Diplo, aka Thomas Pentz, has been a staple of the electronic music scene for well over a decade, and is now one of the most recognised faces in music. Now aged 38, Diplo had to work hard for his success, but his experience and understanding of the industry is second to none – and there are few artists on the scene today who’ve worked as hard as he has to be where they are.
Before Diplo touches down in Australia this week, we look back at the incredible journey that took him from a budding DJ in the late 90s through to today where he stands at the head of a veritable musical empire.
Diplo was cutting his teeth as a DJ in the late 1990s; playing gigs at university parties. He was inspired to put together his incredible ‘Hollertronix’ mixtapes with fellow DJ Lowbudget. Their Hollertronix parties became well known for putting on eclectic mix of electro, crunk, dirty south, hip hop, 80s dance, and what was known at the time as Baltimore club music. The popularity of the music also spawned an online form known as the Hollerboard. Diplo had identified and created something that no one else was doing, a trait that would become part of his identity, and off the back of the success of these of Hollertronix, Diplo built his legendary studio “The Mausoleum”.
Breaking Through With M.I.A.
It’s often hard to trace back a breakthrough moment for many producers, but not so for Diplo. After being approached in Fabric Club in London in 2004 by none other than M.I.A., Diplo began working with the English-Tamil musician and the two put out a mix tape called Piracy Funds Terrorism 1. Diplo went on tour with M.I.A. as her DJ in 2005, before they struck gold with their iconic track Paper Planes released in 2007 - Diplo had finally reached mainstream success.
Mad Decent & Production Credits
Diplo founded his own label Mad Decent in 2005, but it was following the success of Paper Planes that it started to gain some serious traction. Although his relationship with M.I.A. publicly deteriorated, Mad Decent rose to further prominence in 2008 when Diplo started the Mad Decent Block Party tour across America, the label gained mainstream attention in 2012 and 2013 with breakthrough singles for Dillon Frances and Bauuer. Mad Decent now houses and represents almost 50 different artists including DJ Snake, Jauz, Lido & Santell, NGHTMRE, Party Favor and Zeds Dead.
In between creating some of the most iconic dance hits of the past decade, Diplo has continued to produce for some of the biggest names in music. Since producing M.I.A in 2005, he’s had production credits for Drake, Santigold, Die Antwoord, Robyn, Snoop Dogg, Chris Brown, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, Azealia Banks, Iggy Azalea, Bruno Mars, Mac Millar, and even Craig David. Diplo has also developed an incredibly reputation for identifying up and coming producers, and since 2014 has run his Diplo & Friends radio show on BBC Radio 1xtra.
In 2009, Diplo took his love of reggae, dancehall and moombahton music to a new level when he and British artist Switch founded Major Lazer. Fronted by Walshy and Jillionaire, the first Major Lazer album Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do was unveiled in 2009. From there, the unstoppable Major Lazer beast had been unleashed, with their second album Free The Universe bringing on board Wyclef, Bruno Mars, Tyga and more. In 2015, Diplo’s third and most acclaimed record with the project would be released. Peace Is The Mission featured a veritable waterfall of collaborators including DJ Snake, Elliphant, MO, Elli Goulding, Travis Scott, Pusha T, and Ariana Grande. The record would be defined by its lead single Lean On which is as of writing is the second most streamed song of all time.
With Major Lazer, Diplo had once again found an untapped market in the music industry and in doing so not only popularised Jamaican dancehall music but also created a group of musicians that the likes of which people had never seen.
Jack U & Beyond
In 2013 it seemed that Diplo had just about seen it all and done it all, but the passion of the man to break down walls and tapped into the untapped knew no bounds, and he announced a collaborative project with Skrillex titled Jack Ü. First announced on the lineup for a Mad Decent Block Party, it was less than two years before they were selling out Madison Square Garden and in 2015 Jack Ü released their first and only LP Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü. The influence and success of this album cannot be overstated. From popularising expanding Justin Bieber’s audience into the world of EDM, to taking out Grammys for Best Dance Recording and Best Dance/Electronic Album, Diplo had come a long way since Hollertronix. Predict what he’ll do next at your own peril.
Diplo's Australian tour starts tomorrow night in Brisbane. He'll also be giving a talk led by Nina Las Vegas in Sydney on Sunday night. Deets here.
- Words by Zanda Wilson who tweets here.