On Tuesday about 500 terribly cheery locals with feet quick enough to find AXE’s promo truck poured into the Majestic Theater in the small college town Madison, Wisconsin to stare at the stage. The headlining act wasn’t a singer. Nor was it a rapper. It was a DJ.
The audience—mostly made up of University of Wisconsin students in campus apparel—came to check out Diplo, the hit-making producer, tastemaker, and tonight, turntable god. Free entry was provided by the male grooming brand via social media. They shot out messages on their Facebook and Twitter pages letting fans know where their truck would be. Those who made it there in time were gifted with tickets for the start of the seven-city Axe One Night Only tour.
It can be tough understanding the newfound cult surrounding DJs. A great disc jockey—one who spins all the right records at the right time to keep their party rocking and their audience dancing—has always been loved and in demand.
But the difference with Diplo, and a select few DJs fortunate enough to be in this type of demand—the kind that allows them not simply to tour the world in support of a pop star—but to be the main event themselves, is that Diplo is the party.
Just like any concert, there was an opening act. DJ Lunice, Diplo’s Mad Decent artist, started things off. As far as energy is concerned, he topped all of Tuesday night’s acts. Though none of the bigger songs he played were his own productions, he visibly rapped along with them as if they were, like when he kicked into Drake’s Take Care single “Headlines” and dropped out the vocals on its hook. The crowd gladly filled in. “They know, they know, they know.”
It was a joy watching him frantically mash his drum pad, seeing his snapback covered head whip as he nodded to each jam with his 4-finger-ringed hand bopping along—smiling all the while.
Philadelphia hip-hop duo Chiddy Bang followed with a lively set of songs from their critically acclaimed debut album Breakfast, but it was Diplo who owned the night. He was considerably more chill than Lunice, mostly grabbing the mic to ask the Madison massive to make some noise. And whatever Diplo requested, the crowd gladly supplied, giving wild responses to all his selections.
Crowd surfing, apparently, is a must at his shows. Seemingly every five minutes a new fan sprouted out of the pool of enthused students, floating from strange hand to hand before being let down easy. Even Diplo took a break from his table to climb up to the balcony then leap off into anxious fan arms.
Unfortunately, they weren’t as ready as he’d hoped pre-jump. They caught him, but were unable to support his weight. “You can't drop me next time, OK?" Diplo said after he made his way back to the stage.
It must be said that this guy’s is not an overhyped DJ. Diplo frequently strung big records together like they were made for each other. At one point he threw on Tyler, the Creator’s "Yonkers" in front of Jay-Z’s "Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” then slid to M.I.A.’s Paper Planes,” completing the run with "It’s Goin’ Down” by Yung Joc.” The effect was amazing.
Even better was the fact that while most DJ’s focus on mostly spinning hits, Diplo takes pleasure in stumping attendees with foreign jams. Frequently folks would look at one another quizzically mid dance step to ask, “What is this?” They didn’t know what they were hearing, though it sure felt good. Squishy bass lines and swarming synths filled the theater. Some were cuts he picked up from Brazil. Others were balmy reggae heaters.
And of course, some were hits he created. His Major Lazer smash “Pon de Floor” made de floor shake. Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” did the same. As did “Slight Work,” which Diplo intro’d by saying “I produced this one for Wale,” in case you didn’t know. Green, blue, and white glow sticks waved as his new collab with Usher, “Climax,” crept out of the booming speakers.
He wrapped the evening with M83’s “Midnight City,” tossing out Mad Decent tees and launching himself into the crowd for one final surf—and this time they lifted him up. It wasn’t a concert exactly—but it was a hell of a show.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)