DJ Diplo/ interview by black dog bone

DJ Diplo/ interview by black dog bone photo by shane mccauley

I really love what you’re doing, the way you include so many different types of music in your mixes. You incorporate a lot of Baile Funk from Brazil, Dancehall/Reggae, even Native American tribal drumbeats. You name it, Diplo is doing it.


Baile Funk is as close as you can get to street Rap for Brazil. It’s real intertwined with the ghettos and the drug dealers, the girls. It’s like the Brazilian version of Miami Bass and they use traditional sounds as well like berimbau and Samba drums.


How did you get into Baile Funk, being from Philadelphia?

I guess just being a DJ I was always looking for new stuff, playing new kinds of music. When you wanna stay ahead of the rest of the DJ’s you always have to have something secret, some special stuff. That was my secret special stuff. That’s how I got into Baile Funk.


everybody is coming into this ultimate style of music that contains everything. People are more and more savvy, like the audience is more smart and more open. You don’t have to segregate the people anymore like “Black people in the ghetto need to listen to the Trap music and the White kids need to listen to the Pop music.” Now the producers are reaching out to all of the markets.


You probably spend a lot of time looking for interesting CD’s.


Yeah. MP3’s now. I’m always looking for new music. I also get lots of stuff sent to me and I try to weed out what’s good and play the stuff. Now I try to look for the names that I like cause there’s so much stuff out. Unless somebody that I trust tell me this is good, I just ignore everything except for people that I know. Every once in a while I pick up some new tracks and I try to play new stuff at the parties. I’m always trying to break new music.


How did you start doing this? Did you always want to be a DJ?


I always wanted to be a producer. I became a DJ cause it was the easiest way to make money. You can’t make money producing until like 10 years later. You have to put the work in and build up some tracks. DJing was the easiest way to make the money. I kept making money DJing, I kept doing it. And everything just fell into place.


It’s up to artists like me, Santigold and M.I.A to produce something that’s a little more complicated, that will last a little longer instead of making disposable club music.


I first heard about you through M.I.A. You’ve worked with M.I.A. a lot.


Yeah. Are you from Sri Lanka too?


I am. How did you know?


I know Matt Sonzala, who writes for Murder Dog. He told me about you. Matt was the first person to ever bring me to Texas to do a show. That was 4 years ago.


Matt really helps a lot of new artists, he organizes the SXSW showcase. DJ’s seem to tour more than rappers. They really get out there. Why is that?


Because rappers only promote like one single every year or 2 years. They don’t promote albums like they used to. The DJ’s are able to promote multiple things, weather it’s all the releases on their label or it’s an alternative scene in different cities. Rappers, when they tour they only have like one single to promote. Unless you’re like big in Texas and people know your mixtapes or something. Other than that you can only handle one single at a time.


I heard you’re working on a documentary on Baile Funk. How is that going?


I finished it, actually. We screened it at South by Southwest. I think Matt Sonzala has a screen copy, if you want to see it.

Did you go to Brazil and film it?


Yeah. For about three years I was going to Brazil traveling. I filmed it over three years, then I finished the edits. Now we’re just doing the final corrections here in America. It’s all done now.


That’s part of the record label Mad Decent. I could always promote Diplo all the time, but Mad Decent is about promoting all different people. We’re promoting the world, we’re promoting new styles, we’re promoting being progressive and being interesting and pushing shit forward.

Keep me up on what you’re doing.


You seem to stay busy. What are you working on now?


The album that I’m doing with Switch is called “Major Lazer”. It’s like an extension of our work with M.I.A. cause we did a lot of the beats for her albums. “Major Lazer” is a Reggae record, we’re working with all the top Jamaican artists. We’re doing some progressive new styles of beats that are exciting. Every day music is changing in the clubs and people are open to more and more different styles. It was up to us to do a record that features all those different styles.


Would you say it’s a Diplo record or is it more of a collaboration project?


It’s very much like a Diplo style record because of the beats and stuff. But it’s a collaboration with a lot of Dancehall/Reggae artists. I produced the record with my partner Switch who also produced M.I.A. stuff with me.


Switch is from England?


He’s from England, I’m from America, and M.I.A.’s from Sri Lanka.


I like your “Top Rankin” album with Santigold. Is it kind of like that?


Yeah. That “Top Rankin” album is a really good introduction to Diplo. That album’s got everything from Punk Rock to Oldies to Reggae. That’s the attitude of “Major Lazer”. It’s a mix of everything.


I like how you brought so many different styles of music under one umbrella. I see a new movement happening in music that incorporates a lot of different elements and makes something new, like what you do with M.I.A., Rye Rye and Santigold.



Everything that happened in India, like all the different styles started with one person doing something mad. It’s been developing for like 10,000, but it all started with somebody doing something unique. A whole style developed around him and he had these disciples playing the same thing. It’s happening in little pockets and people are developing it individually.


