Diplo Returns to South Florida, the Place That Influenced His Sound
Diplo and Skrillex will perform together in Fort Lauderdale as Jack Ü.
Photo by Willy T.
Diplo, in the voiceover for his 2011 BlackBerry ad, marveled at his life and busy schedule — conveniently organized by his Canadian-designed smartphone. "I can't believe that people are actually paying me to leave my house and go somewhere like Austria to DJ for them," he mumbled between quick cuts of his phone. Though Wesley Pentz's charm and good looks couldn't save the company's product from eventual obsolescence, he couldn't have imagined then that his life would get much busier.
"If I'm not spending time with my two sons, I'm working," Diplo says in a recent email interview. At 36, he still leads his Mad Decent record label and is involved in two collaborative projects — Major Lazer and Jack Ü. That's, of course, when he's not busy DJing at nightclubs and festivals around the world. "Every spare moment, from today in the studio in Vegas before the show to airplane rides and hotel lounges, I'm working. I know the importance of always staying active."
Mad Decent Block Party
Before he was an EDM powerhouse, Diplo was a party promoter and DJ in Philadelphia, where he started the Hollertronix collective with DJ Low Budget in 2003. Riding on the success of Hollertronix's Never Sacred mixtape, Diplo, who grew up in Broward County, released his first album in 2004, Florida, named for his home state. Hopping among baile funk, dancehall, and hip-hop, the album gave fans a taste of what was to come.
Released on British label Big Dada, Florida wasn't a huge hit by Diplo's current standards, but its lead track, "Diplo Rhythm," introduced him to America's then-underground dance music scene. Critics received the album warmly, mainly because there was nothing else that sounded like it.
"It was great to reissue Florida and reminisce about that time in my life," he says of the album's re-release last year.
His biggest break came after he began collaborating with Sri Lanka-via-London rapper M.I.A. "Paper Planes," on her sophomore album, Kala, brought them mainstream attention and a Grammy nomination in 2009. It catapulted Diplo into the
He has yet to release a proper
From its debut, 2009's Gun Don't Kill People... Lazers Do, to its current incarnation, Major Lazer has undergone a major transformation, in its lineup and its sound. Cofounder Switch and live frontman Skerrit Bwoy were replaced by a band of rotating contributors, along with new permanent members
Tracks such as "Bubble Butt" and "Get Free," from 2013's Free the Universe, set up fans for the radio-friendlier
"Although Peace Is the Mission has more of a pop sound, the roots and our inspiration remains the same as it has been through all the past Major Lazer releases," he says. "The goal this time around was to create a more well-rounded album that maintains its dancehall-roots integrity but can touch more people worldwide. Jamaica and dancehall were always the main inspiration, but even as we travel to Jamaica a lot, we see that scene change, and we are part of it."
Diplo is also still very much a part of South Florida's musical fabric. It's the area where he was raised and where he still visits often to record. When in town, he works out of Honor Roll Studio in Little Haiti, where he recorded the bulk of the Apocalypse Soon EP and Peace Is the Mission. The area's colliding cultures, Diplo says, has had a lasting impact on his way of approaching music.
"I don't think I've ever seen a more diverse place than South Florida," he says. "Where I grew up, it's just a middle-class, blue-collar world. Race didn't matter — Haitian, Jewish, Jamaican, Cuban, white kids, rednecks from Central Florida. My high school and middle schools were a crossroads of culture, and I feel like [South Florida] is where everything started. It's a real mashup of culture."
Going from struggling DJ in Philly to sought-after producer has been quite a change for Diplo, who's still learning that people listen to what he says — like the time he tweeted that "someone should make a Kickstarter
Social media gaffes aside, Diplo isn't slowing down anytime soon. He says to expect more Major Lazer and Jack Ü music this year and a lot more touring — "Mad Decent Block Party and Boat Party, and who knows what'll pop up next."
Mad Decent Block Party with Jack Ü,
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