Carnage has been a dance scene mainstay for more than a decade.
The producer, born Diamanté Blackmon, helped define the EDM, trap and bass music genres during the U.S. dance music boom of the early 2010s, while simultaneously bridging these genres with hip-hop through collaborations with artists including Migos, Tyga, Mac Miller and Lil Pump. As Carnage, Blackmon toured the world many times over, played for tens of thousands of fans and clocked projects that landed on Billboard charts, including Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, the Billboard 200, Hot Dance/Electronic Songs, Dance/Electronic Albums and Independent Albums.
Now, Carnage is done.
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Blackmon recently announced that he’s retiring the Carnage project in order to focus full time on his house and techno project, Gordo. The first Gordo tracks began dropping in 2021, in tandem with many former EDM producers shifting their sounds to house and techno as the EDM sound cooled in popularity. But Blackmon says the Gordo project is less him trend hopping and more about maturing as an artist and human. Over the pandemic he shifted his lifestyle, lost 100 pounds and found house, techno and tech house becoming increasingly interesting to him. Out Friday (May 13), the latest Gordo release is “Rizzla” a total party of a house jam made in collaboration with The Martinez Brothers, with vocals from Nigerian rapper Rema.
“What I want people to understand is that this isn’t me having a new hobby and being like, “Oh I want to do this too because it’s fun,” Blackmon tells Billboard over Zoom. (He’s posted up in a spare room at Drake’s house in Toronto after a studio session with the superstar artist.) “Honestly, I can’t do the Carnage stuff anymore. I wasn’t happy.”
Now 31, it’s reasonable Blackmon would want his music to reflect the personal and artistic maturation he’s experienced in the 10 years since Carnage lifted off. Retiring the project, he says, “feels like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.” And while he’s performing a handful of farewell shows as Carnage in New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Australia in late May and early June, Blackmon is hyper-focused on Gordo and proving himself in a new realm of dance music — one in which he says he’s experienced both a warm welcome, some disdain and a refreshed sense of purpose.
Was there a particular moment when you were playing as Carnage that you were like, “Okay, I’m done.”
Yeah. I don’t want to disrespect my fans, because there are a lot of people who live, breathe and sleep Carnage. It’s tough because when I started the Gordo thing it was like, “I want to do this too.” And then the Gordo thing just started skyrocketing. Everyone was so supportive of the Gordo project, and it kept getting bigger. We had Carnage shows, and the promoters would hit us up a couple hours before like, “Hey everyone is calling us, can you do a Gordo set instead?”
It puts me in a weird position, because I started feeling like I was a legacy act. I had this other brand that wasn’t as hot as this new brand. I was trying to make moves with Gordo and do stuff for the Gordo brand, and people were getting confused, like, “Are you still doing Carnage?” There was definitely a time I was doing a Carnage show not too long ago where I was playing it and I was miserable. I couldn’t wait to finish the set.
That must’ve been hard.
A conversation I’ll never forget, I was having with Tim — Avicii. He used to tell me that he was happiest when he would step off the stage. I’ll never forget when he told me that. We were at his house, just me and him. We were smoking and he was like, “Yeah, the moment I’m happiest is when I’d step off the stage.” This is a man who was playing in front of thousands of fans, and he was just miserable up there. I’m not comparing myself to him at all, but I understand what he meant, because at times I would go play Carnage sets and just be miserable and ready to f—ing get offstage.
Do you feel like you matured out of Carnage?
100 percent. I started touring hard when I was 21. How were you when you were 21? Completely different. If you ask a normal person how they were 10 years ago, they’d tell you that everything changed, from love life, to family relationships, to the way you eat, to the way you look. Everything’s different! But if you ask an artist, “Why are you switching up your style?” you’re looked at like you’re crazy, because you want to change. I’m a f—ing human being too. I’m just really good at making music. People are like, “Go back to your old stuff” and it’s like, “Do you think I’m a cyborg?”
But then again, the issue isn’t necessarily the fans not understanding that. It’s also that there’s a lot of other artists who don’t ever change or evolve. So fans are looking at you like, “Well they didn’t change and they’ve been doing the same f—ing boring ass s— for the last 10 years, so why can’t you do that same thing?” Some people don’t get it. But I’m not a cyborg. I’m the last person you’d ever think is a corporate robot.