Even when we collaborate with some artists—like we did some stuff with Bun B and we worked with other rappers—everybody is coming into this ultimate style of music that contains everything. People are more and more savvy, like the audience is more smart and more open. You don’t have to segregate the people anymore like “Black people in the ghetto need to listen to the Trap music and the White kids need to listen to the Pop music.” Now the producers are reaching out to all of the markets. It’s up to artists like me, Santigold and M.I.A to produce something that’s a little more complicated, that will last a little longer instead of making disposable club music. All of us are different but we all come with the same attitude. We’re all products of the eighties and Hip Hop music and we’ve been exposed to many different genres of music.


People like you are opening people’s minds to so-called World music and tribal music. If you were to go to any country 10 years ago they would be playing American and English Pop music, but now we’re hearing Vietnamese or Cambodian music in America and Europe. It’s a better balance.


If you go to Cambodia now there are kids from LA bringing West Coast Hip Hop there because they got deported, and they’re gang members. Everywhere you go you have these strange twists on globalization. While the corporate business is taking over, the cultures are mixing up.


I’m more like a culture jammer. While I do the producing, I deejay, I also work on video stuff. I try to develop artists like how we did with M.I.A. We try to start new things, and move into the business side. I just fuck with everything.


If you go to East Africa you might hear the Burundi drumbeats or if you go Sri Lanka you will hear the Kavadi drumbeats. In Australia you will hear the Aborigine chants or didgeridoo. Do you think all of these unique identities will get washed away as the cultures mix and fuse?


I don’t think it’s possible because while all the kids are smart enough to check the my space and check MTV to listen to different styles of music, everybody knows that what makes them independent is their local stuff. Like in Argentina they’re playing Cumbia in the ghettos, they might throw some Reggae styles in there or some Hip Hop samples, but at the end of the day they make something that’s really really Cumbia because they know that the kids want to hear the local stuff. I don’t see that there could ever be just one sound in the world because the world is too complex. It’s only going to get more interesting the more the people blend more. Every time something becomes popular the underground pushes their own styles and they become more and more underground and more defined. You always have this balance; when some things come to the top the pile gets deeper.


I hope so, because when you travel outside the United States you see all the unique ways people live, dress, play music, and make food are becoming more influenced by the dominant culture, which is the American culture. We don’t want everybody in the world to be eating McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. That’s fine for America if that’s what they like, but there are many beautiful ways to dress and live and make food and play music. I wonder if the cultures of the world are fading away through globalization.


I know what you’re saying, but everywhere you go the kids keep it local. No matter how much they get influenced or exposed to other cultures, a kid in Sri Lanka can’t do the same thing as a kid in Mississippi. It just comes out different. I can’t do something that a kid from Africa does. There’s always something unique coming from each place.


Everywhere you go people have something unique to bring. The more they twist it up it’s getting more and more exciting. You can’t bring it down to the matrix because we’re all individuals.


I like what you’re saying. Cultures ultimately come from the land and the environment we live in. The land is more powerful than the human culture or our influence.


You’re right. The land is more powerful than a message on TV or in the media. It comes down to the basics of what a country is made of, what a culture is made of.



You’re right. The land is more powerful than a message on TV or in the media. It comes down to the basics of what a country is made of, what a culture is made of.



“Major Lazer” is coming out on your label?


Yeah, and we have a lot of records coming on Mad Decent. We have Rusco, he’s a Dubstep artist from UK. We have some Hip Hop records, like Paper Route Gangstaz—they’re a Rap group from Huntsville, they have like eight members. We did a mixtape on Mad Decent called “Welcome to Huntsvegas”. They’re a Hip Hop group I produced. They really fit in with Murder Dog. They’re cool guys. Check out their music. If you got to maddecent.com you can actually get it for free, we’re giving the whole album away. It’s a “donate what you want” kinda deal. They just signed a deal with Koch.


I really like Dubstep and Grime music from England. Are you doing anything with that?


We’re doing a Dubstep record on Mad Decent too called “Rough Skull”. It’s really an exciting project. We’ve got some Rock records too. I’ve got a Pakistani Punk band coming out on Mad Decent called The Popo. We’re doing as much crazy stuff as possible.


They’re related because they’re all made with simple stuff. Like Baile Funk was all made with cheap samplers, old Bass records with like Playstations when they first started, like a Playstation program that kids could use to make beats. And Baltimore Club, that’s just you use the same break beat for every song. It’s all made with cheap production equipment and some people come out and develop the style. It’s real exciting.


How do you find all of this talent?


The Popo guys are my neighbors. They sleep at my house sometimes. They’re just neighbors, so I had to see them play and they’re cool so I latched up with them. Rusco, he came to us and he really wanted to work with our label. The rest of them, sometimes I look for cool stuff. I just keep looking out.


