Talking about an instant surprise? Your eyes ain’t lying, this is indeed Thomas Wesley Pentz, aka DIPLO.
It’s practically impossible to be unfamiliar with this trouble maker, but I’ll be more than happy to spill the beans about this character for the very few people who do not know the man polarized here above.
If God really is a DJ, than Diplo must be quite divine. ‘Diplodocus’, however keeps it real and prefers to describe himself as ‘a random ass white dude, founder of smoothie wolf & feeder of the streets since 1885.’ Diplo is a DJ, a 3 time Grammy nominated producer and founder of a label called Mad Decent, born in Tupelo, Mississippi off all places. He grew up in Florida but started out his DJ career when he moved to Philadelphia where he met DJ Low Budget. Together they started to organize parties called ‘Hooked On Hollertronix’ and made quite the name for themselves. The New York Times picked up one of their mixtapes called ‘Never Scared’ and labeled it one of the best albums of 2003 and that was probably the first ray of spotlight that Diplo was ever given in his career and we all know that this was only the beginning.
Diplo really distinguished himself because of his love and interest for ‘Baile Funk’ and released two mixtapes called ‘Favela On Blast’ and ‘Favela Strikes Back’, which is also the way I first got introduced to Diplo. Then one fine day, Diplo met M.I.A. in the London club Fabric, which was a very important landmark in both of their careers. Diplo started working on M.I.A.’s music and together they released a first mixtape called Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1. One of the tracks on the mixtape was ‘Bucky Done Gun’ which really launched M.I.A. her career in a huge way.
This was the beginning of a very fruitful collaboration and romantic relationship with M.I.A. for about 5 years. With his eyes on more producers work, Diplo build a studio called ‘The Mausoleum’; a video studio, recording studio, record label office, gallery, and event space in Philadelphia. Through M.I.A. Diplo met producer Switch, who he ended up creating the Major Lazer project with and with whom he released the first Major Lazor album called ‘Guns Don’t Kill People….Lazers Do’ and the accompanied ‘Pon De Floor’ single & video that stirred quite a few reactions.
Major Lazor is a collaborative project that combines the best of Jamaican music culture like dance hall & reggae with current electronical beats, making it an entire genre on its own, but most of all a guarantee for pure, uncomplicated fun and a decent excuse for all ladies to ‘get in line and show off their bestest wine.’ One of Diplo’s highlights in his career is probably the hit single ‘Paper Planes’ he co-produced with Switch for M.I.A.
Switch decided to leave the Major Lazer project, which didn’t stop Diplo to pick it back up and continue the project with new band members Walshy Fire & Jillionaire.
The first track from the second Major Lazor album called ‘Free The Universe’ was the song ‘Get Free’ that blessed everyone’s radio station and mp3 player all around the world. It came with a pretty amazing video as well. Another stand out single from ‘Free The Universe’ and a big hit in Holland & Belgium is ‘Watch Out For This’ which is a collaborative track with the Flexican & FS Green from Amsterdam, Holland.
Last but not least, I have to mention Diplo’s work on the ‘Reincarnated’ album from Snoop Dogg which was accompanied by a very interesting documentary.
My personal favorite DIPLO productions are the following: ‘Dancehall percussion‘ (with The Black Lips), ‘Heavy drums‘ (for Azealia Banks), ‘Speed Merengue‘ (with Maluca) and ‘Dancehall Queen‘ (with Robyn).
I’ve always been a Diplo fan. Probably because I like culture and spice in my music. I’m not the biggest fan of boring house or flat techno beats, but add some musical Harissa to it and I end up loving it. Diplo is a master in transforming sounds from bland to outstanding. I admire his constant search for subculture movements in music and showing it to the world through his music, videos and documentaries. With his label ‘Mad Decent’ Diplo is creating a musical movement, giving artists that lack the ‘major label proof’ stamp a platform to create and release their music for an audience that is craving for the unconventional rather than the next boring and standard pop tune. Out of the norm yet very current is what Diplo does best.
Last, I would suggest to check this documentary which gives a short yet honest portrait of Diplo, the man, the dj, the truth!
Now. This was a more than intricate introduction, don’t you think? Want to find out the story behind this Polaroid?
Here we go.
I met Diplo already twice doing this blog, how odd is that? No, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember me. I’m quite forgettable. I met Diplo when I was in Miami about three years ago when I ended up at a Belvedere party in the W hotel.
