Major Lazer

Major Lazer

The ragga-fuelled sound system may just destroy Daikanyama’s Unit


Originally published on on June 2010

Courtesy of f.e.u. Inc.

His remix portfolio reads like a who’s who of modern music, and he’s even been nominated for a Grammy. But there’s life outside the studio for Diplo, a.k.a. Thomas Wesley Pentz. The Philly native is an inveterate wanderer, and has helped popularize dance music from around the globe—most famously funk carioca, the party music of choice in Rio de Janeiro’s favela.

Last year, Diplo changed direction by making a foray into dancehall and ragga-infused electro with UK producer (and fellow M.I.A. collaborator) Switch. Their guise? Major Lazer, a vivid, Marvel Comic-esque militant with lasers for arms and a killer Twitter bio: “Once he was a man, now he is a soldier of good, seeker of justice, enforcer of pain. He is half man, half lazer, and all warrior.”

“I’ve just got lots of ideas. Some of it came from ’80s dancehall artwork on Scientist and King Jimmy sleeves,” Diplo tells Metropolis over the phone from London. “We wanted to make a proper record, and that’s the way to do it as producers, to get people down with an entire concept—involvement times ten… You can get the T-shirt and action figure right now!”

You could say that the Major Lazer character works better as the face of a dancehall unit than two white dudes, but Diplo’s globetrotting musical endeavors have left him well attuned to any perceived racial stigma. He recalls experiencing some initial negativity during a trip to Jamaica last year. “But anytime you leave your own area you’re going to get that a bit—even with Japanese,” he says, adding that by the end they had Jamaican dancehall star Elephant Man offering support.

The fact that Major Lazer’s debut album, Guns Don’t Kill People—Lazers Do features a different Jamaican artist on every track further dispels the “white guys doing black music” thing as a non-issue. Musically, the record is an extremely well produced, bounce-that-ass collection of party music that, if the riotous scenes from last year’s Notting Hill Carnival in London are anything to go by, transforms nicely into a live show.

Diplo ditched the rest of our interview to dash off to the Apple Store—“Can these be the last two questions? I got to get a new computer”—and left the onus on the locals for the upcoming Major Lazer show at Unit.

“That depends on Tokyo. We put on the best show around right now,” he replies when asked about what we can expect. “Nobody else is really going out and doing something this serious, and if you guys in Japan are as crazy as you say you are, it should be a lot of fun.”

Those who can’t make it to the show can check out the much-hyped free mix Major Lazer & La Roux present Lazerproof. As it says on the tin, the effort is a collaboration between Major Lazer and UK synth-pop diva La Roux, and it caused Diplo’s label website to crash when over 200,000 hipsters tried to get their mitts on it on the day of its release. The mix is not really dancehall, but it’s worth checking for a totally belting Pon De Skream version of La Roux’s commercial smash “In for the Kill.”

July 2 @Unit
Major Lazer Soundsystem. Electro, dancehall. From 11:30pm, ¥4,500. Daikanyama. Tel: 03-5459-8630.