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Diplo Q & A

Bringing Mad Music to the People

Mississippi-born Wes Pentz, better known as Diplo -- one half of Philly outfit Hollertronix, M.I.A. collaborator and remix-master DJ-producer extraordinaire -- is coming to town. He who brought us funk carioca from Brazil continues to unleash the freshness with Mad Decent, the name for his year-old record label, his unpredictable podcast, and the much-hyped tour that stops over at Mezzanine next Thursday with Brazilian bands Cansei de Ser Sexy (Portuguese for “Tired of Being Sexy”) and Bonde do Role (“The Roller Coaster Band").

Diplo spoke with SF Station while waiting for the tour bus to be repaired at a truck stop in Atlanta.

SF Station (SFS): Back in ’04 you were DJing Baltimore club joints. What are you playing out these days?

Diplo (D): Still lots of Baltimore club stuff, house, and funk -- 130bpm to ghetto tech, reggae… everything across the board.

SFS: How did you link up with Bonde Do Role and Cansei de Ser Sexy? Are they both on your label, Mad Decent?

D: We’re all friends from Brazil -- we’re part of the same scene there and we go to the same shows. Bonde do Role was the first band on Mad Decent and CSS is on Subpop.

SFS: Talk a little bit about your label.

D: I started the label off about a year ago; I needed a name to put things out with. It’s something I’m trying to start, with my podcast, music and a documentary -- for different projects I’m trying to release. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since the first record I put out.

SFS: What is the documentary going to be about?

D: I’m working on it with Leandro, a good friend. The documentary is going to be something people can watch to give them an idea of the funk culture. It’s not just on music that was cool and then not cool, it’s a really exciting subculture -- as exciting to me as hip hop was in the 80s in NYC. They have their own language, their own style… this is one of the strongest music scenes I’ve seen and it’s completely self-contained. I want to give people examples of this.

SFS: Can you speak some more about the funk subculture?

D: In Rio it’s been a phenomenon for 15 years, bouncing between playboys, rich boys and favelas; in Rio, they’re all right next to each other. Rio is the only city where it’s poor and rich everywhere; it’s a strange geographic anomaly. The culture is an offshoot from Miami bass -- a continuation of funk music, like James Brown turned into funky house music. It involved the evolution of funk through the evolution of hip hop; they took stuff like Planet Rock and Kraftwerk, and started using Portuguese slang words and descriptions of favela life, the way samba did 100 years ago.

From then on it developed into a strange self-contained culture with sampling of sounds they like and organic drum sounds they make themselves. They might be making a hybrid of Afro-samba cheeky techno samples or put a Morrissey sample with a bass beat, random loops and drums. It’s all very punk rock -- some of it’s made with stolen computer parts. The DJ culture is very strong; I never met better DJs than the kids in Rio.

The scene is empowering for gays and women though it’s chauvinistic. Women have more voices than [in the US]; female MC’s talk a lot of shit. It’s empowering to people in favelas since it’s one of the few things that is really their own.

The music itself is cheeky, not thought out. It’s mostly just instant music. There are 500 parties a week with 30-50,000 kids, and the funk subculture takes a lot from the Jamaican sound system culture -- with people pulling massive speakers on their backs up hills.

SFS: When will we be seeing another record from you?

D: Maybe in six months. Right now I’m producing other people’s stuff. I want to make an album that’s different from what people expect. Maybe a minimal house record -- a whole record that sounds like the percolator.

SFS: What are your current top five favorite records:

D: Not in order-
Bonde do Role – Gasolina
Trilladelphia – Guaranteed to Go Down (Hollertronix remix)
Dave Chappelle as Tupac – “Long Time Ago”
Say Wut – Yello’s “Oh Yeah” remixed (unreleased)
Tie between Young Leek’s Jiggle It remixes on Hollertronix #5 EP

SFS: One last thing: what’s up with your fixation on manatees?

D: They’re crazy!

Diplo performs at Mezzanine Aug. 10
Doors 10pm
Tickets $15