October 10, 2013

Test Spins: Diplo, Revolution

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Diplo is a personal hero and music inspiration to me.  If you don’t know the story behind this paradigmatic figure in the Electronic Dance Music scene, let me review it for you briefly.  Diplo was born in Mississippi but grew up in south Florida in a middle class family where his father owned a bait shop.  He bounced around a few colleges in Florida before getting his degree in film studies from Temple University in Philadelphia.  He had a few blue-collar jobs but nothing extraordinary, and eventually turned to doing DJ gigs.  From there his career took a decisive turn to producing music. This man has accomplished a lot since the start of his music career, which truly took off after the creation of Major Lazer, a fictional Jamaican bounty hunter invented by Diplo and Switch.

Diplo used Major Lazer to springboard his entire career.  Heavily influenced by a Caribbean genre of music called Dancehall, he brought a lot of Caribbean influences to the burgeoning EDM movement and struck gold with single “Pon de Flor.”  With new fame came connections to larger record labels and what seemed to be a never-ending tour of the festival circuit.  Diplo wrote an autobiography about his rise to fame called 128 Beats per Minute, and proceeded to start his own record label — the ever-popular Mad Decent.

Diplo was disillusioned by the business model of other record labels and foresaw the death of the music distribution industry after the birth of file-sharing and torrenting websites.  With music becoming almost exclusively digital, Diplo created a business model to match the new distributio trend. He started giving away music for free, knowing that building a fan base by giving them access to your music could create a large following that would come out to shows and “spread the gospel” of his music across the world.  His plan worked.  Diplo now has a wealth of cutting-edge artists signed to his label, including the sensational Dillon Francis. He also has the freedom to create music in any style he wishes without worrying about having to please a corporation.  Although his newest EP, Revolution, is for sale, Diplo frequently gives away freebies via social media and Mad Decent, and it is likely some of these tracks could be among them in the future.

What makes Diplo such an important figure in the EDM movement is his freedom of style.  To coin a phrase that GTA, a duo that has collaborated with Mad Decent artists, uses, Diplo has ushered in “Death to Genres” by being so musically eclectic as to dabble in moombahton, trap, dancehall, reggae and even pop.  He has produced for the likes of Bruno Mars, Snoop Lion, MIA, 2 Chainz and Usher, and he brings influences from all of these styles to the music he produces, making his tracks fun, creative and refreshing.  The man currently tours non-stop, sometimes playing solo as Diplo, and other times with his Major Lazer crew, which includes Jillionaire and Walshy Fire.

Now, back to present day, where Diplo has just released his Revolution EP. Revolution is replete with 808s, trap rhythms and includes some sweet collaborations with underrated artists. The EP has four original tracks: The first, “Biggie Bounce” starts off with some horn synths that build to a fast paced hip-hip drop with a plethora of bells and claps, to back up vocals from the Georgia-based group Travis Porter.

Next, Diplo slows it down on the title track of the EP, which is a bit of a let down. Kai provides beautiful vocals, but they lead up to a pretty repetitive drop and a monotone synth repeated at the typical trap tempo. It would have been better if Diplo had paired these moving, catchy vocals with a better drop, one that isn’t so repetitive and boring, but alas.

He makes up for some of the mediocrity of “Revolution” with the third track, “Crown,”  featuring Boaz van de Beatz, Mike Posner and RiFF RAFF. This track does everything right with soft Mike Posner vocals bathed in reverb accompanied by some lead synths reminiscent of hard-style that leads to a short build up which drops into a filthy bass-assault.  This is truly the twerking anthem of the EP from the so-called king of twerk (he frequently posts photos of girls in their “express yourself” position up against his DJ booth with their ass in the air at his eye level). The edgy bass with just a twinkle of grime and a hint of distortion on the 808s makes this trap anthem insane.

The EP finishes off with two remixes which are not anything to write home about.  Boaz van de Beatz and TWRK change little on the tracks they remix, and instead attempt to turn Diplo’s songs into super-danceable, trap standards, complete with booming bass and typical snares.

Overall, this EP has some bangers that will be getting a lot of play at clubs and shows in the upcoming months. Diplo once again refuses to conform and features interesting collaborations, intriguing Jamaican influences and booty-shaking bass.

Zachary Reisler is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]