After Diplo finished his DJ set at this rather tasteful garden party during a sunny afternoon for a dozen of the happy few sipping on expensive cocktails, I politely waited for him at a spot I calculated he’d probably have to take to leave the party. I remember approaching him, asking him for a polaroid, when a woman (I think a publicist) was really giving me a hard time about me taking the Polaroid. I also remember Diplo being super nice and friendly and apologizing and telling me to come to his Mad Decent party he was throwing later that day. Fun fact, while we were talking, we were interrupted by a stunning Kelis passing by, saying; “Hi Diplo” with that sexy, grainy voice of hers. I ended up snapping both Rye Rye and Kelis at that Belvedere party, Diplo however I had to let go.
A year later I met Diplo again, at a party called Party & Bullshit during Bread & Butter in Berlin and it turned out that Diplo was a surprise guest. This outdoor party was totally packed and there was no way in getting close to him, besides, I left a very important element at home, which was my Polaroid Camera. I didn’t expect to come across any artists that night so I left it at home. At the other side of the DJ booth I noticed ZEB also known as Jahan Lennon, a guy I vaguely knew via Theophilus London and who is signed to Major Lazer. He was bored out of his mind for some reason and I decided to talk to him. I was a bit drunk, I tend to be more sociable when I’m in that kind of state. He told me that he was tired and that he wanted to go to the hotel but that Diplo had the key to their room or their car (not really sure anymore) and since Diplo was kinda busy, he realised he wasn’t going to leave anytime soon.
I needed an excuse to approach Diplo, then again I don’t really know why, because I didn’t have my Polaroid with me, but as I said I was drunk, so I told him that I bet that I could make Diplo come to him so he could leave. Zeb or Jahan or whatever looked at me like I was totally nuts and said: “You’ll never get there in the first place and it will never work, look at him, he is all over this Asian chick.” It was true. Diplo was indeed having intricate conversations with a model looking Asian girl. I looked at Jahan and told him; “You’ll see” and squeezed my way into the crowd and arrived in front of the dj booth in only seconds where I soon was swarmed by a sweaty, jumping crowd. I had to draw Diplo’s attention (you know, because of the Asian chick and all) so I decided in my drunk state of mind to take an empty coke can and just throw it at him.
That’s what drunk people do, what can I say really? Diplo looked up and I yelled in his ear that we met before in Miami and that I wanted to take a Polaroid picture of him. He said: “Where is your camera” and I told him that I didn’t have it on me. Diplo laughed and then I said that he really needed to come to the other side of the DJ booth because his friend Zeb aka Jahan wanted to go home. Diplo replied that he would come asap. When I squeezed myself back to Zeb aka Jahan and told him Diplo was coming, I remember him looking at me slightly impressed. Then again, I was drunk, so it might have been quite the opposite. Who knows? Minutes later Diplo came to give the hotel key and Jahan was relieved he could exit the party. Right before they both left, I asked to pose for my disposable camera and I recall Diplo looking at me while lip syncing to his “Look At Me Now“ track playing in the background while posing for my disposable camera. I have to say, it was super arrogant and bossy at the same damn time.
Two years later, anno 2013 Major Lazer was booked at my all time favorite venue, the Ancienne Belgique and I jumped on those tickets like dogs on beef because I knew this could be the only opportunity in perhaps a very long time to snap the man on Polaroid. Besides. I’m a big Major Lazer fan and I never went to one of the Major Lazer gigs, which looked like a total blast!
I was so caught up with work that I only began working on the story 24h before the concert, which is, of course, extremely late. I wasn’t planning on letting Diplo out of the country without snapping him on Polaroid so I had to pull out all the emergency stops and go public with my request. I started to mail and contact all the people in my network that might be tied to Diplo. One lead let to another and I contacted Stijn Maris, a Studio Brussels radio host and a true fan of this modest, little blog. He advised me to contact Warner Belgium to get anything going. I told Stijn that my contacts with Warner are not really tight and that I never really ended up working with them for this blog so Stijn was so nice to send a mail in my behalf to Warner and gave me that extra push in the back by kindly urging the label to help me with my request.
Only seconds later Warner replied that it would be rather difficult but that they would do their best. The contact at Warner also told me that they would not be present at the concert but that a colleague would be on location and that this person would pitch my request to Diplo when they had the chance. It was something to start with, but I know from experience that I can’t rest assure in labels… Plus, I never really worked together with Warner on a story, there is no real relationship like I have with Sony, so I had to be extremely lucky to have this person – who doesn’t know me or my work – selling me to Diplo.
