I’m uncertain exactly what kind of pastime would be suitable for a member of a record-breaking pioneering hip-hop band, but sommelier, wallpaper designer and producer for the band Slaves are all some of founding Beastie Boy, Mike D’s. Alongside that of course, he fronts The Echo Chamber, a free-formatted radio show on Beats 1, which has seen everyone from Warpaint, Vince Staples and Shawn Stussy drop by.
‘It’s kind of like when you get together with some of your best friends, and you’re all really excited about music” Mike D says about the show. He talks quickly and animatedly making it difficult for a makeup artist to do her work. “You can’t wait to play music for each other and the conversation that ensues from what plays.” In thirty odd shows, mostly recorded at his Malibu home, he’s had everyone from Kim Gordon, to Cassius, Dev Hynes and DJ Shadow join him to discuss the records that have shaped their life. Void of any This is Your Life moments, Diamond’s show is largely freestyle, allowing his guests to discuss – sometimes at length – new topics in music that even those like Diamond, who has spent the best part of their life making and talking about music, haven’t divulged yet.
“I think I’m very interested,” he says, muffled through the garments he’s changing into ready for his photograph to be taken, “in seeing what music has informed people’s lives and what has inspired them and what’s closest to them. That was my primary mission” he confirms, “but what’s been interesting is what has come out of that which I didn’t expect.” The joy we get as his listeners is a window into the minds of some of the most intriguing and perhaps more private musicians and creatives. As Diamond explains, the format of the show allows for further discussion away from the standard topics his guests are usually asked.
“I’ve had the good fortune of having a lot of people on my show who are really high achieving at what they do – Stephanie Gilmore, six-time surfing world champion, Shaun White or Nancy Whang from LCD Soundsystem or whatever,” he says. “People that have had a lot of success, a lot of the times they are asked the same questions – I know how that is too – and not much real comes out of it. It’s interesting when people hop into the mode of playing music that is important to them; I think they can’t help but to be their true selves, they’re not hiding behind that.”
What makes the Echo Chamber such a unique listen is aided in no small amount by the environment Diamond creates and his personal rapport with his guests, many he has known or worked with in some capacity. Inviting artists to his home provides a different experience to that of the usual radio stations, automatically encouraging more intimate conversation. The conversations that spring from this space are relaxed and insightful, and of course, personal. And while not every guest on his show has been a friend of his, they have to have certain qualities about them. “I’m not nearly professional enough to do it with somebody where it was just my [sole] job,” he says modestly in between takes of the shoot. “I guess I don’t really desire to get to that point of being professional. I guess I like that there’s a certain purity in it in that everyone that’s on, I’m either a fan of what they do or I’m really curious about what they do or curious about the music that inspires them to get to where they are.”
Diamond’s comments echo the overall feeling from the other hosts I interviewed from Beats 1: that everything on the programme is driven by a deep passion for music, and he admits that the Echo Chamber is a chance for him to enjoy the role of a fan rather than the artist, explaining “my fan fantasy comes true”. He recently invited Canadian band BADBADNOTGOOD on to play a live a session as part of his show simply because he “liked their records”.
“The BADBADNOTGOOD thing was good because I was a fan and felt we could do something cool,” he says. “That was very satisfying because we went the next step, of doing something we had never done before on the show, like a full EP session where I got them to play [it] fully on the show. I just feel that’s not something you get to do often. In this day and age, music, whatever, everything is so tight, so it’s a cool thing that Apple affords us the luxury of being able to make some stuff too.”
Curiously, when Zane Lowe first approached Diamond about hosting a show on the station, he turned down the offer, cautious to ensure the show wasn’t just a name-led feature but had an engaging narrative. “I literally didn’t have a concept that was interesting, and then I passed, and I felt sort of stupid because I passed because I listened to some of the shows” he admits. When it did finally come to him, Lowe was immediately into the idea, and the show had its first incarnation not long afterwards and becoming one of the highlights on the schedule. The beauty of the show’s formatting allows him to be as experimental as his sound effects – some of which his sound man goes to great lengths to obtain. The nature of the show also means that he’s able to record it while he travels, which is convenient for the amount he does. With the ease and speed of a professional that’s long been in the game, his shoot is over journeys straight to the airport, one copy of Notion Magazine under his arm to meet up with another of his past guests, Busy P, and play Paris’ historic venue La Cigale. Journalists have tried their might attempting to uncover truths from musicians, but the secret, as Diamond shows, is that it takes a real insider to expose the unknown.
Tell us about the idea to bring in sound effects into your show.
I’ve always been inspired by dub music and Jamaican soundsystems, so the sound effects thing was always something that came from that world. It was always in my head if I were to do a radio show I wanted to bring those elements in.
Who has been one of the most enjoyable guests you’ve had on the show?
No surprise – the two people that made me laugh the most, where I was like buckled over laughing were probably two comedians, Andy Samberg and Tim Meadows. They are professionally funny people, but when they are not turned on they are still incredibly funny people, each of them at different points hit the notes that had me buckled over.
Do you think there comes a certain level of intimacy that’s felt between you and your guests because of the location?
Yeah, I mean it’s not like it hasn’t worked out well in New York or here [Culver City, LA], but there is something special in when people come into my home, and you’re outside, and there are pretty much more warm days than not in South California.
This article originally appeared in Notion 77, out now.
Listen to The Echo Chamber every other Saturday at 8 PM on Beats 1.