In 2012, “pop music” is a splintered term. Long has it left behind its true definition of popular music, or “what most people listen to,” having instead come to signify a particular sound. What pop punk, dance pop, electro pop, and indie pop artists have in common is not that they hit the top of the charts and run to limos through mobs of screaming fans like the pop stars of yore. It’s that they all employ catchy, danceable, supersweet melodies and addictive riffs, pandering to the instinct in all of us to move our heads and hum along.
The value of pop entered the vernacular of Michael Tucker, aka Blood Diamonds, at a young age. Deprived of the benefit of a high speed internet connection enjoyed by so many in his age group, he resorted to a method of music collection primitive to his generation.
“I was always finding bargain CDs, I was just buying CDs because they were cheap and I was a kid. A lot of times they would be really weird, shitty soundtracks to a B Movie. It was mostly pop music or bad covers of pop music,” says Tucker.
That steady diet of sale bin finds served as a foundation for his taste. Despite the fact that he now produces for relatively niche-sounding artists like Das Racist and Grimes, he’s still got a taste for mainstream radio hits, and he brings those elements into his work.
The Blood Diamonds-produced “Girls” off of Das Racist’s Relax
“I count everything I listen to as an influence,” expains Tucker. “I’ll listen to K-pop or I’ll listen to Katy Perry or I’ll listen to Drake all in the same 15 minutes. I’ll sit down to write a song and hour later and I’m like, ‘Oh fuck, those are the exact same chords as Katy Perry,’ and I don’t even realize it sometimes.”
Thankfully, he’s underselling his originality with that statement. While music is his primary activity, Tucker has an academic past in game design that developed alongside his skill for production, so it makes sense to hear that his energetic, beat-driven music took some influence from his immersion in gaming.
Dance Dance Revolution, in particular, had a huge impact on Tucker both musically and game-wise. “It was this insane, hard, fast music for me at the time. It was my first exposure to electronic music,” he says. “They have some good music on Dance Dance Revolution, historically.”
His affinity for DDR will soon translate into a component of his performances that will augment Blood Diamonds’ live shows in a manner befitting his unapologetic pop sound. Far from remaining simply a game that absorbs its quick-footed players into the oblivion of a flashing screen, it will stand as a platform for actual dancing.
A standard DDR pad
“I was kind of envisioning, instead of having a band, having two dancers with old arcade, aluminum Dance Dance Revolution mats, and program those to launch samples and drum patterns, and train the dancers to trigger these correctly,” explains Tucker. “I want to push it really far where I have several iPads and the lights, and if I were to have DDR pads I would install LEDs under the mat. My hope for that would be, if there’s a thin layer of fog or anything like that, the lights from the DDR can project so the audience can see how it’s working. And then maybe it’ll be pure darkness and just the dance pads or the lights.”
It’s not all just for flash surrounding him on stage. Tucker’s plan is to create a specific environment that captures the crowd’s senses, going at them at full throttle both visually and aurally.
“I’ll have clips that I animate and these clips are geometric shapes with thick lines so when you project them on different surfaces, it gets distorted right? So when you’re standing in the crowd, it looks like a bizarre hologram. Like when you see a laser spinning really fast, it looks like a cone. Like that, but without lasers, and it can be any shape or color that you want. So I could be shooting an octagon tube that just seems to be floating in front of you, you know? So I do that sometimes. I’ll have the project fall to black for the first 20 minutes of the set or for part of the song just have that happen to people. Because when you tease people like that, it’s more about discovery and experiencing things.”
This concept is still under development, but Tucker has been implementing elements of it while performing on the road with Grimes, with whom he just collaborated on his new single “Phone Sex.” He developed a program that controls the light show using data from his digital instruments.
“It’s like every instrument, like the snare is a quick bright light, and I just program all the snares. So it’s like I just sit a computer and figure it out and do it. Get it all to just push the experience as far as I can,” says Tucker.
That experience is something you’ll have to see for yourself at one of his live shows, as they tend not to be conducive to photography. That is, unless you don’t mind getting your camera doused in Cristal. It sucks that we don’t get to see it right here, but Tucker makes it sound worth preserving the experience.
“At the last one, ”http://gohard.kreayshawn.com/" target="_blank">Kreayshawn came out and popped a bottle of champagne and sprayed it everywhere. I like it when it’s like wet or something and stuff is just happening where people can feel something other than bass or visual lights and we have a six foot tall man covered in glitter and this girl wearing 10 inch platforms comes out with water guns. It just got out of hand. It’s just figuring out what the experience should be."
“Phone Sex” is out now on 4AD records.