Every lasting genre of music needs a mythical origin. And at the hurried pace that genres, subgenres, and microgenres now grow, evolve, dissolve, and regenerate in the flourishing system of online circulation, the myths, well, the myths have a digital life course too. There’s hardly a linear narrative to it. Threads pop up on Internet forums tracing connections, blogs distribute mixes and links and downloads, Twitter feeds relay information and disappear just as quickly; stories transpire and expire, even flesh to flesh conversation refers back to the digitized fold.
The emerging musical phenomenon of moombahton might be rooted in rumor more than myth — or maybe active myth, one still in the works, loose and unfolding. Here’s what I’ve recounted: about a year and a half ago, Washington D.C.-based DJ Dave Nada agreed to spin records at his younger cousin’s high school ditch party, midday, in some basement packed with countless speakers, somewhere near the woods.
Kids on the decks were spinning reggaeton, ready to pass the torch to Nada, who was getting nervous because he was the oldest dude in the basement and comfortable with house and techno, not Latin jams. So Nada had the idea of pitching down the grimier side of Dutch house to about 108 beats per minute, the pulsating groove of reggaeton. First a slowed-down Afrojack remix of Silvio Ecomo and Chuckie’s “Moombah,” the polypercussive patterns suspended in their ecstatic tracks. Then Sidney Samsom’s “Riverside,” the synth keys expanding into a coursing alarm, the bass opening bigger and harder. And it worked. Shit went off, the kids went crazy.
It made sense too. Reggaeton had already traveled through the musical circuits of the islands, then across the globe, informed the origins of Dutch house, and come back around to this high school party in the suburbs of D.C., adjusted to its original tropic pace. The party was broken up. Everyone dispersed into the streets, the woods, their computers. Moombahton was born.
Ever since, Moombahton has become something of a bubbling undercurrent in the dance edits scene. A torchbearer of the movement is Los Angeles-via-New York City producer DJ Sabo, who got word of the concept from local Bersa Discos founder Shawn Reynaldo. Sabo, known terrestrially as William Sabatini, found Nada’s Intro to Moombahton mix online and heard some of his cumbia edits in the cut, so he decided to connect with Nada. “He sent me all the moombahton edits he made, and I was instantly hooked,” says Sabo.
For Sabo’s first crack at moombahton, he crafted “La Gata Plastica” from Nada’s original stepper, fusing mutilated elements of Major Lazer’s “Pon de Floor” and Jaydee’s “Plastic Dreams.” “[Moombahton] returned me to some of my rave roots — it has a solid four-on-the-floor kick — but it also retains so much of the Latin flavor I had already been playing,” says Sabo. “The songs also had really big build-ups and breaks … but I never quite found that kind of drama in slower music.”
Music seized, arrested in rhythm. Usually the story is that a DJ increased the tempo of a track, played ESG’s hypnotic “UFO” as a 45, and discovered a new way to tune into the wavelength. Now another discovery, maybe like DJ Screw’s intoxicated realization: a somnambulant beat, the entrapped groove.
In the past few months, Sabo has worked with Nada to release three Moombahton Massive EPs for free download online off his Sol Selectas upstart. Featuring a number of global moombahton harbingers, the EPs prefer an organic percussive treatment to a frenetic rave framework. But what is striking is just how far the scope of moombahton stretches, temporally backward and forward, spatially around the far-reaching continents and points of intersection of the Black Atlantic. South African producer DJ Mujava has his viral hit “Township Funk” refixed. Benga and Coki’s dubstep classic “Night” is transfigured. Even Zapp’s “I Can Make You Dance” is flipped, layered, adulterated into polypercussive vocoder funk.
“It spread really fast on SoundCloud and inspired kids all over the world to start making their own versions,” says Sabo. “People like A-Mac in Canada, Munchi in Rotterdam, Smutlee in the U.K., Heartbreak in North Carolina, Melo in Arizona, and now more producers from Europe and Australia. These producers are taking what they know works from their regions and incorporating it into a moombahton sound.” Many, like L.A.’s Dillon Francis, are starting to supplement the edit game with originally produced tracks.
Moombahton has become a contagion. Its infection draws in disco and dancehall, hip-hop and breaks, big room house and cumbia, the internetworked rhythms of third world electronic experiments. The archive of recorded dance music is its playhouse. The global circulation of digital grooves its mode of exchange. The sonic pulse of the Afro-Latin diaspora, loosely rooted in reggaeton, its rotational axis. Moombahton thrives in border zones, between genres and locations, within regions of movement and passage.
A new Blow Your Head compilation tracing the short but sprawling history of moombahton — presented by Nada and dropping at the end of this month on Mad Decent — affirms one thing for sure: it’s spreading quickly.
With Sabo, Afrolicious, Jeremiah, and Zamba
Sun/29, 9 p.m.–2 a.m., $10
2925 16th St., SF