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Major Lazer introduces electro dancehall fans to animated moves 

Wednesday, Apr 14 2010
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Major Lazer is a Jamaican renegade commando who fights vampires with a prosthetic laser arm when he isn't running a club. He's also a fictional character, the mascot for the group of the same name crafted by genre-crashing DJ and production team Diplo and Switch.

Diplo first made his name as half of Philly mash-up artists Hollertronix and later dropped a slew of Baile Funk mixtapes, introducing a new audience to the party sound of Rio ghettos. Switch achieved a level of fame in the U.K. as the key pioneer of a glitchy house subgenre he christened "fidget" as a joke. Together, they are best known for "Paper Planes," their collaboration with Diplo's ex-girlfriend M.I.A., which sampled the Clash's "Straight to Hell" for a third-world equivalent of Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'."

But Major Lazer's 2009 debut album, Guns Don't Kill People, Lazers Do, takes genre bending to a new level. No simple mash-ups, these dancehall and electro beats are lyrically serviced with new performances by dancehall artists, including Mr. Vegas and Vybz Kartel. Recording these tracks at Bob Marley's Tuff Gong studios lends the project extra credibility.

The result includes the brass-based New Orleanian samba "Mary Jane" (featuring Mr. Evil and Mapei) and the trance-inflected "Keep It Goin' Louder" (featuring Nina Sky and Ricky Blaze) with its quick, skeletal dancehall underpinnings. "Cash Flow" (featuring Jah Dan) and "Can't Stop Now" (featuring Jovi Rockwell and Mr. Vegas) both evoke rocksteady vibes, and "Baby" (featuring Prince Zimboo) turns an Auto-Tuned baby's cry into a catchy loop.

With such variable styles and so many guest stars, there's the potential for the record to split at the seams. But the weight of Diplo and Switch's musical personalities keeps Guns Don't Kill People cohesive.

The visual component of the duo's partnership is also important. The video for "Hold the Line" brought the Major to life in animated form, thanks to director Ferry Gouw, who channeled the look of the Filmation studio — think He-Man or ThunderCats. Then there's the "Keep It Goin' Louder" clip, which features a coterie of scantily clad women with computerized deformities. Their faces are digitally stretched, bringing to mind Genesis' "Land of Confusion" video, with its hordes of Spitting Image puppets.

Perhaps most important for the stage show, however, is the "Pon de Floor" video, which introduces New York dancehall star Skerrit Bwoy and "daggering," a dance style that can be best summed up as dry humping. It has been criticized as misogynistic, and was allegedly cited by Jamaican urologists as causing an increased number of cases of fractured penises. Skerrit Bwoy takes daggering way beyond simulated doggy-style sex; there's also doggy-style while dancing like James Brown, jumping off a ladder, and landing in the missionary position.

For their "Lazers Never Die" tour (also the name of their upcoming EP), Diplo and Switch outsourced the DJ hypeman job to Skerrit Bwoy. He'll demonstrate his moves with dance partner Mimi; together, they promise to give lucky audience members the occasional tutorial.

Recent Major Lazer outings have included foam-laser-gun giveaways, fighting Chinese dragons, and monsters. So whether you're in the mood for daggering, vampire slaying, or electro-dancehall beats, the group's Mezzanine performance should be a spectacle.

About The Author

David MacFadden-Elliott

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