Interview: Diplo on Dubstep

November 04, 2010

A few years ago, Diplo put a picture of his passport on the internet, his Angolan visa stapled to it. He went there to collaborate with DJ Znobia and other kuduro producers, putting in the actual work, money and other stuff where his mouth is. This excitable, curious tenacity—local or otherwise—is why we have always loved Diplo. He worked to make sure OG Baltimore club DJs got the attention they deserved, brought baile funk DJs up from Brazil and signed Bondo do Role. Dude did a remix for Gwen Stefani. He's diverse and insatiable and we have come to expect from him things we did not know. So the prospect of Blow Your Head, Diplo Presents Dubstep had a lot of weird potential to us. What unheralded North Dakotan dubstep had he dug up now? Well, some we already heard. And it was from England (mostly). But that's cool! We were curious about his deviation in path from the road less traveled to one, you know, like some people already have been on. Not everyone, but it's definitely not a secret street. He filled us in on the origins of the Mad Decent compilation and his plans for further Blow Your Heads. Buy it now, and download Diplo's bonus mix, too.

Your stamp isn’t really on this CD, besides the title. It’s not mixed by you and it only has two of your tracks. What was the motivation for you to put together a CD about dubstep the way you did?
I wasn’t trying to make the most up-to-date, craziest fanboy CD, but just something anybody can listen to that definitely says, This is still dubstep. It’s probably a typical London style, and it’s not anything per se, because dubstep has a lot of its own little regions. But I wanted to just make something with a couple old songs, a couple exclusive songs, and the whole idea was to make a statement that dubstep is happening all over the world at the same time. I’ve been following it for a while, covered a lot of dubstep guys doing mixes or running Rusko or doing some stuff with Borgore, we’re always trying to put that whole scene in a sort of package for people to understand it.

Are you trying to tie it up with a bow? Diplo Presents: Dubstep. It could be a little ominous.
The CD series is called Blow Your Head. We already have the second one almost finished. I did the first one, which is on dubstep. When I started doing Mad Decent, the first thing I wanted to do was I brought up Blaqstarr, and Bonde Do Role, because those were two genres I was playing a lot, baile funk and Baltimore club. But there were endless amounts of bootlegs, but there weren’t any artists, right? So we landed Bonde Do Role, like This Is Baile Funk. We were trying to make an album that was fun and crazy and represented that scene. And Blaqstarr as well, he was the guy I thought could be Baltimore club. All you was Rod Lee and a bunch of remixes and stuff. When I first had the label idea it was to bring up stuff I was doing, to bring some focus on these artists. Everybody knew Baltimore club but nobody knew the acts, like bootlegs of “Sweet Dreams” and “Mr. Postman” and shit. The compilation idea, for what I do, it’s kind of back to the roots of it, because underground music is so big now, kids are so much more educated about music in general. One of the biggest things about this comp and this comp series, like UK funky and new UK funky underground with L-Vis. I have it in a sort of National Geographic or Folkways Records way. We wanted to do a sort of Folkways vibe with the label now, we’re trying the format so it’s not artist-oriented. We have a couple records we’re trying to do, like Rusko and Bosco Delrey and Popo this year, but we wanted to switch more to comps anyway, with a couple singles off the comps we’d promote. We’re trying to figure out a way to stay alive, and I don’t think we were really doing that properly. I think we’re shifting, and with this comp being a dubstep one, it’s not a comprehensive be-all about dubstep, it’s what I think about it, my favorite tracks and my friends and people I wanted to get more exposure. If I had six more months, the Katy B record would be on there. Everything I like is coming out now and becoming popular. That’s sort of what it is.

When I think about you as a DJ, you’re someone who has been influential to a lot of genres because you stayed super up up to date. I was surprised to recognize most of the acts and songs on this compilation. It felt out of character.
There must not be a lot of dubstep that’s unknown at this point. I just think that for me, I tried to get the most crossover-vibed songs. Some rough ones on there, some crazy ones, but the idea was to act selfish. You can check our blog and always find Jayou mixes or 16bit mixes, just find mad shit. I'm not into the Dubstep Forum vibe, the kids that hate on Rusko or whatever is cool at the moment because they’re so nerdy and techy.

