By Ashley Zimmerman
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By David Von Bader
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Florida has been getting a bad rap lately. And though it may seem at times like we're a lost cause, that assessment isn't entirely fair. We're actually a global cultural force that spawned Major Lazer, one of dance music's most inspiring and original outfits. Members Diplo and Walshy Fire are home-grown goods, the latter coming straight from Miami-Dade County. Along with their buddy Jillionaire, these guys travel the world bringing Caribbean-style beats, peace, and love to the masses.
And of course, their favorite thing to do is to bring that lovin' right back to the place where it all started.
Major Lazer played both weekends of Ultra Music Festival in March, and for Miami's Walshy Fire, it was a new high. National media outlets helped spur interest in the group's highly entertaining live show, reminding partiers that Walshy — born Leighton Paul Walsh in Kingston — was one of the only Miami-raised performers at the fest.
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"The second one was definitely the greatest moment of my life," Walshy confesses. "It felt so good to represent Miami globally and go everywhere — and represent the Caribbean also everywhere I go — and then come home and see all those flags. All those people that were like, 'Yo, you're from Miami? We had no clue.' It was the highlight of my life, no question."
Major Lazer is successful because of its full package. Its live performances are literal hype machines. It's a colorful, quirky experience full of island dancing, confetti, stage-diving, hamster-ball-walking — you kind of have to see it to believe it.
"We are, at its foundation, a representation of the Caribbean, and if you are Caribbean yourself or if you know anything about Caribbean culture, you'd know that it's so interactive," Walshy points out. "If we didn't add those elements to the show, it just would not be true to the foundation that we're mixing EDM with."
But it's not just Caribbean culture they integrate into their music and shows. Walshy prides himself and his crew on bringing in a little bit of everything, thus becoming a reflection of everyone.
"People have called me 'the ambassador of culture' just because I'm so good with languages and so good with different cultures, and I know so many things about so many different people," he admits. "I want you to walk away and feel so proud that you are what you are and so proud that we're onstage representing for you, no matter where you come from in the world."
Unfortunately, in modern dance music, this makes Major Lazer the exception, not the rule.
"Looking at other people's EDM shows and just realizing that their show is probably 95 percent just lights, and I don't know how long you can do that," he said. "How long can you watch that before you figure it out?"
It's true; EDM has gotten stale.
"For some reason, it kind of is the big elephant in the room," Walshy reflects. "How can we not acknowledge that dance music has definitely slowed down and stalled?"
Of course, the only reasonable response is to become the antithesis of status-quo mediocrity.
"I'm so thankful to be a part of a team full of people who are constantly seeking out new sounds and new ways to distort sounds and new ways to inject new vibes into EDM," he says. "If I wasn't, man, I'd die already. I would have killed myself. I would have jumped off of the last Holy Ship. I would have said, 'Hey, everybody at Ultra, this is my last show,' and I would have just retired, because I can't continue to do the same thing over and over again and still be satisfied."
What would be a death warrant for Walshy Fire reigns supreme in the dance music world, but for how long?
"There are so many young kids who are just getting into it for the first time that it's just brand new to them. So since it's brand new to them, they'll still continue to fund what's happening now." He muses, "Will that always be? I don't know. Maybe these kids will be like, 'Man, all right, what's next?' And if it's not something next, then maybe it'll die."
That's the Major Lazer mission: to reinvigorate the scene with worldy influences that step beyond the same old synthesizers and BPMs.
"It's all about love," Walshy says. "It's all about sharing good music. If you come to a Major Lazer show, we want you to just experience something different. We want you to just walk away saying, 'You know what? I appreciate them coming with something completely different than what everybody else is doing.' "
They've been doing it for a while, and everything is only getting bigger. But in all their world travels, they take as much away from each community they visit as they bring to the stage.
"You really start to understand that we are so similar, we're all part of this one race, y'know? This one human race," he says. "You start to really see it when you go to Australia, you go to New Zealand, you go to China and the people react to the songs the same way. They party the same way, they love, they get angry, they do everything the exact same way. So you just wonder, how is it these walls got put up? How did we separate ourselves from each other like this?"
It's a fitting observation for a group on a tour called Free the Universe. Walshy, for one, has accepted the mission.
"Man, just do what you want to do," he urges the world. "That means in every way: sexually, religiously, and whatever other '-ly' there is. Just do what you want to do, man; be happy."
Walshy, Major Lazer, and the rest of their homies are looking to do just that with their exciting Mad Decent Block Party tour, coming to Fort Lauderdale's Revolution Live this Saturday. They're bringing acts that include Zeds Dead, Flosstradamus, Big Gigantic, and even local rapper Robb Bank$ for what's sure to be a rowdy fucking time, drawing on all these ideas of community, culture, and just plain good times.
"I don't know what it is about a block party that just injects fun automatically," he says. "Some of these shows have like 10,000 people at them, but we want to give them a family vibe.
"Two things," Walshy concludes. "One: Bring your flags. Bring 'em. Everybody bring your flag. Two: Do not dress in something that you care about. That's all I can say. Dress for the mess."