Live in Montreal 2004
here’s no lines between what’s underground and what’s commercial. It’s what’s good and bad and what you can take from each thing. What’s the best.”
The above quote seems to perfectly encapsulate Diplo’s aesthetic as a DJ. It’s taken from an interview conducted for the March 2005 issue of Urb magazine. Less than half a year earlier he participated in an interview with Stylus’s own David Drake, coinciding with the release of his proper solo debut, Florida. In recent weeks, he’s appeared on national television, backing M.I.A. on Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’ Brien’s late-night talk shows.
Needless to say, Wes Pentz’s ascent in the music world has been more than a little amazing for anyone paying attention. Equally superfluous to note is the role his partnership with M.I.A. has played in his sudden prominence. What should be mentioned is that Diplo, far from hitching a ride on the coattails of a Next Big Thing, has earned his celebrity. The mixtape Never Scared, produced in collaboration with fellow DJ Low Budget under the Hollertronix moniker, is a word-of-mouth (or p2p) classic. His trek to the shanty-towns of Rio de Janiero to document the area’s burgeoning baile funk scene resulted in Favela on Blast, an arrestingly sustained half-hour mix that erases ethnographic grids like nobody’s business; it’s essentially an utterly convincing musical version of the argument quoted above. If, as Godard contended, filmmaking is itself a form of film criticism, than Diplo is Greil Marcus.
Favela on Blast seems to mark the start of a new phase in Diplo’s career as a DJ, from local legend to cultural ambassador, and as proof that it wasn’t merely a genius one-off, he’s just released a hardly-less-striking sequel of sorts called Favela Strikes Back. The genesis of his current stardom, however, can be traced back pretty easily to his work with M.I.A. on last year’s Piracy Funds Terrrorism, a collaboration that’s spawned an incredibly fruitful musical union clearly rooted in mutual appreciation. During my interview with M.I.A., conducted just before the release of Arular, she recalled the origins of their partnership.
“When I met Diplo he had the same sort of philosophy [as I did]. He was making music that just didn't fit anywhere…We're just trying to make life easy for people by bringing everything together at once. Like, look, here it is. This is real. You wake up in the morning; you do hear dancehall. You do get in a cab and hear 'Tainted Love.' And then you jump out the cab, and you hear the Chinese restaurant music and then you go into an elevator and you hear something else. What he's doing as a DJ is to bring all that together as one person, and what I'm trying to do as an artist is bringing all that together as an artist. And when I found him I was, like, 'shit, I really, really want to work with him.' And it happened."For Diplo’s part, he told Drake flat-out that M.I.A. was his “favorite artist right now.”
Predictably, M.I.A. appears on the Money Studies release Live in Montreal 2004, along with a varied cast of other artists, including major artists and intriguing “who’s that’s,” rap and rock, and, of course, a little favela funk. Diplo kicks things off with a brilliantly tweaked mix of Ciara’s “Oh,” and only moments after Ludacris shows up for his guest verse, in comes Nick Zinner’s trademark surf-guitar on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps.” Twista and Wiley each turn up before Diplo finally drops “Pull up the People.” Toward the set’s end, Timbaland butts heads with Kelis, as “Indian Flute” drifts into “The Stick-up.”
The hour-long disc flows seamlessly from start to finish, an effortless tour of an international pop landscape spanning zip codes and date lines, and arriving ultimately at nothing more or less than the hottest party on the planet, period. The music showcased is pretty much in line with what you’d hear during his pre-show set at an M.I.A. gig. Which is to say, Live in Montreal may in itself be no better or worse than Live in Des Moines or Live in Timbuktu. (Before M.I.A. played at a show I recently attended, he dropped some Kylie, who is lamentably absent here.) What makes this record essential, in its way, is that it captures the freshest and most groundbreaking of current DJs at what may be the height of his creative powers. To wax pretentious, it’s an ephemeral, utopian vision of music's seemingly limitless possibilities.
Oh, yeah, and it’s really good!
Reviewed by: Josh Timmermann
Reviewed on: 2005-06-10