In our Sound Evolution series, we take a look (and listen) at the back catalogs of some of the world’s biggest DJs.
You can’t really start the Diplo conversation without first talking about Hollertronix, the original mashup duo—consisting of Wesley Pentz, aka Diplodocus aka Diplo, and Lowbudget—that took the party scene by storm more than 15 years ago. As the first major wave of electronic dance music was starting to slow down in the US, there was a new scene starting to bubble up. Streetwear and hipster culture in 2002 began to gain a foothold as the electronic music scene slowly lost its footing, mostly due to the 2003 RAVE Act, which sent most promoters to the clubs or ended their events altogether.
As we rolled into 2004, the party scene started to sound quite a bit different, with the rise of mashup, baile funk, blog house, and a random mish-mash of genres that changed the sound of nightlife forever.
This mini musical revolution was the beginning of the end for Hollertronix—and the birth of Diplo’s solo career and eventual rise to superstar status. Lowbudget and Diplo eventually went their separate ways, only occasionally coming together for Hollertronix DJ sets, and ultimately severed ties altogether.
The early gritty mashup sounds had a profound effect on Diplo’s foundation as a producer and led to a long musical journey filled with a wide variety of influences. His first major solo work, Florida on Ninja Tune’s sub-label Big Dada, was an unexpected mix of atmospherics, heady samples, and blunted hip-hop beats in the vein of DJ Shadow, DJ Krush, and Emancipator.
After Florida, the Diplodocus became obsessed with the sound of baile funk, a harsh and hard-hitting form of Brazilian electro music. Needing a label to start releasing all his new music, he did what every other hard-hustling artists did: He launched a label.
Mad Decent started in 2005 and helped propel several niche genres into the hipster musical universe. From baile funk to moombahton to trap to dancehall, the label was and still is a constant work in progress.
Diplo caught his big break in 2007 with the explosion of “Paper Planes,” the track he wrote with MIA that catapulted him to DJ/producer superstardom.
Shortly after his split with MIA, the first Major Lazer record was produced, which gave fans yet another glimpse of his versatility as an artist.
Today, Diplo is working with some of the biggest pop stars in the music business and continues to churn out massive hits with Major Lazer, Jack Ü, and more collaborations than we can count. Let’s dive into Diplo—but don’t try to understand it all, because you probably won’t.
Hollertronix “Hollertronix #1”—Money Studies Records, 2002
Hollertronix were known for their innovative sets that fused pop, hip-hop, ‘80s, dancehall, and even disco into one seamless mix. Their DJing style was also very influential on their productions, where they would fuse genres together to create floor-melting bootlegs. This signature style is still part of Diplo’s production regimen, just slightly more refined these days.
Diplo “Sound and Fury”—Self Released, 2002
This is OG, gritty Diplodocus, with crackly lo-fi samples and hard-hitting drum breaks reminiscent of RJD2, DJ Shadow, and the era of heady hip-hop instrumentals.
Diplo “Florida”—Big Dada, 2004
In his first proper label release, Diplo is noticeably more refined with his beats and programming. The sound is not nearly as gritty, but it still retains that Diplo edge.
Peter Bjorn and John “Young Folks”—(Diplo Remix) Mad Decent, 2007
As the hipster world was catching fire, Diplo was right there to fan the flames. The Peter Bjorn And John cut was an anthem, and Diplo’s remix was on the decks of every hip DJ on the planet. From Brazilian ghetto music to slick indie grooves, you just don’t know what’s going to happen next.
MIA “Paper Planes”—XL, 2007
Then there’s this: the monster hit cowritten with MIA on her 2007 album Kala. The song was also featured in the Danny Boyle film Slum Dog Millionaire, which went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Diplo would later go on to produce with MIA’s main producer, Switch, as Major Lazer (Switch left in 2011).
Diplo ft. Deize Tigrona “Bandida”—Man Recordings, 2008
Here we see Diplo getting his baile funk on, which was not a sound for everyone. The often fierce screeching of Portuguese rap/chants was off-putting to many of his original fans but also helped take the genre to a much wider audience. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that the sound is entirely fresh.
Diplo “Blow Your Head”—Mad Decent, 2008
Hipster culture is starting to peak, and the rise of EDM is on the way. This is where we hear a lot of guys start using 4/4 beats and edge toward a new form of house music that would eventually become electro house. Diplo was once again ahead of the curve.
Diplo & Datsik ft. Kay “Pick Your Poison”—Mad Decent, 2011
Here we are in full EDM land, with this slightly odd tune with Datsik that epitomizes that electro house era and the beginning of bro-step. He does it again: completely baffles you with a new sound but still keeps that hook.
Diplo & Don Diablo “Make You Pop”—Mad Decent/Spinnin’ Records, 2012
Another weird banger that fits right in with that big electro house sound and keeps all the Diplo production tweaks that fans love. The little “pop pop” vocal snippet and drum work gives it away.
Diplo “Biggie Bounce”—Mad Decent/Warner, 2013
The era of twerking is in full effect, and Diplo is the reigning champ of the high-energy, bottom-heavy bass sound that initiates immediate twerking.
Major Lazer & DJ Snake ft. MØ “Lean On”—Mad Decent, 2015
It has 2,046,224,087 views as of putting this together. That’s really all there is to say.
Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike vs. Diplo ft. Deb’s Daughter ”Hey Baby”—Mad Decent, 2016
Here’s another unlikely collaboration, which there seems to be many of at this point (check his full discography at the link below). Diplo has become a massive collaborator, and most of his work over the last five years has been with other artists. Here, he tunes up a more mid-tempo jam with steel drums, a great hook, and a very Major Lazer vibe.
There you have it: From gritty loops and heady beats to baile funk to electro house to massive pop singles, Diplo has cemented himself in electronic music history.
You can catch Diplo at this year’s EDC Las Vegas, but be warned: Chances are you will hear something completely fresh that might leave you scratching your head but still shuffling your feet.
EDC Las Vegas 2017 takes place Friday, June 16, through Sunday, June 18, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For more information, visit the official website.