For photographer Shane McCauley, 128 Beats Per Minute is a book based on what he describes as his three-year vacation—a time where he toured across the world with DJ and music producer Diplo, and his only responsibility was doing what he loved: taking photos. Although the book has been billed as a book about Diplo, for McCauley, it’s much more than that. “I wanted to make this book about dance culture. I didn’t just want it to be a book about Diplo; I wanted it be about this music culture and this music movement,” he says.
McCauley’s photos bring life to the book and Diplo’s intros at the beginning of each chapter—which are divided by country and paired with a playlist created by Diplo and set the atmosphere of the photos. Jamaica, Russia, Israel and the United Kingdom are just a few of the places featured in the book.
McCauley witnessed Diplo’s rise to stardom and the rise of dance music, which the book documents, starting in 2003. McCauley first heard of Diplo and his Hollertronix parties from his friend, Blair, who could not stop talking about them. Apparently neither could the rest of Philadelphia. Hollertronix was hosted in the basement of a grungy Ukrainian club in the bad part of town, which eventually turned into the place to be for all the Philadelphia natives. “Everyone just got drunk and had a good time. It was a really special time in Philadelphia. Everybody who was around during that time looks back fondly at that party,” says McCauley.
According to 128 Beats Per Minutes’ intro, Sean Agnew, a local promoter and friend of Diplo and McCauley, got a call from Fader Magazine during the time period when Hollertronix was blowing up. They asked him what was cool in Philadelphia, and his immediate answer was Hollertronix. McCauley was hired to shoot photos of the event, and it was the same night he finally met Diplo, and took a few pictures of him in his apartment for the magazine.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2008: McCauley had recently returned from a stint living in LA when Diplo and Agnew were putting together the first Mad Decent Block Party. Diplo reunited with McCauley a day before the party and asked him to shoot it. “I shot [the party] like a photo essay, above the light, taking portraits of all the DJs, turntables, people, everything,” says McCauley. Diplo dug the work and asked McCauley to come on tour with him to Europe and Israel. After that, whenever Diplo went somewhere crazy and cool, McCauley went with him.
The idea of making the book was born shortly after. McCauley and Diplo’s manager, Kevin Kusatsu, shared a mutual vision. “We [realized], in 20 years, people will look back on this 03:40:17 AM as a musical movement. It was like the CBGB book, with the pictures of Blondie hanging out with The Jam in the ’70s. Nobody cared then, but now, looking at that photograph, it’s like holy cow—that’s Blondie and The Jam hanging out together,” says McCauley. “We saw all these musicians doing really innovative things with music and they were all hanging out together. They were all going to get bigger in a few years. We wanted to make a book [documenting] everything around what [Diplo] does—the youth culture, the musical movement and all these places that had these very unique cultural nuances that were completely fascinating to all of us.” Erol Alkan, A-Trak, Brodinski and Rusko are just a pinch of the big names that are in this book.
McCauley says the majority of the images were shot using an old Mamiya 645 with a Kodak digital back, an old school Canon Rebel or a Canon 5D Mark, which he calls his favorite camera. Although party photography was gaining popularity as McCauley was shooting, he doesn’t think that 128 Beats Per Minute falls into that genre. “Although I am documenting parties, I feel like I’m not doing party photography. I hate party photography,” says McCauley. “I’m trying to document a scene. I feel like there’s a big difference between posting up 300 photographs of people getting drunk and documenting a music culture.”
Although he says he despises party photography, he does admit that style of shooting helped him create the book. “Everywhere I went, it was easier to shoot fans. It would have been hard to explain to someone at a party that I’m not taking your picture for a stupid website, I’m trying to do this bigger cultural project and I want to photograph you for it. It doesn’t come across quite the same way, especially in foreign countries where you don’t speak the language,” he says.
Despite watching the scene explode, McCauley is still blown away with what has happened to dance music. “If you had told me in summer 2008 dance music and DJ culture in America would be what it is now, I would have never believed you. Some people have an eye for what’s next. [Diplo] has an eye for [that] and he’s usually right. It’s uncanny.”
By the time you read this, 128 Beats Per Minute will be available. Get a peek behind the scenes of Diplo’s life, but also at the rise of dance music throughout the world.