diplo’s reception in Cleveland was icy, to say the least; the crowd of largely under-21 fans of instrumental hip-hop sensation RJD2 were certainly not expecting a party DJ from Philly who unironically drops Lil Jon singles in his sets, and the crowd seemed largely indifferent. Very few people in the Grog Shop that night were familiar with Diplo’s name, but don’t expect that to remain true for much longer. He and his partner Low Budget (known collectively as Hollertronix) are known in Philadelphia and New York as the duo behind some of the best scene parties of the past couple years. By mixing elements of 80s nostalgia with mainstream hip-hop, crunk, dancehall, bhangra, Baltimore club and now even the Favela Funk of Rio Di Janeiro, Brazil, Diplo shines a light on genres and artists that are reshaping our conceptions of music and culture. He just released his first solo album Florida, a evocative instrumental record that is a far cry from the club-oriented music he drops as part of Hollertronix. David Drake sat down with Diplo before his show in Cleveland on September 26th.

What was your background like musically growing up?

Diplo: In Florida growing up I was most interested in Miami Bass and whatever was on the radio: freestyle and hip-hop. College radio was also pretty good down in Florida. It was basically a little bit of whatever I could get my hands on, but Miami Bass was the king back when I was 13 or 14.

How did Hollertronix get started? How did you meet Low Budget?

Diplo: Just being in Philly. Philly’s a big DJ city, so I’d just run into him DJing. I just quit my job about 8 months ago, but I started Hollertronix about two years ago, and I was just trying to DJ and I couldn’t get any club gigs. It’s a hard city to DJ in; there are so many DJs there. So I just started my own party and it took awhile but it finally busted up into a good one. Then I had a chance to quit my job and DJ some more. It just came out of having nothing: we had no gig, so we just started it up ourselves. Which is cool, it’s like starting an indie label. Full control and you get all the money.

What role do you each play in the group? I know Low Budget just dropped a Dirty South mix…

Diplo: Yeah, he keeps up with the street mixtapes, but Low Budget is just like my call dude to DJ with me when I need a partner. I do most of the production work on the tapes, but whenever we DJ as Hollertronix he’s always there too, you know? He comes up with mixes and he’s a really good DJ. He’s really up to date with what’s good in the clubs too, because he’s a strictly club DJ.

What did you think of how your mixtape Never Scared was received?

Diplo: It was cool. It was way bigger than I imagined—we were just selling it out of the back of our car with little Kinko’s cut-outs, then Turntable Lab was really into it. It was something to help them start their label off too. Then people just got into it, the right people bought it. It seemed like nobody could find it, but all the press people got a copy so it spread through New York really quick. People were into it, people jumped on it.

Hollertronix cover a lot of areas of music—Baltimore club, crunk—is there a form to which you are particularly attached?

Diplo: When I’m DJing the Baltimore Club stuff is just the best. People love the breakbeats, it’s like house music and the breakbeats come in and it’s hot. When we come up with remixes of the hip-hop shit, like an 8ball and MJG Baltimore Club version, if they’re familiar with the lyrics, or like a “Tipsy” Baltimore remix, or just mad Missy remixes, people will kind of get into it. The “Tear Up the Club” kind of Baltimore Club songs just drive people crazy. The raunchy shit too, that’s the best part as far as DJ-wise—that gets the best response. Whenever we go somewhere I can really show that off because nobody else has those records or those CDs, so I feel good I can push that. I’m the only DJ doing that for like white kids and downtown kids and scene kids…

I’ve heard stories of negative audience receptions to some of the southern stuff, crunk….Why do you think that is?

