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Skrillex and Diplo interview: ‘Right now we want to get people dancing’

Are you ready to party?! EDM kings Skrillex and Diplo are. And they have their sights set on NYC.

Dave Ma Photography

Diplo and Skrillex are having a moment. In anticipation of the electro duo’s ringing-in-the-New-Year gig at Madison Square Garden, we ask them about their favorite New Year’s Eve bash. A simple enough question. Skrillex smirks, looks knowingly at his pal and begins, trying to sound sincere, “The best one ever was that time we were in, um, Trinidad and we deejayed on top of this…

“Mountain,” Diplo adds. “And it was on fire.”

A volley back to Skrillex: “It was crazy, we…”

“…literally had a party inside a volcano,” Diplo chimes in. “And we had these special space suits on so we could breathe oxygen. And it was actually raining in the volcano, and we were like…”

“What the fuck?”

It goes on like this, all ceaseless goofiness and beaming smiles. The 26-year-old Skrillex (real name: Sonny Moore) and 36-year-old Diplo (Wesley Pentz) are, to be sure, in a bromance.

The pair’s current project, Jack Ü, is an irresistibly heady amphetamine rush of EDM insanity that’s headed to your ears early next year. The hot and heavy duo have been collaborating with each other and guests ranging from huge stars like Usher and Justin Bieber to unknowns. Jack Ü performed live for the first time earlier this fall and is making its NYC debut at the Garden. It’s an ambitious project by two of electronic music’s biggest names—not that the two seem to be feeling the pressure. A few minutes after their New Year’s Eve tale, the guys crack up and launch into another impromptu bit, this one about a party where they got high off of termite spray. It’s…kinda cute.

As the photographer starts shooting, Radiohead comes on the in-house PA. Diplo stops dead. “Fucking Radiohead? Come on, you guys, give me some motherfucking hip-hop!” Er, you finish each other’s sentences. How long have you actually known each other?
Diplo: Four years. I met him at a Matthew Dear show when I moved to L.A., and Skrillex was happening.
Skrillex: We met out here when electronica started becoming what it is now. New York has a lot to do with the scene, but L.A. just had so many people coming through and debuting new sounds that it created a synergy around artists connecting. Wes and I became friends pretty much as soon as we met.

How is working in New York different than L.A.?
Diplo: We go to New York and do a lot of work for Fashion Week, and it’s always astounding how much business gets done in that city. New York is so serious about the creation of work. Everything is happening so fast it feels like there’s another studio, another session on every block, and I love that. But in L.A., it feels like a small town in a way; we can take our time and drive around. It’s more laid-back, and music can be created organically. But New York is where the heavy lifting still gets done.

What’s your take on New York’s current club scene?
Diplo: New York clubs have a one-year life span. As a youngster, I lived in Philly for 12 years, and I would go up to New York to do shows and make money—it was the dream to maybe be able to survive there and live there. I go back to New York these days, and the clubs last a year; they never have a chance for a culture to form around them. They’re transient for a lot of the young fans.

Is it because club culture is too ADD?
Skrillex: You need an in-house curator to book a club and keep it vital. In New York, Webster Hall has done that. You have good rap nights, you have Girls & Boys on Friday nights, and that’s where a lot of new electronic acts break. It’s such good in-house curation. That’s why Fabric in London or XOYO or Avalon in L.A. have a vibe around them.
Diplo: In New York, it’s students, and it’s not just students from downtown; it’s kids from Harlem and the Bronx and Queens, it’s Dominican kids, and it’s whole crews coming out. New York feels like the whole city is into dance music. That’s not how it felt when I was younger. There was more of a hipster scene. Now it feels citywide.

Explain Jack Ü.
Skrillex: The whole idea with Jack Ü is a way for us to showcase different sounds, even outside of records we make. There’s so much underground stuff that’s great. Like C-Set, Half of a Name, people who are playing to 500 people at their shows. We’re taking them and incorporating them.
Diplo: We met Justin Bieber at a party and got a vocal from him. Everything we’ve done so far has been spontaneous. We’ve played people’s demos for crowds of 60,000 people. We’re able to give people something brand-new, and they’ll listen, and we want to take advantage of that privilege and opportunity.

Is the goal of the project a proper collection of tracks with an official release? Does that traditional approach even appeal to you?
Diplo: I think we should do six records, take eight songs that aren’t ours and make an awesome mixtape and release it. That’s the idea. Maybe early next year. We want to get it out fast, because we both have other things in the pipeline. There’s more Skrillex stuff next year, and I have a new Major Lazer record out next year. If people love it, we’re gonna go back and do more. And if people hate it, we’re gonna go back and do more.

How does Jack Ü differ from other EDM acts right now?
Diplo: Our ethos is always to make something nobody’s heard before. We’re not afraid to fail.

Björk makes instruments to create her new sounds. Do you want to create actual new sounds?
Diplo: We know that dance music and hip-hop is our lane, and that’s where we work. With Björk, she’s making music for a new thought process, and art is her main goal. Maybe in 10 years we’ll do an installation at fucking MoMA, but right now we want to get people dancing.

