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Hollertronix on ice
Diplo says farewell to DJing
BY CHRIS NELSON
Diplotronix

 

Five Diplo Jawns You Missed

1 Thingamajawn | Money Studies seven-inch, 2003 | A sweltering summery single released alongside Never Scared that mines golden horns from the Art Ensemble of Chicagoís "Theme De Yo Yo."

2 Banned in Libya | Turntable Lab DVD, 2004 | The Cureís "Close to Me" battles with Juvenileís "Ha" while visuals from video artist System D-128 blaze by. Now out of print, but much of the footage appears on a bonus DVD that accompanies Florida.

3 AEIOU, Pt.2 | no label CD-R, 2004 | Pentz and fellow Philly boy Tony Tripledouble compile a 70-plus minute mix of top-notch psych-rock from the bottom of their dusty crates.

4 Michael Giacchino, "The Glory Days (Diplo Remix)" | Walt Disney Records, 2004 | Diplo gets Mr. Incredible and the family club-ready on this bounce track from the MP3-only Incredibles: Remixed EP.

5 Gwen Stefani, "Hollaback Girl (Hollatronix Remix)" | Universal CD single, 2005 | At under three minutes, a brief but fulfilling Baltimore house reworking that makes Mrs. Rossdaleís shit really bananas.

Wes Pentz is best known as a DJ called Diplo, but right now heís giving me tips on how to steal jeans from Urban Outfitters. Two years ago, while he was earning a living as a social worker at a North Philadelphia elementary school, he did a lot of shoplifting. He says it was easy ó not because he was a master thief but because pilfering jeans was the last thing anyone expected a young, middle-class white dude to do.

Well, maybe not the last thing.

The last thing anyone would have expected out of a young Wes Pentz is that heíd start a series of successful Philly club nights dubbed Hollertronix, school the hipsters of America in untamed strains of íhood music from Dirty South hip-hop to South American ghetto funk, and in the process generate international buzz for a female Sri Lankan MC/pop sensation. But thatís precisely what Diplo has done, and heís had a blast along the way. So why on earth is he quitting?

Thatís what Iím trying to figure out at 1 am as he IMís me from a hotel room in Atlanta about his frustrations and future plans. In between conversational outbursts, heís sending half-completed MP3 snippets and unreleased tracks, the detritus of a dude whose hustle is on permanent overdrive. The man seems a bit faded, but not enough that he canít type straight, and certainly not enough to make me doubt the unexpected announcement that heís leaving the scene thatís been so good to him ó a scene thatís spread from Philly to NYC and beyond over the past three years.

"Iím trying to just stop DJing, ícause it sucks the life out of you if youíre a truly creative person," he tells me. Since founding Philadelphiaís Hollertronix as a series of monthly parties with fellow DJ Low Budget in 2003, Diploís genre-splicing style has earned him gigs from Toronto to Tokyo. This month alone will find him in Chicago, Stockholm, Dublin, and Tel Aviv. But in between mapquests, heíll be in his home studio assembling an as-yet-untitled mix that he says is his goodbye to this hectic lifestyle. He may be quitting the decks, but he wants to make one last masterpiece. "Itís gonna be a farewell to DJing, ícause I started a lot of this shit kids are doiní. So Iím tryiní to crank it out on some ĎYíall canít fuck with this, but keep makiní mash-ups anywayí kinda mixtape to end it."

If Diplo sounds cocky, he has a right to be. Along with DJ Ayres and NYC crew the Rub, Hollertronix is the gold standard, the king of the kitchen-sink style thatís permeating so many East Coast DJ nights right now. The debut Hollertronix mixtape, Never Scared, is regarded as a classic despite being only a few years old and virtually impossible to find. (The mix, a blend of everything from the Cars to crunk, violated copyrights like Negativland off their Ritalin; it went out of print soon after its release.) Along the way, Diplo has attracted an unusual audience that cuts across genres and seems willing to follow him anywhere. Diploís Favela on Blast mixtape popularized "favela funk," an esoteric Brazilian dance music that had been virtually unknown outside non-Portuguese-speaking audiences.

But zeitgeist directing is tricky, and not everything Diploís done has been so well received. His debut solo album, Florida (Big Dada), was released last year to mixed reviews, and for good reason: itís a major departure from the Hollertronix style. Composed instead of spliced, itís also a concept album, a document that has less to do with a DJ named Diplo than with the young Wesley Pentz and his experiences growing up in the title stateís swamps. With a few exceptions, Florida offers a murky mélange (you heard me: itís classier than a mix) of downtempo beats and bass more likely to move you to tears than to move your ass. Fans didnít want it. Critics didnít get it.

"People donít like Florida," Diplo admits. But as his jet-setting has progressed, heís realized itís even more important as a memento than as an artistic statement. "It was a long time in the making, since I was like 17, so about five tracks I really feel like I want to take with me to the grave. Iím glad I made that record, ícause the more I go places, I gotta recognize that I did that out of purely personal reasons. That record is the sound of where I grew up, what went down in my mind, what I heard with the first girl I fell in love with. Thereís really something thatís just magical about all of it. Or at least I felt that. And then people try and tell me itís not. Maybe itís like some Van Morrison Astral Weeks shit. After I become a complete drunk, at least I made that."

When Diplo abandons the decks later this year, his prime objective will be a follow-up to Florida. Although he describes the album heís about to make as the one he thinks everyone wants ó "Florida but with mad club music and epic shit" ó itís also clear heís got thoughts of drifting even farther into left field. One idea is to spend a few months hopping freight trains recording "all on my laptop, plugged in at rest stops and meeting kids and workiní with them on the streets." His itinerary over the next couple of months runs from working with dancehall star Mr. Vegas to remixing Bloc Partyís next single, "Helicopter." But first heís gotta finish up whatís sure to be his most eagerly waited release (itís expected next month): M.I.A.ís Piracy Funds Terrorism 2 mixtape. The first Piracy was the most talked-about mixtape of 2004, and it generated enough street-level buzz to propel M.I.A. from white-label unknown to major-label covergirl. The heat is definitely on.

In the wake of Diploís success, the Hollertronix gospel has reached likeminded DJ duos like Providenceís Certified Bananas and Parisís Radioclit. Inevitably, too, haters have sprung up. Critics have labeled him a cultural thief who takes music like baile and crunk ó supposedly made for and by lower- and middle-class minorities ó and repackages them for white America. The New Yorkerís Sasha Frere-Jones even accused him of a duplicity that bordered on a new form of minstrelsy. Itís an old argument, but it isnít one that seems to bother him much. Listening to his mixes or watching him spin, you can tell that the only items on Diploís agenda are flexing his skills and making people dance.

"Why would someone be mad at me for that?" he types, as the sun starts to come up. "Music is for people. Whoís to say whatís too cool for people? Iíd rather get paid five bucks to DJ a birthday party for some lilí kid than play at a posh party any day."

Really?

"I meant 50 bucks."

 

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Issue Date: September 2 - 8, 2005
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