Tuesday, 15 March 2011

After moombahton comes moombriton

Toddla T, seen here trying to help the moombahton five-a-side team form a defensive wall
Moombahaton has gone from a Washington house party to the UK’s biggest radio station in the space of a year. PCCP spoke to Toddla T, Smutlee, Sinden and all those making it happen here in the UK, and asked whether we can start to expect cumbia beats from Cumbria. Plus, we have weighty exclusives from Smutlee and Jake Twell!

A quick flashback: after turning up at his cousin’s reggaeton party with only percussive, Afrojack-style Dutch house in his box, Washington DJ Dave Nada saved Christmas by playing the stuff sloooooooowed down to a more suitable 108bpm tempo, winning over the kids and making a link between reggaeton, the traditional cumbia sound and modern electronica. And lo, moombahton, was born. Indepth origin story here.

For anyone with a passing interest in the scene, the past few weeks saw a number of key moments in the genre's already ridiculously rapid development. What's perhaps most intriguing is that a good portion of it took place here in Britain, some 3,700 miles away from its Washington birthplace. On the heels of a gig sharing a DJ booth in LA with scene originator Nada, Toddla T, the UK minister for electronic dance music, gave moombahton arguably its biggest push in the mainstream to date in the form of a one-hour special on BBC Radio 1, having already dropped tracks by the likes of Munchi and David Heartbreak on previous shows. “It’s the first music that’s come out for a while that has made me excited and want to get involved,” he announced. Granted, Toddla's late, milkman-bothering slot meant that we didn't exactly have the pleasure of hearing JWLS next to JLS, but the iPlayer replay, Mad Decent download and the genuinely appreciative Twitter enthusiasm from the moombah heads of state stateside meant that it didn't lack for either attention or accessibility. “As far as interaction and feedback goes, that special was the most I’ve ever had,” Toddla told PCCP. “People from all over the world were tweeting me about it, bugging out – it was amazing.”  On top of this, Annie Mac, the equally high-profile Radio 1 electronica peddlar, dropped Dillon Francis’ Masta Blasta at peak time on a Friday night. Then Mistajam followed suit. And that’s without mentioning broadcaster and NME legend David Quantick telling Steve Lamacq on the indie-centric 6 Music that he was a fan.

As well as some serious UK airtime, a number of mixtapes were recently offered up. Aside from Brodinski’s European Introduction, which offered an expert-eye overview from outside of the scene, two others were significant, though for different reasons. The first, Dave Nada's mix for Media Contender, restated all that moombahton had been and would soon be, adhering to the original pitched-down, rectum-engaging reggaeton bass beats and squeaky Dirty Dutch house template, while also capturing the expansion that has already taken place, with the gnarly sub-genre moombahcore and its far more cuddleable cousin moombahsoul getting some oxygen. 

Smutlee: goes nicely with my colour scheme
If that mix showed what the sound was and will be, another showed another direction for it to go. Knocked up by a Londoner, dancehall, UK funky and house DJ Smutlee for Mixpak, his session contained all the same elements; the 108bpm tropical beats and shearing electronica, but with a markedly different approach – those familiar traits were all pared back, instead showcasing a commitment to being as listenable as it was danceable, bringing together the genre’s more melodic tracks, like A-Mac’s edit of JJ Flores’s Dancing Is What I Do and Orion’s Cono Pa. Drawing a line between the reggaeton origins, Smutlee’s mix was full of his own dancehall-tinted edits, one of which, his version of Mescal Kid and Ms Thing’s Majic, has already become something of an anthem in its own right, frequently turning up on mixtapes (including Dave Nada’s aforementioned joint), and becoming one of the standout tracks on the recent Winter Of Moombahton compilation. “I did that first edit Majic just to understand the sound, then I sent it to a couple of people and put it on Soundcloud. Suddenly, I had people hitting me up from all over the world trying to get hold of it. Gotta big up Dave Nada for that, he hyped it up,” explains Smutlee. Arizona’s DJ Melo, one of the core producers stateside then included it on his Winter comp: “Smutlee hit it right on the head and then some with Majic – I was blown away. It has this great dancehall vibe that doesn't get lost with the Dutch House elements. I knew I wanted to play it right away. It was great that Smutlee agreed to share it, because I knew I wanted the UK to be represented this time around.”

Exclusive! Special Bleep It (Smutlee moombahton edit) - Quintin/Mavado/Smutlee

Dance music journalist Joe Muggs notes the logic of the moombahton/dancehall link: “That will always resonate with British audiences because Caribbean music is in the fabric of our culture. That extends to UK funky too - those re-works of the Benga and Roska and Jamie George on Moombahton Massive II are spot on, so yeah, it totally connects with the UK sound.” For a music that comes from such a number of localised reference points – born in Washington, boasting both the Puerto Rican reggaeton sound and Dutch house -  it has proved globally appealing, helped in large part to the receptive patronage of Nada, who has keenly  promoted the shit out of the likes of Dutch prodigy Munchi, Lithuanian experimentalist Boyfriend and Smutlee, allowing the genre to move forward. That open-mindedness allows the sound to flourish anywhere, and it appears that there may be a logical fit here in the UK. This is both practical and cultural: the links between the homegrown producers and Nada are longstanding, as Sinden, who accounts for at least a good 50% of Count & Sinden, explains: “I found out about moombahton through Dave Nada. He's a friend, so I follow what he's doing. I respect him 100%. I've always been into dembow dancehall rhythms, cumbia, reggaeton - and now moombahton. It’s the same family.” Likewise, Sinden’s protégé Mele latched on to the sound after Nada remixed a track for him.

