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The Next, Next Big Thing

Moombahton: Dance music from D.C. via the world via the internet

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2008:12:13 01:10:15


Moombahton, a blogged-about type of slowed-up electronic dance music, began in a suburban Washington, D.C., basement in the fall of 2009. Dave Nada’s teenaged cousin asked the DJ to spin at a midday “skipping party,” wherein high-schoolers leave class early and go over to someone’s house and party.

Nada, nearly twice the age of the kids, wasn’t exactly sure what to play to get them moving. He did, however, notice that they’d been blasting lots of reggaeton. So he fit the more relaxed pace of reggaeton by reducing the speed of Dutch house music (specifically Afrojack’s remix of Silvio Ecomo and DJ Chuckie’s “Moombah”). It worked.

“I always thought some of the Dutch and tropical-styled house records kinda sounded like sped-up reggaeton,” Nada explains via e-mail. “The experience at that party confirmed it for me.” And so, moombahton (“Moombah” plus reggaeton) was born.

In March 2010, a few months after the mythic skipping party, Nada put out the Moombahton EP, a right-off-the-bat perfection of the sound. The stop-start stuttering drums of Afrojack’s remix—known to most as the Major Lazer “Pon De Floor” drums and to even more as the rhythmic basis for Beyoncé’s “Run the World”—waddled around just right, and finely chopped vocal samples float in and out of the song, supporting mellow buildups and breakdowns.

Moombahton immediately leached out to blogs closely connected to Nada. Within days of the EP’s release, DJ Ayres—whose label, T&A, put out the EP—interviewed Nada for The Fader’s blog, repeating the skipping story and instigating buzz. Brooklyn label Fool’s Gold called moombahton “the latest obsession of [their] pal Dave Nada” and put up a mix. “The internet was crucial for its growth and it still is,” Nada says. “‘Born in D.C., bred worldwide’ is the tagline.”

That Nada’s creation even has a tagline is, in part, why it took off. Moombahton arrived fully-formed, the product of a talented, savvy, well-connected DJ. The domino effect of blog coverage immediately took hold of the genre, and once one site declared it important, all the others followed—if they didn’t, they risked appearing out of touch. It helped too that D.C. had a new thing to call its own. Less than a year after the Moombahton EP, the cover of Washington City Paper announced “Our Year in Moombahton.” A bunch of people told a bunch of other people that a new, regional subgenre with a fun origin story and a cool global sound was, like, the thing.

Even the notoriously grouse-y dance scene of Baltimore got hip to moombahton. Baltimore-born, Philly-based producer/DJ Jon Kwest cites Baltimore club and electro production duo Uncle Jesse for exposing him to the genre. Kwest took the music to local impresario and club music producer DJ Excel, and Excel’s label, Bmore Original, grew a subdivision. Moombah Original began in September 2010. Uncle Jesse, meanwhile, teamed up with Philly label Crossfaded Bacon and began uploading moombahton productions to SoundCloud.

Uncle Jesse’s moombahton tracks are experimental and playful, reflecting club music’s embrace of novelty, but also its worker-bee focus on production: “Boat Shoes” is full of unabashed island vibes, and “Carrie” adds disco strings and bird squawks to the formula. Kwest’s approach to moombahton retains the club-producer impulse to wildly sample anything and everything. “Laptop” takes the blips and bloops of Kraftwerk’s “Home Computer” and retrofits them to moombahton’s specific groove.

There’s also something polarizing about moombahton that appealed to Kwest. Like club, Kwest explained in an e-mail, “[Moombahton] seems to evoke that same love or hate reaction.”

But moombahton is also polarizing because of it’s quasi-viral origins. It sprinted across the internet, cleverly branded by Nada, then pushed by his DJ friends—and also by a genuinely excited group of content-starved dance music bloggers forever searching for burgeoning trends. Plus, producers could quickly whip up remixes, tag them “moombahton,” and get some blog love. It felt a little icky, really.

Nada is understandably defensive about accusations that the genre’s too insular and that its buzz isn’t organic: “As far as it being homegrown, it has its roots in Washington, D.C. That’s where I pushed it the most and that’s where it grew the most.” A new compilation, Blow Your Head Vol. 2: Dave Nada Presents Moombahton, will certainly spread the sound, but it won’t separate it much from its insular roots. It’s put out by Diplo’s Mad Decent label, and the compilation fits into the jet-setting DJ’s nebulous world-music-for-hipsters sound.

Nevertheless, Nada put together an excellent primer that moves like a mix and is full of likeable moombahton productions: DJ Melo’s slinking, Blaqstarr-sampling edit of Sandro Silva’s “Told Ya,” Nada and partner Matt Nordstrom’s almost ambient remix of Win Win’s “Releaserpm,” and material from young Dutch producer Munchi, who excels at anything he puts his hands on.

Munchi’s remix of dubstepper Datsik’s “Firepower” is a merciless, absolutely insane explosion of hammering drums and emergency sirens that skips and stutters, lurching into ADD dance music territory, and then simmering down to the more relaxed shuffle of moombahton. The aptly titled “Hope” is a beautiful, emotive chunk of bedroom dance. The song represents the possibility for the basic moombahton elements to transcend its hermetically sealed sound.

Give moombahton the Soulja Boy test though, and its limited appeal is clear. It isn’t an about-to-bubble trend until YouTube houses videos of regular-ass people bugging out to it. The only video I could find of moombahton introduced to an unwitting crowd is dubstep producer and noted tool Skrillex gracelessly dropping a track to a cluster of completely blank-faced bros.

Not that Nada or anybody involved presents moombahton as populist party music. But there is this suspicion now that tastemakers, promoters, and fellow musicians no longer keep an ear to “the streets” and instead peruse the internet for what’s hot—and, once found, they declare it hot. And then it actually becomes hot—to online niches. More often than not, the music on Blow Your Head Vol. 2 is actually pretty awesome—but it isn’t a big deal, and the genre’s proponents need to chill out a bit.

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