Thomas Wesley Pentz, the superstar DJ/producer better known as Diplo, who is one of the headline acts at this year’s Oppikoppi festival, is a publicist’s worst nightmare. He has no filter and speaks his mind freely, holding nothing back. Ask him what he plans on doing with his downtime in South Africa, and he frankly replies, “Going to strip clubs or flea markets… maybe [I’ll] sleep on top of Table Mountain and take acid.”
From Diepsloot to Diplo
Sounds like a regular Wednesday night on Long Street – right? But what about scouting and uncovering South African talent? After all, Diplo is notorious for being a major cultural enthusiast, who theoretically unearths and introduces underground scenes to the world. “It’s so hard to get here and spend quality time, but I’m definitely doing that in the future. Hundred percent promise,” he says, adding that he hopes to bring his dancehall project, Major Lazer, to our shores soon, as well.
“The music will keep going in the direction it wants. It’s like an iceberg; when the mainstream, on the top, gradually melts away, the bottom comes back up. It’s always a cycle – and I already hear the mainstream producers sounding boring…”
Chances are high that Diplo will keep his word, considering that he’s already bosom buddies with local musicians, such as Die Antwoord (whom he worked with on the kiff zef track Evil Boy). “I love Die Antwoord,” Diplo affirms, “and I’ve been friends with a lot of Cape Town artists for years. I really like this broken South African house stuff like Cndo and [DJ] Cleo.”
Nonetheless, even if Diplo does decide to take our indigenous sounds to the global stage (as he did with Jamaican dancehall), he’ll probably still receive a mouthful from his critics, who’ll cry that he’s profiting and taking advantage of world music for his own personal gain. Why does he think he receives this sort of burning criticism? “I dunno. This question is boring.” Uh-oh. It seems like this topic has gotten under his skin and annoyed him. “No one asked Timbaland if he was taking advantage of Indian or Japanese music 10 years ago. Why is it relevant now? My style has always been about mixing; that’s what a DJ does. It’s the same process since Afrika Bambaataa sampled Germany’s Kraftwerk.”
Even Bieber has Diplo Fever
Critics aside, the hotshot music industry players have a hard-on for Diplo and in a big Peter North sort of way. Megastar names, such as Usher, Chris Brown, Bruno Mars, Snoop Dogg and Beyoncé are queuing anxiously outside his control room, ready for him to wave his synth wand and sprinkle loop magic over their glistening tunes.
Whether he’s producing a Billboard hit for Usher (Climax), giving Beyoncé a much needed edge (End of Time), or fusing Dutch house and hip-hop for Chris Brown’s Grammy-nominated track Look At Me Now, Diplo is the one figure who has managed to bridge the gap between mainstream and underground. His dynamism and disregard for “music rules” are what sets him apart from the rest.
Most recently, the prince of pop, Justin Bieber, roped in the in-demand producer to work on his new album, Believe. With such a mad-busy schedule, has there ever been a time when he’s just said no for the sake of it? “All I want to do is make music, and everyone I’ve worked with has been a great experience,” Diplo states. “I had a chance to make a pop song with the biggest pop star in the world [Bieber], so of course I wanted to; [and] I did it and I’m proud of it and that’s how I approach every song. I’ve never been a person to be constricted by genres or underground or mainstream; I really don’t care. All I care about is music.”
Alright, he loves music before genre or commercial standing – we get it – but are there any artists he will point-blank refuse to work with? “I mean, I’ll meet anyone. Sometimes, I just won’t call back, if there’s no chemistry. Some people might get the refusal… like the Prime Minister of Syria or George W. Bush, I guess,” he humours.
“I do hate all the hip hop producers trying to make house music…”
Pissing on the celebrity culture, Diplo has also said that he doesn’t care about Grammys or any other awards – yet, he’s constantly working with artists who are consistently aiming for these honours with each effort he produces. Testing his brutal honesty (and patience), I ask if this isn’t a bit of a contradiction. Diplo sidesteps the question with quick wit. “I can’t speak for the artists I work with – but, [for] me, I just want to take polaroids of really cute girls and eat the best fried rice in China.”
Speaking of photos, Diplo has also been the subject of a book titled 128 Beats per Minute: Diplo’s Visual Guide to Music, Culture and Everything in Between, which is the visual guide to his insane musical journey, photographed by Shane McCauley. So, not only is he a beat master legend – but he’s been immortalised in paperback, too.
The Future of EDM
With every musician and their dog going electronic nowadays, you have to question the future of electronic dance music with all this bandwagon hopping and overkill. Will it harm EDM in the long run?
Diplo weighs in with his opinion. “The music will keep going in the direction it wants. It’s like an iceberg; when the mainstream, on the top, gradually melts away, the bottom comes back up. It’s always a cycle – and I already hear the mainstream producers sounding boring. You know… I always have people telling me that so-and-so [is] biting my style and I need to capitalise – but I say, if you’re patient and you’re good, things will come back to you. I think with Usher’s Climax, that’s me doing something totally different than the rest, and making a bona fide hit and making the critics happy. Real fans know who the copycats are and who really has the ingenuity to do something different. I do hate all the hip hop producers trying to make house music, though; they just don’t get it. Armand van Helden told me some great stories about the way the New York scene changed, and how all the guys who were making money on the pop/R&B world had to rethink what they were doing; and it’s good to shake things up.”
In terms of his own future, Diplo has already started planning his next step, even though he’s just released his latest EP, Express Yourself. “I have a split 12″… some cool house type of stuff. One with Laidback Luke and Ms. Dynamite, and one that’s like a crazy, psych-rock-house joint. Then, some more avant-garde music in 2013… and the Major Lazer album; it’s a killer!” So, no breaks from music, then? “Just getting through this summer, man. So many deadlines. This Snoop Dogg album I’m doing is gonna blow people’s minds… and Major Lazer. I’m excited; it’s such a good time for music right now,” he says.
Wrapping things up, and with the Oppikoppi gig in mind, we just have to know what Diplo’s secret is to keeping his sets fresh, especially since he’s performing close to 300 shows a year. “I think that’s the key [keeping it fresh]. I’m always out there listening to new music, meeting new people, hearing the different sounds. It’s my friends and collaborators keeping me fresh – the mad decent crew.”
DIPLO SA Tour:
8th August – JHB:
Venue to be announced
10th August – CPT:
Discotheque @ The Assembly
11th August – Northam: