachael: I think it was good, but that’s just my opinion. Look how much it blew up. And yeah, it sucks for those hipster old-school fans, but look how many more people appreciate it now. I think that’s a good thing.

Noah: Going back to you personally, what does it feel like to know that over 200 million people have listened to your voice and that you were featured on a Grammy-winning song?

Rachael: It’s really weird. So many people have heard my voice, and that’s really creepy, right? I can’t even think about it. You can conceptualize the number ten, but you can’t conceptualize the number 200 million. At some point it just becomes overwhelming, and you’re like, a lot of people have listened to the song. I’m never really going to understand how many, but it’s kind of crazy and kind of freaky. And most people don’t even know it’s me, and that’s even weirder, it’s like a mystery person. And then they figure out it’s me, and they’re like, “What? Really?” And I’m like, “Yeah, isn’t that weird?”

Noah: Okay, last one. What do you think is your place in music history?

Rachael: I feel like I really shouldn’t have a place, because he just found my video and put it in his song. It’s not like I did anything, you know what I mean? I wish I could take credit, but I really can’t, because he’s the one who made the song, and he just happened to choose me. Would you say I have a place in music history?

Noah: Well, in my opinion, that moment when you scream “Oh my gosh!” was like a big hook for the song.

Rachael: That’s true. Because the drop is like when everybody starts going crazy and dancing. It’s a pivotal moment of the song. You could say that. Maybe it wouldn’t be as cool if I wasn’t in it. Just kidding, I can’t say that, that’s really conceited. But I don’t know. It makes the song very exciting in that very moment.

A big thank you goes out to Rachael Nedrow for being an amazing interviewee!

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