Music

I Overcame My Fear Of Heights For Diplo’s DJ Set On The Top Of The Sydney Harbour Bridge

"As someone so terrified of heights that they once cried while rock climbing, deep breaths get me through, as does my adopted mantra during the climb: 'Do it for Diplo.'"

Diplo DJs on top of The Sydney Harbour Bridge

“Raise your hands if you’re high right now,” says Diplo, and it’s unclear if he’s making a pun, or just reverting back to his usual mid-set banter.

There’s nothing about this that’s usual, though: for one, this has to be his smallest audience in years — with security and camera crews included, only about 60 people are there to cut shapes, though it’s a little hard to move too much. Turns out the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge makes for a tight dance floor.

But what we lack in room, we make up for in passion. The climb to the summit takes a while: it’s mid-afternoon when we set off, and dark as we descend. The DJ set, a world-first, is a huge, meticulously timed endeavour.

Every second is locked in tighter than the climbers are, with helicopters flying ahead to capture enough of the set before landing on a nearby helipad, handing over footage as fast as possible to make sure it can reach the nightly news-desks for the nightly bulletin.

It would really ruin everything if one of the guests — an assortment of media, competition winners and people chosen by Heaps Decent, Diplo’s charity co-founded by Nina Las Vegas and Sydney DJ veteran Levins back in 2008 — had a complete meltdown while climbing, delaying proceedings.

As someone so terrified of heights that they once cried while rock climbing, this is on my mind as take my first steps out onto the bridge. Deep breaths get me through, as does my adopted mantra during the climb: “Do it for Diplo.”

Random White Dude Be Everywhere

Diplo has always been a hustler, but he’s been particularly busy this year, releasing three EPs to date as well as an album for LSD, his supergroup with Sia and Labrinth (and that’s not including all the thirsty comments he leaves on every insta-model’s pictures). He arrived in the country around 5am on Thursday ahead of his headlining slots at Listen Out; 12 hours later, he’s here dropping a 40 minute set on the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The question, of course, is why? Well, why not?

I’m told Diplo “has always wanted” to DJ at the top at the Harbour Bridge. I think about that, while standing on a particularly tight section of the climb, ignoring the traffic directly underneath me, trying to think about literally anything else, and it makes a lot of sense. Once you’re among the world’s highest paid DJs, you have to set some pretty arbitrary career goals to keep going.

It finally came together though because of the 21st anniversary of Bridge Climb, which surely places the Harbour Bridge in stiff competition with some of the world’s richest Gen Z’s for the most extravagant birthday bash. We are missing the ridiculous amounts of alcohol though — the Bridge Climb even requires a breathalyser test before you suit up, meaning we couldn’t pre-game, making for Diplo’s most sober audience ever.

Diplo DJs on top of The Sydney Harbour Bridge

The punters.

The other big question is how? While we climb, we’re all wondering what exactly the set-up will be, and how we’ll even hear the set. At 134 metres above sea level, it’s quite windy on top of the coat-hanger. Diplo will be in the centre of the bridge on a square deck: we’re on the right rails, roughly 10 or so metres away, facing away from the glowing red sunset.

Speakers point out to the side, with a net underneath. Given his proclivity towards mixing dancehall with EDM’s deep bass, they’re screwed in real tight.

As someone so terrified of heights that they once cried while rock climbing, this is on my mind as take my first steps out onto the bridge. Deep breaths get me through, as does my adopted mantra during the climb: “Do it for Diplo.”

Still, we have headphones to heighten the experience. Diplo hijacks the radios the instructors normally use to spout fun facts about the bridge (for the record, 16 people died during its construction, which makes me also want to die). It’s a half-silent disco.

While we wait in position, it’s hard to spot Diplo: no matter who you are, Bridge Climb’s great equaliser is an unflattering grey and blue jumpsuit. Is he that tall white guy, over there? Or that tall white dude?

Turns out neither — we spot him straight away when he appears below us, since he’s modified his outfit as much as allowed. While we’ve all got the standard clipped-in blue hat or beanie, he’s rocking a wide-brimmed cowboy hat and an altered suit, with an Aboriginal Flag sown in alongside patches from a cowboy shirt.

Diplo Sydney Harbour Bridge photo

In a missed opportunity, he did not play anything from his recent EP, Higher Ground. (UPDATE 13/11: Now the full set is on YouTube, we see he played several songs from the EP. We blame it on the altitude).

He waits below, and waves — there’s a risk of a proverbial car crash as we stand and watch the tech crew scramble to connect everything, making sure the sound system’s ready to go. Everything is ultimately fine, and Diplo’s entrance is a little unceremonious: there’s no introduction music, and he just stands on the bridge’s slim wooden walkway to the podium, waiting. We clap and shout a little, but mostly we all stare at the sunset.

Then he’s on: it takes a while for the crowd to warm up, but by 10 minutes in, most of us are jumping up and down on the bridge. I take a little longer, but after a certain point, I realise it’s my only chance to ever do this — and hey, if I somehow die, what a wonderfully dumb way to go. We’re strapped in tight, though: Diplo looks after us.

He shouts and screams and we do too, and he says he “loves our energy”. The set’s pretty standard Diplo fare, in that it’s a high octane, EDM-led affair — the full thing will be online soon enough, and with that in mind, there was a Boiler Room-esque energy in the crowd. We weren’t fighting for camera time, but we weren’t not fighting for camera time. But no matter how sick our moves, we were all shown up by the set’s end — Diplo included.

During Diplo’s last song — ‘Electricity’, his and Mark Ronson’s song as Silk City with Dua Lipa — a crow lands on a tiny platform above the DJ decks, presumably wondering just what the fuck was going on. It sticks around for the full song, flying off almost exactly when the set ends after crowing along with the beat. Like the rest of us, it realised it was best to just go along with it.


Diplo will play Listen Out Festival this September and October in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, alongside Flume, JPEGMAFIA, Denzel Curry, Slowthai and more. 

Feature image by Joe Larkin/Kursza.

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and thanks the power of EDM for fixing his fear of heights. Follow him on Twitter.