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A brief encounter with a very tall DJ: Shaquille ‘Diesel’ O’Neal

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Shaquille O’Neal, a.k.a. DJ Diesel, performs at Hard Summer 2019.
(Bryan Chavez / Insomniac Events)

Amid the extravagantly tattooed DJs at the Hard Summer music festival, one definitively stood out.

The self-proclaimed world’s biggest DJ — and who can begrudge him the title at 7-foot-1? — goes by “Diesel,” and spins a mix of dubstep, trap and hip-hop. Most know him by the name inscribed on his Basketball Hall of Fame plaque, Shaquille O’Neal, the former Lakers great and four-time NBA champion.

So, what’s one of the most dominant forces in pro sports history doing at an electronic music festival, preparing to headbang alongside thousands of discerning fans of the heavy, core-shaking club music known as bass.

“I just like to make the people jump up and down like it’s a Game 7,” said O’Neal with a boyish grin.

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Hard Summer, held at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Saturday and Sunday, was one of the last stops on Shaq’s Summer League tour. He’s also performed at Parade of Bass at Red Rocks in Denver, Ushuaïa Beach Club in Ibiza and Tomorrowland in Belgium. After Hard Summer, he was en route to Chicago for a Sunday set at Lollapalooza.

Less than 30 minutes before he took the stage at Hard, O’Neal, 47, sat casually — and surprisingly, unbombarded by autograph requests — in a quiet corner of shade hidden among a sea of artist’s trailers.

He pointed to a posse of twentysomething bass bros in the distance. “I formed a crew,” he said, “Nghtmre, Eliminate, Nitti Gritti ... and we’re creating a guy called Dubstep Jesus — we’re producing him right now and I’m going to bring him on tour.”

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In 2014, three years after O’Neal stopped playing professionally and was in search of something to replace the adrenaline rush, he attended the now defunct TomorrowWorld festival in Chattahoochee Hills, Ga. It wasn’t O’Neal’s first musical revelation — his 1993 debut rap album “Shaq Diesel” went platinum and he’s been DJing for over 20 years — but it was his introduction to the world of massive EDM festivals.

The experience swept him off his size-22-feet. He returned to TomorrowWorld the following year, this time as a performing DJ. (He even avoids DJing for his friends’ kids’ Sweet Sixteens because they lack the freedom and rush of a rave.)

His motivations aren’t driven by a paycheck. In fact, he said he’s losing money by being on tour. “I fly private everywhere and they don’t pay me that much,” he said. “It ain’t about the money — all for fun.”

Speaking of fun, footage of him slam-dancing with fans a fraction of his size and commanding his audience to go buck wild are some of the internet’s greatest gifts in 2019. It’s also a big reason Meagan DesChenes, the 33-year-old head of Hard Events, wanted him ln the lineup this year alongside artists like Kid Cudi, Ms. Mada and Alison Wonderland to name a few.

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Italy was rocking all night !

A post shared by DJ DIESEL (@djdiesel) on

“When we announced him, people were so excited and it’s mainly because of all those videos that surfaced of him being with the fans — they love that,” DesChenes said, adding: “And, it’s Shaq. How many of these DJs are champions?”

When she learned DJ Diesel was playing dubstep of all subgenres, she knew he’d be a hit with Hard’s core audience. Despite the turbulence the festival has weathered in recent years and transitions through owners, leaders and locales, it remains a lit destination for your quintessential SoCal bass head.

DJ Diesel played to a rambunctious crowd overflowing the Green Tent on Saturday. Kicking things off with the proclamation, “Your king has returned, Los Angeles,” his set featured hits from electronic duo GTA, remixes of Kendrick Lamar’s “m.A.A.d city” and Alice Deejay’s rave classic, “Better Off Alone.” Queen’s sports anthem “We Will Rock You” was also in rotation.

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Festival goers at Hard Summer showed up in droves for DJ Diesel’s half-hour set.
(Adam Kargenian / Insomniac Events)

Naturally, the crowd was flecked with bursts of purple and yellow. A Lakers-esque flag that read “Los Angeles Ravers” stood still in the dry heat, while a piñata totem with O’Neal’s face on it poked through the sea of people just above it. This was Lakers country, and DJ Diesel, a.k.a. Shaquille O’Neal, a.k.a. Shaq, a.k.a. Shaq Diesel, was home.

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And what of those Lakers? Between stops on his three-month tour, O’Neal, who is an analyst on TNT network’s “Inside the NBA,” has been reveling in the offseason drama. “For the first time in my basketball life, there’s been real L.A. talk,” he said of the reignited rivalry between the Lakers and the Clippers. “This is the first time both sides can really say ‘We’re the best team this year in this city,’ and mean it.”

Back at Hard, his performance review from the crowd was a veritable slam dunk.

Jessica Garcia, 25, emerged from the scene flushed and smiling. “This was my first time seeing him ever,” she said. “I was a little skeptical at first but I had so much fun dancing the whole time. I did not expect this from him. I first thought, ‘A DJ, is this a joke?’ But I had such a good time.”

Another attendee with a puzzled look on his face perhaps framed it best: “Shaq is not that bad!”


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