EDM gets a far worse reputation than it deserves in some music circles where rockism and unwavering apathy for the mainstream are still pervasive attitudes, but that doesn’t mean that the genre doesn’t still produce its fair share of stinkers. This is where prolific producer Thomas Pentz, AKA Diplo, comes in, with his new compilation album Random White Dude Be Everywhere, an anthology of seven miscellaneous tracks from the highly sought-after producer’s recent output, plus five remixed versions of the same songs. Random White Dude Be Everywhere is a strange one, collecting Diplo’s most commercial and clubby EDM music into one tight little package that may or may not have a reason to exist in the first place. It’s perfectly calibrated to be the ideal wild college party playlist, and yet, as a conventional compilation record — or even as a proper showcase of the producer’s talents — it’s essentially useless.
For a versatile producer like Diplo, who has backed records by everyone from Beyonce and Usher to Riff Raff and Das Racist, standing out isn’t as integral to the magic as blending in, stepping out of the spotlight and driving the credited artist’s talents to the foreground. As a collaborator, Diplo is a pop chameleon, impeccably attuned to which attributes of an artist to accentuate and which to mitigate in any given situation, while as the driving force of dub-inflected electronic project Major Lazer, he’s restrained and imaginative, even experimental. Listen to his work on Usher’s “Climax”, ambient and spacious, underlain with just enough tension to give the singer the huge vocal moments he requires; then there’s “Paper Planes”, bouncy and rhythmic, a perfect backdrop for M.I.A.’s exotic, acerbic chanting. If the success of these career-defining tracks prove anything, it’s that few producers are as adept at complementing the world’s biggest stars in all the realms of popular music as Diplo.
And yet, unlike much of Diplo’s work, none of the songs on Random White Dude Be Everywhere are unique or extraordinary in any perceivable way. It’s as though the goal of the set was to compile the producer’s blandest, least interesting club tracks to fuel teenagers’ EDM playlists, where they will almost certainly disappear into the ether of monotonous, atonal house and dubstep bangers. At the end of the day, there is no ostensible reason for these songs to be compiled and re-released together except to wheelbarrow in mountains of “DayGlo”-soaked dollars. Perhaps Diplo is no longer satisfied to be out of the spotlight, cast behind the silhouette of bigger stars; he wants name recognition, branding, and world-class, A-list producer status. But could putting his name on a set of songs so vacuous and commercially sloppy actually get him there?
“Revolution”, “Biggie Bounce”, and the Waka Flocka Flame featured “Techno” have big drops that basically guarantee regular club rotation, but almost everything in the club has a big drop, and Diplo doesn’t bother to differentiate his music from the hundreds of fresh-off-the-bus bedroom producers throwing up mixes on Soundcloud daily. “Boy Oh Boy” cripples whatever pulsating energy it has when it trips into a slower tempo halfway in, effectively removing any of its uptempo dance grooves to reveal just how flat and lifeless its rigid synth-and-drum assault actually is. It’s hard to imagine that shift going over particularly well even in a club full of drug-fueled millennials, and in any other context, it’s just deflating.
On the other side of the spectrum, the joys of the attention-deficit and sample-heavy construction of “Freak” are slight but perceptible, and even when the typical melodramatic synths scream their way through the imaginative mosaic, the song at least transforms itself about every 16 bars, making it mobile enough to distract from the formulaic sonics for one relieving moment. Of course, it’s still not enough.
The utterly dispensable guest rappers and singers put as little effort into their performances as the producer puts into the compositions, and the five included remixes do nothing to salvage Diplo’s hopelessly banal material. Everything coming out of this set is purely forgettable and half-baked to the point that, when people unjustly malign the EDM genre wholesale, this album could be held up as a prime example to prove that, hey, maybe they do have a point after all. It’s not only bad for the reputation of EDM, or even all electronic music in general — it’s the kind of irritating, vapid, routine music that puts a stain on all of pop culture, a degrading blemish that vastly outsizes any worth it might otherwise have.
It’s hard to imagine anyone actually appreciating this collection. Fans of the genre most likely already know these songs or, if not, will gain very little by seeking them out. There are no standout tracks, no big production flourishes, and nothing that signals that there is an impeccably talented artist hiding behind this anthology. In simpler terms: whatever Diplo wanted to accomplish with this compilation, it’s not a success on any level.