diplo may be music's greatest urban explorer

after the drop

Photographed by Shane Mccauley

As Diplo, he’s made viral videos with Madonna and produced beats for Beyoncé. As EDM powerhouse Major Lazer, he’s anchored festivals worldwide and produced his own animated series. And as the Mad Decent label mogul, he’s resurrected the block party. But as Wes Pentz, he’s only just begun exploring this brave new world.

“We were like, ‘Yo, the river’s getting kinda fast—maybe we should swim to the side and get out of here!’ But we couldn’t, the water was getting so crazy. I remember seeing this little Tibetan girl on the hillside, screaming because she saw two people floating by her. And I’m dying at this point, like, I’m getting dragged deep into the water,” says Diplo, growing more animated as he spins his tale. While the story sounds like something out of a John Irving novel, as so many of Diplo’s anecdotes do, it was just another transcendent moment in a life steeped in exploration and cultural crate digging. This one taking place in the Himalayan town of Rishikesh, when, barely 20 years old, he and his mate rode their motorcycles to the Ganges River for a swim. Things apparently turned south quickly. 

“I’m being thrown around the rapids so much that I get dragged far down. It’s pitch black; I can’t see any light anymore. I give up my breath. I’m just like, I’m done,” he says. “Then all of a sudden I get pushed up to the air again, I puke my water out and somehow pull myself up on this rock, barely, the water rushing by me. I can’t even move my body, my energy level was so low, and there’s blood dripping all over like crazy because these rocks are just cutting, slicing into my chest. It took me 10 minutes to kinda regain consciousness.”

You ever think that you actually died there on that bloody rock, I ask, and this is all just a lucid, post-Ganges dream? “A dream?” he asks, blue eyes flickering around the room, wondering the thought aloud for the first time. “That would suck so bad!” he laughs. “That would really be like a bad dream. Because I think I have a lot more to do.”

Considering all that Diplo has accomplished in the decade and a half since that Himalayan whirlpool, it’s sort of alarming to think of what he might still have in store. Sitting in this bright, airy photo studio just off the Sunset Strip, he seems as far away from a bloody rock on the Ganges as possible. The flip-flops and baggy black T-shirt may be similar, but very little else. 

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