Straight talking with Diplo
After a few years spent promoting albums or tours and countless hours spent on the phone to journalists on the other side of the world, a lot of artists go into ‘autopilot’. The same answers get repeated over and over, they’re usually coated in a thick layer of faux-enthusiasm, and they rarely offer anything new. A lot of artists, but not Diplo. A notoriously difficult interview subject, dance music’s everywhere-man has a reputation for either being in firing form or coolly aloof, without much middle ground. As former inthemix Deputy Editor Dave Ruby Howe once summed it up: “It’s been pretty well documented that Diplo doesn’t give a shit.”
To be fair, over the years inthemix has had some good chats to the man. There was that time he told us he thinks M.I.A. is a ‘psycho fucking bitch’. Or the interview he called Tiesto the September 11 of DJs (“never forget”). Most recently, he sat on our artist panel at the inaugural Electronic Music Conference, at one point (23:10, to be precise) announcing “I don’t really give a shit” himself. But the last time inthemix go the contender for busiest-man-in-dance-music on the phone, after a few monosyllabic minutes the Mad Decent boss hung up to go and chase after his son. Not that you can blame the guy. At this stage in his career – while he’s busy counting those Grammy nominations, fielding calls from Justin Bieber, selling out shows around the world and running a successful label – Diplo doesn’t really need to worry about whether or not he’s playing ball with the media. So when inthemix got Wesley Pentz on the phone last week, you can bet we were relieved to find him in a chatty mood.
Not afraid of cutting the bullshit, Diplo’s certainly no stranger to dividing opinion (“do any of your readers like me? I’m guessing no..hahaha,” he tweeted at inthemix after our article about Switch’s split from Major Lazer went up). So in those 15 all-too-brief minutes, we picked his brain about making the world a better place (really!), where he sits in the whole EDM explosion, the new breed of producers changing dance music and Free the Universe, Major Lazer’s superb second album which finally dropped today. Because when Diplo’s good, he’s very, very good. And really, you can’t help but love the guy.
We’re here to talk about Free The Universe. I’ve listened to the album a lot, and it seems to have some political themes underpinning it. Then yesterday, you were tweeting a lot about Snoop Dogg’s new song No Guns Allowed. Is incorporating messages into your music something you’re thinking more about now?
Well, I think you should always be thinking about making your music meaningful. Whatever it is, there’s always a message. I make so much music that I can try to make some of it more progressive For example, when I wrote No Guns Allowed for Snoop, it was really soon before the Newtown massacre happened. It’s a really important song, but it feels like nobody seems to give a shit. It’s like being political is just a waste of time: it’s not going to make you more popular. It’ll just make you more controversial. Especially the dance artists, they don’t really care about anything except getting paid and playing raves. When you look back at your career – if you’re someone like Snoop – it’s important to feel like you’ve done something productive at least, something that at least attempts to make the world a better place.
Do you think pushing the envelope thematically is the final frontier for dance music? As you said, dance music hasn’t typically been associated with bigger picture messages.
Dance music is just about having a good time, doing drugs and just doing something that takes you away from your normal life, I guess. But for me, like the stuff that we do with Major Lazer, I got into performing it live because there was always this punk attitude to it. And I think Major Lazer has a kind of punk attitude too. I think with reggae there’s always been a reason to talk about social issues and we’re just keeping in line with that, because that’s what you can do with reggae music. And I think doing it with dance music is effective because it also reaches people right now. But my record isn’t “political” just because there are a couple of political things in there. I think working with Snoop was more “political” because he is an older guy and he has something to talk about: he wants to talk about things that make sense like that. He’s forty plus and he has grown children, so he wants to make a difference with music.
I guess you could get tired of always making songs about getting drunk and banging chicks.
Yeah. He lives in the suburbs and he does comedy and has a YouTube channel. He doesn’t spend time in the hood in gangs and shoot people. That’s not what he does. That’s not worth talking about in his life.
Coming off the back of Ultra which had like 300,000 raver kids come through the gates, where do you feel that you and especially Major Lazer fit within the whole “EDM” thing? Or do you see yourself as sitting outside of it?
Well we definitely don’t fit on that stage anymore. We had like 15,000 kids showing up for our show. I think Ultra was trying to do everything: they had Snoop play, they had Hot Chip. They wanted to make it more of like a live thing. But Major Lazer, we do everything. We do a live thing, we have audience participation, but we also just play music that makes you go crazy. Like a club DJ that you want to hear at a festival. So for me, it’s just cool to take advantage of the opportunity that Ultra brings with all those kids. But really, we’ll play for anybody. We played at Ultra, we play in Jamaica in night clubs, I played in Rio in a tiny club that only fit 400 people. We play anywhere, we don’t care we what it is! We’ll play for 40,000 people in Poland, 400 people in Brazil, we’ll play during our time at home in Florida if we want. We just like to reach people.
Do you have a preference for what kinds of sets you like to play? Do you prefer mainstage sets or those small clubs in Jamaica?
We like to play mainstage sets because we like to embarrass other DJs because they’re all so boring. That’s one thing we like to do. But a lot of the time our fans aren’t at the main stage just for us. They’re also thing for trance acts or whatever. But we just like to go in there and give people more of a show and do something differently musically. We don’t wanna just play the same top ten Beatport tracks everyone else is playing, we wanna play new stuff. Maybe remix those top ten Beatport tracks live or something! I don’t really have a preference, but everything is a competition for me because we come from the reggae scene where as a DJ you try to compete: you try to play newer, better and more special records than the other DJs. I take that same approach to dance music.