Why was it better to start the new Gordo project rather than folding that new sound into what you were doing with Carnage? Or were they too different?
They’re completely different things. I needed to start new. I lost weight. I’m just feeling better. Everything is just completely different. People don’t realize that it’s not just me switching the thing. Carnage is a successful brand. I’m not going to beat around the bush — we make millions of dollars a year. We tour the world. I travel all over the country. I have hundreds of show a year, and I threw that all away. I threw all that I’ve worked for for 14 years to the side to start a new brand with new competitors, a new community, a whole new world.
I’m intrigued by that, what Gordo opens up to you in terms of where you’re able to play, who your peers are. What’s it been like integrating yourself into a new realm of the dance space?
That’s just how much I believe in myself. All I know is that I have amazing music that’s ready to go. I love playing Gordo sets. I’ve studied it for the last two years. Countless hours of me going to afterparties and not sleeping and going to these shows, watching these other DJs and studying them and learning the culture.
I’m an outsider. I came into the Carnage brand as an outsider. I was making rap music, and then I fell in love with EDM, and I fell in love with trap music. I fell in love with hardstyle. With psytrance. I didn’t grow up listening to dance music. I was a student for EDM. And then I became a student for techno. And then for tech house. The thing is, I also want to separate myself from a lot of these people who are just d– riding and bandwagoning the situation just because the EDM scene has gone to s—.
Right. Obviously a lot of artists are changing their sound now that EDM is no longer the prevailing genre, people are going into house, tech house, techno. How do you distinguish the bandwagon thing versus what you’re doing with Gordo?
Tell me another artist that threw away their brand. That’s how I distinguish myself.
Let’s use Hardwell for example, he’s using the same name, but now he has a different sound. You’re saying that what you’re doing is different from that because it’s an entirely new project.
He’s not even making that much of a different sound. He’s still catering to that same community. I completely left my community. There’s a difference between bass music, trap, hardstyle and the harder stuff with the 140 BPM or 150, and going into playing songs from 120 to 126 BPM and playing for a different community in a different world. There’s only been a handful of guys I know who’ve transitioned. Skream, who’s a legend. He went from being one of the pioneers of dubstep into doing what I’m doing in making house and techno. But he kept his name.
The issue with Carnage is, I had a lot of commercial success. I had a lot of big records. Records that went gold and were big f—ing records. It was hard, especially with the stigma that I have. I’m one of the only Black guys in the scene. There aren’t that many. And I’m probably one of the most successful ones. I wear a quarter million dollars worth of jewelry on my neck when I DJ. I like hanging out with a bunch of bad bitches when I’m DJing. I like to dress swaggy. There aren’t a lot of people like me, and it doesn’t help the situation and the whole transition of me going from that to a community where people like me aren’t welcomed in like that.
Have you not felt welcomed?
100 percent! They look at me crazy! They look at me in-f—ing-sane. But now it’s different, because I’ve been going to these parties and earning my respect and earning my stripes. I don’t know how to explain it, you have to see it in person, but we’re talking about this stigma with techno snobs. Do you think techno snobs would be hanging out with a person that looks like me? Let’s be honest here. It’s very rare.
Tell me more.
Having these people welcome me into this community has been one of the wildest rollercoasters I’ve ever been on. But it’s also not like I’m here trying to convince them to allow me in. I could give a f—. I could care less what another person thinks of allowing me to make this stuff. I’m not doing that.
But, this community that I’m entering in, they’re very f—ing tight. They don’t allow anyone in. I was putting that work in so these people know I’m taking it seriously, because I don’t want to just do this for the next year or two, I want to take Gordo for another 10 or 14 years. I don’t want to seem like I’m d— riding because [the sound] is popular right now. I have to make these extra little strides to let people know this is serious.
How have you felt the walls of this sort of insular community come down?
The fact that I can send music to greats like Marco Carola or Joseph Capriati and they’re excited, and then I see them play it the same night. These guys are like a different breed of human. These guys DJ for like, 14 or 16 hours. A lot of these guys don’t even use their Instagram, they’re just DJ mega-robots.
And they’ve been doing it for what feels like forever.
