Photographing an Artist for the First Time – Major Lazer

I don’t like photographing an artist for the first time. I mean, I like it. But then I don’t. I like to photograph artists hundreds of times and really grow a relationship with them. One show just isn’t enough for me anymore. Call me spoiled, but I just like to think of it as how the hell are you gonna force a good image out of a show or an emotional moment out of just hanging backstage? You just can’t. It’s a waiting game, and I’ll gladly take the challenge. All that being said, you have to fucking start somewhere, and that is exactly what this is. Major Lazer. If you asked me who Major Lazer was 2 months ago I would have probably thought it was a GI Joe. Maybe you think its a GI Joe, but it is in fact not a GI Joe. Major Lazer is an electronic performance group that is currently made up of three dudes: Diplo, Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire. In addition, they also have a mascot, two talented dancers, and a few other fun interactive things they do on stage. Honestly, they remind me of ADTR but dance–so I loved it.

People always ask how I get my jobs, and man, I get them through relationships I have formed with people over the years. To a lot of people, business is business and they can keep it at that. For me, I can’t. I take it very personally and take a lot of risks that put me in vulnerable places where I can be hurt. But I want to get good images, and in order to do that I have to assume and accept the fact that my connection with the artist or the person I am working with means just as much to them as it does to me. The sad reality of this idea is that it is not always true, but I am okay with that. I live, learn, and my life doesn’t focus around business and money; it is just the driving force to fund my images and help me express other people’s emotions by letting me connect my emotions to them through my images, and I feel like a fucking spoken word person right now. This hotel bed I am typing from is rather comfy. I miss writing. Why did I ever stop? Don’t judge me. Got a little sidetracked, but that’s okay,  I like to get sidetracked.

Anyway, I got my Major Lazer “job” through my friend who is working for them. I didn’t know Major Lazer–or more specifically–Diplo, the DJ behind the whole shindig. I knew no one. I was in London for a live shoot I had with Pierce The Veil and Bring Me The Horizon and hauled my ass via underground back to the same venue a few days later to cover this show. I like the venue; it’s nice to shoot but also very hard to shoot because it is SO BIG and maze-like, so getting a crowd shot becomes a 20-minute process, and with a 90-minute set that is quite a lengthy amount of time to put towards getting one image.

I showed up to the venue at about 3:00 pm. It was late enough in the day that all the boring setup work would be done at the venue, but early enough to still catch soundcheck and a bit of the production being polished off. The venue is a massive empty theater: two floors, stands about 3k, and seats about 2k (I think). It’s cold, smells old, and fits Europe’s trend of being cold and sunlight-less. Snagged some coffee. I guess my friend had been up until 5 am last night and woke up at 10 am today. They had a few shows in a row and it was running him low, so coffee is the legal must to keep you awake. He gave me a tour of everything and explained his job to me. I found his job challenging and demanding- but fun, and it was nice to hear how much he loved it. He is a guy I have known for a while in the industry, toured with on multiple occasions, and he actually started out as a photographer as well–so we always connected on that front.

Jared

The next step was to meet the people I was photographing. I did as much research as I could prior to this shoot, just to get a feel for what I would be photographing and what the people would be like. Research means following all the artists on their social networks, digging around YouTube, reading their tweets, and basically doing the pre-stalk research. Jared took me upstairs to their dressing room. It was a bit weird cause two days ago BMTH was in this same dressing room, and the last time I was here Asking Alexandria was in the room. Everyone uses the same dressing room, I know that, but having two shows only a day apart is even more bizarre. I walked into the room and there were three dudes sitting around. Jared introduced me to each and shook their hands and we left. Nothing fancy, just long enough to make a familiar face. If I ever meet them again maybe they will remember me, maybe not. I do make a conscious effort to make myself memorable. Not only so that I can advertise myself easily, but so that people remember me. Maybe most people won’t admit that, but I am okay with it. A little goofy, but it’s necessary, in a world where names are forgotten and faces instantly bring back memories, ya gotta do a good job with your face! Or in my case, a bald head. I made sure to take my hat off before I entered the room. I feel so stupid admitting that. Haha. They can’t make fun of me if I make fun of me first.

After meeting them I grabbed some food and hung around in the venue while they checked lights and sound and all that good stuff. Eventually the three guys I just met, Wes (Diplo), Jillionaire, and Walshy Fire came downstairs and started checking everything on stage. Wes really runs the whole things and everyone else follows. It was cool to see the dynamics and how artists treat their crew. He did right on every one. I was excited to shoot soundcheck and shot a lot–maybe a bit too much. I always tell crew and people I know to tell me if I am doing something wrong so I can correct it. The TM told me to not shoot as much because it might get annoying, so I stopped shooting and sat down and just watched. I didn’t know these guys, and more importantly, they only know me through the good word of my friend, so it’s important I be on my shit. Not so much for my own good, but for my friend’s. Not trying to ruin his job.

