In an industry that often celebrates artists' antics over their artistry, Walshy Fire is an anomaly.
The DJ wears no bling, and you won't catch him onstage in a mask or costume. A good night for him is not spent wilding out, but hanging out with friends. The 37-year-old is a mainstay on the Miami scene, having sold mixtapes as a kid on South Beach, graduating from North Miami Beach Senior High School, performing in the Miami-based Chinese-Jamaican group Black Chiney and DJ'ing for the Miami New World Symphony.
While he's not into flash, Walshy Fire is the face of Major Lazer, a three-piece dance group that is blowing up in clubs for the popular, grinding number "Bubble Butt." The dancehall-flavored electronica trio, which also includes Fort Lauderdale native Diplo and Trinidad-born Jillionaire — released a new album, "Free the Universe," this past April. On Saturday, they will headline the Mad Decent Block Party at Fort Lauderdale's Revolution Live. Flosstradamus, Zeds Dead, Big Gigantic, Riff Raff and other electronica acts will perform.
Born Leighton Paul Walsh, Walshy Fire recently spoke to us by phone from his home in Carol City.
You seem like an ordinary guy, but what are you really like?
It's about being grounded with people you've been around before anything ever happened. Even last night, I was hanging out with all my old friends. I'm talking about junior high school [Highland Oaks Middle School]. … These have been my friends, and I haven't switched. … They are not going to hold their tongue. They are going to tell you when something looks stupid.
My fans who are from Miami love the fact that I'm not out there with a big green Mohawk, or a stupid Afro, or some rhinestone jacket, just trying too hard to be a star. At the end of the day, I want the music to be what it's all about. I want the party to be what it's about. And I don't need to dress like a dummy to try and convey that.
How did you and Major Lazer founder Diplo start collaborating?
He's been a fan of mine for a while, because I'm part of a group called Black Chiney, which is a reggae dancehall sound system based here in Miami. ... We were the first ones to do the "reggae remix," which is putting reggae vocals over different kinds of beats. ... We've been friends for four years. He asked me two years ago, did I want to do a show with Major Lazer? I don't think either of us thought anything would come of it. I went. I did it. It was in San Francisco. It was just crazy, and I never looked back.
Do you prefer being in front of turntables or behind?
I definitely love being an emcee. I love to have my personality show. I love to have the crowd interaction, to speak to people and just think of creative ways to get the music played across. I would definitely be an emcee over a DJ any day.
Tell me about "Bubble Butt." It's a staple in the clubs now.
"Bubble Butt" just came out of nowhere. It was just a demo with a young Jamaican artist named Mystic. Then, Bruno Mars got on it. It was starting to get a little vibe, but when 2 Chainz got on it, that's when I was like, "Oh, man, this was going to be something major." We just put it out there during shows, and people were going crazy, jumping onstage. … That's when we were like, "We got to make a single."
You're from South Florida. Where do you hang out?
Hanging out is Soho Beach House, Grand Central, Purdy Lounge … eating at Gigi's, Chef Creole, Junie's Jamaican Restaurant and Tropical Feast Trinidadian restaurant.
How do you express your Chinese-Jamaican background?
Being Chinese-Jamaican is just being Jamaican, really, because the Chinese culture got eaten up by Jamaican culture, one generation in. All the Chinese people that you know are Jamaican are way Jamaican. There is nothing Chinese about them, except for how they look. … My grandparents, they spoke Hakka. They did some Chinese things, but even they immediately turned Jamaican. They were 100 percent Jamaican in no time.
You have an interesting background, having worked in marketing at IBM. How did you get your start as a DJ?
When I worked for IBM, I realized I didn't want anything to do with the corporate world. I quit, came back to Miami, started from scratch. I had nothing. I ended up figuring out there was this big party. Everybody was like, "You got to go, like 7,000 people [are going] there."... I walked in, DJ'ed. Nobody knew who I was … but because the other DJs didn't come until 1 o'clock, I was able to DJ for a couple thousand people before the first guy even showed up. I met Black Chiney that night. Ever since that night, it just hasn't stopped. … I've been touring for 15 years now.
Mad Decent Block Party
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave, Fort Lauderdale
Cost: $40 at the door
Contact: 954-449-1025 or JoinTheRevolution.net