Diplo on going solo, buying Apes, and being ‘unabashedly crazy’ online
The jet-setting DJ also addresses those misconduct allegations: “For somebody else, it might be something that would destroy them.”
This Friday, the globe-trotting DJ and producer Diplo releases Diplo, what’s being billed as his first proper solo album in 18 years.
Diplo — who’s part of the EDM trio Major Lazer and has worked with everyone from Beyoncé to Justin Bieber — considers the album, a collection of house music recorded all over the world, a travelogue of sorts.
“Whenever I look out the window, I’m in a different city,” says Diplo (real name: Thomas Wesley Pentz), calling from his home in Malibu. “And these songs paint that picture.” For instance, the album’s “Looking for Me,” a huge U.K. hit with British dance legend Paul Woolford and American singer Kareen Lomax, reminds him of “the sound of London.”
“Humble” with rapper Little Yachty embodies the L.A. sound. “On My Mind” with the dance music duo Sidepiece is the “big Vegas anthem.” And “One by One (Extended)” featuring dance luminaries Andhim and Elderbrook brings to mind his favorite place in the world to perform: Burning Man.
The 43-year-old Diplo’s world travels are well-documented on his Instagram account, where — as a GQ writer put it — the musician “ascends to his truest form.” The account, which has 5.8 million followers, provides fodder for irresistibly clickable articles like “Diplo runs a half-marathon off no training, then goes to the club” and “Watch Diplo Lose $100k at Poker Tournament While Tripping on Shrooms.”
Instagram is also where Diplo went to defend himself last October against a woman’s charges that he distributed at least one sexually explicit video of her without her consent. “Here’s a story about how a stalker scammed her way into my life and tried to extort me for millions and then sued me when she didn’t get what she wanted ☠️💸,” he wrote on the platform.
In a separate case, a woman last year filed and, shortly thereafter, dropped a lawsuit against Diplo in which she accused the DJ of forcing her to perform oral sex during an after-party in Las Vegas in 2019. A lawyer for Diplo called the claim “demonstrably false.”
Last week, Input spoke to Diplo about his new album, his love of tech, and the allegations that have been leveled against him. The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Right before this interview, you posted on Instagram some behind-the-scenes shots of your “Don’t Forget My Love” video shoot with Miguel. What was the making of that video like?
It was crazy. I had just done a show in New York City at a place called Nebula, a little underground show. And then I went straight to a 6 a.m. flight to the video shoot and had to pretend that I was awake. Miguel of course picked the most insane video [concept] he could. It’s literally like Blade meets The Fly meets Project X.
I left the video shoot so beat up — my leg hurt from moving around. I went straight to Mammoth to take my kids snowboarding. I still haven’t recovered, actually.
So what’s the plot of the video?
The plot of the video [set to premiere on Facebook tomorrow] is that me and Miguel are friends. He has this new girlfriend. I’m kind of suspect about her. And we’re at a party, and I’m feeling there’s something wrong. And I do my research, and I figure out she’s like a monster. In the end, she’s trying to eat Miguel, and we escape.
Oh, like a literal monster.
Yeah. Like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.
We’re talking a week out from the release of your new album. Why a solo album now?
I just had a bunch of records I made during pandemic. It’s hard to make a constructive album with dance music. A few people have done it — classics like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and Homework. I’ve been making dance music and house records for the last five, six years, and I want to put a record out that reflects that and give it to people as a package and let people vibe with it.
You know, the world’s opened up again; I’ll be on tour this summer. I feel like this is the album I want to put out.
When the album was announced, Jasper Goggins, president of your own label, Mad Decent, called the record “purpose built for Diplo’s favorite places to play in the world.” If you had to pick your absolute favorite place to play in the world, what would it be?
I hope this doesn’t sound too generic, but I guess it’s Burning Man. You have the sunrise sets. The sun comes out at like 6:30. And then for a 45-minute period, you have this euphoric sound. And I love that. Also, no one knows who you are really when you’re DJing there. You might just be in a random art car and you’re playing. And people just hear a sound and walk over to you. You don’t get paid, either. You just go there, and you have to love it to do those shows.
Since you’re releasing a new album, I figured I’d ask: Did you ever consider pulling your music from Spotify in solidarity with Neil Young?
No, I don’t have any solidarity with Neil Young. I don’t know Neil Young — he didn’t call me or anything. If he had hit me up and presented a case, I would’ve listened to him.
In addition to music, you’re big into tech, particularly NFTs. A few months ago, you got your own Bored Ape with a cowboy hat and an eyepatch. What is it about the non-fungible world that appeals to you?
As a producer, especially with electronic music, you can’t be left behind. So in the beginning, I decided to learn about it. And then it felt so natural. Because I was such a big collector of basketball cards as a young person. I love Ninja Turtles, and I love He-Man figures. I remember my mother taking me to Walmart to go shopping, and I would get an action figure. And I dreamed about getting all the people on the back of the [package]. That was my life when I like 12, 11 years old.
With Bored Apes, you have one-of-one. And you become part of that club. Then you have Doodles and Dickbutts right now.
Sorry, I missed what you said. Dickbutts?
They’re kind of a butt with a dick. I got a message today, “Hey, you got to go get a Dickbutt — they’re about to go up. The floor is high.” I also got a breadstick [NFT] from Olive Garden. I mean, some of these are funny, but some of the blue-chip ones — like the apes or the CryptoPunks — are really a smart investment.
