At a dance party at the Fox and Hound in Fort Lauderdale last year, just as the DJ put on Dre and Snoop's "Gin and Juice," a young man casually slipped me a CD. He looked deep into my glassy, alcohol-fogged eyes and said, "Few DJs have mastered the very delicate art of the party mix." With that cryptic statement, he disappeared into the sweaty throng. The CD was Never Sacred, a mix tape by Hollertronix, and after a few listens, I realized that dude was right. Few DJs are able to mash up such disparate sounds and still extract a level of dance party madness that can drive folks to bust moves that couldn't exist beyond the confines of a dance floor. Hollertronix had mastered it.
Hollertronix is the duo of Diplo and Low Budget, two Philly DJs who have ignited Illadelph's dance party scene for the past two years by throwing parties at the city's Ukrainian National Home. Never Sacred was an underground car crash, a crash-up, if you will, and one you couldn't help but listen to. It drove crunk into Miami bass, threw pop against Indian techno, Missy Elliot ran into the Clash, and booty jams collided rump-on with dancehall and '80s electro and freestyle. It was a glorious mess. And, according to Wes Gully, a.k.a. Diplo, a copy of that shiny disc recently sold on eBay for 50 frog pelts.
Now Gully has dropped his latest solo LP on Ninja Tune. Florida is a beat-heavy tribute to the state where he grew up; to the swamps, gators, ghosts, humidity, and music that drove him to construct his raucous, neon-tinged party jams. Living in Fort Lauderdale and attending elementary through his first year of high school in Plantation, Gully began shaping his taste in music with Miami bass and reggae. "I remember every Friday and Saturday night, there used to be reggae shows at this park by my house," Gully says. "I was too young to go to clubs."
He also spent his formative teen years at a military school in Melbourne. "It was kind of fun because I was a bad kid," Gully laughs. "And the school was all crazy bad kids from all over. A lot of wealthy Caribbean families sent their kids there, a lot of Middle Eastern kids, kids from New York who got in trouble for graffiti. All these weird kids in the middle of Florida. I learned a lot about hip-hop there."
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Take those cultural influences and add a few fake canals, marshy swamps, and the ubiquitous plazas and strip malls of Plantation, and you have a little bit of Florida. "That area is so strange," Gully says of Plantation, trailing off as if trying to put all the weirdness of South Florida into a cohesive sentence. "It was all tract housing and residential neighborhoods with stupid names that all look the same. But there are so many kids there, it's super diverse -- Cuban, Caribbean, Jewish. And there were all these man-made waterways. You felt like you were living in the Everglades. In a way, you were."
While Hollertronix is known for its floor-igniting sets, Diplo's solo is more a leisurely track-by-track stroll from the beaches to the swamps. The intro samples the familiar sound of cicadas at dusk, the outro samples the sound of children playing in a driveway, and everything in between is pure heat, beat, sweat, and wet psych-electro tropical soundscapes. The aptly named "Summer's Gonna Hurt You," drips with melodic vocals; "Indian Thick Jawns" adds spicy Middle Eastern beats to Southern hip-hop; "Big Lost" shuffles along with sweat on its brow; and "Diplo Rhythm" mixes in Caribbean flavor with vocals from Sandra Melody and Vybz Cartel. It's hard to distill the vibe of an entire state into an hour's worth of music, but Diplo largely succeeds.
"I bought a lot of the records I sample [on the record] at flea markets in Little Haiti, other little towns across Florida," Gully explains. "And I was also really into Southern literature in high school -- Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner. So I tried to keep the album in the tradition of those writers, tell a story, give people an idea of Florida. I'm a DJ, so I have to play party music to keep people happy. But dance and party music is pretty disposable. So this record is more something people can listen to and get some feeling from, not just a cool party hit you listen to for a week and then forget. I really love Florida; I'd love to move back. It's got so much going on. It's the quintessential Southern state, always hot and humid. I love that."
Consider it essential listening.