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Not your average hip-hop instrumentalist

Diplo

Diplo: Not your average hip-hop instrumentalist

It's a beautiful thing, playing what you want. We know it, and Diplodocus and Low Budget certainly know it. In the midst of stagnant '80s nights swarming through Philadelphia, the two deejays commingled as Hollertronix to introduce a whole new hard-edged, dirty South krunk bounce to the city, and they've have been burning up the dance floor ever since.
Diplo, the Mississippi-born, Florida-bred, David Banner beat maker and north Philadelphia resident, is also an established producer and deejay in his own right. He released a string of twelve-inches on Ninja Tune and dropped his debut full-length, Florida, in September 2004. "I'm just trying to make music that's different," said Diplo in one interview. "But still be good, you know, not just different and stupid." Yeah, we know.

 

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Prefix Magazine:
Talk me through your early days making music. What are your earliest influences and how did you get started creating sample-based music? Do you have any formal music training?

Diplo:
I started by making soundtracks to documentaries I was making when I first moved to Philly -- just picking tracks for backing and looping them. That was the first time I took it beyond looping drum breaks and flute loops in my bedroom in Florida on an Akai s20 sampler.

PM:
If you have to name one record that made you want to create music, what would it be?

Diplo:
Trick Daddy, Shut Up.Trick Daddy, Shut Up.

PM:
How did Hollertronix come about?

Diplo:
It just came about because I couldn't get any other good deejay gigs, and when I did I had to play way too much straight-ahead music. I wanted to throw down some more crazy shit.

PM:
Florida sounds equal parts psych, Miami bass, breaks and jazz -- it's essentially an amalgamation of several influences that appear in your deejay sets. Did you make a conscious decision not to go down the instrumental hip-hop path, a la DJ Shadow and RJD2?

Diplo:
Yeah, it's just me. I'm not that good at making music, so I had to fake it a whole lot on this record. I put out so many styles just because I didn't really want to work on any song that I already thought I heard before. It's just boring to make a good old instrumental hip-hop track. I'm trying to do stuff that hasn't been done yet -- or at least stuff that I haven't heard yet.

PM:
How did Florida come together in terms of timing? Did you use your early twelve-inches as building blocks, or was there a different creative process?

Diplo:
I tried to put down all this stuff I had been working on -- a few were complete tracks -- and just throw everything together to make a coherent album. Florida went through three drafts over two years. Then I was just like, "Shit, I got put this out." Because I realized it was so different that I wasn't really going anywhere specific with this sound -- it was already there.

PM:
"Big Lost" sounds so much like (Capitol Records and Mo'Wax producer and composer) David Axelrod -- strings and all. How did you set about arranging/composing it?

Diplo:
I just started with a loop and drums as an early demo. Then I decided to add all the other shit to make it a real song.

PM:
"Summer's Gonna Hurt You" is absolutely stunning. Break it down into its respective parts for me. How did you find the vocal sample?

Diplo:
Someone put that track on a mixtape for me once, and I tracked it down and isolated the vocals. I had a beat already -- this heavy, heavy Dirty South track I was trying to make a new club thing. Then I just fucked with the pitch of the bass line and matched the vocals, and it started to work out properly. But it wasn't what it started out as at all. Eventually, I decided to make this epic track on some all-samples, vocal-lifted-hip-hop mess of all time. I think people started to like it, and it did turn out pretty epic. And it all made sense to me, considering how rough that summer was.

PM:
I first heard you drop "Diplo Rhythm" on the BBC. How long had this track been in the works? What's your favorite part about it (I love the Kraftwerk-y hi-hats and the Sandra bit), and when did you first play it on the dance floor?

Diplo:
I just started to really put it down in my sets, considering I was really sensitive -- I made it and I didn't want people to not feel it. Eventually, it just worked its way into my set, and I think it's pretty solid.
It started out more than a year ago. I made it as a bootleg and passed it around. Will Ashon at Big Dada hooked me up with the Sandra melody, and then I put the other version together to try to make some kind of alternative rhythm concept. Because the Greensleevs Rhythm LPs are the most exciting things coming out any in part -- you get twenty versions of one song so you never have to feel nailed down. And then the real true hot shit rises to the top. But with this twelve-inch, everyone has a different version of their favorite.

PM:
What inspires you?

Diplo:
Just different cities and seeing what's going on all over the place, like all the little mini music scenes -- whether it's places I've been, like Rio and London and Switzerland (they have screwed and chopped deejays there) to places I'm trying to see, like the Amazon and Iraq. I just want to see what moves the kids.

PM:
You have a pretty hectic touring schedule, both on your own and with Hollertronix. Do you make music on the road? Have you experimented with any laptop-based production, or do you keep it strictly MPC?

Diplo:
I've been getting down with some new methods, but I'm not good at any of them right now. I'm just trying to figure out what's best and feeling like I'm missing out on a lot of time to make shit when people are actually asking me for beats.

PM:
How did you go about arranging the collaborators on the record? How did you discover their music for the first time?

Diplo:
Everything just fell into place by accident, really. I know them all, because they know someone I know.

PM:
What are your current five favorite twelve-inches that are killing it on the dance floor?

Diplo:
I like "Oh" by Ciara, "Reload" by Kano, "Pull Up the People" by Mia, "Nolia Clap" by Wacko and Skip, and the Scooby rhythm edit with Scooby Doo and Elephant Man.

PM:
What are your favorite LPs of the year thus far?

Diplo:
Shit, I can't say. But I really like Crime Mob and Ciara this week, but maybe I'd add some heavier shit. I have to think about it.

PM:
Your favorite Beatles track?

Diplo:
"Tomorrow Never Knows" off Revolver.

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