You’re going to get hated on by those people. Especially because it’s such a forward, constantly-evolving genre.
I think it’s a pretty progressive CD. Something like Untold’s James Blake mix. I’m not trying to market it like, This Is Dubstep, it’s the tracks I like, that I listen to. I think I’d love to make it more academic, but that’s not what I was trying to do on this one. That’s what Soul Jazz are good at, their liner notes are like reading novels. But I don’t have the time to do that, and I don’t think I should be the fucking guy that’s like, this is what this is. It’s just my favorite tracks. Almost everybody that we have on the comp are friends of mine, or somebody I’ve collaborated with. There’s a really cool record that’s on there, Jessica Mauboy, pop star from Australia. I had the bootleg this guy Stench has made, he’s a friend of mine. I actually had to go to the label in Australia and I offered me to work with that girl, I said I want to do music like this and they actually hadn’t heard the mix because it hadn’t made it up the chain of A&Rs, and we actually got the label to pay him for the mix and license it to us so we could sell it in America, which I think is pretty cool. That’s something nobody has ever heard before, just the record I happened to have. We had to do some legwork, I want to show the diversity of it and I wanted to show, for any people that are laymen... a lot of people don’t like dubstep, for one because of the audience you get at dubstep shows in America, because it’s very guy-oriented and very aggressive. I wanted to show people this is Joker and shit, he doesn’t come to America and tour like Rusko and that aggressive stuff does. I wanted people to know about his stuff, I want Untold to be a bigger star and I think that’s the stuff I really like. Like that 12th Planet Little Jinder remix off of Trouble and Bass, I wanted to show the production and the more melodic, songwriter stuff. It’s kind of complicated. I had a long wish list, this is kind of the best we could do, I’m really happy with the way it turned out though. Did you want it to be more underground?

This just isn’t the track list I would have predicted from you. I would’ve expected 98% to be things I’d never heard of.
I think it’s not for you then. It’s for those who don’t know as much about dubstep, I guess. I’ll make you a more underground version. I’m happy with it, I really like the tracklist. Some of it’s old. Some of it, like the Joker and Ginz record, that was one of the first records I got and I was like, Yeah this is sick. That’s what made me want to work more on dubstep stuff. It’s definitely not for your dubstep fans that go to every dubstep show and are dubstep freaks, because they’re going to be like, these tracks are old. But it’s for kids that don’t know dubstep. My mom and dad can buy it and listen to dubstep, I hope. That’s what I’m making it for, your mom and dad.

Is dubstep influencing your current production work?
I’ve done stuff for MIA and Santi that were dubsteppy, but for me I’m more influenced by the producers. For me, I’m more influenced by James Blake. He’s bringing back stuff I was doing when I was making solo records five years ago. Like Florida stuff. If you listen to it there’s a lot of dub, if it was produced with today’s equipment, some of the stuff would be dubstep on that record. My influence back then was dirty south producers and samples and weird sounds, so that’s kind of what dubstep was when I first heard it. I was like, This shit is bangin’. The first record I was playing was “Night” by Benga, like two years ago when that record was popping off. Everything that’s happened since then, all the shit blew up. I heard that and it was like crunk and the shuffle and space and people dance to it, and I went to clubs and I was like what the fuck is going on with this shit?! We worked with Rusko, we’ve worked with different artists, we did some dubstep stuff for Major Lazer’s new record. But more influenced by the producers than the sound. Like there’s a record we’ve done with Bugle culture reggae record coming. There’s a dubstep sound and the bass and the tempo is very dubstep-oriented. It’s like a punk music to me, I get so many demos from kids, they’re like 16 and 14, they’re punk rock you know.

Interview: Diplo on Dubstep