What’s unique about your music and your label is the wide spectrum of music you embrace. We need more labels like Mad Decent. How did your musical tastes become so open and varied?


It all comes down to Hip Hop. Hip Hop was the godfather of it. The rest of it is like children of Hip Hop—there’s like 20 different genres that sprung off of Hip Hop. I just tie them all together.


Hip Hop artists started sampling different music and it opened the doors for other music to come into it.


Hip Hop became a real unifying music because you don’t need to know how to play an instrument, you don’t have to learn music. All you need is to like music. You can sample whatever you like and rap on it. You don’t need to train your voice, you don’t need to learn pitch, anybody can rap. It’s a very equalizing, post-modern kind of music. Everybody can do it.


Everything from here on will be influenced by Hip Hop. It is the new tribal music. I heard that you used to be a film student. Does that enter into your music at all?


I used to do and I still do documentary stuff sometimes, but for the most part it doesn’t really come in. Except when I’m working on videos, like we’re doing for the Reggae record “Major Lazer” now, so I’m excited about working on that. But for the most part I’m just a producer trying to do different things.


When is “Major Lazer” going to drop?


June 16. We hope “Major Lazer” hits hard and people are into it. I think it’ll blow up over time. It’s a lotta good songs that everybody could like. I think it’ll be a big record for the summer. It’s a Reggae record, and it’s a song for everybody on there. New school, Rap-Reggae, Old School, everything. It’s mostly Dancehall, but there’s two classic Reggae tracks on there. One’s like we sampled a one-drop style Reggae record, like a slow Bob Marley type of Reggae.


MP3’s now. I’m always looking for new music. I also get lots of stuff sent to me and I try to weed out what’s good and play the stuff. Now I try to look for the names that I like cause there’s so much stuff out. Unless somebody that I trust tell me this is good, I just ignore everything except for people that I know. Every once in a while I pick up some new tracks and I try to play new stuff at the parties. I’m always trying to break new music.



Do you sometimes put vocals on the tracks, or are you strictly a DJ/producer?


I’m more like a culture jammer. While I do the producing, I deejay, I also work on video stuff. I try to develop artists like how we did with M.I.A. We try to start new things, and move into the business side. I just fuck with everything. The medium I’m most successful at right now is producing, so that’s why I’m keeping my hands in it. I’ll move to something else when I think I’ve done enough.


If someone wants to start Deejaying how would you suggest they get going?


Yesterday I got this twitter from this kid in Cleveland who’s a DJ and he likes to go out to parties in Cleveland. He’s like he heard Diplo play in Cleveland, but if any other DJ plays any of these records they’d get booed off stage. Because they’re so different and new and the crowd is very like lazy. I feel like he’s got a point. I’ve got the opportunity too play different stuff, but I had to start somewhere. I had to introduce new styles for these boys. I had to slowly break my audience to new stuff, until we’re at a point now where I can do what I want at my parties and I get a good response. It takes time. You have to have a little finesse to trick people into listening to the records. Everybody has to find something that’s unique, something that’s different from the other DJ’s. You also have to be clever and put the records into context. You can’t just surprise people all the time. You have to be a bit soft.


How would you compare Baile Funk and the Baltimore Club sound. Are they related in any way?


They’re related because they’re all made with simple stuff. Like Baile Funk was all made with cheap samplers, old Bass records with like Playstations when they first started, like a Playstation program that kids could use to make beats. And Baltimore Club, that’s just you use the same break beat for every song. It’s all made with cheap production equipment and some people come out and develop the style. It’s real exciting.


You can have all of the newest and most expensive equipment in your studio but if you’re not creative nothing will come out of it. Then a kid in India could just be banging on a can and make an amazing music.


Everything that happened in India, like all the different styles started with one person doing something mad. It’s been developing for like 10,000, but it all started with somebody doing something unique. A whole style developed around him and he had these disciples playing the same thing. It’s happening in little pockets and people are developing it individually.



I know Matt Sonzala, who writes for Murder Dog. He told me about you. Matt was the first person to ever bring me to Texas to do a show. That was 4 years ago.


When you travel do you search the record stores for different kinds of music?


Always. I’m always searching for music and I’m always searching for what people are doing, all the different styles. It’s really interesting to me to see how the sounds develop.


To me it’s inspiring to know there are people like you who are so into the music. It gives me hope. So many of the musicians now are only interested in the business side—music has become secondary. Also a lot of people get so stuck in one sound, they can’t see past that, they’re afraid to branch out, hear anything new or different.


That’s part of the record label Mad Decent. I could always promote Diplo all the time, but Mad Decent is about promoting all different people. We’re promoting the world, we’re promoting new styles, we’re promoting being progressive and being interesting and pushing shit forward.

Keep me up on what you’re doing.

I’ve been checking Murder Dog from the beginnings. Thanks for calling me up and thanks for doing this cool magazine for so long.


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