Saturday, July 12, 2008

Diplo interview

Originally, the plan was to run parallel interviews (or failing that, one interviewing the other) with both Alan Bishop and Diplo for The Believer's 2008 Music Issue, as both gentlemen are polar opposites in how they incorporate disparate worldwide sounds into their art. Schedules didn't quite permit, so instead, I conducted two separate interviews.

I met Diplo in person at the Indonesian consulate as he was getting his papers together for a travel visa there. In the same breath that he told me his one-off DJ fee (about a fifth of my yearly income), he also borrowed my last five bucks to pay for the visa. We then walked through Central Park and talked about Missy's beats, Santogold, and I passed him a copy of Sublime Frequencies' take on favela funk. We agreed to an email interview, but that's where it began to fall apart...he started traveling, the responses shortened up, and it wasn't ready when the other was. Maybe one day some of this will get saved.

I'm curious as to your thoughts about the C.V, the Sublime Freq. disc. Is it true to the sound of favela parties? Will armchair listeners get it? What is a better conveyance of the experience, something like this or Favela Strikes Back? or something else?

Diplo: i mean yeah the songs on the CD cover like 10 yrs of the scene.. it is more closer to the tru sound, which changes every day

favela on blast mixtape was like damn.. i can dance to this at home sorta was with the easy samples, etc. its a djs mix and its very tame.. but it does sound a lot like a marlboro radio show. as hes the pop funk DJ.. i do think that rio is big its not jsut favelas and everyon in that citie s thinks funk is the soundtrack to thier lives

but when it comes to gangs and the bigest wildest free parties.. yes this music rules ever the artists have to play this type of sound as opposed to thier own track when visiting a trafiicante party

Hollertronix mash-ups helped to establish you. When you were doing stuff like pitting TV on the Radio against Afrika Bambataa or else Mike Jones and Britney, what informed such decisions? Was it simply that it worked, that you could juxtapose two separate entities, or does it go beyond that? Is it just brokering a dialogue between two artists that otherwise wouldn't talk? Is it a dialogue that instead takes place in the listener?

Diplo: well we just worked things in that worked,, the club music landscape was changin while we werereally developing our style. gwen stefani on black radio, outkast on rock radio? we started out as an electro and 80s kinda party but we got the crowd open nough to really play different shit.. our demographics beign so diverse.. - really working class philly, white kids black kids.. anyone that grew up on hip hop and DJs.. but was bombarded by radio playlists.. they were our customers and we gave them everything we had and got really drunk and werent afriad to try different shit

And I guess along the same lines, an anecdote you posted on Mad Decent:
"when vampire weekend finished i got on and played the theme song to coming to america (black ladysmith whats there names cover of the tokens) and a couple of prissy journalist jerks down stairs gave me the fuck you dude face and it was worth it"
Why that song?

Diplo: i do like them . but i just thought it was funny to play coming to america, thier hype seems really silly cause they were boats shoes and play afropop, regardless that one dude was a good songwriter and they sound good, but journslists take them too seriously, they love tohate me too, but i just keep stickin around , that makes em the maddest.. but the ladysmith covering tokens is pretty funny idea anyway

Also from the Mad Decent site, I saw that Paul was discussing how "Jam On It" was popular in India. When you travel to different countries, does it surprise you to across such American cultural debris in other settings? I'm thinking of samples from stuff like Inspector Gadget or the use of Sanford and Son (for Baltimore club beats, which isn't exactly not American, but...). Is it just a matter of them hearing our trash in new ways?

Diplo: cultural debris is a really cool word.. i think that theres a lot of truth in sound when you dont have the cultural baggage.. what we consider trash in brazil or africa they get sent down in some way and it is just the sound and notes.. no pop references in a brittany sample or cheesy techno.. its just what moves them .. i tell you one thing though! SPoNGE BOB rules the world .. if your region or language doenst have a spongebob trak or sample. you dont exist

To clarify something you wrote to me: "if your region or language doenst have a spongebob trak or sample. you dont exist"
can you explain that? a language that doesn't have a sample? or give an example of stumbling across a Spongebob song out in a crazy country somewheres?

Diplo: well i guess these days theres a few cultural icons.. like disney people.
but everywhere form africa to english speaking countries to brazil and southeast asia. theres spongebob on tv dubbed in the local language.. hes the new new for kids
i have angola spongebob, budstep spongebob, bmore club spongebob, afrikaans techno spongebob, 2 live crew spongebob, bail funk favela spongebob.. and thats without even searching

And what about how "exotic" tracks become popular in the US, I'm thinking "Get Ur Freak On," "Rock the Casbah," "Walk Like an Egyptian" the little foreign noises that capture American listeners? Is it a novelty then? When I think of the little noises that inform these tracks, it makes me think back to Inspector Gadget, Sanford & Son as mentioned above.

Diplo: shit well I was listenin to a zulu nation tape yesterday . bambaataa playing at a party.. he was droppin tim maia, banjo tracks - "bad bascomb - black grass, kraftwerk, and babe ruth keep your distance.. some christian song i didnt even recorgnize... this is in 1981.. so its not a new idea . it is the findamentals of hip hop . i think walk like an egyptian was a gimmick.. or more like bow wow wow wow doing that african dumming things.. i mean there are no rules to what tools you can use.. the second irish peopele were doin jigs in nyc or africans were out on congo swuare in luoisiana 300 years ago -- up til imigrants from eastern europe at the turn of the century ... thats when we started this mess.. i mean i cant even tell you what is true american msuic from when I started growin up and listenin, was it madonna, woody guthrie, fats domino
bottom line is that it was exoticized when africa and europe met in americas and developed a blueprint

You reference the 80s a lot in your tracks and remixes, like the Pixies interpolation on your iTunes EP, as well as that 8-bit Nintendo sound on your Spoon remix, or copping that "Careless Whisper" sax on your PRGz remix. Is it a nostalgia that you yourself have for these sounds that makes you go for, or is it that your audience responds to something that's familiar more? Does it help to use something that has 'baggage' for your stateside audience?

