An insomnia-prone electronica master explores the music of the night

Long after the last song has finished and the fans have gone home, electronica kingpin Moby often finds himself alone in hotel rooms, unable to sleep. Until a few years ago he’d turn to alcohol. But now that he’s given that up, he is finding new ways to cope with boredom and insomnia on the road. Heading into his last world tour, Moby had an idea: If you can’t escape sleeplessness, why not document it? Thus was born Destroyed, a joint music and photography project he worked on as he traveled, saving his sanity in the process. “I was giving myself something to occupy myself with in hotel rooms,” Moby says, “so I didn’t end up like Martin Sheen in the beginning of Apocalypse Now.”

Like its companion book of photos, the Destroyed album captures the strange beauty of cities after dark. More trancelike and atmospheric than “Go,” “South Side” and his other thumping dance hits, the songs suggest blinking traffic lights, deserted office buildings and one very tired musician at a computer. Moby demoed his material on his laptop, using vintage drum machines, synths and vocoders, and later fleshed out the recordings at his New York City studio. “The songs have their genesis in European hotel rooms late at night when I suffered insomnia,” he says. “It’s a bit odd to remember what that feeling was like, but I’ve had that experience so many times. I have a lot more memories of being exhausted than I do of being well-rested. It was easy to call upon that experience of being bone-tired and creating music.”

With its languid tempos and disorienting textures, Destroyed plays like a companion piece to Moby’s previous album, 2009’s Wait for Me. The goal for both records was to create nuanced music suitable for everyday listening. “I still love dance music, but it’s very contextual,” he says. “Big, banging techno tracks make a lot of sense to me in a nightclub at 2 a.m., but they don’t make a lot of sense at home at 10 when I’m making breakfast.”

It’s unlikely the longtime New Yorker’s recent move to sunny Los Angeles will influence his future music. “The parts that inspire me the most are the emptiness of the desert and the weirdness of Hollywood late at night, when it’s desolate and strange and kind of empty,” Moby says. “I don’t know that I’ll necessarily start making warm, gentle folk-rock records.”

–Kenneth Partridge

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