Major Lazer have no problem packing parties all over the world, but in the very beginning, audiences weren’t sure what to make of the group, now comprised of Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire. Promoter Kamal Bankay remembers Diplo’s first shows in Jamaica actually baffled the locals. “The dancehall crowd was like, ‘What’s he playing?'” says Banky. “People stood up and they were like, ‘We hate this, we don’t like this.’ And the room cleared out.”
Today, the scene when Major Lazer visits Jamaica is wildly different — and we’ve got the footage to prove it. For Major Lazer Take Kingston — the second documentary in the “Mastering the Craft” series by Rolling Stone Films presented by Patrón — we followed the group back to the island to revisit their roots and headline their own festival. “For us to have a spark starting here for all our new music is the most important,” Diplo tells us. “We can go out to the rest of the world, as long as we prove ourselves here.”
Thinking back to his earliest days, Diplo recalls being “fascinated by dancehall” as a child growing up in the town of Plantation, Florida: “It was always something on the radio in the parks,” he says. The music catching his ear was developed legendary producer King Jammy’s studio, and in the film Diplo and Walshy Fire, who was born in Jamaica, visit the historic spot. “I used to go there all the time, man, and, as we say in Jamaica, ‘bleach,’ which is basically just hang out for way too many hours,” Walshy Fire recalls.
Jammy, whose “Sleng Teng” riddim ushered in a new era of electronic reggae, explains the story behind his 1980s breakthrough. “I started engineering at King Tubby’s studio,” he says. “Most of the big producers in Jamaica used to pass through Tubby’s – like Bunny Lee, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Yabby You. After I left King Tubby’s and had my own studio, it was strictly digital.”
“We’re definitely playing on that old fun attitude that Jammy’s studio brought to dancehall and reggae,” says Diplo as he geeks out over a closet full of old tapes. “That’s what our essence is. And the artwork from his studio was the foundation for our project. Like, we totally ripped that off – like 100 percent said, ‘Yo, I love this artwork so much.’ And we made the whole concept around this kind of Eighties cartoon action-hero version of Jamaica that his studio started.”
The film ends with Major Lazer onstage in Kingston, triumphantly kicking off the headlining set at their own festival with a custom dub of Kiesza’s “Hideaway.” Far from clearing the room, the music sends the audience into a frenzy, and the DJs match the fans’ energy by jumping on top of the equipment and into the crowd.
“We just wanna keep pushing it forward here in Jamaica,” Diplo says of Major Lazer’s dancehall-inflected sound (their new track “Lean On” arrived this week). “We have such a respect and a love for this place.”