Anyway, I kept looking for angles and created a tiny little buzz on the internet, letting everybody and my readers know that I was on the hunt and Diplo was my prey. This led to this nice stunt from Coca Cola Belgium who picked up my ‘A Polaroid Story’ hunt for Diplo and made these cans for me to push the hype around it a little bit. (and draw attention to their current ‘Share A Coke’ campaign)
OUNI x DIPLO.
Sounds fly doesn’t it? 🙂
Anyway. Aichi – who yet again assisted me on this story – an I arrived nice and early at the Ancienne Belgique venue and managed to easily take a spot front row in the venue. I wasn’t sure about a Polaroid, so I wanted to go home with at least a few good shots of the concert and a front row spot is much needed in that case. While waiting for the evening to begin I decided to research the contact I was given from Warner and came to the conclusion that we met before while I was working on the Nneka story. This contact was a former intern at Sony and I remember her telling me that she was leaving Sony to go work for Warner. I quickly asked my contact at Sony to give me the mobile number of her former colleague. Minutes later my contact at Warner confirmed that she was indeed at the AB venue and that she would try to make something happen after the concert. It’s always a step ahead when somebody knows your work, so I was super excited about the prospect of a Diplo polaroid.
The night officially began with DJ CASHMERE CAT opening for Major Lazer.
When Cashmere Cat finished his set, it was only a matter of minutes before Major Lazor aka Diplo, Walshy Fire, Jillionaire and 2 dancers entered the stage and entirely shredded the place into sweaty little pieces. It was total madness from the very start and the audience knew they were up for pure, uncomplicated fun, beats and entertainment with a Major Lazer dresscode that went from costumes to tanks, to well … nothing.
Here are a few extra concert shots from that night.
There is an old 2 Many Djs track called ‘Theme From Discoteque’ and in the song you can hear the following quote: “Do you know where your teenager is at 5 o’ clock in the morning?” Anno 2013, the question should be “Do you know where your teenager is at 10 o’clock in the evening?” and the answer should be: “Probably at a concert or festival expressing herself while bumping her booty to Diplo tunes.” In all the years that I have been doing this blog, I have never seen the Ancienne Belgique with so many bare chested men and soaking wet women like I saw that night. My skin tasted and smelled like cheap cava because of the ‘champagne shower’ Walshy Fire treated the front row audience. It was probably the most fun I had on a random Tuesday evening in a long while.
When the concert was done, everybody left the venue all soaking wet and the smell that was left behind was quite memorable. If Major Lazer would ever release its own perfume, then I suggest the name MAJOR STANK would be highly appropriate. While I was waiting for my contact at Warner to come and pick me up, I noticed that the bar of the Ancienne Belgique venue was emptying rather quickly and I started worrying. Because I was starting to have doubts about a possible Polaroid via Warner I decided to hustle on my own and asked my troopers to draw some attention via Twitter which ended up in these funny results.
However, still no reaction from Diplo. Not much later, Aicha and I found ourselves back outside on the streets in front of a closed venue. A total case of ‘Should I stay or should I go now?’ presented itself. If we stayed we mìght have a Polaroid but we would miss our train and the ride back home would be with the first train in the morning at 5AM and we would be obligated to sneek into the sold out Major Lazer afterparty to kill time. If we went home, we would be in bed on time and ready for work the next day, but no Polaroid.
Still in doubt, Aicha noticed a tall guy waiting around the tour bus and asked me if we shouldn’t approach him and ask him to help us. Doing this blog, I developed a very interesting quality, which is spotting individuals in entourage who surely will NOT help you. I can’t really explain it, but it’s a vibe they have. This dude had that vibe, so I didn’t even bother but Aicha tried anyway. The man answered rather cold that if we wanted a Polaroid we should keep on waiting outside because Diplo would come out eventually. The man wasn’t really chatty or social for that matter, so we let him be and didn’t try to pursue him to get us inside because he wouldn’t do it anyway.
While we were waiting in the cold and I was slightly frustrated being outside waiting for a Polaroid like I used to do when I just started this blog, I received a text message from my Warner contact telling me that Diplo and company were still not coming out and that she was about to go home. This meant that the only thing we could do was wait in front of the tour bus until Diplo came out of the venue. Very APS 2009. Only three minutes later, the whole night turned around in our favour, because a door opened from the side of the venue and a familiar face from my hometown Ostend named Koen walks out with a friend of his. We started talking and it turned out that they were heading back to Antwerp with a car. I immediately begged the boys to hang around for another 30 minutes so we could drive back home with them and told them that I was waiting for Diplo to snap on Polaroid and that he would normally come out any minute.
