Diplo has come a long way since he was hosting Hollertronix parties at the Ukrainian Club in Northern Liberties in the early ‘00s. All the way to 10th and Spring Garden, in fact, where the DJ-producer and Blackberry salesman played to a sold-out all-ages crowd at Union Transfer on Thursday.
The Mississippi-born, Philadelphia and Los Angeles-based cultural anthropologist and beat maker born Wesley Pentz topped an all-local deejay bill that included opener Xaphoon Jones, the nom de rap of Noah Beresin of hip-pop duo Chiddy Bang and DJ/producer Dirty South Joe.
After Jones and Joe warmed up the former Spaghetti Warehouse – with the latter, in particular, making the walls quake with booming dubstep and slow-grinding hip-hop – Diplo walked on a few minutes after 11.
Dressed in a grey suit jacket animd button down shirt, the 33 year old Mad Decent label boss with the ever-more star-studded resume – in the last year, he’s produced tracks for Beyonce and Usher, and remixed Sleigh Bells and Lil Wayne - opened up his MacBook Pro and immediately got down to business.
Dating back to his Hollertonix days and including his cartoony reggae dancehall collaboration with British producer Switch known as Major Lazer (whose sophomore album comes out in 2012), Diplo has specialized in making brash, intensely physical dance music that recombines the exotic and obvious in irresistibly kinetic ways.
He is, after all, the globe-trotting 21st century folklorist who hooked up Sri Lankan agit-popstress M.I.A., with a Brazilian baile funk reimagining of the “Theme from Rocky,” and later built the hook to her breakout hit “Paper Planes” on a sample of British punk band The Clash.
The former wasn’t heard Thursday – though Diplo did offer a South Philly cheese steak shout-out to Geno’s and Pat’s, and enthusiastically expressed how happy he was to be in his hometown. But a pistol-shot miming “Paper Planes” was part of what amounted to an extended encore to an over two-hour show in which scores of female audience members were frequently brought on stage and exhorted to shake their rear ends.
Diplo is a tireless musical excavator, and his frequently martial continuous mix didn’t stint on global rhythms. An escalating Middle Eastern melody might mesh with a double-dutch hip-hop handclap beat, then gradually accelerate until delirium ensued. Or an experimental track by metal-edged Brazilian duo Mixhell called “Antigalactic” would transform itself, most satisfyingly, into the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic.”
For all of sonically omnivorous curiosity, Diplo is a crowd pleaser. So while he’s expert at getting a glowstick waving crowd to go bananas over music they’ve never heard (or delighting in having champagne being sprayed on them), he’s also happy to serve up lots of mildly tweaked new and old hits. The man loves a hook, and far be it from him to deny the pogoing crowd the pleasure of Nicki Minaj’s “Did It On ‘Em” or Dead Prez’ “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” or the Police’s “Roxanne” or M83’s “Midnight City.”
One cathartic crescendo came with “I Can’t Stop,” the bone-rattling dubstep hit by British producer Flux Pavilion. But despite that declaration, eventually Diplo had to. He needed to be in Dallas on Friday, and L.A. on New Year’s Eve. So about 20 minutes after saying “This is my last song, really,” a strange singalong of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” really did turn out to be the last song. The house lights came up, and a banging night ended with a whimper.
A stream of Diplo's hour-long year-end Sirius / XM sateliite radio Blow Your Head mix is below.