An Air Museum Ode to Diplo

By Kian McHugh

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When an artist reaches a certain level of mainstream acclaim, we often forget two things. First, we wipe our memory of their humble beginnings, and next, we actively ignore the fact that at some point they become increasingly forced into a box by their fans, their corporate support, and the widespread expectation that they must retain a certain energy…“please stay put, frozen in time and space.”

 

Diplo popped up on my radar in 2011 with a jaw-dropping performance at one of the side stages at Identity Festival. The 400 person tent was neither empty nor packed, but its tenants were moving recklessly to the infectious sound of his unreleased solo work “Express Yourself”, featuring the twerk-savvy vocalist Nicky Da B, and collaborations with Major Lazer–most notably in dropping “Pon De Floor”. Prior to this performance, electronic music had not yet taken a footing in my iPod: memey mashups of throwbacks and progressive house builds were all that I really had to offer. The bass lines I experienced during this set were furiously energetic and not too far out of line from the sounds that my Bay Area Rap-obsessed self had come to love. These tracks facilitated a seamless transition into the electronic music which shaped my teenage years as they allowed me to retain my style of dancing, turned heads when played on my car’s subs, and served as secret weapons at the suburban house parties at which I was known to AUX-cord-DJ. Even today, at the core of the music industry, I look for one of two things: beauty and fun. In 2011, I discovered fun incarnate and his name was Diplo.

Splash House August 2019, Palm Springs

I’ve since seen Diplo countless times in a festival or super club setting and with each set, my expectations and appreciation for him have dwindled; a premeditated set, seeking to appease those fans who never knew the radical side of Diplo outside of his edgy social media posts, screamed sell out. With each set, I wrote Diplo off as a disappointment as the high never paralleled those sets which prompted my love for his music. I ignored the fact that Diplo’s rise to the top was not driven by viral content or industry antics–he worked his way from the side stage to the limelight. Diplo has collabed with the biggest names in pop ranging from Justin Bieber to Snoop Dogg, headlined the biggest festivals, and garnered 5.5 million followers on Instagram. Nobody can say that he didn’t do the damn thing, whether he sold out or not. It wasn’t until I was told that Diplo would be playing the Splash House afterhours this past Saturday that I reminisced on the countless memories he had fueled from ages 14 on.

Splash House August 2019, Palm Springs

To see Diplo slightly botch a transition and smile is a beautiful thing– it may have been my favorite part of the weekend. Moombahton into mumble rap into a Justin Jay throwback caused the Palm Springs Air Museum to go bonkers. The 2000-person space was neither empty nor packed, but the attendees were moving RECKLESSLY. To mess up mixing–if you’re Diplo–means one of two things: you’re either incredibly inebriated or you’re pushing your limits to the limit.

Even as I get older, my friends who have reached the highest levels of success are forced to tame and temper their wild side in the name of business or retaining a sense of self. It is those nights in which they let loose that you realize that this may not be their choice or doing, but simply the world pushing them in that direction…

Perhaps this is why Splash House is such an innovative festival. It doesn’t pretend to be a cultural hub or somewhere you can expect an artist to debut something wild… rather it allows both its attendees and performers to flex their wild side as everyone around them is doing so too. Diplo, I get it, and thank you for letting loose with me one last time.

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