You also have to throw into account that there aren’t a lot of American DJs that crossed over and played globally. You can be a massive star — let’s say Illenium. Let’s say Xcision. Kaskade. American DJs who sell thousands of tickets. Do you ever seem them play outside of America? Barely.
I, from the beginning of the Carnage thing, was playing globally. That was a pro on my end, because I was already playing outside of the country, and a lot of people saw me going around. I created fanbases all over the world. Southeast Asia I’m really big. Germany. France. Spain. A lot of these places where DJs who are very successful in America don’t really ever go. That was a pro for me especially with building the Gordo brand and house music and techno not just being in American right now, being big all over the world. A lot my fans grew with me, and they’ve been accepting. That’s been a big benefit to this whole transition.
What did you learn from touring globally like that?
These last couple years touring and doing Carnage in all these other countries, I was seeing that this change in music was happening. I was seeing it firsthand. I never went to college, but this is like, a college research paper for me. I’m like, knees deep into this entire scene as a whole. Dance music as a whole. I should be a writer and interviewer, because I’m so intrigued by the entire culture of dance music. I’m a complete outsider.
You still feel like an outsider, after all this time and success?
150 percent. Like, I was having a conversation with Sebastian Ingrosso the other day, and we were just talking about techno and he was like, “Oh, my dad had a successful record label.” A lot of these people really grew up listening to dance music. I fell in love with dance music 15 years ago. So, 100 percent I’m an outsider. I have a different way of life, and it also works against me sometimes. I know that I’m one of the greatest DJs to ever live, and I know I can go play 15 hours and kick ass. But then there’s a person who’s like, “Oh, I’ve been listening to this music for 30 years.”
It can definitely feel like playing catch up to people who’ve just lived this their whole lives.
100 percent. But I think with music and with the sound and how I DJ, that’s how I’m separating myself. Because as I said, I’m studying this s—. I’m a student. I’m watching how everything goes, I’m taking all that in, I’m taking all these notes for my college report; I’m reading everyone else’s college papers, I’m watching how they got graded, and then I’m taking notes from everything and making my own paper.
Have there been moments with this new project, to extend this college analogy, that you can say, “Okay that was an A+?
It’s hard to see on paper, because the transition is still happening. But if you ask any of these heavy hitters that have been around in the scene, if we go to a party like CirocLoco or Awakenings of Elrow or Timewarp, if you go these places and see how welcoming they are to me, an outsider … they all know I haven’t been in this world for the last 10 years.
There are people who’ve been doing this for 15 or 20 years, and they’re finally getting the recognition they deserve because the scene is bigger than ever, and this happens with any type of situation. Imagine you’re working for a newspaper for 15 years, and there’s this other person who was working on magazine, and that person moves into newspapers and their articles are bigger than yours and you’ve been working there for the last 15 years. How would you feel?
Probably jealous and resentful.
That’s what I’m dealing with, because here comes Gordo, and I started this thing in the last year-and-a-half and I’m getting fees that are double, triple the amount that these guys have been doing for the last 15 years. S— like that is stuff fans and regular people don’t really look at. I’m going to tell you guys this: it’s going insane with Gordo right now, and it’s pissing a lot of people off.
How are you dealing with pissing people off?
I could care less. I’ve been dealing with so much s— my entire life. People hated on Carnage for years and years. That never stopped me. When people are upset, it either comes from jealousy or animosity, or they’re miserable and seeing someone else succeed makes them pissed off and angry with themselves.
It’s happened to all of us. It’s happened to me. We’re not all perfect people, but we all grow and learn and evolve, and I think this is one of those moments that I’m going to have to prevail, and make it through and show people I could care less. I’m going to keep succeeding, and hopefully they’re going to see that hating on me didn’t work, so maybe they should try to change it up. Maybe if they’re being positive and not negative maybe their brands will succeed.
What about Carnage fans? How do you not leave them behind?
I’ve been training them. They know that I sometimes come and change it up, and they’ve been understanding. But I think they’re more than ready to go on this next rollercoaster.
They’re older too.
They’re all maturing too! I’ve had a lot of people hit me up and say, “I can’t go and jump into mosh pits or go crazy on a rail.” They’ve been with me for the last 11, 12 years, and they’re growing up. I think that’s cool.