Music, Drugs & Pandering: Thoughts on Diplo
I’ve been a huge Diplo fan ever since I first heard about him in 2004-2005. Innovative, eclectic, and a total natural when it comes to reading the crowd and programming a live set that would rock a party. As a producer he’s even more accomplished.
However something dawned on me last night at the Mad Decent Block Party: I actually don’t even care to see Diplo live anymore… like, at all. His sets (either solo or as Major Lazer) just aren’t enjoyable. I think him performing nonstop in the festival circuit and in those Vegas mega clubs for the past 5 years has made him completely lose touch of how to rock a normal, sober, music loving crowd. Everything he does in his performances is catered towards kids on molly, and it’s fucking terrible music.
Listening to an old Diplo or Hollertronix set used to be like enjoying a nice glass of wine or scotch. You poured it slowly. You marveled at its craftsmanship. You savored the different flavor notes and aromas that unfolded over the course of each sip. Even though those early sets of his were dance oriented music, there were still nuances and patience to them. He was so clever in the ways he could bridge the gaps between hip hop, rock, new wave, house music, and old school breaks, and you couldn’t wait to hear what song he had lined up next, because the possibilities really were seemingly endless.
Compare this to the last few times I’ve seen him. Instead of sipping on that wine or scotch, it’s the equivalent of grabbing a can of Budweiser, shaking it furiously, then cracking it open over your own head and getting drenched in the beer and foam. Then immediately grabbing another can, shaking it, doing the same thing, and repeating that cycle every 2 minutes for the next hour. His build ups and drops are now so sped up and condensed that it doesn’t even leave you with an adequate pocket of groove to dance in… unless you’re on drugs or didn’t really know how to dance to begin with.
Of course, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t already know. We’ve seen this sort of thing happen to dozens of DJs (Kaskade being another prime example). Sadly, this is even happening to younger DJs too. Clockwork used to be amazing. Just this time last year he laid down one of the best EDM sets I had ever witnessed… one that had a sustained buildup of energy and momentum that lasted the whole hour. Yesterday afternoon he was painfully predictable and his set also followed that 2 minute rollercoaster pattern.
Drug culture will always be intertwined with music culture. Where would reggae (or even hip hop) be without weed? Where would jazz be without weed and heroin? Where would classic rock be without LSD? The problem though is that drugs can ruin music culture just as much as they nurture them. Disco imploded because it got too mainstream too quickly, and that was because too many people were doing coke back in the late 70s. As the opportunists rushed in (even the Rolling Stones and James Brown were cutting disco records at the time) the music got repetitive, the innovation evaporated, the party got dull, and all the casual fans abandoned the trend just as quickly as they initially jumped on it. We are witnessing this pattern happen all over again with electronic music.
The sad thing is that I know that Diplo is enough of a music historian to be aware of this pattern too. He’s also probably aware of his own role in perpetuating it. I know this because every once in a while he’ll take a risk again, like playing that old Montell Jordan “This is How We Do It” track at Hard, or unexpectedly releasing this psychedelic rock mix on his Soundcloud page. If you’ve really been paying attention to his music and his career, you just get the feeling that he’s dying to play more of this stuff if he was only given the chance, in a room full of adults who love music more than they love drugs.