So Koen’s friend Marcus then asks me; “What do you need? A Polaroid? Jesus, we’re not going to wait for thàt, let me take you there so we can move on.” I was like; “Take me where? Inside? Can you get me inside?” Marcus told me; “Sure I can.” while he took his keys, opened the door and escorted me, Aicha and Koen straight to the backstage. While going upstairs to the backstage area I told Marcus: “Who are you and why don’t I know you?” Marcus told me: ” I could say the same about you.”Turned out that Marcus is the Ancienne Belgique programmer and programmers come with keys that lead straight to backstage areas.
No muss, no fuss. So Aicha and I ended up backstage where we noticed Diplo chatting it up with a few people from Warner. When they were done, I approached my contact at Warner – who by that time recognized me and realised I got into the building on my own – immediately introduced me to Diplo and like I suspected, snapping a Polaroid was ‘A OK’ for the very charming Diplo. He was still a bit sweaty from his performance but he was extremely chatty and super nice. I hardly remember what he said, because his toned upper body distracted me. (Just being honest here.)
I tried to focus and told him that I needed a different expression for every Polaroid, but that he was free to do what he felt like doing. I started out with a test shot before I moved on to the real deal.
When I came to the last picture I decided to grow some balls for once and told him that it is very interesting that he is preaching to women all over the world to twerk and ‘express yourself ‘ but that he should give back to us women by posing in front of my Polaroid camera, shirtless. Diplo smiled, didn’t hesitate for a nano second, shrugged and took off his ‘Free The Universe’ tank, while telling me that he should put his stud face on and looked straight into my camera with complete confidence. I’m sure the female readers of this blog will enjoy the following exhibits. You can thank me later.
This is the first shirtless Polaroid I have captured since the making of this blog. Quite memorable I must say. Sure, Method Man was shirtless in the room when I met him, but he ripped a hole in a towel with his teeth (no lie) and put it over his head, which ended up covering his torso. So this, my dear readers, is pretty unique (but don’t expect me to make a habit of this). I guess that’s why I love Diplo so much. Not because he took his shirt off, but mainly because he doesn’t really give a fuck what anybody says or thinks, he just does what he feels like, a characteristic which clearly comes back through his entire career, criticized by many, loved by more.
It was all a bit of blur, I don’t even remember thanking him, or shaking his hand or whatever, I was in a mental high that we pulled it off to get Diplo on Polaroid even though things were not in my favor that night. As Aicha, Koen, Marcus and myself went back outside, the boys were doubting to go home and showed some interest to go the sold out Major Lazer after party, a gig that none of us had tickets to. I had been so distracted upstairs that I barely managed to say a word to Diplo, let alone ask him to put me on the guest list for the after party at Mr Wong or even ask him for a picture together. (Damn!)
I was so grateful to Marcus for the Polaroid opportunity he gave me, so I told them that I would get them in the club as a token of my appreciation. Marcus seriously questioned my skills to get in a club I’d never been to before and didn’t have àny connection with but I told him to shut up, watch and learn. I managed to get in Mr Wong with a group of six, easily.
How? I’m not going to kiss and tell, but all I can say that the after party sure was worth the lack of sleep I experienced the next day. (bare with the sound, the heavy bass killed my poor Canon G10)
At age 35, Diplo is a musical taste maker, a hit maker and a rump shaker with an impeccable taste in worldly musical flavours and a specific talent to blend and mash up genres that come straight from the barrio, catapulting them to the top of the charts. Until this day, Diplo worked with global artists like Beyonce, Robyn, Shaggy, Usher, Santigold, M.I.A, Gucci Mane, La Roux to name a few and probably many more are waiting in line for him. With his Mad Decent label, Diplo is stacking up unconventional talent like Baauer, Zebra Katz, Riff Raff and others, while raising a big middle finger to major labels that weren’t interested in those type of artists, being scared of taking risks. When the day comes Diplo leaves music, I’m pretty sure he will be an excellent documentary or film maker, showcasing hidden treasures and subculture movements from all over the world.
Diplo is the (naked) truth.
Special thanks to Willy Dopa, Stijn Maris, Warner Belgium, Aicha, Koen and last but not least, MARCUS for your help and contributions (small or big) to turn this story into a happy ending.