The conventional wisdom used to be, "It's the singer, not the song," an axiom that is definitely being reversed with our current single-heavy superstar-producer music culture. Still, it's a challenge for a producers to truly come out from behind the decks and become artists in their own right — in part because when a producer does his or her job perfectly, you don't even know, when you listen to the results, that they've done anything. Thomas Wesley Pentz, a/k/a Diplo, has been manning the wheels of steel for nearly a decade, developing a musical aesthetic far more open-minded and eternally curious than your average EDMer. But after years of putting his sonic touches on other people's tunes, he is hoping, with his project Major Lazer, to finally step out into the light on his own.
Well, not exactly "on his own." The forthcoming sophomore Lazer platter, the follow-up to 2009's massively successful Guns Don't Kill People . . . Lazers Do, features a phone book's worth of big-name collaborators. "It's bigger than I ever thought it'd be," Diplo said by phone last week, taking a break from a production job to explain the album's delay. "It's done, but there are so many artists on it, so many licensing issues that we're dealing with. Everyone from Bruno Mars to Wyclef is on it, and it's taking a long time to clear out the business." Diplo has lots of reasons to go big, but the primary motivation might be to establish himself as more of an artist, less beat-provider-to-the-stars. "I've never had a number-one record, because people come to me when they want to challenge themselves. But then a lot of times, I get treated like I'm a vending machine."
He's been a reliable vendor of beats for huge hits by the likes of Beyoncé, Usher, and M.I.A., but he's hoping that the reggae-centered Major Lazer will bring his musical authority front and center. "I've really been trying to work on my original music, because I need songs that are gonna bring energy to my shows, so if people come see me play, it's gonna be hype, and people will go fucking crazy." Not that his sole focus is the euphoric whump of EDM that has lately enveloped popular music. If anything, Diplo's diverse bag of tricks, acquired through a lifetime of globetrotting and crate-digging, keeps his musical needle on both diversity and an element of surprise. "There's so much generic dance music right now — it's like I'm Luke Skywalker and there's the Death Star of fucking EDM. The attitude in EDM is super-white, super-safe; it's all about what's good for the fucking promoters. When I make records, compared to that sort of thing, I come at it with a punk-rock attitude."
Daniel Brockman can be reached at @thebizhaslanded
MAJOR LAZER:: House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston :: October 26 @ 7 pm :: 18+ :: $25 to $35 :: 617.693.2583 or hob.com/boston
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