We are living in the DJ culture, I have to deal with it, people don’t want to see musicians performing together anymore, they go to see a one-man-party-show, constantly adjusting his mixing knobs and grabbing the mic to tell people to jump up and down, up and down. DJs use others’ music, they play with it, distort it, mix it, blend it, mash it up, sculpt it, and what else?
Diplo is a great example of this, he is visibly at the top of his game, playing with his mac and his numerous electronic toys, balancing the sound, moving and jumping with the distortion, pointing to the crowd from his deck, like a busy operator-in-chief, he is in charge and the public is at his feet.
You had to make a reservation to attend Diplo and his Mad Decent crew’s DJ set at MOCA’s Transmission LA: AV Club on Cinquo de Mayo, happening the last weekend of Mike-D-curated exhibit, and since the performance had sold out in a few seconds on line, I hadn’t been able to get one. But, as Woody Allen said ‘80 percent of life is showing up’, and they let many people who hadn’t made a reservation enter after a 40-minute wait. Why are people so eager to reserve if they are not going to show up?
Anyway, the crowd exhilarated when Diplo took the stage after the previous Mad Decent DJ (I think his name was simply DJA), and for about an hour, I observed the most curious dance-moves in the public (I know it’s easy to criticize, but the weed doesn’t really help) and a man totally mastering his fun exercise. When he took control, the screaming was louder, the thundering beats were hitting you deeper in the thorax, as he started with a weird mix of electronic beats and Brazilian carnival ear-splitting whistling. His set was heavy on rap, tin-can-beats, loud distorted voices, Doppler effects, aggressive beats like coming from broken appliances, repeated bits of songs, booming explosion-like assaults. At times, it was as if a plane was getting ready to take off and was not really taking off. But all these weirdo sounds coming from electronics are not necessarily ear friendly, most of them sounded toyish, like coming from a pac-man or some other primitive arcade game, but any of Diplo's soaring-effect-cacophonous mix would eventually morph into more beats for everyone’s biggest dopamine release.
It was a very young crowd, at a few exceptions, constantly using their iPhones and jumping at the same time, the sort of ADD-multi-task-crowd that goes with this constantly-jumping-to-the-next-tune entertainment. Nothing goes on for a very long time, it’s all about the immediacy and the next song to come. Don’t ask the teachers to explain why these kids can’t focus on the same thing more than a few seconds: I just had the full demonstration in front of my eyes!
What Diplo does has little to do with the old disc-jockey spinning-records style, not only there was a non-stop blasting noise during his set, but there were also constant new sounds, new beats, new repetitions in the mix, so the whole thing became one unique long dance-party. I cannot say I was good at recognizing the distorted bits of dance and rap music!! Nevertheless, I can say that he played parts of M.I.A.’s ‘Paper Planes’, Nirvana’s ‘Lithium’, Police’s ‘Roxane’, Jay-Z and Kayne West’s ‘Niggas in Paris’ that the crowd was singing along, Nicki Minaj’ s ‘Beez In The Trap’, and (of course he had to play it) the Beastie Boys’ ‘Intergalatic’,… but there were tons of other stuff all mixed up in this bouillabaisse of sounds and beats, in this let’s-throw-another-beat-in-the-sample primitive soup.
At the end there was not much going on, it was just samples of hit songs mixed with electronics! But Diplo was sampling like a mad man, in constant motion and haranguing the crowd every 5 minutes with ‘What’s up Los Angeles’ , ‘Make some noise LA’, encouraging us to jump harder (it seemed to be the only possible move anyway), and eventually calling some dancing-cheerleading girls on stage. People were dancing non stop and cheering every time they would recognize a song, and Diplo was raising his arms in sign of victory, to show his appreciation to the public’s response to his savvy choices. The sound stopped suddenly toward the end of the set, I am not sure exactly what happened, but this was the occasion for Diplo to scream a ‘I love you motherfuckers!’
May be the unpredictability of what’s next to come was what pleased people the most, but past this, there were lots of repetitions, lots of similar beats. It was as if people liked to be surprised by the songs and the weird new electronic sounds and at the same time liked to be comforted by repetition. But can you call this a concert? Probably not. A performance? Sure, but always staying at the appearance level, not looking for much substance.