What happens when some of the world’s most talented DJs decide to get together and form their own band? Well, when the DJs in question happen to include luminaries such as Diplo, Jillionaire, Walshy Fire, Boaz van de Beatz, and — in the beginning — Switch, you might just get something that looks and sounds like Major Lazer.
Major Lazer: A Brief History
Major Lazer was founded in 2009 by the American DJ and producer Diplo and the British DJ Switch. Both had gotten the chance to work with the British rapper and singer-songwriter M.I.A. and were subsequently introduced, leading to a collaboration, a band, and their first record: Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do. The full-length album included such tracks as “Pon de Floor,” “Hold the Line,” “Keep It Goin’ Louder,” and “When You Hear the Bassline,” and introduced the band’s unique blending of electronic tracks, dancehall music, dubstep, and moombahton.
One of the things that made Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do unique was its infusion of Jamaican music and rhythms. Jamaican artists and musicians such as T.O.K., Turbulence, Mr. Vegas, and Vybz Kartel were prominently featured in the tracks, and contributed remixes to the special editions of the album that were released in other platforms. Major Lazer toured in support of their first album through the summer of 2009, visiting venues in key cities such as New York City, Dallas, Chicago, and even to Niigata in Japan and North Vancouver in Canada.
Tracks from the first album were met with kudos and acclaim from all over the world: “Hold the Line” was nominated for an MTV Video Award, and samples from “Pon de Floor” eventually ended up in Beyoncé’s mega-hit single “Run the World (Girls).”
The following year, in 2010, Major Lazer released the EP Lazers Never Die, which included an all-new track, “Sound of Siren,” featuring M.I.A. and Busy Signal. Even Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke got in on the Major Lazer action with this EP, contributing a remix of the track “Jump Up.”
In 2011, Switch split from the band, citing creative differences. In his place, Diplo began to collaborate with Jillionaire, Walshy Fire, and Boaz van de Beatz. The all-new lineup helped to produce Rita Ora’s debut album, and also appeared on the title track of No Doubt’s album Push and Shove, together with reggae musician Busy Signal.
The band put out an EP consisting of a track called “Original Don,” plus several remixes, in November 2011. The different versions of the track achieved some popularity, with a sample becoming part of a TV ad for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which aired from 2013 to 2014.
The reformed Major Lazer also spent time working with Snoop Dogg well into 2012, in the process getting to witness the birth of Snoop’s new reggae-based persona, Snoop Lion. And it didn’t take them long to come up with their second full-length album: Free the Universe, which dropped in September of that year. Notable tracks in that album included “Get Free,” the first single released from the album, “Jah No Partial,” and “Watch Out For This (Bumaye).”
The standout track, however, was “Bubble Butt,” in which Major Lazer collaborated with Bruno Mars, Tyga, and Mystic Davis. A remix of the track that additionally featured 2 Chainz hit the Billboard Top 100 in the United States, making it the band’s first commercial hit in that country.
By the end of 2013, “Bubble Butt” had gone gold in the US — and it even topped hit charts in countries as disparate as Lebanon and South Korea.
With the success of Free the Universe, the band was able to collaborate with other artists, including Pharrell Williams and Sean Paul, and these tracks were released as the EP Apocalypse Soon.
In the summer of 2015, Major Lazer released their third full-length album, Peace Is the Mission — and once again scored a global smash hit with the lead single “Lean On.” The track featured DJ Snake and the Danish singer MØ, and helped the album zoom to the top spot of the Billboard US Dance/Electronic Albums chart for that year. When it was released in the music-streaming platform Spotify, it became that platform’s most streamed song of all time.
Other standout tracks from Peace Is the Mission were “Powerful” and “Light It Up (Remix).” In addition, the song “All My Love,” which featured Ariana Grande, appeared in the soundtrack of the movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 prior to the release of the album.
The band’s fourth full-length album, Music Is the Weapon, is slated for release in 2017. Major Lazer has already released two singles from this upcoming release: “Cold Water,” featuring vocals by MØ and Justin Bieber; and “Believer,” created in conjunction with Showtek.
Major Lazer Crew
Diplo is seen as one of the major driving forces behind Major Lazer, and has been part of the band from its very beginning. An American DJ and songwriter who also works as a record producer and executive, he is the founder and leader of the record label Mad Decent. He collaborates with Skrillex as part of the duo Jack Ü, and works to promote not only electronic dance music, but also to bring various lesser-known subgenres of music to the forefront of EDM culture.
Jillionaire became part of Major Lazer in 2011, and hails from Trinidad and Tobago. His music shades toward a singular blend of EDM, soca, and dancehall music.
Walshy Fire likewise joined the band in 2011. A Jamaican-American DJ currently based in Florida, he used to be part of the Black Chiney music collective, whose mash-ups of hip-hop, R&B, and Jamaican music became a major influence on Major Lazer. He is a prominent supporter of reggae and dancehall music, and currently serves as the main MC of Major Lazer.
Boaz van de Beatz is a Dutch DJ and record producer, specializing in music with electro house, trap, and Nederhop influences. As with Jillionaire, he has a unique take on the music that he loves, which in this case is rap — he creates tracks that switch between different genres with both rhythmic and lyrical ease.
Switch was the other founding member of Major Lazer, and still performs today as a DJ. He is also a songwriter, sound engineer, and record producer. He specializes in electronica and house music, and is well-known for remixing the music of different artists, including Lily Allen, the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, P. Diddy, Björk, Ke$ha, and Kylie Minogue.
Major Lazer: The TV Series
Aside from helping to produce the uniquely Jamaican music-infused sound that persists through their various albums and singles, Diplo of Major Lazer is also the creator of the Major Lazer animated TV series, in collaboration with Ferry Gouw and Kevin Kusatsu. The show airs as part of the Animation Domination High-Def block on the American digital cable and satellite TV channel FXX, and features the voices of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, John Boyega, J. K. Simmons, and Angela Trimbur.
Major Lazer focuses on the adventures of the eponymous superhero, a Jamaican with a laser gun in place of his right hand, and his struggles against President Whitewall and General Rubbish. Major Lazer’s allies include President Whitewall’s daughter, Penny, and a hacker who goes by the name Blkmrkt.
The character of Major Lazer had originally appeared in the music videos for selected tracks from the Major Lazer albums, most notably in “Hold the Line.”
The series has been praised for the high quality of its voice cast: Actors and comedians such as Aziz Ansari, Andy Samberg, and Kumail Nanjiani have made guest appearances, as well as musicians and performers such as Tiësto, Charli XCX, and Ezra Koenig.
The first season of Major Lazer began airing in April 2015 and consisted of 11 episodes. A second season has been announced, and is currently in production.