Diplo is, by all accounts, the godfather of modern dance music. The hyperactive DJ and producer is responsible for championing obscure local music styles from around the world and incorporating their influences into his own sublimely dance-worthy beats. When he's not DJ-ing solo, he also tours as one-half of alter ego Major Lazer, a musical collaboration with DJ/Producer Switch, and helps launch the careers of countless other up-and-coming musicians through his taste-making record label Mad Decent Records.
The Creators Project: So, Diplo, how did your journey into the musical stratosphere begin? Diplo: I guess I began doing music in Florida when I was in high school—I was just trying to make a pop record. I didn’t have any samplers, just an old turntable-mixer that had a like a three second stamp on it, so I’d loop things and then try to cut samples over top of the record. That was the first time I ever made anything—three-second loops.
How long did it take for you to start putting together mix tapes and stuff like that? That took a while. I had a little Gemini mixer and I’d be buying and trading stuff like an XP-1200 or an F-20, which were different samplers. And I would sell my turntables and buy a whole bunch of turntables back, and then sell samplers and buy them back. I kept selling and buying and trading until I was about 21. Then I moved to Philadelphia and decided to do more DJ stuff, because it was a way to make money. I’ve also worked as a school teacher and at places like Subway and at a movie theater.
Why Philly? A lot of people in your situation would have chosen New York. I couldn’t afford to move to New York. Besides, Philadelphia is really a good city and a pretty creative place. I guess it’s tougher than New York in terms of the competition because everybody hates each other. If you can make it out of Philly, you have pretty tough skin. I also got a scholarship to go to university there, so school was another reason.
And while you were there you eventually put together the Piracy Funds Terrorism mix tape with M.I.A., which was a pretty major stepping stone. Why do you think it was so successful? The M.I.A. mix tape came out about five years ago, and it was a big hit because no one had seen an artist like her in that context. There were no rules for that. She’s one of the artists who really broke through the ideas of underground hip-hop and club music.
Around the same time you were involved with some very popular club nights in Philadelphia. Tell us a bit about how that started. When I started DJing in Philly I couldn’t really get any gigs because, like I said, it’s a tough city. Eventually I started DJing with some other kids from Philly at this one party, Hollertronix, which was starting to blow up because it was very unique. We were all essentially hip-hop DJs, but we started playing electro and Miami Bass. Word spread and it went from like 20 people attending to 400, 500, 600, 700. It got to a point where we had to turn people away.
Another genre you’ve championed is Baile Funk. How was your interest in that type of music first sparked? You couldn’t ever find Baile Funk stuff on the internet or at record shops, but I’d get mix tapes from these two girls who would come to Hollertronix. I was fascinated by them. They had stuff on them like Morrissey on top of a drum break or little kids screaming about the Smiths on top of a Portuguese dance track. I didn’t have any real information on it, so I went to Brazil to find the music. I was down there for three weeks and met some of the biggest DJs, but if I had gone down there with no backup and no contacts it would’ve taken us a year to get into the underground. That’s because everything is tied to the drug dealers and the police. It’s really weird, and it’s not like the music industry in America. It completely blew my mind.