You’re obviously running the gamut of projects — from Snoop’s reggae project to No Doubt to Bieber to Major Lazer to Chris Brown. Does all of this production come from one place and get fine-tuned into different genres, or do you pretty much sit down and devote yourself to one specific sound at a time?
I wish I was just like a music vending machine. But no, I take every one session really seriously. Sometimes one track might carry from one place to the next and I’ll change it to fit that artist. But it’s usually a simple formula — what do I love about this person, what am I good at and how can I help them make the best possible song?
Do you find that most producers tend to limit themselves to one genre ?
I think there are a lot of guys who don’t. Like Rick Rubin, but that’s a different generation. All these guys in my scene are definitely not able to maneuver between genres very easy. Some carved out their own genres like Pharrell or Timbaland — they are who inspire me.
Is there a project you’re particularly excited about? Obviously No Doubt’s comeback and Snoop’s new direction are big events in the music industry.
The Snoop album will surprise a lot of people. I’m really proud of that — I never thought in a hundred years I’d be one of the most popping R&B and reggae producers around, but my whole career has been about coming out of nowhere so I guess I’ll keep doing this weird stuff.
Can you briefly describe why Jamaica became so dear to you and so central to your musical output?
I guess as a kid I always liked reggae, dancehall and freestyle. In Broward County, where I lived — the Fort Lauterdale Area — that’s kind of what was happening on the radio and at the parks. I was fascinated by reggae (dancehall), because it absorbed every other genre. It does country, house, pop, oldies, hip-hop, R&B, world music — it’s such a cannibal. And it’s very gritty and very human. I think that’s also why Joe Strummer flirted with it so much toward the end of The Clash’s output. Jamaica is still such a weird and fascinating place, I can’t even begin to describe the stuff I’ve been part of there.
Aside from exposure for the brand and your artists, what was the motivation behind the Block Party tour?
It’s wild. There’s no one type of person there. Young, old, cities, suburbs, parents, students. I don’t know — it’s the most diverse party around.
Is that vibe — a wild block party — the epitome of a good time to you?
There’s nothing more pure than the neighborhood getting together and feeling something. It’s started in Philly with just 10 dollars and my home speakers turned outside. Then it grew to 1,000 kids, then 4,000, then 8,000 then more cities. And yes, it feels like it still belongs to the neighborhood — it’s free and the music is exciting and new. Not the same old same old.
As you’ve added more and more things (production, DJ’ing, book writing, label-running, Adult Swim), what have you learned from managing all of those careers? What’s most satisfying?
Just creating, for me. Anyone that works in music knows it’s not just about sitting home writing songs. It’s about multimedia. I don’t mean to say that I’m like a marketing executive at Facebook, but it’s always about putting [yourself] out there as a phenomenon — as a culture itself. There is no same road to take as an artist, that a label will set out for you. It’s like a wilderness now to find people. You have to do everything. And I see the brands that we create — as Mad Decent, Major Lazer and Diplo, everything — to be endless. I love doing the label and helping kids get out there I really am loving branching out into the visual world. But it all comes down to making the music, producing. At least for now.
There is a relentless surge of corporate interest in dance music, how do you go about making sure that business interests only further, as opposed to overtaking, the party?
Well, there’s not such corporate control of what we do at Mad Decent. A lot of festivals don’t even understand us — we are eclectic and we do a bit of everything, from rap to dance music to indie to whatever. For the corporate suits, they just see “DANCE MUSIC, DRINKS, FESTIVALS, LOTS OF KIDS TO BUY STUFF,” so these festivals sell right away. They even perpetuate the “sameness” of the lineups and the music that is being played. It keeps it very tidy for the investors that don’t understand.
At Mad Decent, we see what has always driven this culture and this movement has been the side stages, the underground, the kids taking chances and doing something different. Electronic music was a rebellion against the same old rock songs and messages and fashion. But that’s already what I see with the Top 10 DJ’s doing the same shit over and over, and festivals perpetuating it. It’s not for me, it never has been. I’ve always tried to nurture new sounds and help shed lights on what’s exciting and what’s moving music forward.
What can we expect over the next year? More block parties, more production — what else?
Both! Mad Decent will present even more parties next year! We are aiming for 15. And production … Yes, lots of stuff already in the works but the Snoop Lion album and the Major Lazer album are priorities!