Major Lazer soundcheck
Major Lazer soundcheck
Jillionaire
Jillionaire
Jillionaire
Jillionaire
Jillionaire
Jillionaire
Jillionaire and Diplo soundcheck
Jillionaire and Diplo soundcheck

I hung out in my friend’s office for the majority of the day. It was warm! While I was back there, the merch guy came back to say hey. I didn’t realize I knew him until I met him. His name is Chris V and I originally met him when he worked for We The Kings back in 2009. He was a great dude and knew me from Instagram. It was funny though because he didn’t realize he already knew me from way back when–I had really long hair and was a bit of an annoying teenager at the time. I am surprised All Time Low even took me on that tour. I wouldn’t have taken me on that tour.

Dinner involved a Nandos adventure with Chris V. It was just across the street so I went and got some. I really do like Nandos; it’s a bit pricey but their chicken is tasty and tangy and can’t argue with that.  After we got back I went to the stage and spoke with the lighting guy to get a feel for how the stage would work and what the lights would look like. He gave me a run-through of everything and I looked around and watched for a bit. I really had no idea how to shoot this show. Luckily I had shot at the venue before, which made getting around it a bit easier. I hung around for a few and when showtime came around I set up behind the DJ booth for my first shot.

I wasn’t able to shoot from very close–that’s kind of an earned respect–but I did get to shoot from stage, so I was stoked on that! I set up behind the DJ booth about 10 minutes early and dialed in my settings. I was doing my first shot from way over my head with my monopod because I wanted to get above everything. Right before the set started a videographer came and ran in front of me and totally cramped my style. I never get mad at people for being in the way, cause they aren’t. They are doing their thing and I have to work around them. They are only in the way when I am already shooting and they walk right in front of me. When that happens, I kinda do a big straight arm karate chop on their shoulder and nicely say YOU’RE KILLING ME HEREEEEEE. Then they usually move, and if they don’t, well then I don’t know what my next step would be. But they were filming the whole show so I wasn’t about to get mad at this guy. I couldn’t really; he had seniority over me. I just raised my staff even higher than him and got one of my favorite shots. Love kabuki.

Major Lazer behind the Kabuki
Major Lazer behind the Kabuki
Major Lazer behind the Kabuki
Major Lazer behind the Kabuki

My goal was to shoot from every angle, even if I didn’t get a 100% keep from each place. I just wanted to get a variety. It was so hard to shoot. I overshot like crazy, meaning I pressed burst on my camera and just let it go sometimes. The lights were very quick and nearly impossible to catch in a planned manner. I shot from stage left, right, back, and as close to the DJ booth as I could get. In addition, I shot from the photo pit, the balcony, front of the house, the crowd, and the back of the room.

They had a bunch of gags they performed during their set as well, but it was hard to catch them as I didn’t really know they would all go down. For example, they do the water runner ball just like ADTR… only it was a lot quicker so I couldn’t snag it!

Walshy Fire of Major Lazer
Walshy Fire of Major Lazer
Lafayette Bless
Lafayette Bless
View from behind the booth
View from behind the booth
Shirts over the head x whole crowd
Shirts over the head x whole crowd
More shirts
More shirts
Wes shooting some streamers
Diplo shooting some streamers
Jillionaire
Jillionaire
Crowd shot
Crowd shot
Sold out
Sold out
Dancing
Dancing
Fisheye view
Fisheye view

The show was over by 11 and then I hung out with the crew. They had to load out and close down the show, and I was starving so my friend and I went to McDonald’s quick. We were in a kinda shit area of London. I believe it’s called South London. I actually had one of the worst/best nights of my life at this venue–well right outside of it–about 9 months before this. Long story short, I was way too drunk, left my wallet in a cab, drunk cried, passed out, called my cousin, found the cabby, got my wallet back, passed out again. It was a very interesting night, to say the least. At one point I chased the wrong cab down the street for two blocks and it was freeeezzinggg out.

I hung out on the bus for a bit and got to know the crew. They were all characters and good at their craft. Most notably, the dancers. Two rather small, flexible, full of life ladies with a great attitude towards life. They danced in unison for the whole of the set. They had a few breaks and outfit changes but it was mostly 90 minutes of cardio, respect. It was probably 1:30 am by now, and they had just woken up from a nap. They told me they took a “turnt” nap. A new term to me, but I was down. This basically meant they were napping before going out for a very late night. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into at this point. I just knew we were going out.

Now usually, in my usual ‘line of work,’ my day is over by 2 or 3 at the latest, and I go to bed a bit earlier if nothing interesting is happening or could happen. With this team, the night is just getting started. We took the bus to the hotel, washed up, changed outfits, and were ready for the night.

