Four years ago, the members of Philadelphia's Ukrainian Social Club told Wes Pentz—better known as Diplo—he could use their space for a party he was hoping to throw. Pentz fixed the roof and threw the party, dubbing it Hollertronix. With Diplo and his partner Low Budget on the decks, the night evolved into a regular fixture in the Philadelphia scene and pretty quickly spread worldwide. Hollertronix ignited Diplo's career and influenced a whole generation of young DJs who learned to mix everything from '80s power ballads to the sparsest Baltimore club music.
Today Diplo plays shows from Tel Aviv to Buffalo. He runs his own record label, Mad Decent, with Brazilian group Bonde do Role and Baltimore club producer DJ Blaqstarr on the roster. Diplo produced two of the best tracks on the new M.I.A album, Kala, and has just returned from Jamaica where he and fellow producer Dave Taylor (aka Switch) were working on a new project with the island's top dancehall vocalists.
This month both Diplo and Switch will embark on a North American tour. They are in Seattle at Neumo's on Thursday, September 20.
Where you at these days and what are you working on?
I'm in Philly fixing up this old building, doing some remixes—a new one for Bloc Party.
What's the building?
It's this old mausoleum. I'm making a studio and a place for Mad Decent. Mostly a studio though. We don't have enough business to make an office or anything.
So you and Switch are about to start this North American tour, but you guys also just got back from Jamaica. How was that?
We spent a lot of time at Tuff Gong. That studio is amazing. It's only 40 bucks an hour! We worked with TOK and Turbulence in there and recorded all the parts to this track that's a cover of Weezer, but as a one drop. It's going to be big, I think. We're going to play a few of the mixes on this tour for sure.
What's blowing up in Jamaica right now?
All the stuff from that 17-year-old kid Stephen McGregor is huge. Tremor. The Bad Dog Riddim is big right now. And I saw it go down at Passa Passa. Mad Cobra killed it!
Do you think you'll go back down there soon?
Yeah, one more trip to do Tanya Stephens, Ward 21, and Mr. Vegas probably.
So you'll be back in Rio soon, too. What's up with the movie you've been working on, Favela on Blast?
I'll be there in October. I'll do this tour, then a few days to work on the film down there. Then in November I'll work on the soundtrack here in Philly at my studio.
Has it been a good thing getting to work on the film project in addition to all of your music projects?
No way. It sucks. It makes me broke and having partners sucks. I just want it over. Next time I concentrate on a film, I will give up music for a year. In October I'll be with some people to help me finish the film soundtrack, but then it's mostly about this record with Switch, and then just my new record. I also want to record more with artists like Santogold and Amanda Blank. I just did tracks with both of them. Really big ones I hope. Yo, you seen that mix I just did for Pitchfork?
Yeah, I just looked at it. What's up with that?
They asked me to do it and said like a million people download their shit so it'll be out there. It's a good preface for the tour, I think.
Pitchfork's been pretty good to you over the years.
Yes and no. That M.I.A. shit was pretty weak. The way the writer was like, it was so great to get an exclusive drama dis for my interview!
Yeah, it did seem kind of obvious that they were trying to capitalize on that aspect. Everything else aside, are you happy with the way Kala turned out?
Nah. I think it could have been a lot better lyrically. The beats are bad as fuck though. No one is fucking the sound of a record like that right now.
I love "Bamboo Banga" as a way to start things off. That beat really hard.
Oh shit, that one bangs!
What bothered me though was the Timbaland track at the very end, "Come Around." It's all right, but your track "Paper Planes" feels like it was the true closer for the album. Things like that threw me off.
Yeah. That was lame. She was so obsessed with Timbo being on the record even though it sucks. Like magically it was going to jump off and become a huge track. She didn't want to miss out, I think, but it was a lame way to end it, calling it a bonus track or whatever.
"Paper Planes" definitely stands out on the album. My sister said it was her instant favorite. I think it's got that quality of sounding very different but instantly likable at the same time.
Yeah man, that song was an accident. When I played the demos, people were like, "Huh? That sucks." But when we were making the beat and I was putting the different parts in, there was this dude around Maya's house and he was really jamming to it.
Taking it back, what was the first place you ever DJed at?
A hotel in Daytona. Port Orange. It really sucked.
Florida's an interesting place. I used to know this girl who lived outside of Gainesville. I remember going down there when I was 15, swimming in this river where there were mad gators, and driving around a lot with her listening to southern rap on the radio.
My uncle lives south of Gainesville. In Oviedo. It's all just crazy rednecks and gators.
Yeah, this girl lived out in the woods. But her family was more hippies than rednecks.
I lived in a commune with Greg (from Mishka) for a year.
No shit. What did you do there?
Nothing. Smoked weed and played bongos.
So are you trying to end up back there in 30 years or what?
Ha. In 30 years I'll definitely be dead. Or the world will have already ended... But I've got three solo records at my mom's house ready to drop in fact.
Ha. Just kidding. Or am I? If I die, I'll leave a few things for the heads though. AEIOU 3!
So your family is in the shrimp business. Is there anybody else doing art?
No way. But my mom sang me a song today. It was like, "Jesus, my son doesn't love you no more! Please help my son!" Or something like that...
So she goes to church then?
She used to. Now she's just at the bait shop all day playing Yahtzee with my Grandma. Dad doesn't fuck with Yahtzee.
Who are some Florida groups coming out that I should know about?
Hmmm. Nappy Headz... and there's B.O.B. He's pretty good.
So you're still listening to hiphop. Have you heard the new UGK?
Yeah. It's great. That and Rich Boy has the track "Let's Get This Paper." I've been listening to that a lot.
What about the new Kanye album? You think he's still got it?
It's mad boring. Rap kind of sucks in the fact that they allow people with that much weight and potential to make albums that are mediocre. I mean, as far as the history of rap, it's awful, but for this day and age, it's great. Rap ain't even a culture right now. It's got an all-different standard. It's not the same rap from 10 years ago.
Yeah. It's crazy to think about a group like Wu-Tang Clan having first come out 14 years ago.
Yeah. No one can fuck with the first Wu-Tang. No one is setting trends like that—making black music, sweet soul music, sound like evil horror music. It was really postmodern the way they made music. Kanye just speeds up soul samples and raps about himself. It still sounds sweet, but there's no science or nothing revolutionary. It's just watered down. Wu-Tang was doing something that changed the way people listen to music.
What about OutKast? Do you think they'll be back?
I hope so.
Same here. Aquemini dropped when I was 13 and I don't think I've ever listened to an album as much. That one blew my mind.
It's Stankonia for me, for having "B.O.B." and "Slum Beautiful." I think Aquemini was great too. All of them, man. I even jam to Southernplayalistic. That did a big thing coming from the South and all.
Do you have anything else you want to say about this tour?
Just that we are ready to blow shit up. I mean fires onstage. Airhorns... on fire.
I'm going to hold you to that.
Shit. I'll wear costumes if I have to. I want to really fuck shit up.