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Dinosaur junior
Diplo’s got a brand new bag

For the past two months, DJ Wes Gully, better known as Diplo, has been perfecting a new sequence at the Hollertronix party he inaugurated in Philadelphia two years ago with his DJ partner Mike Maguire, a/k/a Low Budget. It goes, Diplo explains over the phone from his Philly apartment, something like this: "I get into it by playing the Cure’s ‘Love Song,’ and then I drop the ‘Bombs over Baghdad’ a cappella over it, and then I go into the ‘Bombs over Baghdad’ instrumental and mix it in, and then drop the real version for two verses, and then go into Le Tigre. And from there I drop this one dirty-South song I really like by Crime Mob called ‘Knuck If You Buck.’ "

It’s hair-raising segues like those that made the Hollertronix mix CD, Never Scared (Money Studies), one of the underground hip-hop sensations of 2003. Cross-fading from ’80s new-wave tunes into the latest in Southern hip-hop, Never Scared showed hipsters and hip-hop heads alike how to go from crunk to punk faster than you can say Missy-meets-the-Clash. The Hollertronix team are scheduled to hit Boston on October 7, but first Diplo is heading out on a solo tour with his friend and mentor RJD2 that will bring them to the Middle East next Friday.

When we speak, Diplo is still figuring out what he’s going to play: he’s never performed outside a party setting. But he has no shortage of material to draw on. Besides Never Scared, he’s also issued a pair of psychedelic-funk mixtapes, AEIOU and AEIOU 2, performed promo-only remix duties for both RJD2 and DJ Shadow, and cut beats for David Banner and a street mix tape for the Sri Lankan reggae vocalist M.I.A. And he’s constructed a startling mix tape called Favela on Blast culled from a record-collecting trip in Brazil last year to document Rio’s "baille-funk" scene. "It’s like funk music never died down there — like if James Brown had turned into Zapp & Roger and that turned into ‘Planet Rock.’ It’s become purely Brazilian at this point. But you can hear the influences: the fake conga drums that 2 Live Crew used to fuck with, only they make it sound even more like samba music, like an attack of drums. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s purely undiluted — it’s strictly kids making it. Like there’s no mainstream pop shit going on with it, it’s just totally dirty-ass music."

A year before he started the Hollertronix parties, Diplo signed to Ninja Tune as a producer; his forthcoming debut album, the mostly instrumental Florida (on NT’s Big Dada imprint), places him in the ranks of RJD2 and DJ Shadow. He shares their love of rare funk and Paleolithic psych-rock as well as their knack for turning a sack of samples into something that sounds like a live band. But what sets him apart is his populism: he’s an unabashed fan of dancehall, crunk, and bounce, which tend to get vilified as vulgar by hip-hop’s indie intellectuals. "Kids love that music. I mean, adults might say, ‘This music’s stupid, this is kinda ignorant.’ But any kid on the block is gonna tell you, ‘That’s my favorite song, it’s Young Buck,’ or, ‘My favorite song is [Yung Wun’s] "Tear It Up." ’ Kids love that energy, and they don’t care what their friends think about music, they just like what they like."

Diplo grew up all over the South, including Mississippi, Tennessee, and a half-dozen towns in Florida. "When I came to Philly, I realized the shit I liked wasn’t that cool [here]. I was really into 2 Live Crew, and I thought they were really good. And to people here, it was just kinda kitschy and silly." But when Hollertronix debuted, this was the music the team played. "When we first started out, it became like an art-kid thing, and scenesters were coming. We were playing the most ghetto music we had, and they were just going crazy to it. But eventually it filled up with [black] kids from the neighborhood, and they were into the ’80s music as much as they were into the [hip-hop] club music. I mean, Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ was a big hit around the world, you know? It was a big hit in the black community, too. There were songs that just kinda like got in, that you wouldn’t expect. Like Talking Heads? People love them. You can just say, like, ‘Once in a Lifetime’: people know the lyrics to that song. There are certain crossovers. But we also definitely push the boundaries."

Diplo opens for RJD2 next Friday, September 17, downstairs at the Middle East, 480 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square; call (617) 864-EAST.

Issue Date: September 10 - 16, 2004
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