What is Moombahton? If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will soon, says Michael Fichman, aka DJ Apt One.
Music by Mat Pat
What began as a weird experiment – a record played at the wrong speed by the right DJ – has rapidly grown into a global movement of Latin-inflected electronic dance music that has piqued the interest of the BBC and NPR. But before we get into the weird and amazing rise of the genre, let’s say one thing: Moombahton is a hell of a lot of fun. Every crowd I’ve played it for, from true-blue dance music fans to casual weekend party-goers, goes totally and completely apeshit when they hear it, whether they know what they’re hearing or not.
I’ve been DJing and producing music for a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any style of music or movement that really embodies its era like Moombahton. It stands at the intersection of some of the emergent phenomena of our age – the Internet and Latin culture. Take those two kinetic forces and fuse them with global electronic dance music and there you go. And it is all the product of a serendipitous moment that happened to the right person.
In 2009, Dave Nada, one of D.C.’s finest DJs and producers, and half of Nadastrom, was DJing a party for his young cousin. All of the kids were playing reggaeton, and Dave, being more of a ravey electonic DJ, put a Dutch house record called Moombah by Chuckie from 45 down to 33. Everybody went ballistic. It had the same snare patterning as reggaeton but it was raved out with huge breakdowns and builds and car-alarm synths.
Fortunately, Dave was exactly the right guy to have this experience. He made up a name for this new experiment and made some bootleg edits. They got passed around to DJs in the know. We at Young Robots started making a few bootlegs and originals ourselves, as did a number of other producers and before long, I was strolling through the streets of Austin at SXSW hearing the strains of a Skinny Friedman Moombahton track wafting out of a club, only to poke my head inside and see Dave turning out a crowd to the new sound.
About a year and a half ago, I had Neil Armstrong, Jay-Z’s DJ, out to play with me at Silk City in Philly. I dropped a bunch of my Moombahton tracks and predictably, the roof blew off. He wanted to know what on earth I was playing and I explained. “Just wait,” we told him. No more than a few months later he dropped me a tweet from Berlin saying, “Holy shit they’re playing your Moombahton stuff over here.”
Through Dave’s force of personality and amazing DJing and production chops, the sound started spreading and far-flung producers started experimenting. The Internet was crucial to the spread of the genre. It was really defiant of geography. Rotterdam’s Munchi found the sound and started making tunes that defied the imagination. Diplo and Mad Decent camp, the long-time pioneers of polyglot global rhythm in U.S. dance music, started getting involved.
Moombahton went from simple, slowed-down remixes to elaborate new productions. Subgenres like Moombahcore and Moombahsoul emerged. Before long there were stories on BBC, NPR and in Spin about the movement. Nadastrom, Dillon Francis, myself and others started getting tapped to do Moombahton remixes for high profile releases.
A lot of Latino producers in the States and around the world found that they really related to the sound’s percussive
Afro-Latin take on modern electronic music and all of a sudden you had what seemed an interesting wave of identity expression from first-generation Latinos. Maybe we’ll see more of that in the future as Latinos become more firmly established as part of the American popular musical fabric. In L.A. and Chicago, if you ask somebody “Where is the craziest party going on in town?” you’ll hear that it’s a packed warehouse rave in East L.A. or South Side full of first-generation Latin-American kids dancing to Dutch House, Dubstep and, now, Moombahton, a genre that isn’t yet two years old.