Major Lazer isn’t an act as much as it is a statement. As much as global tastemaker-cum-DJ Diplo and new cohorts Jillionaire and Walshy Fire wore tank tops and waved giant carnival flags emblazoned with the statement “Free The Universe,” the statement is “Gotcha.” You’re now a zombie follower of Mad Decent, and Major Lazer is about to slay you hipsters dead.
On Thursday night, 9:30 Club was a sea of excitement. As much as I’d want to review the talents of freestyle-meets-nu disco king Brenmar and the strange sub bass exploits of Pictureplanes, they were pebbles in the fluid tumult of emotion in that crowd. Major Lazer? They dropped sonic depth charges into that sea, once again developing the creation mythology of digital life. Having blown all of the water out of the lake, the hipsters rose from the mud that remained, and were formed a new generation, moved and informed by global sounds, awkwardly twerking the night away.
The act may come off like so much ganja smoking bullshit. That’s largely because it could only have started that way. To create the sounds and meld the styles that the Mad Decent camp clearly intends the act to celebrate, the creation mythology must involved a militaristic, one-armed, zombie slaying Rastafarian. They had to open the door to the absurd in order to lead their people – the hipsters – who were largely born of irreverence, along the path to discovering unassailable truths. The rhythm of the drum is the most important notion of Afro-Latino cultures. There’s something powerful in Diplo and team not just sampling that sound, but in sampling the native energies as well, that mixed with the crucible of absurdity in which it’s created, is stunning. Dancehall/electro champion sound “Pon de Floor” still benefits from this mix, making it one of the most amazing songs of the last 20 years of music. It’s greatest greatness? Still being dope enough to leave enough hands in the air to let Diplo race across the crowd in a rave hamster ball, Steve Aoki’s now famous rave raft taken to a wild new extreme.
Hipster culture is some pretty middle-of-the-road shit these days. One of the two lithe and limber dancers onstage wore a black baseball cap emblazoned with white blinged letters that said “TRAP.” Now I don’t know if she’d ever spent time in New Orleans’ Calliope Projects, or knew what a Third or Fifth Ward looked like. Hell, she may have never even seen Hustle and Flow. But, in understanding that tracks sampling trap rap tropes by DJs and producers decidedly not from these areas like Flosstradamus, RL Grime or even stage-diving California-to-Richmond-to-DC star on the rise Billy the Gent are dope, and make you twerk, she has every right to find some kid’s streetwear store online and find a hat that says “TRAP.” It’s the level of disengagement from a one-to-one relationship with the world’s most virulent forms of party culture that makes you buy the ticket to a Major Lazer show. The internet exposes kids to wild realities every day. Hell, Urban Outfitters and Etsy let you buy into their notions. However, it’s Diplo and crew’s job to make you know it’s real.
I could talk about Silvio Ecomo and Chuckie’s “Moombah,” the moombahton-meets-bounce of Wale’s Diplo produced and hook driven track “Slight Work,” the bounce beat-meets-trap majesty that is French Montana’s “Pop That,” Lumidee’s Latin percussive classic “Uh Oh,” Azealia Banks’ acidic vogue house of “212” or Far East Connection’s massive fist pump kingpin “Like a G6.” They were all dropped, and caused mass hysteria. But rather, I’ll talk about what they all share in common. Ratchetmania. Being ratchet just isn’t an American thing, it’s a global and universal cultural notion. Major Lazer gets intellectually uncomfortable yet reaches an incredible level of dance floor cool here. Diplo’s crew blend the finest of ghettoized energies here into a blend that smacks with nitroglycerin and tastes like euphoria. At the end of the day, do realize that Diplo now has the power to play Latin-tinged New Orleans bounce track “Express Yourself” from now until the end of time and make women stand on their heads and shake their asses. That now always happens. If you don’t know, now you know, and you’re leaving the 9:30 Club, tired, sweaty, bemused and a zombie follower of the cult of Lazer.
Is the iconic message of all of this really so easily summed up as “free the universe?” Or is it just all P-Funk all over again, “free your mind, and your ass will follow,” for the digital age?