Very rare interview with excellent ale-drinking man who changed music, on his Major Lazer project.
DIPLO has just ordered a real ale to get himself psyched for a MAJOR LAZER live show in Hoxton. “It seems appropriate to try your ale out while I’m over,” he says, sounding a trifle tired. His beer apparently has honey in it which should help lubricate his larynx, which is useful as Wes Pentz likes to talk. In fact, I only ask a few questions throughout our meeting and then he just talks insistently and engagingly. You can see why he’s helped pioneer baile funk and launched various bands and artists through his MAD DECENT label. He’s a catalyst, a do-er and he talks up anything that buzzes him up.
At the moment he’s focussed on his Major Lazer project, which comprises himself and Switch in the production seats and various dancehall stars, who they recorded in Jamaica. Though he prefers East London as most of his friends live here, their official UK debut was at the Notting Hill Carnival. “I love West London for the carnival. The best bit about it was Thom Yorke in the mosh pit. He came from the Reading festival to go to it. He was on his own and he just went into the pit with the kids.”
What’s the Major Lazer live set up then?
It’s me and Switch doing sounds live style, we have visuals and two dancers that get changed a lot. Bit like Basement Jaxx’ dancers. Then there’s Skerrit Bwoy who is one of the extended family. Have you seen the video for Pon De Floor? He’s the guy from the video. He’s a fixture for us. Without him it’s not much of a show, he’s so wild.
What did you think of Switch when you first met him?
It was in the era when I was doing Fabric and he introduced me to Sinden as the British Diplo. I had already been in contact with him through MIA because I’d been doing some beats for him. It was for him and Trevor Loveys who were both known as Switch at the time. I was in America doing this hip hop sound and he was doing this house which was pretty much the Godfather of everything we have now in a way. Everything comes from his sound (Switch spookily calls Diplo as this very moment and they chat briefly about dinner before the show). With him it was the same attitude about music in general. I was more the writer and creative person with artists and he’s more the engineer, the best there is. There’s some mutual respect and I helped him find his way in America introducing him to people like Santi(gold). We realised we should stick together. We work tracks from the inside out – how far can we take them? The artists we work with have been really out there so we’ve been lucky. No one tells us how we should sound as we’re signed to our own label. Doing Major Lazer is important as dancehall music is the most accessible for us as artists can take the most far reaching records we’ve made and voice it no problem. So it was easy to assemble and finish.
So when did you start working on Major Lazer?
Four years ago I went to DJ on a cruise ship. It sucked so bad I got off the boat and went to Jamaica. I went to Kingston and recorded a couple of records, Mary Jane being one of them that made the album. I gave it to Annie Mac and Dave just remixed it himself and put a house beat under it. Annie Mac put it on a Mixmag cover mount. So I invited Dave to make it even more interesting. Then we did some stuff for the MIA record. We went to Jamaica to voice it for a week. Some of the beats were made in a car on the way to the studio. We ran out of beats quick. Some of them were terrible or too weird. We did a lot of stuff by e-mail and after we worked on Santi’s record. Then we decided to think of a name for our own project. We hooked up again in March, Dave’s been in L.A for a year or so so we nailed it there in April. I think we’re both on the same level, same taste, same vision.
You are both godfathers of what’s happening right now…
In America I owe a lot to Dave. In hip hop everyone’s making house. I used to mix house with hip hop but I wasn’t a player in house.
Did you have any hairy moments in Jamaica?
We were drunk most of the time. It kept the vibe nice. No one looks at you funny even if you are a white guy. Weed dealers maybe drop round a bit more often. There was some artists who were a bit more uncomfortable to work with than others though. There was one guy Jammy Lick Shot who wanted to record a dub plate with us. We didn’t even know who he was. He’s an old school guy. He begged us so we did one and said we’d pay him 50 bucks to make (vocal) noises. Afterwards he wanted 500 bucks and he pulled a knife out. Santi was in the other room and it seemed he had taken her hostage. The promoters were like, He does this all the time. The engineer had a word with him.
You and Dave are both workaholics too I guess too.
We didn’t work that hard over there though. You never feel like it’s a struggle. Never a shortage of ideas. The vocalists work so fast. They often freestyle everything. We picked a bunch of artists we wanted to work with, we had a list. Some were too hype, some we couldn’t find. In the end it was whoever showed up. We also wanted to put some new artists on as well as old. I’m a huge dancehall fan. I wanted to make it sound rich and fat. We wanted to bring the new kids into it. Hopefully they’ll get into the vibes and sound. We also wanted to make a record we could play in Jamaica. Can’t Stop Now gets played a lot out there.
The last single Keep It Going Louder is ultra pop isn’t it?
It is but I wanted to make it like that. It represents a New York sound. Electronic trancey pop made in a dancehall way. I wanted to capture that. The beats are weird enough so you need something catchy. There’s enough on the album to represent the weirdness.