And what's your response to critics who say that NFTs like the Bored Apes are just a big pyramid scheme?
Maybe they are. But I think what they don’t understand is that it’s not really about monetization exclusively. It’s a real community. So people that are into it, they love it. It’s like Star Wars — you’re going to be into that for life. If you’re into Harry Potter, you’re going to go to Universal Studios every chance you get, you’re going to buy the wands, you’re going to still be in it. You might fade away a little bit, but it’s part of your culture. I think that this is what’s happening with these things.
The bigger the audience gets for these [NFTs], the more valuable they get. Even if people are talking about them being a pyramid scheme, it makes them more popular.
I hear that you're creating a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization). What can you tell me about that?
I’m still developing it. I see a lot of people doing DAOs, and I want to make sure I take all the best things from some of the ones I’ve been part of. I sold my publishing, my catalog, about a year ago. I have a new catalog I’m making, and I want them to be part of new writing and new songs. And I’m still figuring it out. I’m learning and taking meetings.
How are you picturing it? Will people be able to have partial ownership of your music?
Yeah. Maybe the token holders, depending on how much money they put into it, can get a percentage in the future writing that I’m doing — that's a concept I have. Or it could be an NFT with embedded audio that you own. If you’re a young producer, you can own those stems and you can create something with that. Or we do something together, like we buy a freakin’ Six Flags or something.
“When I first started using social media, it was a big joke for me. On Twitter, I was an unabashedly crazy person.”
Like Six Flags, the amusement park?
Yeah, I randomly threw that out. It could be anything that the community decides to do. And it could be outlandish. Being on the blockchain, you really don’t have a hierarchy in a DAO — everybody who’s putting money into it has some say in what they’re creating.
What would a Diplo amusement park be like?
Well, Six Flags is pretty sketchy. I went there for the first time like three months ago. I didn't know how freakin’ crazy those rides were. I’m so old. I never knew there were so many psychotic rides. I did, like, two. I’m not really into those kind of death-defying, psycho rides. Maybe something a little more chill. I can do waterparks. Yeah, like lazy river [rides].
Judging by your Instagram account, which is pretty wild, you seem like you you’d be up for death-defying?
No, actually I’m not. I’m into activities where I learn to use my body better, but where I don’t, like, die. I’m into running marathons and climbing stuff. I’m not into jumping off a building or something.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to sharing your life on social media?
I don’t take it that seriously. When I first started using social media, it was a big joke for me. On Twitter, I was an unabashedly crazy person. And I didn't realize that there was power in those words. I would make fun of other artists, and that really came back to hurt me in the end.
Like I had huge beefs with Lorde and Taylor Swift at the time. And I thought it was so funny, but you know, people hold you accountable for your Twitter in such a strange way. It’s not real life. Sarcasm doesn't come through on social media.
But at least on Instagram, I just try to be silly, because I don't really want to take selfies all day long and show off how cool I am. Every day, I'm learning how to use my Instagram, to be honest.
What do you want to do with your Instagram next?
Delete it, maybe?
Why would you want to delete it? Isn’t that your primary way of communicating with fans?
It’s so time-consuming. But one thing that’s cool is that on DMs I can contact artists. Like I meet somebody new, and I’m like, “Oh, you're awesome.” And then we start a relationship and make time to make music. That’s something that wouldn’t happen like 10 years ago.
On a more serious note, in October you went on Instagram to deny sexual misconduct allegations from a woman who you called an “obsessed fan.” What made you decide to address this on social media?
I think I had to. I think I had to put the facts out there. There was too much noise everywhere. It’s something you don’t want to talk about. I can’t really talk any more about it because I have an ongoing case, but it just felt like at least somebody could come there and be like, “Well, here's some information about it.” Because otherwise you just have hearsay.
It does suck. Its sucks for our family. It sucks to have to read that and be like, Oh wow, this is pretty disgusting; this is pretty annoying to have to deal with. But with social media, at least you can tell your side of the story.
“Just be a real person — be honest and be transparent. That’s all I want to do.”
There was separate sexual assault lawsuit against you that was dropped shortly after it was filed. What's your side of that story?
I can’t really tell my side of the story in this interview, because I’m still litigating against the person. But pretty soon I think it’ll all be out there.
All you have in this age is your brand, right? For me, it didn’t affect my business too much, and I think that people that deal with me know who I am, the person I am. So you can tell easily what’s fact and what isn’t.
For somebody else, [the allegations] might be something that would destroy them. It might be something that they can’t deal with mentally. But I think if you’re a good person, the people that you surround yourself with and the people that you work with, they know that. And that’s why that definitely came and went — it’s pretty much out in the garbage at this point.
So just be a real person — be honest and be transparent. That’s all I want to do.
Has all the controversy swirling around you changed how you conduct yourself when, say, you’re out on tour?
No, no. I’ve never changed. I’m the same person. I think if you’re going to follow me on my Instagram, if you’re going to follow my career — I think being my fan, because of my music, it must be pretty difficult. Because I might be doing country music one day. I might be doing a rave one day. I might be doing dancehall another day.
So if you’re going to follow me in the first place, you’re going to be on a wild ride to see what I’m doing musically. But I’ve never changed [personally]. You know, I’ve been the same person for 43 years. And I think people that know me know that.