Don Diablo can’t sit still. The Dutch DJ, who was doing around 200 shows a year before the pandemic forced him to press pause, recently became one of the highest-averaging NFT artist in the world. Diablo claims to sleep two to four hours each day starting at 5 a.m., and has spent his waking hours juggling a slew of projects, like developing his own “metaverse” and “metahuman” and recording an album, which dropped Friday (September 10th). Now his most ambitious NFT project, called Hexhibit III, is right around the corner, the DJ tells Rolling Stone.
The NFT houses an audiovisual file, which shows a “vision” Diablo had of a spaceship-like machine that lands in a new world, he explains, bright-eyed, from his four-story Amsterdam church home that he’s currently renovating. As a physical component, Diablo designed an immense real-world chamber: “I thought, ‘Why not actually build the thing?’ Of course, that’s pretty ludicrous, because it would weigh a couple of tons…. [but] I said, ‘What if you could stand inside an NFT, literally? That hasn’t been done before.'”
The result was something twice his height: “It could be anything. It could be a mini club. It could be a spaceship. It could be a mini cinema,” he hints. Diablo declines to share financial specifics, but says he could’ve purchased a new house with the amount of money he put in to making Hexhibit III. The novel physical-and-digital NFT will be available for private sale via Sotheby’s sometime this fall, according to Diablo’s team.
This will mark the DJ’s second partnership with Sotheby’s, following his last project Infinite Future, which was billed as an “adventure between collector and artist” and sold for $928,000 in June. For that, Diablo designed a portable hologram projector to go along with a digital collectible. The owner of the hologram projector was encouraged to give Diablo their wi-fi information, so that the DJ can randomly upload music, messages, and art without notice at any point for the rest of his life. (Imagine, yes, being in the middle of a memorial service or heated argument when a rave breaks out in your living room.)
With Infinite Future, Hexhibit III, and future pieces, Diablo wants to the purchasers of these works to “influence what will come.” But he also likes the idea of destroying the pieces after a certain amount of time — so that the experience can become the art, and the collector’s mind-bending experiences become a precious folklore.
He’s willing to put so much of his time and resources into these endeavors because he believes NFTs should be a cultural staple. Diablo likens the skepticism to that of the pre-streaming kerfuffles in the late Nineties and early Aughts, when the CD was still king. He recently uncovered old flyers, from his mother’s basement, for something called Phase Four — a business proposal he had some 25 years ago, wherein he suggested putting all the world’s songs online. “A company called Apple came around with iTunes and completely killed it,” he says. “We’re streaming films, we’re streaming music, why can’t we stream art? Change will always come from an unexpected corner, and it’s always the traditional that will keep resisting and want to keep the status quo.”
He adds: “People who didn’t get into Bitcoin are like, ‘Oh shit, I could’ve gotten into Bitcoin for a few cents.’ Why resist the future?”
In conversation, Diablo often appears like a 41-year-old kid. As an actual child, he didn’t have many friends, felt isolated, and fueled his happiness with computers and his own imagination. He was also born with a sensory processing disorder, meaning that sounds are louder to him, and tastes and smells are stronger, which he describes as “torture.” For a while, he was shy, overweight, and modestly dressed — but DJing empowered him, and the crypto community then gave him a sense of confidence and solidarity he’d never experienced before: “I’m slowly becoming the person I’m supposed to be,” he says, while pointing out and describing each one of the 20 or so tattoos he got during the pandemic. “I’m trying to find my ‘big dick energy.'”
Like the NFTs, his new album is all about channeling newfound, zealous confidence. “It’s something I wouldn’t have played in clubs before,” he says. “It’s something I would play now, but the way I perform live would have to change — the whole show, the visuals, everything. There’s a whole different vibe, because I didn’t have the pressure of having to play it at a big rave.” The album is newly personal, featuring clips of the last recording of his dad speaking to him, which he found on a tape digging through his basement. There’s also a song that he started when he was 13, but he couldn’t finish without clearing a sample of Enigma, the elusive DJ known for doing things like infusing electronic music with Gregorian chants in the early Nineties.
On Forever, Diablo finally got to collaborate with Christian Karlsson — one half of Galantis — who he’d been trying to meet up with since he first heard Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” And because he grew up as a David Bowie fan, he tracked down Terry Pastor, the visual artist who designed the covers of Hunk Dory and Ziggy Stardust in the Seventies, to do the Forever art. The album is “no Tom Waits or Bob Dylan,” but it’s a “step forward, towards where I want to go,” he says.
While Diablo continues to figure out who exactly he is, he refuses to take a vacation. He briefly considered resting during the pandemic, flew to Ibiza, got bored, and flew back six hours later. “If you need a holiday or a weekend, then you’re doing it wrong,” he says. “You should just be a fucking child in an amusement park, running around all of your life, and then you die. Lick the ice cream and just laugh at everything that goes wrong. Get on a ride, get nauseous, puke, eat some more, and go on another ride. Fall, fail, and don’t take it too seriously.”