I step into Borgore’s dressing room at Shaky Beats festival in Atlanta, entering a sparsely decorated trailer where Asaf Borger aka Borgore sit on a couch, relaxed and unassuming. When I found out I’d be interviewing the so-called “ruiner of dubstep” and self- proclaimed “daddy,” I expected to volley insults with a seasoned troll. I didn’t get that. And if I’d had any idea that Borgore had been called “EDM’s most despised man” by Buzzfeed, I would have been a lot more nervous. Thankfully, I didn’t need to be—I was treated professionally and respectfully. But what I didn’t know stepping into that dressing room was that back in 2014, the Tel Aviv-born artist came under fire for so-called misogynistic lyrics. Critics have called him a misogynist; fans and the artist himself would argue his persona is at worst, not to be taken seriously, and at best, a performative satire.
Borgore’s been wrestling with this question for about half a decade; maybe that’s why, when I express my surprise at the contrast between his raunchy online persona and the thoughtful, introspective answers he gives, he says with a shrug, “The people portray me how they want to portray me.” He adds, “I think that if you go back on my social media after you met me, you actually see that it makes sense, that everything that I post can actually be viewed in a different way.”
So I go back. Scroll through Borgore’s Twitter and you’ll find tweets like, “When I’m too tired to give her dick so I just give it to her verbally” (I can’t decide if he’s talking about acting like a dick or if this is about seduction), punctuated by pictures of the DJ signing fans’ bare asses. I ask him about it. “If someone came to you and asked you to sign his butt,” he replies plainly, “would you not do it?”
Though he’s developed a penchant lately for ranking dogs on Twitter (more on that in a bit), when it comes to derrieres, there’s no hierarchy. “No butt is embarrassing,” he says, though he does admit to having some difficulties in the past “with a little bit of hairiness.” And if you’re planning on bending over for an autograph, Borgore advises, “If you want your butt signed you need to be pretty dry, cause wet butt is unsignable by the laws of physics—unless you have a really special Sharpie.”
Naturally, it being 2018, a conversational detour about autographic asses quickly veers off into discussing plastic surgery. “In general, I really don’t like plastic surgery,” he states. “If I would have liked to date a mannequin, I would have dated a mannequin. We’re not perfect, but I’d rather take imperfection over something that is not real.” Before I can soak in this moment of profundity, he follows it up with, “It also feels not real, you know?”
I do not know.
“I don’t know if I should say it, but—” he continues, while his publicist tries in vain to protest, “Would you rather have sex with a really big dildo or a human dick that is not as big? I’d rather have smaller tits or butt that feel human than making out with something that feels extremely un-human.”
That’s the Borgore I expected to encounter—candid, not holding back, a little vulgar. And that reputation applies to his music, too. EDM Identity called him a “beloved yet controversial producer” and he’s been said to have “ruined dubstep” so many times, in earnest, that he even released an EP called Borgore Ruined Dubstep. His lyrics often contain profanity and arguably teeter into misogyny—his 2010 song “Nympho”, which currently has over 14 million views on Youtube, contains the lyrics, “This bitch is so used I wouldn’t sell her at the secondhand store.” Then again, that was eight years ago, and society has come a long way since then. So, too, has Borgore’s latest album, Adventures in Time.
Adventure in Time is a jazz album and purely instrumental, which allows it (and Borgore) to evade lyrical criticism. That decision might seem unexpected, but to those familiar with Borgore’s upbringing, it shouldn’t. He studied jazz composition and performance at the Thelma Yellin High School of Arts, so composing a jazz album is not at all uncharted territory. If you look beyond the controversial lyrics and acid-laced Lisa Frank graphics at his live shows, Borgore is a multi-instrumentalist who can play piano, drums, almost everything but the guitar, which he says is “so weird,” and which he cannot wrap his head around.
He explains of his foray into jazz, “Jazz was always a big part of my life, and I was scared that I’m not at the level to release anything that’s me playing jazz. But I practiced a lot. So it was time.” That comment in particular stuck out to me—it’s vulnerable; it’s at odds with the image of an overly braggadocios monster other outlets have pegged him as.
In any case, going from writing your own brand of dubstep to composing jazz is not a switch many artists could authentically make. And though fans and critics might view Adventures in Time as a departure from the music for which he is known, Borgore contends, “It’s parallel. It’s another layer, not necessarily a new dimension.” He continues, “There was jazz and there will always be jazz; there’s dubstep and there will always be dubstep.” Even in all his controversy, it is a disservice to Borgore as a musician to dismiss him as a shallow bro-step DJ who’s all sex and no depth. To even simply call him a DJ is an oversimplification. “I don’t necessarily like DJing,” he admits. “I like writing music. DJing is a funny concept,” he says with a laugh. “Like, 10,000 people just watch you, like, ‘Yo, you know this record! Let me play it to you. You know this record too. Check it out.” He asserts, perhaps a little too humbly, “You guys can do it too, but I’m here.”
The modesty doesn’t seem like an act, for what it’s worth. I ask if he ever watches his sets—the way pro athletes watch their games to look for areas of improvement, even— and he almost scoffs at the idea. “I hate watching myself,” he replies. “I feel very embarrassed. My friends family would always go back like ‘yo, check the crowd, they had so much fun!’” But as for viewing the footage himself? “Don’t show me, I don’t wanna know, I’ll take your word for it. Also it’s very narcissistic to look at yourself.” Borgore even says he hates taking pictures; he’s not one for looking at them, either. And although attractive young women populate his mentions and his Twitter bio reads, “turning next doors to bad bitches,” he insists he’s not the type to get ensnared by thirst traps. “I don’t even pay attention to how people look online,” he tells me. “There’s so much work behind it—Photoshop, right angle, whatever whatever. You should not put social media as your standard.”
As for who else makes up the majority of his mentions? Believe it or not, dogs. Tweet Borgore a picture of your pup, and he’ll rate it, most often a perfect or above perfect score. “They’re all perfect. They’re all so cute,” he says, not just about the dogs that get submitted to him, but all dogs. “The only thing that would love you more than your mom is a dog. And what’s beautiful is the dog would love you if you’re rich or poor, if you have butt implants or don’t have butt implants… the dog will love you for who you are, truly.”
Even if we never figure out who Borgore truly is, he is confident his future holds dogs. Many dogs. “I see myself in 20 years on a ranch with like, 100 dogs,” he says. I ask if that means he sees himself retiring soon. “Nothing is forever,” he says without hesitating. “Nothing is. The universe is not forever. Everything has an end. My career will end at one point. When I’m gonna do my retirement I still don’t know, but there will be dogs involved.”