How are you going to do that at MSG on NYE?
Skrillex: Madison Square Garden is going to feel intimate and personal. We don’t have a real rock-star approach with security all around us. It’ll be a party. We’ll have lots of special guests come out. We’ve already announced the supports—Yellow Claw, ASAP Ferg, Rudimental. It’ll be incredible.
Diplo: You’ll be hearing some of the Jack Ü songs we’ve done, live, for the first time. The artists we’ve cut the records with will be performing with us. Both of us take it very seriously; if you’ve ever seen us perform live, you’ll know the production value is insane. When I do Diplo or Major Lazer, we try to make a carnival atmosphere. Have you seen it?

Yeah. I lost my pants at a Major Lazer show.
Diplo: Good. That’s a success. That’s a party then. Hopefully everyone loses their pants at Madison Square Garden. And their underpants. We want them naked. We’ll be selling underwear at the show. There’ll be Jack Ü underwear for sale, for women and men. There’ll be a whole sports-bra outfit. What have the shows been like so far?
Diplo: They’ve been wild and really different. We did HARD Fest in Texas, and we did a house party in Dallas; we’re playing a show in Curaçao, and then we’re playing a show in Tasmania. We might do a house party in Sydney.

So you manage to combine these huge shows with tiny house parties?
Diplo: Yeah. If we’re in a city together, we try to make time to do it. That’s what makes us wanna do shows—being there with kids and unleashing music on people. We treat every show like we’re trying to curate a house party at your place.

So MSG will be like a house party.
Diplo: We’re gonna make it big. It’s New Year’s Eve. It’s the first time either of us has played this venue. We wanna make it gigantic. We’re also working on an app for the event.

Will Madonna sing with you at MSG?
Diplo: She may come out and sing. If me and Skrillex are in town, people will come out. I’m inviting the entire New York Knicks to come shoot warm-ups during my set.

Can you talk about your work with Madonna?
Diplo: The single comes out in February. There are two songs [the label] loves as singles; I don’t know which one will come out first. I go back next week on my birthday to mix more. She’s actually kind of hard-core. You can’t get away. I’ll be glad when we’re all wrapped up. It’s been a lot of work. I’ve worked harder on these songs than I’ve worked on our songs, and that’s a lot of fucking work.
Skrillex: I’ve never seen him more like, Fuck, I have to go back.
Diplo: If I can go back and wrap this up and make great songs for her…She’s the queen of making music. I remember having songs like “Cherish” and “Vogue” on cassette tapes. I’ve loved her production, and I’ve always loved how she’s a forward-thinking motherfucking beast. She was the first person to really bring in different sounds and co-opt things for her own sound, and I’ve always loved her for that.

Electro has become an increasingly moribund, corporate genre. Does it have fans, or is it just kids looking to get wasted to a soundtrack they don’t really care about?
Skrillex: The kids know that there’s culture for them. They’re downloading mixtapes. What we do as DJs is the most direct art form, musically, that there is. It’s all about hearing something that you like and reacting to it, whether you know what it is or not.
Diplo: It feels like we are curators of a scene. Not to be offensive, but the EDM scene is dead in a way, and the curators are the festival guys who want to keep it simple for themselves. They’re the corporate sponsor guys who are keeping the stuff that’s easy to sell, and I think it’s our job to curate newer things and new horizons and give new things to people.

How can New York get a scene back?
Skrillex: When I go through New York, I have such a diverse network in that city. I did a Brooklyn tour earlier this year. I played Brooklyn Bowl, some random-ass warehouse, all different clubs. If you have someone like me or Wes play, with our extended network, you’ll get a vibe, you’ll get a scene around that show. It’s tangible at the right places. They need a person to bring it all together.
Diplo: The moral of all of this is that people need to start their own party. Even if it starts with 20 people at your house and you’re only playing go-go music or ’90s hip-hop, develop that. And when it starts to ignite, control it and let it build more. There’s a great party at Webster Hall that I love on Thursday night. Everyone comes in from Philly. That’s the best party in New York now. They just have to control it and keep the identity strong and make the image strong. It will grow.

What was that post from Frankie Knuckles that got you guys got booed at Burning Man all about?
Diplo: Frankie Knuckles hated me. On Facebook, he said he hoped we got booed at Burning Man. He said how dare these guys play trap music.
Skrillex: We didn’t actually get booed at Burning Man though.

What are your thoughts on Burning Man?
Diplo: We’ve actually played Burning Man the last three years in a row and I think that live, Burning Man has the most progressing DJing now. The guys who play at Burning Man are kids who’ve been playing all year just for their friends and they get to Burning Man and they get to play for 2,000 or 4,000 people. And they play that set; they’re not playing any hits, they’re playing what they love. I love that raw attitude to DJing. That’s how we started.

Skrillex and Diplo perform at Madison Square Garden Wed 31.

See the show

Jack Ü

If you like to go big on New Year’s Eve, we can’t think of anything bigger than catching two of EDM’s leading rock stars, Mad Decent honcho Diplo and dubstep king Skrillex, when they bring their Jack Ü project to Madison Square Garden. (Sorry, Phish fans. Better luck next year.)

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31 Dec 2014

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