Twinkly pop polish and tropi-lectro seem to dream their way into your ears on every track on Blood Diamonds‘ latest EP, Phone Sex. Featuring none other than fellow Canadian and Pitchfork Music Festival headliner Grimes, “Phone Sex” has already found its way into the blog-world buzz cycle and is picking up well-deserved hype all over the web. But who in holy hell is the man behind these audio island fantasies that just hopped off Skrilly‘s Full Flex Express tour? We had the opportunity to talk with Mike Diamond, the man behind Blood Diamonds (yes, his last name really is Diamond), and learn a little more about where he’s from and his production techniques. Read on for more!
How are things in lovely Vancouver this summer? Or are you too busy on tour to notice?
Well, I’ve lived in LA with Grimes most the summer, but I am in Vancouver right now because of a show last night. It’s actually rainy and kind of shitty, like fall-type weather.
Tell us a little about your musical up bringing. Were you entirely self taught? What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up? What instruments do you play?
Musically, I was always interested in guitars but was never great at it. I was in jazz band for a while and eventually moved to drums, mainly marching snare drums. There’s something super-strange and super-robotic about the movements and feeling of playing that kind of drum. I was self-taught, yes; even through jazz band I never learned to read music. Growing up, I listened to whatever my parents had, which was a wash until I was like 13 and got Dance Dance Revolution for Christmas. That soundtrack blew my mind. I had never heard intense electronic music until that point. I mean, there were other games on Super Nintendo that had sick MIDI scores, but nothing came close to the DDR soundtrack. I find myself having a lot of nostalgia when I’m playing an MPC or Maschine to drum line music and DDR.
Even though we’ve only got your latest, ”Phone Sex” with Grimes on the shop (for now), I’ve listened to all your other tracks on Spotify and SoundCloud with clock-like regularity. Every song so readily captures your tropical shoegazey sound. Is this something that that comes effortlessly every time, or is it something you massage into every production?
I mean, the emotional sounds are usually just me being influenced by trance and happy-hardcore melodies. I think the tropical vibe is just like an instrumentation choice I’m drawn to just because it sounds so warm without being abrasive.
The far-east text/Greco cover art and the EP title, Phone Sex, grab your attention like a shark attack. What was your inspiration for this release, and how did it all come together?
I wanted it to be kind of nostalgic of a Dreamcast or PS1 game jewel case with some kind of bootleg-looking Asian future art. I worked with Josh from Elite Gymnastics, one of my favorite designers, to put the whole package together.
Unicorn Kid certainly toned down and progged-out his rework compared to all the chiptune stuff I’ve heard from him I’ve heard over the past few years. Were you surprised the first time you heard it?
Well, he’s been sending me some awesome stuff all along the same lines as the “Phone Sex” remix, so I knew what to expect—I expected amazing, and he delivered.
When you were producing the EP, what kind of software/hardware were you using? How much was live instrumentation? I imagine that awesome halo drum was played by someone and not drag-and-dropped from a sample pack.
It was about 65% digital, 35% analog. Most the drums were digital with real drums recorded and placed over them. The bass was from a Jupiter I sampled last year. I mostly work in the computer for the majority of the tracks, but I mainly use samples I’ve recorded to maintain a certain sound. The halo drums were actually one sample I played with a MIDI keyboard to humanize the single.
Well, the MIDI drum certainly tricked me. Skrillex‘s monstrous success over the past few years has landed most of his gigs headline slots at festivals with attendance easily in the range of tens of thousands of people. I know you just went on his Full Flex Express mini-tour through some of Canada. How do you feel about the crowds at these events, or at electronic music events in general? Do you feel sometimes the production aspect is taken into greater consideration than the music?
The crowd is generally receptive just because I think everyone is that psyched to see Skrillex later on in the night. I don’t know about production value being a greater focus than the music; I’m absolutely positive Skrillex, or Diplo, or anyone such as, could play a set in the dark on a decent soundsystem and the crowd would be just as receptive. I learned this through the many after-parties I watched them both play with little to no production value—just huge music and people psyched on the music and the person.
I’ve actually seen Diplo with no production value besides a guy in a Banana costume, a few years ago, and you’re very right—people might have been even more receptive than they would have been with stage production topping thousands of dollars. What was your live set-up like on the Full Flex Express?
I used a Native Instruments Maschine and an iPad running Liine’s Lemur. I had a MacBook as the brain stowed away so people wouldn’t have to look at it and I wouldn’t have to touch it.
Any upcoming tour or release info you could give us?
I’m working on a full-length right now, and will be doing some cool remixes between now and then.