Diplo: interview

Diplo tells Time Out what it's like to be downloaded 'a billion trillion times', working with MIA and Santogold, and his healthily 'fuck you' aesthetic

  • Diplo: interview

    The Mad Decent mastermixer in one of his lighter moments © Shane McCauley

  • These days simply being a DJ won’t cut it. If you DJ you have to produce, if you produce you have to run a label, if you run a label you have to put on club nights, if you put on club nights you have to pick new acts, and if you pick new acts you should tour them.

    Thirty-one-year-old Philly boy Wesley Pentz, better known as Diplo, is a case in point. Part A&R (he discovered MIA and Bonde Do Role), part cultural curator (he’s largely responsible for bringing baile funk to mainstream attention), he runs party-cum-label Mad Decent, has produced a documentary ‘Favela On Blast’ (inspired by one of his early mixtapes) and is currently remixing and producing tracks for Ashanti and Kelis. Oh, and now there’s the Grammy nomination, too…

    On his Mad Decent crew
    ‘We’ve just done a 30-date US tour. It was real mad and the first time we’d done all-ages parties. I’m always trying to challenge the kids; having a hardcore band like Abe Vigoda on with us did that. It was more of a show than a ‘nice dancing party club’. Recording-wise, Boy 8 Bit and I have done demos together. He’s not trying to be cool and I like that about him. We’re trying to finish this deal with Rusko to do an album on Mad Decent, too. He shares our aesthetic – kind of like, “Fuck you, too!” He’s the perfect dubstep guy because he sees that it’s bigger than just playing in basements. He doesn’t really care about purity; he just wants to have fun.’

    On compilations
    ‘I’ve done compilations since I first started; they were all bootlegs, like ‘Hollertronix’ and ‘I Like Turtles’. The mix for Fabric was the first legal one I did. And of course, there’s the MIA and Santogold mixes, which were downloaded, like, one billion trillion times… Nah, I dunno, but we sold enough to keep the label up. I’ve done this one [‘Decent Work for Decent Pay’] because I’m switching from Ninja Tune to Mad Decent and doing a bunch of new projects. I just really wish I had more time so I could do weirder things, like a project in Angolan kuduru music.’

    On his new Major Lazer project
    ‘Major Lazer is a reggae album and Switch is helping me mix and produce it. The project was originally with Santi, too [Santogold – they went to Jamaica to record with dancehall MCs like Elephant Man and Future Troubles], but she was really full-on with her album and she hated it so much. We were going out to these crazy street parties and she was in her bed on iChat just like, “My friend went to Jamaica once and went to a party and she ended up getting cut up into a million pieces and thrown into the river.” She was always afraid to go out. But she did do some cool songwriting with a couple of artists and then the project became a bit bigger and more straight-up dancehall. By the summer we’ll have a tour for it.’

    On dancehall and homophobia
    ‘I’m not doing anti-gay songs on my record! Dancehall has always had a homophobic problem but you go to dance parties in Jamaica and some of the biggest dancers are kinda gay, just not outspoken about it. Dancehall was the first kind of music I was DJing and it was always more about the rhythm. My life doesn’t relate to dancehall’s subject matter, but I really relate to the dances, parties and the party vibe of the music. And that’s exciting and that’s why I’m so into doing the record.’

    On his Grammy nomination for MIA’s ‘Paper Planes’
    ‘It was a top-three hit and one of the biggest songs on black radio stations in America, even though it makes fun of pop and rap music. If we can do that, then there’s a complete breakdown. I’ve realised that if I aim for a successful record I probably won’t have any success. But if I keep making weird things then hopefully the audiences will come to us. We didn’t have to sacrifice anything to do what we are doing now.’

    Diplo’s ‘Decent Work For Decent Pay: Selected Works Vol 1’ is out on Ninja Tune on Monday.

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