Diplo Q&A: Talking Travel, Twerking and Burning Man With the DJ/Producer
Diplo and travel partner Shane McCauley open an interactive art exhibit in Los Angeles
Black and white photographs shot in Jamaica, South Africa, Brazil and New York are beamed onto the two side walls of the Sonos Studio in Los Angeles while music from blogs dedicated to upbeat music from the four locales plays. It's titled "Blow Your Head," an interactive art exhibit from Diplo and his travel partner/photographer Shane McCauley.
At the Sept. 4 opening, photographs of musicians, partygoers and landscapes were bouncing to the grooves that came out of the websites FunknaCaixa, Mad Decent, OkayAfrica and StolenRecords. Sonos, which curates the space, presented the show through their collaboration with the Hype Machine music service.
"I'm always going to these places for work whether it's a record for someone or to perform a show, and once I get there I want to create something in those places," says Diplo, who introduces himself as Wes in the backstage area of the gallery. "It's always been cool for to see what the defining point is between the club culture, what's happening in the streets and what's happening on the radio."
McCauley has been traveling with Diplo for about five years and the second "Blow Your Head" book, chronicling New York adventures, is being released in conjunction with the exhibit, which runs through Oct. 6.
"Usually I'm looking for an immersive experience," McCauley says of the exhibit. "You listen to a song, you know the song, but do you know who made it and where that person comes from? It's creating a visual of what that place looks like. It's the connection between the creator and the audience to help understand the music."
Diplo shared his thoughts on the four locales, Burning Man and, of course, twerking, in an exclusive interview with Billboard.
Of these four places, the one you are most associated with is Brazil. How do you see that country's music scenes evolving over the 10 or so years you've been going there?
There are so many different parts of Brazil that we have touched. The last time we were there we were dealing with transexual reggaeton from the Amazon. First time I was there it was baile funk. The second time was middle-class kids who played funk with Caetano Veloso. Brazil is deep culturally with so many different influences, so many subcultures, so many different demographics. I just been fascinated with trying to put myself in a position to create something new three.
Do the cultures of the four places relate to one another?
I've worked in albums in all four of the places. South Africa is the one I have just been fascinated by; the other three I have played and done films and been ingrained in the culture. I really liked getting beyond the stereotypes of what these places are all about musically and, culturally, South Africa is really an undefinable place. The biggest rapper is an old, white rapper, the biggest rock band is a black group. It's ironic for a lot of people. We want to portray that -- what you don't expect, the dynamics and the levels of strangeness.
What sort of changes are you seeing in Jamaica?
It's in a crazy transition right now. Its really weird - we can get a song played on the radio there. I see the influences there are changing so much. The young kids, the new generation, has their Soundclouds and YouTube -- they don't need the radio and the 45s or the shortwave from New Orleans. Now it's via WI-fi so it's like music tastes are changing so rapidly. There's such a hype in the Caribbean for what we do with Major Lazer that when we go down there I'm so nervous that we'll get booed. We're doing our first shows in Trinidad and Panama in two weeks.
You mention New Orleans. As the king of twerking, why not shed light on its origins in bounce music?
(New Orleans) is my favorite city and I go there all the time, probably two or three times a year. We're playing Tulane in a few weeks. New Orleans is such a catalyst for so much music that people don't realize. When we speak about the definitions of these musical locales, New Orleans is still influenced by New York. When I go down there I see the influence in electro and when they first had 808s in New Orleans, they just used them in a different way. Most records you hear they have two beats in them and that's from Queens rappers in the '80s. I'm always fascinated with the way music transcends boundaries. To see twerking go viral and then be a bold title subject now is funny because its just been happening in New Orleans since music started. You go to Brazil and it's in samba, baile funk. Now people twerk to house records down there. It's about style, attitude.
You made your first ever trip to Burning Man last week. How did it go?
We did four shows (Two by Diplo, two by Major Lazer) but one of them I don't think anybody heard. I'm just getting feedback now as people are returning to society. For me, I don't like for music scenes to be defined and I had always prejudged it. I was already building a tolerance to what that was and knew I had to go see it. Carnival in London is the most insane party -- or I thought that before I went to Burning Man. They rival one another.