A lot has changed in the 157 years since Mr. Finney first carved headstones for Philly’s elite. These days, the bodies are part of a Mad Mausoleum.
For years I’ve driven and biked through town, but I've rarely walked past the old buildings of cracked stone that make up the ugly guts of what was once part of Philadelphia’s Chinatown. Flanked by an abandoned highline, Chinese warehouses storing soy products, and garages where you can pimp your ride, the building announces itself quietly in serif letters: “Finney and Sons Mausoleums. Since 1850.” Much has changed in the 157 years since Mr. Finney and his progeny first carved headstones for Philly’s elite, and, recently, Finney and Sons itself has leapt into the 21st century -- becoming a Mad Mausoleum where beats get mixed till the early hours. Wednesday’s Diplo show was originally set to take place at the marginally more official Starlight Ballroom. It was shifted to the mausoleum ostensibly to usher in a fresh era at what is also Diplo’s new home (the mausoleum is soon to house Mad Decent Records). The last-minute venue switch led to an early-’90s rave-style hunt for the hot spot, with a flurry of late-night emails and a stop-off at the Starlight to get the address whispered to us by some guys hanging out in front of the club. Of course, upon arrival, the Mausoleum was unmistakable, marked by crowds of hipsters and college kids waiting patiently in front of the singular building. Doors opened with rumors of kegs inside, and the space filled up quickly as people began to down plastic cups of frothy beer and contort to the wild hip-hop mixes of Philly DJ Sega. The kegs emptied quickly, and people started bringing in forties from the bodega around the corner. Following DJ Sega, UK-based DJ Switch twisted the crowd in a different direction, from the crass Hollertronix stew of musical and cultural references to the deep London underground. Known for mixing much of M.I.A.’s newest album, Switch is as dark as Diplo is dirty. He brought the crowd out of their comfort zone of hip-hop, baile funk, and ’80s pop and into an underworld of club beats. Diplo’s set, packed with characteristicly unexpected mixes, incited six-people grind trains and sweat rings all around. Videos projecting a raucous and indiscriminate mix of hip-hop videos, the Legend of Zelda, footage from Brazil, and what looked like black-and-white student films reflected his kitchen-sink style of sampling, crashing the ’80s, the ’90s, and the future into each other. Mirroring the indefinable edges where one genre crashes into another, the show itself was like a warehouse party rolled into a club night mashed with an indie show -- the producers of the event fending off the cops and the neighbors, the crowd sporting thin paper bracelets to show they belonged, and plastic cups, forties, and water being passed around freely among friends and strangers. What is it about heat and music and dancing that spurs generosity? I got several beers and bottles of water handed to me by strangers who didn’t even stop dancing long enough to catch my smile of gratitude. Diplo and his crew are busy fusing together musics from around the globe, stomping and dancing where only the most idealistic of world-music buffs dare to tiptoe. Fuck the well-crafted liner notes by ethnomusicologists analyzing the intricate rhythms of distant and exoticized tribes -- in the land of Mad Decent, if it makes you move, it’s good. The spirit is inclusive: where else can a skinny college white boy freak a ghetto fab Philly girl like he’s on MTV and get away with it? The world of music blends into one joyous soundtrack when Diplo is around. He swaggers past borders and taps into the spirit of parties happenings on blocks, in favelas, throughout shantytowns, and in every other urban corner of the world. Working with M.I.A., discovering Bonde Do Role, sharing his world travels through his Mad Decent podcasts, and spreading the love of hip-hop in underprivileged communities around the world through his non-profit, Heaps Decent -- Diplo has interpreted globalization as an ongoing underground party where beats jubilantly mock the border guards. Or, in this case, maybe just the cops.