Hotel stairs
Hotel stairs

We Ubered some cabs and went to the after-party. It was at a club a good 20 minutes away and Diplo was playing.

Diplo is Wes’s DJ name. I feel like I don’t even know what I am talking about right now, for the record. I am just so far removed from this scene that I am learning so much about it every time I get a little taste of it.

Cab ride

Anyway, we roll up to the club and the whole way there the dancers are in the back seat drinking with my friend and we finally get up, get out, and proceed to go inside. These girls, honestly, live life the best way possible. I talked with another friend about it a few days ago, a friend from one of the bands I work for. And most of our lives involve going to places you have never been before, rolling up like you have been there before, and then making and taking the most of it. Small example, but please use it as an analogy and apply it to all walks of life: The other day at the airport I wanted to board earlier. I didn’t have priority access, but everyone else did. So I just walked on with them and when they looked at the ticket I just said Nah it’s cool I am going with them. And they said, “oh yea sure get on the plane of course”. The other way to approach this would be to roll up with them, and when it comes your turn act very confused and like you are doing something wrong and kind of ask if it’s okay that I board with them. The ladder fucks you 90% of the time. If you act like you know what you are doing, then people believe you know what you are doing. I am not saying be a selfish fucker who rolls around in life disregarding everyone else and their rule, but take what you can and be a nice person. It gets you a long way.

ANYWAY, that is exactly what these girls did. They rolled up to the biggest security guard they could find at the door and told’em like it was: we are with Diplo, where is the dressing room. I think they had one pass for the tour, but it was mostly just their confidence and the way they presented themselves. The security guards of this club promptly led us upstairs and took us to the green room. In addition, they also worked for the guy playing the venue the night so that probably played into it a bit but still. I can’t even really explain this place. It was basically an upstairs club with a few bars and a couple of hundred sweaty ass people jammed into a room, and damn did some of these girls have nice butts. I like Diplo shows.

As soon as we got to the green room, the dancers were out the door and making their way through the crowd to the stage. Then they just hopped on the stage and started dancing with Diplo. I took a roundabout route to the side of the stage and watched from there. What an insane show. It was at this moment that I wished I had brought my actual camera, not my Canon M party cam. I wasn’t going to be drinking, it was late, and I wanted to get some nice photos- but at the same time, this wasn’t my stage, this wasn’t my world, I didn’t even really know what to expect. So I brought a polite camera. I didn’t want to piss anyone off before they even knew me.

As I said, we were watching from side stage and this was mostly due to our laminates. In this work, if you have a laminate (an all-access pass) you are treated nicely. It was a treat to watch him DJ. He goes hard, makes the crowd go insane, and the room was going off. We watched for about 30 minutes from the side. During the time there was this girl who kept looking at me, trying to make eye contact and basically flirt her way over to the area I was in. She was either asleep with her eyes open or couldn’t stop staring at my beautiful shining dome. It was a good laugh, I wasn’t trying to do anything of that sort and I just thought it was funny, more so at the fact that she thought I was important, or that I could get her somewhere… which I can’t. Cause we all know its not my stunning good looks har har har in your dreams ‘Makias. Or drugs.

After the set, we went back to the greenroom. I didn’t really know anyone. I was the loner dude. I have seen me, in my position, backstage at shows that I was working. It’s a weird feeling but oh well, I was having a good time. I think I met a drug dealer that was a small Asian man in a trench coat that night. Almost a cartoon character.

Anyway, the party was over, I think it was about 4:00 am now, and the rest of the night was different than what I am used to again. Different worlds, different drugs, different things that I don’t partake in, but I did meet a girl with a fake leg and she showed me a photoshoot she did recently and it looked amazing. She was quite good looking. She was with her friend, and they looked very interesting so I couldn’t stop looking at them. They looked like London. She said a few things that made me think she was full of shit, but I guess I’ll never know. Most notably that she was on the cover of Playboy, or going to be. So if you see someone on the cover of Playboy with a fake leg then let me know cause then I owe her an apology. But also she told me she lived in Hawaii, grew weed, and smoked with Willie Nelson while playing him in poker. I don’t even know where people come up with this stuff so maybe she was telling the truth.

It was 5:30 am by now, and I had to be at the airport by 8 or so. I can’t remember when my flight was, but I had to be in Germany to meet up with Pierce The Veil later that day. So I took a cab from the Ace Hotel to our hotel, got my stuff out of my friend’s room, took the same cab to the airport, passed out on the way to the airport (long ass day), woke up, went through security, got on my plane, passed out on my plane, woke up, took a train to the venue in Germany, walked to the venue, and stayed awake for a day and photographed Pierce The Veil. Fuck, it was a long few days.