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Paper Diamond Demands Change!

The Colorado-bred, LA-based producer is feeling motivated like never before.

Paper Diamond strolled into the VICE headquarters in Brooklyn feeling on top of the world. In 24 hours, he was gonna play one of the biggest shows of his life—an opening set for Bassnectar at the world's most iconic arena: Madison Square Garden. His selection as one who would warm up the room for 20,000 frenetic Nectarites was a testament in itself and marked his culmination as an artist at the forefront of a movement, one where sounds merge, styles collide, and limits are constantly pushed to the edge.

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Kansas City born, Colorado-bred, and LA-based, Alex Botwin's foray into the world of music has been like a rubix cube, with multiple parts all working together to result in a finished product that can constantly rework and reimagine itself. While his early set at MSG was a thundering medley of trap-infused sounds, the lines of musical experimentation certainly don't end there for the artist: "I grew up playing instruments, during my senior year I would go to a studio and computer design school in Kansas City…I worked on my own music for most of the year, and then at the end the teacher said 'you need to go to college for this—you have a future with this stuff'…. so I took her advice," Alex told me.

Botwin entered production school before the industry was revolutionized by software that turned an everyday laptop into a recording studio, but his experience playing instruments would prove useful, helping lead to a lucky break in which his band, a live electronic outfit called Pnuma Trio, were signed by a Japanese contingent of Columbia Records. What the hell was that like? I asked him: "Thinking back on all the crazy shit we did, we had no idea, living in a van, traveling to Japan every year—it was just wild," he told me.

During that time, Botwin dove head first into the world of production software, using programs like Ableton and Reason to fuse his band's efforts of live instrumentation with more dance-centric sounds: "There weren't too many bands besides STS9 who were using computers on stage so I saw this availability for us to change the way music was perceived in a live aspect," said Botwin. While after five years musical differences resulted in the groups parting of ways, the experience benefited the producer in a number of ways. He gained cred in the jam band community, helping access to a broader fanbase. It also gave him the experience to produce electronic music that could easily transcended the barriers of your average single-faceted producer.

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After Pnuma Trio, Botwin started making music under the name Alex B, stuff he described to me as "crazy—space—weird avant garde beat shit." Eventually a friendship with another pioneer of crazy, space, weird, beat shit— Flying Lotus—would help bring Botwin's career to the next level: I'm a huge fan of [Flying Lotus]—he's continuing his family's legacy and is taking experimental drugs and making mind-bending music," he said. After occasional trips to LA to attend forward-thinking parties like Low End Theory, Flying Lotus, who had just started up his label Brainfeeder, approached Alex to record a mix. An ambitious guy at heart, Botwin had plans of his own: "I was like 'well if I'm going to put out a mix I might as well just put out all my original stuff…It was interesting because it wasn't like a 'mixtape' but was literally all of my new music," said Botwin.


Alex's 2009 mix for Brainfeeder

After that, Botwin got hooked up with another far-reaching imprint, Alpha Pup Records, and eventually started his own label (and clothing store) in Boulder, Colorado, Elm & Oak. Eventually he moved away from his more beat-centric productions and reinvented himself as Paper Diamond, producing tantalizing melodies of glitch, heavy bass, and bone-shaking electro. "That's kind of how I came to be," joked Alex. With encouragement from Flying Lotus to "do his own thing" out in Colorado, Alex quickly connected with other Boulder-based artists who shared his ethos for experimentation, linking up with Pretty Lights, who eventually would release his Botwin's first original EP under the Paper Diamond moniker, the first (non Pretty Lights) artist to release on the label. Now years later, the producer has dropped beats everywhere from Pretty Lights Music to Diplo's Mad Decent, currently finding himself pushing more trap-leaning sounds. "It's always changing," he told me.

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I asked Alex about just how tight knit a group the producers coming out of Colorado are, a musical hub that's birthed festival giants like Big Gigantic. "For the first year before Dom (of Big Gigantic) started the group, he was coming over to my house and I was showing him all of my Ableton tricks…I mixed and mastered their first EP and was around for all of that…I'm a strong believer of helping people out and doing things as a movement," said Botwin. Alex even went on to say that he considers artists like himself, Pretty Lights, and Big Gigantic as playing a large role in turning places like Denver and Boulder into hubs for a different brand of creativity. "We were the people in Colorado doing something that was a bit different to the hippy and jam band culture I grew up with—we're influenced by it but we're not like 'full on,' he said.

In the final months of 2014, Paper Diamond finds himself in the most creative period of his life and is making music like never before: "A lot of my new stuff is about escapism, that's what music is to me, getting out of the norm of what things are…. Some songs are just my big fuck you to the mainstream society—it all just has a strong resonance with things I believe in," he said. Finding himself sharing bills with some of the biggest names in not only forward-leaning bass music, but often more mainstream EDM artists, Botwin is near-giddy to showcase his vision and endless array of new tunes, something he hopes will help showcase a project that packs a different ethos than many other acts gracing the world's most massive stages. "In the time when music and art is so overrun by social media I am finding it monotonous when we're subject to the same things over and over—I'm guilty of it myself but I don't find it inspiring to see DJs taking selfies of stage every day," Botwin said.

"When I don't have something that is going to contribute and create change in music, i'm quiet, I'm not going to try to hype anything that's not there….Now that I have music i'm so proud of, that I know is different and meaningful."

"I'm ready to get it out." he told me.

David is an Associate Editor of THUMP in Brooklyn. @DLGarber