by Eric Tullis
CAT'S CRADLE, CARRBORO
THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2013
While waiting for the stagehands at Thursday night’s sold-out Major Lazer concert at Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle, I found myself in a conversation with an attractive, 26-year-old Hare Krishna woman about how people abducted by aliens often see visions of giant owls. Aside from taking orders from Major Lazer hypeman Walshy Fire when he said, “I need everyone in the building to take off their shirts right now,” and participating in a “Harlem Shake” episode with the actual label (Diplo’s Mad Decent) that’s responsible for releasing the song, that was probably the most fun I expected to have Thursday night.
The last time I saw Major Lazer at this same location, two years ago, Sleigh Bells and Rusko opened, which was almost the same formula as Thursday’s night show with Dragonette and Gents & Jews—a female-led group and a coveted noisemaking act. At that show, former Major Lazer member Skerrit Boy jumped from the top of a ladder to the stage-floor and landed in a dry-humping position atop of one of Major Lazer dancers. This time, before Major Lazer’s set, I saw someone playing with a ladder behind the large sheet that hid a lighting rig and Diplo’s open-topped DJ bunker. Diplo finally appeared, but the ladder never reappeared.
So, there was no ladder, no Skerrit Boy, no Switch, no daggering; what’s more, the Major Lazer mascot only came on stage for a couple of songs, where he stood around, doing absolutely nothing. Indeed, this was more of a Diplo DJ party, aided by new Major Lazer affiliates, The Jillionaire and Miami-based selector Walshy Fire. When he wasn’t blending his way through any number of trap, dub-step moombahton, or trap-heavy earth-movers, Diplo stepped out of the bunker to hand out vuvuzelas and twenty-dollar bills and to wave Major Lazer’s Free the Universe flag—a gesture, of course, only geared to promote the album, and not geared to make any real socio-musical statement about how Diplo views the world.
Instead, he views it through foggy, tastemaker lenses that allow Beyoncé to jack a Major Lazer beat (“Pon De Floor”) while Usher’s rawr&B gets carte blanche over Diplo’s productions. Later in the night, he would play a remixed version of Snoop Lion’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” where Snoop shouts out Major Lazer in the chorus. The irony was clear—two pop artists high-fiving each other on record, who’ve at one time or another, rebranded themselves by appropriating dancehall or reggae music. The only difference is that Snoop Lion is making a fool out of himself and Jamaican culture, while Diplo is fooling everyone into believing that he’s the most-high advocate for West Indian sounds.
Lower still are guest appearances by Bruno Mars and Tyga on Free the Universe’s “Bubble Butt”—an obvious attempt at club placement that could make any mainstream Black Eyed Peas track sound like the gospel. Diplo debuted that song on Thursday night, around the same time that he threw on Drake’s “Started From the Bottom.” He reacted to his own selection as if he was gracing us with an incredible musical breakthrough.
A day before the show, writer Brandon Soderberg wrote in INDY Week’s pages that Diplo is “now part of the machine, the guy that will nod along to your weird music soon enough.” If Drake is as weird as Diplo can get these days, then maybe it’s time to decommission Major Lazer until Diplo can find a more obscure genre to pilfer. Either that, or maybe he’ll get abducted and sent back to Earth with better ideas.