Diplo: nah i just like to use samples, its very "hip hop"

Do you feel that by having Jay-Z and the Bangles (two "exotic" sounding radio pop tracks) on M.I.A.'s Piracy mixtape, that it helped to make it such a hit? When you look back on it, what do you think caused such a critical and popular breakout for the two of you? And when you talk about people hatin you at that SXSW set, what do you think they specifically "hate"? Why would they not want you to stick around?

Diplo: nah i didnt think peopel hated on me..
they just took them selves to serious (journalists) they like music journalism to be very dramatic or somethin.. i think we are all just in a big rave called life and some bands r just a lil too tiesto and the journalists are like the girls with thier tits out

Do you feel that in America that they've become more or less aware of global trends? Is America increasingly insular with fears of terrorism and the like? I felt when I was overseas that I didn't see many Americans travelling around. What is it like when you stumble across a phenomenon like the "Dança du Creu" dance? Is it any different than...say "Chicken noodle"? Are people more connected? back to Piracy's art for a sec, with images of b-boys, monks, freedom fighters, etc. all kinda together, was it aimed at that same sorta idealism? that it's all connected in the end?

Diplo: hmmm. yeah american accepts global trends .. but we co opt them as exotica and its kinda falls somewhere between world music and trendish.. something stick aroun when the community exists - fanis records and then reggaeton etc.. is here to stay and has been co opted into other genres. but yeah we dont accept and adapt easily like other micorcultures like jamaica where the indusrty is soo small but strong and has the balls to do whatever it wants and doesnt think twice

You decried New York City's radio when we met up. Why do you think they are so far behind the times? Is it like that around the US? Do you ever see media conglomerates losing their grip on things?

Diplo: yeh ny is over
philly is late on shit too
baltimore was pretty progressive.. not like canada or even ldn radio where djs are playilisting not the major labels

You contributed Missy beats, right? Do you like fucking with major labels? Is it a good platform or not worth the hassle?

Diplo: well im the hassel to them cause i can care less. havin a beat on a missy (or major label) record is not the end all be all (like it is to a lot of hip hop producers..) i can have a an underground track that goes all over the world from a free DL from my site or whatever and get played out more than a missy cut.. - i think debonair samirs "samirs theme" got more play in european clubs last year then any current pop/dance hiphop track...
but there wasnt much money for him to make off it (and he didnt know how to capitalize) but those big artist have to fuck with us in the underground now cause we are what keeps them current.. they are no longer trendsetters, they re just rich

Can such conglomerates ever really keep up with the kids and trends happening at street level? How do you keep up? How much of your time is spent simply processing music? Sam Hunt tells me that he emails you tracks every week.

Diplo: i cant keep up even cause if i played for a room full of diplos.. id play all new tracks that were wierd.. but i still gotta debut sounds in say berlin or some places like that.. where its still quite new to the stuff we are experimenting with

When you moved to Philly, you were working with inner-city youth, were you not? And one of your kids there turned you onto crunk and Baltimore club music. Is it crucial for you to keep the pulse of what "the kids" listen to and follow?

Diplo: well i always say this.. and of underage dances..
kids react to music in a more instictive way.. u can blow new tracks and styles to them.. only when they are a lil older and cooler do they start to thinkk//// hmm thats not cool , thats kinda gay, wierd.. etc..
songs being to gay is a pretty realistic concern to some kids that i find funny

Was it this work with kids that led you to create Heaps Decent? Your label seems to invest a great deal in making sure that kids, especially in third world slums, have access to technology, so as to create their own music. Can you talk about this program, how it works?

Diplo: its a sort of trade off for the hype and exposure i get from being the dude that capitalizes on music.. its every DJs job to do i mean most those uk euro dudes should go to chicago and detroit and set up shelters and build house in thier armanis shade if they got the same slack i get from breaking new music... (thier roots lying in house and techno) but nah what i do is much more obvious and i think we have a responsibilty, but i like to work with kids anyway its a thing that makes me feel good

When we first talked, you admitted that you don't consider yourself a 'great DJ'. What do you think it is that you do best? Spot youth culture trends? Put disparate things together? Bridge gaps between indie and mainstream? What?

Diplo: i think i have a good ear for things and i alwasy try and be progressive.. its important to me to always move forward.. goin backwards make me depressed

And what was it like working with the beats of someone like Tony Allen? I read something once where he said that you achieve trance states not with the bass drum, but with the hi-hat. Anything you discovered when dealing with his beats?

Diplo: well his i didnt have much to work with .. but i do see trends.. liek that in minimal techno.. where a beat can move peopel with no change for 3 minutes and on minute 5 hi hat comes in (only hi hat) and peopel heads explode.. somethign similiar in brazil in the favelas how that sound I was acttracted to has turned much more afr0-brazillian and perscussive without music .. and it sounds even more moders