Diplo is a futurist, the rarest sort of influencer, one who doesn’t merely predict or catalyze what’s next, he creates it. As the Mad Decent label maestro he’s a curator of edgy DJs, producers and musical movements. Between Diplo, Mad Decent and futuristic dancehall group/alter ego Major Lazer, the Mississippi-born Wesley Pentz has influence and cultural impact that cannot be overstated. Twerk it with Diplo at Surrender on December 31 or skip the New Year’s Eve crowds in favor of his industry-night encore January 1.
You’re one of music’s futurists. You’ve remarked, “If it doesn’t exist yet, we want to help it be out there.” What’s your process for discovering that which does not yet exist?
I look for catalysts to spur ideas. It’s about always paying attention to what’s going on with producers. You just roll the dice and take stock of things. While I’m a producer, I’m also a label head and somebody who works on the marketing side. I always have to pay attention to what will make our label grow. For the most part it’s looking for a fresh ear. A producer needs to have great taste, and I hope to stay ahead of the curve in having good taste and not being afraid. You have to take missteps to be somebody who will really be remembered; you have to be out there and take chances. A lot of guys don’t have the courage to do that sometimes, and I’m lucky that I’m not afraid of failing.
What most appealed to you about the music of Brazil’s favelas?
The energy. Brazil is so deep culturally with so many different influences, subcultures, demographics—I love the energy. Even when I went to Holland, those guys were sampling the same records I was using. It was all hybrid music. It took a lot of influences and borrowed from different pieces like a puzzle for music. That’s why I was influenced by a lot of these producers: Luke, Afrojack, Chocolate Puma. Dutch house was always very hybrid, too. The way they make it in Brazil is very punk rock. There’s no studio, there’s nothing glossy or special about it. It’s just hardcore.
Describe what you mean by “cultural energy.”
It’s the attitude of the producers, the excitement. There was nothing going on; there’s no money, they’re just paying bills day to day, and they were just there for the music. They were soldiers of that; it’s their lives. The music was very sexual, and the people were all very beautiful. Everything was, like, speaker wires off the side of the buildings. There’s no production companies or sponsors. It’s just, “This is our party, we’re gonna do it.”
Fun Diplo quote: “I’m a white guy who works in black music.” Why has that worked for you?
[Laughs] I don’t know why, it seems to happen naturally. That quote might have been in a funny context, but I don’t really choose what music I’m good at. What is “white music?” Is it Taylor Swift and One Direction? Is that all we’re constrained to do? When I was a kid, I grew up listening to everything, and I’ve always been attracted to different types of stuff. No one told me there was a rule to what I should be doing. I’ve always been someone who mutates genres and changes things.
You’re one of the foremost music influencers without a No. 1 single. What’s the best way we could theoretically gauge a musician’s influence? ]
An artist’s influence is in the inner circles of people. Fans and audiences probably just see Facebook “likes” and where parties are, word-of-mouth stuff, but it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. I just try to make great music. It’s not gonna be these Facebook pages or Wikipedia. It’s about changing the path of what music does.
We’ve had these big-room progressive and Dutch house sounds happening. And now, hardcore and trap are having their moment. What’s coming next?
This next year, it’s going a lot deeper and a lot less big room-y. The audiences already want to hear something a little more melodic and deep. Vegas DJs will be able to show their personalities instead of playing the Top 40/Beatport Top 10 stuff. They’re surprising people by playing tracks and demos they’re making. You can’t be playing the same style sound over and over again. The audience is gonna get bored of that. In Vegas, it worked for like a year when people were just getting fascinated with house. But now it’s been done, and we’ve got to try to show something else.
What was the coolest thing you saw in 2013?
My son in a pirate costume.