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Q&A: Diplo

"You can’t do drugs when you DJ. I took ecstasy once when I DJed. I started playing minimal techno and I fell into every stereotype of drugs and DJing."

Written by
Andrea Yu

For a DJ named after a dinosaur, Diplo is anything but. He’s well known for his behind-the-scenes work, launching British grime artist M.I.A. into fame. But he’s also gained a proper name for himself in the electronic world as the manager of record label Mad Decent and an in-demand DJ. Equally notorious is his cartoon creation in Major Lazer, a Jamaican dancehall outfit, with fellow producer Switch. Since launching onto the scene in 2003, Diplo’s releases, remixes and production work has been on the cutting edge of electronic, dubstep and dancehall music. While at work in a Kingston, Jamaica recording studio putting the finishing touches on the next Major Lazer album, we caught up with him over the phone  and got inside his head...

On Philadelphia
I left Philadelphia because that was where I cut my teeth as a DJ and producer. It was too hard of a place to live. Lots of bad things happened there. I’ve kind of given up on Philadelphia. I love the city – it’s where I started. But I just can’t do Philadelphia any more.

On Mad Decent
Decent’s sort of like a family. We’re all in LA – we’re based here now. We still have a studio in Philly, but in LA we become a team. We’ve really staked our claim in the city and done lots of cool things. I think it’s the most progressive label in the country at the moment, so I’m happy to be a part of it.

On Major Lazer
I’m in Jamaica right now trying to finish Major Lazer. We’re gonna be done by the end of next week, or else we’re not gonna finish anything, I feel like.

On Switch
He’s fell asleep again. It’s all he ever does. He’s always asleep.

On China
China’s great. It’s really big.

On censorship
I used to have a T-shirt with one of those ‘Banned in the USA’ censorship logos on it. From when 2 Live Crew got censored, from when I was 12.

On Obama
He had a good weekend last weekend. It was pretty cool. He caught Osama, then he dissed Trump on TV. It was pretty funny.

On mixing politics and music
It’s really dangerous sometimes, unless you really know what you’re doing. But you know, sometimes people did it really well, like Rage Against the Machine and Bob Dylan. But you have to have a foundation to do it. Otherwise, never do it ‘cos you’re gonna look stupid and you’re gonna bore people.

On corporate sponsorship
It’s the only thing that we have to keep our music going, because we aren’t selling any records.

On selling out
I don’t know if you can sell out anymore, ‘cos you have to sell something. Once something sells, you’re sold. That word doesn’t really have much traction any more.

On counter culture
I’m not even sure what that word means anymore because culture is culture. And if it’s counter culture, what’s it against? Because they’ll still sell it at Sam Goody and Target. It’s all the same thing. Culture is becoming homogenous. It’s harder to define. What’s rebellious and what’s a gimmick?

On hipster kids
You should read the article by Norman Mailer when he coined the word ‘hipster’. It’s really good.

On drugs
Are drugs. There’s lots of drugs are all over the place at my parties. And I’ve done drugs before.

On clubbing without drugs
Is great! Can you drink still? You can’t do drugs when you DJ. I took ecstasy once when I DJed. It was the worst set of my life. I started playing minimal techno and I fell into every stereotype of drugs and DJing. My sets are more eclectic, so drugs really counter that effect.

On clubbing without drinking
That’s pretty difficult. Clubbing without drinking’s not bad but DJing without drinking is kind of difficult to manage.

On hangovers
Yeah, hangovers suck.

On early mornings
I always wake up at 7.

On Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s cool. I think Hong Kong could be crazy. I’m not sure why you guys are not the craziest city in the world. The nightlife should be a lot more crazier. But it’s got the coolest name of a city in the world. Hong Kong. It rhymes.

On Brazil
I haven’t been there in a long time. Brazil’s like the end of the world. All the bad things and the good things and the crazy things and the wrong things that came out of colonialisation end up in the favelas. There will be one kid with red hair with a machine gun tucked into his pocket. And another one with brown skin. And a black one. And they’re all cousins. It’s like the whole world all mashed up into one little ball, culturally and socio-politically.

On documentary films
I wish I knew how to make them better. You need money to make those. And you can’t have a job. I have too much stuff going on. I’m gonna make them when I’m older. And make more.

On philanthropy
Philanthropy’s great. I think everyone should do philanthropy at some point. They always give back, even if it’s just a small amount. Make sure you know what’s going on in the world, and know where you are in different parts and what your relationship is to everything. Balance everything out. I think that’s what philanthropy is – balance.

On M.I.A.
Is that like, for Miami? The airport code? [laughs]. I haven’t talked to her in a while. She’s working on a new record, apparently.

On Mindy Kaling
She’s cute, I like her.

On his best gig
It’s always different. My birthday party in New Orleans was pretty good, I DJed there, in some little shack. My favourite places to play are Tel Aviv, Israel, Cape Town, South Africa, Philadelphia… I recently played in Copenhagen. They shut down part of the city and the streets. 5000 kids. It was one of the craziest parties I’ve ever played.

What not to ask a DJ
Maybe questions about selling out? [laughs] Makes it a little uncomfortable.

On embarrassing moments
I try to forget all of those. I’m sure I have a lot of them. When I DJed in London two weeks ago, I was so drunk ‘cos I didn’t have anything to eat all day. I DJed for Red Bull TV, I was just absolutely so drunk, that was embarrassing. Most of the time when I’m drunk, it’s pretty embarrassing.

On dinosaurs
They’re really cool. They’re big. I wish they were still around so we could all ride them. I’m sure they could do work for us. I’m sure we can ride them like Dino-Riders, that old cartoon that was on in the 80s.

On guilty pleasures
I like lots of pop music. And I like Cadbury's Fruit & Nut bars.

Anything else to add?
Come to my party in Hong Kong. It’ll be really fun.

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