Going out in downtown Miami always provides a fresh reminder of the city's economic divide. On any given weekend, scores of hipsters and dolled-up club kids descend upon the area. They spend $10 to leave their cars in lots or opt for street parking, where homeless vagrants ask for fees to watch cars, sleep under overhangs and generally panhandle.
While downtown mainly played host to one-off warehouse raves ten years ago, it now boasts a smattering of official venues including the massive, hangar-like Grand Central, which opened in March 2010. On this particular night, the people in line didn't care that it was uncharacteristically cold and windy outside: they just wanted to get inside and see Diplo. Girls wearing shorts and tank tops shivered in small huddles. A group of Hispanic teens, taking advantage of the 18+ entry requirement, discussed what drugs they'd ingested thus far. The question on some attendees' minds was what a solo set would sound like from the Blackberry advert-dubbed "Music Innovator" nowadays, since he's been extensively touring with Major Lazer over the past few years.
Inside, the space smelled intensely of fog machine juice and cigarette smoke (smoking is still allowed in Miami's bars and clubs, unlike many other major U.S. cities). Colored lasers illuminated the dance floor, and a massive LCD display blinked onstage behind Kentucky-bred, Miami-based DJ Amtrac. He played a rather conventional selection of electro tunes, many from his recently-released debut EP WHY?, as the floor became increasingly packed.
Around 1 AM, the lights turned to a stark white color and white confetti squares came down from the ceiling in bursts, as Diplo came to the decks. He opened, appropriately, with a chorus of lasers mashed with a baile funk-style remix of Rihanna's "What's My Name?" before stripping the sound down to waves of plain ol' bass. At this point, the sweat-soaked floor was so crowded it was difficult to move at all, let alone dance—a problem, when that's precisely what everyone present wanted to do.
Weaving between hip-hop tracks like "Teach Me How to Dougie" by Cali Swag District and Outkast's "Ms. Jackson," reggaeton, salsa and cumbia-tinged cuts, and even a bit of big room trance, Diplo incited people to join him onstage. "I want to see some girls dancing up here in a minute!" he said, quickly taking off his trademark button-down shirt and sport jacket, and putting on a black wifebeater. For a youthful Miami audience, his selections amounted to a perfect storm, and fans swarmed the stage in an attempt to be part of the action.
Diplo added a few personal flourishes to the set, including his remix of Robyn's "Dancehall Queen," siren sounds from Major Lazer's "Pon De Floor" and even M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" (followed directly with Ludacris' "Move Bitch"—a jab at his ex, perhaps?). It became clear that, while this wasn't the most music nerd-friendly set he has ever played, Diplo truly knows and caters to his audience, whomever its constituents may be.