If any current DJ can sustain a radio program solely through variety, it’s Diplo. The Philadelphia-based producer born Thomas Wesley Pentz jumps around between your standard variety house (the original “C’mon” with Tiesto), hip-hop (remix for Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now”), dancehall (Major Lazer), and electronic-influenced pop (Usher’s “Climax”) and has visited dance genres from around the world with his podcasts. His BBC Radio 1 program Diplo & Friends, scheduled Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST (1 a.m. GMT), promises to be more of the same but on a greater scale, but its April 7 debut began on a tepid note.
Showcasing Diplo and his Mad Decent artists is the premise of Diplo & Friends, and last Saturday’s show featured Lunice and Paul Devro – two Canadian DJs signed to the label. While Devro is the label’s creative director, Lunice has released a handful of tracks through Mad Decent.
On a stylistic level, this choice reflects Mad Decent’s and Diplo’s variety, with Lunice bringing the hip-hop vibe and Devro sticking to dancehall with some house thrown in. Diplo, while not the focus of the debut, introduced both performers to start off, and Lunice began his set shortly after.
A relative newcomer to the dance music scene, Lunice has a barebones sound – typically a rhythmic element supplemented by bass and sparse, occasionally discordant electronics – that fluidly moves between duple and triple rhythms. During the program, Diplo called him “somewhere between Flying Lotus and Timbaland,” and such an assessment is accurate. With his stripped down electronic sound as a backbone, Lunice segued from one standard hip-hop or R&B track to another. While not all mainstream, his selection covered his interpretations of tracks by Usher (“Lil Freak”), 2 Chainz (“Spend It”), Waka Flocka Flame (“Round of Applause”), Drake (“Free Spirit” featuring Rick Ross), Wiz Khalifa (“Cabin Fever” and “Up”), and Ludacris (“What’s Your Fantasy”) and threw in his own (“Can’t Wait To” and “Who Dat”).
Bringing the dancehall element of the Mad Decent label, Paul Devro stuck with more obscure material – at least to your average EDM listener but still threw in remixes of a few familiar tracks (Rihanna’s “Cockiness” and Usher’s “Climax”). Rising in the Vancouver scene, Devro better reflected Mad Decent’s variety, but his electronic-influenced dancehall set had the feel of an uneven Major Lazer mixtape.
Although this coming Saturday’s program features two hours of Diplo, introducing his own program may have been a better approach. Lunice and Devro, while still representing the Mad Decent variety, still sound like up-and-comers, and the transition from one set to the other was too sudden and somewhat awkward. Seamlessly integrating electronic with dancehall and hip-hop have made Major Lazer innovative EDM players, but the initial Diplo & Friends set didn’t blend enough and, instead, seemed like one genre sharply shifting to another. Although his ability to blend various genres and seek out lesser-heard ones makes Diplo stand out from other EDM producers, too much genre-shifting, as heard on Saturday, can create an unfocused radio program.
If you didn’t get a chance to hear the first Diplo & Friends broadcast, you can listen to it here.