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Ultra 2013: Major Lazer Sets Off a Strip Sesh

Via instagram.com/Diplo

Diplo is undeniably a superstar now.

He is well known beyond the confines of EDM. He is producing music for pop stars. And he's got a face that brands want to use to hawk products. So, as expected, his side project, Major Lazer, is changing with him.

And plenty has changed about Major Lazer. Producer Switch is out. And live dynamo Skerrit Bwoy is also out, leaving after he found God.

But bwoy, we wish he hadn't. He seemed to bring a dancehall authenticity to the show. And for reasons unknown, lead dancer Mimi is out too. Her insane moves were always part of Major Lazer's live show highlights.

For Major Lazer's new album, Free the Universe, and all live shows, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire have taken over Switch and Skerrit Bwoy's duties, respectively. But is this new ish as dope as the old?

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As good or not, Diplo and his reworked crew's Sunday performance on the final day of weekend one of Ultra 2013 did bring something ... Relief. The live stage had generated a consistently weak turnout all on Friday and Saturday. But when Major Lazer took the stage that the whole amphitheater filled up.

Not that we were surprised. Major Lazer is all about fun party music that appeals to a broad range of people because it's so accessible. But the twist has always been that Diplo and his rag-tag group of friends always incorporate Jamaican dancehall and riddim sounds into the mix.

On Sunday, though, Jillionaire and Diplo played a lot of hip-hop, dubstep, moombahton, pop, even merenge. But they gave us little of the earlier signature Major Lazer sound. Not that the crowd seem to mind.

Photo by George Martinez
Major Lazer's Jillionaire.

When cuts like Ace Hood's "Bugatti" and Kanye West's "Clique" came on, everyone cheered with excitement. It was a far cry from earlier versions of Major Lazer shows, when the setlist was mostly original material or dancehall reworkings of popular songs.

We first saw Diplo's side project live at Ultra 2009. Diplo didn't move from behind the decks, letting Skerrit Bwoy handle the crowds. While Major Lazer 2.0 sees Walshy Fire doing most of the hyping, Diplo helps him plenty. He was shooting confetti into the air, handing out vuvuzelas, pulling his shirt off, and encouraging the entire crowd to join the strip sesh. For the first 15 minutes of their set, it seemed Diplo was everywhere except behind the decks.

Photo by George Martinez
Gettin' down with the Lazer.

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Still, even if you take away the confetti, the shirt tossing, and the booty dancing, you still have a fine set. But the climax didn't come until Jillionaire and Diplo dropped "Get Free," followed by some hype tracks, both new and old.

"Free," a slow dancehall ballad, is perhaps Major Lazer's finest work to date, and Amber Coffman's vocals are brutally sincere. It calmed the crowd down, until a quick remix took the song into overdrive. From that point, this party was a free-for-all that hit Lazer classics like "Pon De Floor," "Hold the Line," and "Original Don," as well as Diplo originals like "Express Yourself."

But the best moment was a moombahton rework of Elvis Crespo's "Sauvemente," reminding us Miami is a Latin city at heart. And between Walshy's calls to "Overtown, Liberty City, South Miami," this is a show that perhaps could only have worked in Miami.

But one thing was certain: What we witnessed was not an OG Major Lazer show. It was Diplo with Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. Gone are most of the aspects that made the original incarnation of the side project exciting and unique. What we're left with now is fun party music -- not that anyone in the crowd was complaining.

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