For Diplo, Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

Diplo cooked up
Diplo cooked up "Fabric Live 24" using his favorite recipe: Throw everything into the mix, shake things up his way and serve. (Big Dada Recording)
By Andy Battaglia
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It's tempting to hear Diplo as a DJ for the iPod generation, but it's not clear what that should even mean. Already famous in the underground for his aggressively diverse smash mixing style, the tastemaker from Philadelphia plays like a restless obsessive who has access to everything from everywhere. So how could he even begin to make sense of the excess in his ears?

On his new mix-disc, "Fabric Live 24," Diplo draws on distant genres from disparate eras, rewriting historical timelines with tracks that rush forward while peering back. He offers no distinction between dustbin stuff you've likely never heard and pop hits you could hardly avoid. His name is synonymous with the obscure "favela funk" he helped unearth from the slums of Brazil; it also appears inside parentheses on sanctioned remixes for the likes of Gwen Stefani.

But unlike DJs who tell specific stories or set out to do serious musical genealogy, Diplo harks back to a day when DJs served the simple -- but by no means easy -- task of rocking a party. He seems to make a point of this at the beginning of "Fabric," which lays contemporary tracks by Nina Sky and Atlanta rapper Killer Mike in a bed of techno and electro from the '80s. It's striking how dated the old beats sound, but it's also worth remembering that those beats were born when it made less sense to draw lines around different styles that all worked similarly as dance music in the end.

After a brief lesson in post-history, Diplo puts on an instructive display of what unwitting listeners might regard as post-taste. Diplo's mixing style is invigoratingly raucous and uneven, marked by scribble-minded time signatures and gaudy bursts of synthetic grandeur.

A track by fractious dance whiz Aphex Twin melts into the smooth house-music glide of Cajmere, and before long it's time for the boisterous voice of Dirty South rapper Ludacris. The boisterousness reaches a delirious pitch when Diplo settles into a spell of favela funk, a sound that squishes traditional Brazilian sounds -- horns, hand drums, lyrics in Portuguese -- into a hyper booty-shake mold. (One track breaks, incongruously, for a strange bit of yodeling.)

In this context, the Cure sounds like a perfectly reasonable band to sequence alongside OutKast. It's never obvious or even remotely predictable, but Diplo's approach to the DJ's art of crate-digging is decidedly populist, albeit from a strange slant. His enthusiasm for unrelated sounds is infectious, and the degree to which he tweaks recognizable hits recasts them as his own, if only for a few minutes.

By the end, when a moody reggae song by Turbulence locks hands with the wispy indie-rock of Cat Power, "Fabric Live 24" sounds like a shuffle mix guided by a beguiling sense of logic. It is logical, though, and it stands ready to rock a party yearning to be beguiled.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company