Inside Diplo's Ahead-of-the-Curve Label Mad Decent

ISSUE 22 2019 - PR PHOTO
Carter Juncal
Devro (left) and Goggins.

On Sept. 22, Diplo and Mad Decent Records will take over Brooklyn Mirage to toast their new house music imprint, Higher Ground. Unlike the label’s long-running EDM/hip-hop block parties, the showcase will strive for clubbier sounds to reflect the sublabel’s focus, with U.K. producer Paul Woolford and Brooklyn duo Walker & Royce (who released the imprint’s debut single) receiving top billing. “We respect house music so much,” says Paul Devro, who has led Mad Decent’s A&R since its 2006 formation. “We didn’t want to do it if we couldn’t do it right.”

Since Mad Decent was established as a three-person upstart in Philadelphia, the label has grown to a staff of 20, most of whom work out of an office in Los Angeles’ Arts District. In the beginning, their only way to spotlight global microgenres was through posts on the label’s blog, but everything changed when Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” went viral in 2013. “It was a huge moment for us as a label, and it was also a turning point for dance music,” says label president Jasper Goggins, citing the festival boom and flood of dance-pop crossovers as additional paths to profitability. “Suddenly there were just more platforms to make money on.”

 

The decision to launch a new imprint reflects a larger label strategy: In order to appeal to house music purists, Mad Decent had to soften its reputation for mainstream EDM. “That stigma still exists,” says Goggins, “so instead of operating like a Pangaea, we’re starting to spread out, giving each piece the room to do its own thing.” The label has developed a new distribution services team, expanded the underground-centric Good Enuff imprint, signed a joint venture deal with Big Deal Music Publishing and brought neoperreo (Ms Nina), indie pop (Sebastian Paul) and Japanese footwork (Foodman) into the Mad Decent family.

 

Mad Decent is tight-lipped about what’s to come on Higher Ground, but expect a range of melodic, deep and tech house. Much attention is being paid to breakout producer Dylan Brady, who Devro first contacted in 2016 and whose Dog Show Records and 100 gecs project with Laura Les signed to Decent Distribution last year. Meanwhile, in hip-hop, the label is innovating its Good Gas imprint with FKi 1st. “We’ve been doing these world compilations where we infiltrate the rap crews in local scenes or cities and have them make beats and do EPs with us,” says Goggins.

 

In addition to a new Diplo EP due out this fall (“think Brazilian and R&B samples,” teases Devro), Mad Decent plans to continue releasing roughly one track per month, including a forthcoming Afrohouse record from Angolan producer DJEFF. They’re not abandoning American dance music entirely -- Dillon Francis and Valentino Khan both have upcoming projects -- but it’s in the label’s DNA to think ahead. “People look to us for what’s experimental and up next,” says Diplo. “That’s the best part of the label -- whatever people’s preconceived notion of what a Mad Decent record is, we’re never going to stay there.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 21 issue of Billboard.


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