Diplo: We haven’t had a bad response…I mean, I can give you an example. I do Fabric in London, every two months I DJ there. The first party I went to the DJ was Spinbad and he would drop “Get Low”—this was about a year ago—and the crowd was just dead. They were like, “Fuck this.” Then I just did the last party two months ago with Syntax, who’s like a big UK garage Def Jam UK DJ, and he dropped “Get Low” and “Never Scared” and people went crazy for those songs. Those songs are like two years old now, but you know, it’s definitely picked up. When we started our parties, Philly was into whatever, because we just had drunk kids partying and a really good party with really good DJs, and we could drop anything. And now, the rest of the country has caught up with South music because its super-commercial right now. It’s not considered “stupid” or “ignorant” music like it was. You couldn’t hear it on East Coast radio two years ago, and now it’s completely taken over.

Where do you see Hollertronix going in the future?

Diplo: I’ve gotten a good response for the new mixes I’ve been doing that have been more artsy-fartsy, like the Shadow mix and Favela on Blast and even the RJ mix. I put my own style in that and represent Hollertronix. I also just did a mixtape for this girl called M.I.A. who’s on XL. I’m trying to take the aesthetic of a street mixtape but just make it for an artist like her who’s not really in a genre right now, kinda like me, I think I’m the same kinda way.

Taking more that production style, mash-ups that are a little more thoughtful and exclusives: I’m gonna get [UGK rapper] Bun-B to hopefully drop some rhymes over 80s beats. I’m gonna hook up with the Houston kids, I’m gonna get as many—kinda like the David Banner “Bout Our Money” track, I’m gonna try to make all Hollertronix like that track, cuz that seemed to be our signature song, you know? Our signature style. Just try to be open-minded and pushing new music and pushing shit that’s out there, like Favela on Blast. Try to take some reasonable things and push it a little bit to the mainstream, what I can get my hands on.

I read a little bit about it in Fader [Magazine], but what was your experience in Brazil like?

Diplo: Going to Brazil I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had just a plan to go down there and get as many mixtapes—like I’m in Cleveland now, I’ve been asking people, “where’s the street mixtapes at, where can I find Swishahouse stuff in Cleveland,” I just know there’s gotta be some kids making music. Same aesthetic down in Brazil, I just thought it was super-hot, these kids were sampling Morrisey, and these kids were sampling mighty bass hits, just making tracks homemade-style. I just went down there with no plan. Fader got into it because the editor was really cool and into it, and then we hooked up with a Brazilian photographer who got us all-access to the Favelas. Gringos just don’t go there, some no-man’s land shit. And we got into the clubs, and we got into the parties and it just…everything started clicking. The places I went to: I’ve just seen the most ridiculous things. Sixteen, fifteen year old kids doing coke, lines half an inch high, guns in their pockets. I didn’t see a lot of violence, but I did see a lot of sexuality. The music is just hot, man. The speakers are 20 feet high, the music level is so high, I don’t even know how my ears still work. You can hear a favela almost a mile away.

With regards to your new album, what were you trying to accomplish musically?

Diplo: Whatever I can’t do with Hollertronix. With Hollertronix I’m doing dance music and party music. With my album I’m trying to make something that’s not as disposable, you know? I’m trying to just make something people can listen to with what influences I’ve got. So you’ll hear a little bit of what I do with Hollertronix. Like these regional underground scenes, man. I just get mad inspiration from what kids are doing and what things are going on and the left-field stuff. With the album, I guess, it’s just a representation of that stuff, where I’m from and what I do.

It seems, perhaps because it’s mostly instrumental, a lot more reflective than the music that you play at your shows. Is there a reason you decided to go in that direction?

Diplo: When I’m DJing for a party, my only job is to make the party the best it can be. As a DJ, to be creative, I just want to play cool music that people haven’t heard and get them to really be into it. That’s like the hardest thing to do, is to introduce new music, make it fresh, make a hit. And with my album, I’m not a fucking rapper and I’m not a super-producer like Timbaland. I’m just making things with what I have at my house, like cheap samplers and old records and shitty equipment. I’ve exhausted all my resources with it. Some things are cool, some things are a little older, but altogether it’s just a good representation of me, what I can do. I’m not a musician by any means; I don’t even know how to play a note. I just put together [Florida] with just what I’ve been doing with DJing and stuff. It’s not a club record. There’s “Newsflash” and “Diplo Rhythm” which I do push as the club joint, but it’s not a club record, it’s definitely something reflective with a club aesthetic, I guess.

