Unfashionable is the next fashion. That's been working for me the last four years," DJ/producer Diplo says by phone from Austin, Texas, on a recent evening. But claiming to be unfashionable seems strange from a DJ called to the Longhorn State to coheadline two parties at the annual South by Southwest shebang. But as part of Winter Music Conference, Diplo is not slowing down — over the course of this week, he'll have played four times that number in Miami.
One of the reasons Diplo is so in demand is because he gives the party more than just what the people think they want. He is indicative of a wave of DJs, fueled by bootlegs and blogs, scouring the globe to bring the beat back to its roots.
Once upon a time, "tribal" DJs at Winter Music Conference simply played another type of house music. Sure, bossa nova was informing the "broken beat" scene carried over from Britain and Berlin, and Afrobeat spiced up funk. But the diaspora of the Roland 808 drum machine from the post-techno/Miami-bass genealogy has only recently begun to make its full presence known back on these shores.
Now, seeing styles on various WMC bills such as funk carioca, reggaeton, and kuduro means actually feeling the flavor of Rio de Janeiro, Puerto Rico, and Angola via Portugal. These bangin' styles, clappin' till they clip, are tuned and attuned away from the four-four and more toward metronome beats for apple bottoms. It's the sound of the streets, not the lounges and boutiques.
"Don't forget [Colombia's] cumbia, [Trinidad & Tobago's] soca, and watch out for Mexican zombie music," Diplo says, only partially joking. "That shit is crazy!"
And WMC is paying attention, making "global" mean more than just an entire bill of French house or German minimal. There is no reason these days, he stresses, to limit your sonic palate. "Listen around, put your references in, don't worry about the bandwidth," he says. "Sample MP3s, take what you need — as long as you flip it your way. That's what every scene that has paid its dues has done in some way, ever since making hip-hop out of Kraftwerk. We're in a hyper society, where things are hype and then flash in the pan, but good shit stays around. Kids make edits all over the world, and the good ones get played."
Making an example of himself during this year's WMC, he will preview his Major Lazer project, a collaboration with fellow producer Switch set to be released in June. The album recontextualizes ragga, dub, calypso, and dancehall, running the producers' laptops alongside instrumentalists and guest vocalists such as Vybz Cartel, Busy Signal, and Fambo. He and Switch take risks and get risqué, aiming for parties where tail-spottin' trumps train-spotting. "We're capable of loony-toony club tracks, but we wanted to try 1970s droppers, digital, and more slack stuff," Diplo says.
However, don't think the whole exercise is to try to gain credit for some forced form of musical bridge. "When DJs were flipping Chicago house in Manchester, they weren't called ambassadors. Black techno DJs moved from Detroit to Berlin, but not because they were ambassadors — they were just people doing what felt right. I don't second-guess whether a hot track comes from Baltimore or Brazil, or if I'm making some cross-cultural impact by playing it. I just promote what I like," he says. "Communities are just able to promote themselves more globally now, and if your take on something is strong and can add something new, it helps everyone. Come into my world — in Philadelphia, in Miami, wherever — because it's yours already."