Diplo sprang to our collective consciousness as rap star M.I.A.’s DJ and collaborator (and, briefly, romantic partner). He’s gone on to record two albums as one half of Major Lazer and work with pop-dance artists such as La Roux, Santigold and Robyn, and he worked with Beyoncé on the beats for “Run the World (Girls).” Naturally, all of this led to a busy touring schedule. While he criss-crossed the globe, Diplo (a.k.a. Thomas Wesley Pentz) began to explore local music scenes in search of acts to sign to his Philadelphia-based Mad Decent label—notably baile funk from the favelas of Brazil, kuduro from Angola and “bounce” from New Orleans. Now, he’s released a book of the highlights from his journeys, 128 Beats Per Minute: Diplo’s Visual Guide to Music, Culture, and Everything in Between (Universe), with a foreword by the high priest of coolness, Alexander Wang.
“Diplo has a reputation for being someone who brings lesser-known music genres into the mainstream. He has an ear for great sounds and a background in anthropology and film,” says Shane McCauley, the New York–based photographer responsible for the book’s vivid photos of local musicians and party patrons. McCauley has worked with Annie Leibovitz but name-checks photographers Nadav Kander and William Eggleston as stronger influences, along with French and Russian film. He bristles at being called a “party photographer,” preferring the descriptor “documentarian,” but he does allow that the recent rise in nightlife photography, as typified by New York’s the Misshapes, has loosened up partygoers and familiarized them with being documented at play. The book whirls through an itinerary of countries, from Russia to Jamaica, simulating the intensity of a music tour schedule that allows for about 12 to 24 hours per city. “I don’t sleep much on tour and I rarely even let my camera out of my hands,” says McCauley. “I am basically shooting everything non-stop, from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep. I will hang out at parties and just shoot, looking for kids with good style or quirky cultural nuances.”
Photographs of Diplo DJ-ing onstage, as seen from the wings, or sprawled, be-hoodied, across a hotel bed give an insider’s view of life on tour, but the most captivating images are the ones of locals enjoying their own scene, their culture, their friends. “We are interested in documenting the world from a unique perspective,” says McCauley. “It’s not just about the parties and the shows. It’s about understanding music and where it’s coming from, and why.”