How did you get Vybz Kartel to record on it?

Diplo: Yo, you just have to have money, man. Reggae artists will record over drum’n’bass or ambient trance if you just give them the money, you know? That’s the nature of the culture of dancehall. Those guys live off dubplates and live off exclusives. They don’t get paid off of having one track on a rhythm record; they get paid off of doing exclusives and doing tracks. I just offered him money and he came to the studio. He actually liked the beat so it was easy to do. He came to Philly, he was there doing a show, I just hooked up with him.

Speaking of other artists you’ve worked with—how well has DJ Technics been received? I know you guys have been doing parties with him in New York…

Diplo: He is just so incredible. As one of the founders of the Baltimore Club scene…he’s into house music too, so he knows how to build and knows rhythm very well, how to play certain things at certain times. Technics is just really sick, man. When he comes to New York I didn’t expect people to be down with two hours of Baltimore Club music. But he knows how to do it. I don’t know how to do it like he does it yet. I can do a half hour at the most, and I don’t even have enough records, you know? You mix it every minute…you can’t be letting—Baltimore Club, they’re pretty fucking repetitive. But he did two hours, and he went over man. If you’re gonna be a club DJ like him, and you’re going to be serious, you’ve got to use CDs. Cuz he was looping things up and pushing CD turntables to the limit, like that’s what they’re made for is people like him. Mad respect to him.

With regards to your new album—have you been happy with how it’s been received so far?

Diplo: I guess so—I mean, I’m touring with RJ and nobody knows who the fuck I am or any of my music so I’m just kind of a mess up there. The last two shows have been really good—Chicago and Columbus were both fucking hot as shit. I kinda got a set now, I was just freestyling it. Hopefully people will know my music so if I do do a show, I can really do something serious. You know, RJ drops…what’s that first single off his record? “Exotic Talk,” he drops it, people scream, you know, it’s a hot song, it hits hard. That’s cool. That’s the only response I could get. It’s only been out two days, so….I’ve gotten good reviews for it, which is good. I got one bad review. Not a bad review, but a mediocre review. Today the funny one was in a Columbus paper— “this album was so good, you know he’s gonna have a terrible second album.” It went right into that kinda shit. “This is the perfect album to make a sophomore slump” was basically what the review was—but it was still a really good review!

Speaking of sophomore release—what do you hope to do in the future, where do you hope to go with this?

Diplo: I definitely want to do more beats. My favorite song off the record to play is “Diplo Rhythm.” I did a remix of “Way More” that’s a really heavy bass song, and I’m getting Rob Lee to do a mix of it, and I’m gonna do my own version without the horns, more of a club version. I want to push club music as far as I can because I’m one of the few dudes who seems to play for open minded kids. So I want to try and push music like that, working more on club things.

I’ll do some somber, trip-hoppy white boy action too, but that’s not where my head’s at right now. I like that stuff, because that stuff can touch people too. Very few times you’ve got a dance song people can think about and reflect. I’ve got a balance there. But I’m working more on club-oriented stuff. M.I.A. is my favorite artist right now. I’m trying to do as much with her as I can. She’s overtly a little bit political, and that’s what’s really good—songs that hit, they’re forward thinking. You’ve got to say something nowadays. It’s the time of the season, I guess.


As Diplo

Thingamajawn 7” (Turntable Lab Money Studies, 2003)
Diplo Rhythm 12” (Big Dada, 2004)
Florida (Big Dada, 2004)
Favela on Blast (Self-Released, 2004)

As Hollertronix

Never Scared (Self-Released, 2003)

Diplo Website
Big Dada

By: David Drake
Published on: 2004-10-04
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