music | features | artist interview
Globalistas Pt. 3Diplo
Brazilian journalist Camilo Rocha interviews much-in-demand DJ/producer Diplo about his musical ties with global subcultures
By Camilo Rocha
Globalistas: an introduction
'In November of last year, having watched with keen interest the rise of various DJs/producers who, through their travels, research, collaborations, productions, performances and blogging activities have been breaking apart the traditional mould of 'world music' — artists such as Diplo, DJ /rupture and Maga Bo — I proposed a piece on ‘globalist’ DJs to Brazillian broadsheet paper Folha de S. Paulo.
I pitched it to Folha as I felt that the paper’s visibility and influence made it the ideal publication for such article. Folha de S. Paulo is Brazil's most important newspaper today; it gives excellent coverage to art and culture, and politically is more liberal than its counterparts — you could say it’s a little like the Brazilian Guardian.
I conducted lengthy interviews with the abovementioned DJs, plus Wayne Marshall, Ghislain Poirier and DJ Dolores. However, some of the interviewees were, understandably, a little miffed when they found that just a few quotes from their thoughtfully penned answers were used in the final piece. I apologise to the artists for any disappointment, however, many of the questions were asked in order to better my own factual understanding — and when it comes to a leftfield subject like this, space in papers such as Folha is restricted to say the least.
Thankfully Spannered has kindly offered to run the full transcripts from my research, which, I guess, makes up somewhat for the length of the published piece. (Unfortunately the interviews with Ghislain Poirier and DJ Dolores were conducted by phone and are unavailable for publication here.)'
Camilo Rocha, São Paulo, February 2008.
Part 3: Diplo
Mississippi-born Wesley Pentz, better known as Diplo, has been one of the hottest remixing and production talents to surface in recent years. His propagating of the baile funk sound outside of Brazil has been well documented, as have his involvements with London-born, Sri Lanka-rooted artist M.I.A.. One half of the Hollertronix DJ crew (along with Low Budget), Diplo has released on Big Dada and parent label Ninja Tune, Money Studies, and his own Mad Decent imprint, among others. This interview was conducted via email in November 2007.
You come from a hip hop background right? How much has this background shaped your musical vision?
Well, hip hop is just the end of the line isn’t it? A genre made up of everything else... so anything goes. Hip hop is the postmodern music.Two years ago you predicted that baile funk was going to be big outside of Brazil. Has it become as big as you expected? What's its status outside of Brazil these days?
Yeah, it’s been accepted. I was the only DJ to play it two years ago I thought (with the exception of a few) and now it seems every DJ has at least a few funk tracks in their hard drive... and it’s still going as long as we bring in more.How do you see the popularisation of ghetto sounds from around the globe? Why has there been so much exposure and interest for these types of sounds?
People are just interested in new music and the internet provides a means to get it easily and rapidly, and it brings more communications to the people all around. Being that the 'ghetto' sounds are travelling faster... well, that because the harbingers of these musics are the DJs; we are the new distributors and we like stuff that is more suited for dancing — which is why you hear more about these genres than new folk music from Chile or something… but I’m sure that’s poppin’ off too I guess.What are the common characteristics between ghetto sounds from everywhere?
Electronic beats... and samples — two things that come from hip hop and Detroit era techno. Eliminating the necessity for live instruments, and understanding the importance of bass.Does 'global ghettotech', as some call this phenomenon, sometimes run the risk of being just a trendier guise for the rich world's old taste for the 'exotic' (cultural tourism thrills, as opposed to understanding and identification with the scenes it is exploring)?
Well it’s no ones responsibility (as far as I know) to identify [with] and understand foreign cultures — that is something that happens in universities not in dance clubs. And second, my job is just a DJ/performer, not a sociologist — and I do a good job at it, collecting and introducing fresh sounds to my audience (it goes back to the old days when hip hop DJs championed new music and kept it secret from each other by covering the labels on records — to have an upperhand on other DJs). But since my livelihood depends in some way to these subcultures existing, I have set up some things to help them develop — one being Heaps Decent, an initiative I started in aboriginal Australia, and I hope in the next few months to do the same in Rio (in Favela Cantagalo, with the help of Afroreggae, Hermano Vianni, my film production company — currently working on a documentary about funk carioca — and even with a little help from Gilberto Gil, who has endorsed the project), but any lil’ bit of communication [that takes place] between my audience (15 to 30 year olds that like to dance) — and piques their interest — can only help. Plus my audience isn’t ‘very rich’, as far as I know — I still play in high school gyms for middle school kids.Over here [Brazil], some people worry that poor musicians can be exploited in this process. What kind of deal do you generally do with the artists you work with?
Well in Brazil I think that your music industry and social structure has already done enough damage to the integrity of [the] talented. In fact, it might have been an institution before the internet has presented direct access between artists and audience and helped to destroy the old system of distribution. Funk has never had a standard system to work within; it fills in the voids made by the collapse of the rest — artists make profit on performance, not sales, and have exploited that easily (some funk artists can do 10 shows a night); building a subculture around an artist and making a fanbase is the bottom line, and to do that your music has to be quality — marketing budget is not an option anymore.What new stuff (styles/artists/producers) have you discovered recently that has really impressed you?
My deals with artists are very different per project; some might be as simple as trading a production for a vocal; sometimes I would pay a flat fee for a recording of an acapella (Deize Tigrona for a remix last year for instance), but most artists prefer money up front (that’s standard in funk anyway) because the output is so high... but it does put artists in a position that makes it difficult to collect money on the back end. I think more independent publishing co-ops would solve this process easily.
I like all kinds of music. I recently worked with the Black Lips from Atlanta; I really like them — more 60s garage punk style; I think [they] could be huge in a country like Brazil. And Angolan kuduro is something that is ridiculously progressive and heavy.You just came back from Brazil. How were your gigs?
Tim [Festival] was kinda of funny, but the rest of the shows were cool. I never thought I would visit a place like Goiânia — the club was very modern and [with] good sound, and I think that city might only be women... It’s like the Kansas of Brazil.What's in the pipeline for 2008?
More Mad Decent releases, Blaqstarr, Thunderheist, South Rakkas Crew, Hollertronix album, Major Lasers (Diplo album with Switch featuring every major reggae star right now), Diplo (second album). Productions: Santogold album, Amanda Blank, Spank Rock… plenty more remixes and tours as well. Always working on new things.