On top of that, moombahton drew from the British underground from the off: The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Count & Sinden and Chase & Status all received a painless transition to 108bpm, while Barney Iller’s edit of DJ Zinc’s drum & bass classic Supersharp Shooter was a stepping stone to moombahcore, the sub-genre that drew links to both the far-tougher low-frequency wobbling of drum & bass and dubstep. In turn, the recent Moombahton Massive 2 EP, a release which showed real signs of the sound maturing, boasted edits of tracks by dubstep stalwart Benga and UK funky producer Roska. The UK club scene now is also a time of incredible diversity, and many DJs here have been using moombahton to plug the gaps – Smutlee uses it to link house, UK funky and dancehall, others find moombahcore offers a segue into and out of dubstep and drum & bass, while others work it into hip hop and bass music. “It’s come at the right moment to fit into this sense of flexibility of genres and tempos,” says Muggs. “Skream’s fond of saying that a good club night now is like a festival - you can have everything from half-step dubstep at 70bpm through to D&B at 170-180bpm. This is what British music has always done best.” Throw in the loosely defined tropical sound that found favour in the UK on the back of phases like Baile Funk and you have a fertile ground for moombahton.

With the likes of Smutlee, Mele and Martelo filtering it into their sets, others like Rich Furness at Liverpool’s Chibuku used it to replace some dubstep elements of his set, while Frankie Grimes over in Dublin (you’ll forgive the geographical liberty taking here, surely?) started spinning it and promoting it via his Forward/Slash blog. Nights like London’s Club Popozuda added it to their tropical/baile funk menu, and Southend/Brighton’s bass-heavy Kool Kids Klub began dropping it into warm-up sets. Then you have Muggs airing it on Rinse FM. Muggs deserves an XXL shout here, being an early and prominent champion: radio spots aside, his feature for The Arts Desk remains possibly the finest piece written on moombahton yet (insert respectful nod to Marcus Dowling here), and a penny-dropping moment for Smutlee, who soon after started spinning it on Toddla’s radio show, which of course helped bring us to the point we are now.

Production wise, Smutlee is far from on his own, Tim Deckgeneral’s label, Mutant House, briefly experimented with it at the back end of 2010, bringing a clearly British, garage sound - though this was only fleeting. Frankie Grimes’ test-drive edit of Momma’s Boy remix of Hostage’s Valhalla showed an early distillation of the genre, tightening up some of the Dirty Dutch techno excess and giving a smidge of restraint and warmth he’s continued to employ: tracks like Get Up High and Caboclo show Frankie’s eagerness to take it deeper, adding piano and strings to supplant brashness for a more lavish, palatable palette. Kinda like this:

Get Up High (version 1) - Frankie Grimes

As UK folk caught on, subtle distinctions formed. While the US producers fused Baltimore club, hip hop and the traditional cumbia roots to shape their sound, many here were coming from the more urban backdrop of bass, grime, dubstep and drum and  bass. Given those differences and the overall grit of the UK scene, it should be no surprise that a large percentage of UK producers clicked with the nails-tough moombahcore, which sacrificed latin swagger for pitbull bass. For them, the eureka moment came in the form of the powderkeg of a track that solidified the sound: Munchi’s edit of Datsik’s Firepower. “The aggressive sound of that is just pure filth,” reckons Sarah Young, a DJ and stylist who’s been dropping mini-mixes on her weekly show on Nasty FM. Southampton turntablist and producer Jimi Needles goes even further: “I remember checking out Firepower and being absolutely speechless. That tune is most devastating bass track I have ever heard. It kicks several shades of shit out of dubstep and D&B! Instantly I was hooked.” Ask guys like Jake Twell from Nottingham’s GuGuNights, whose moombah tracks have found favour with Generation Bass, and Kool Kids’ Whole Sick and they’ll tell you the same. This fling with moombahcore was captured by the Winter Of Moombahton compilation, the third in the seasonal series which keeps tabs on the scene. DJ Melo featured three British tracks, a moombahcore edit of Lee Mortimer & Laidback Luke’s Blau by Jimi Needles, the equally snarly Get Back by Leeds-based DJ and producer Jera, and Smutlee’s aforementioned Majic. “Jera's is one of my favorite tracks on the comp. It has more of a Dutch vibe, while Jimi Needles' edit is colder and more on the Moombahcore side,” says Melo.

If we take Dave Nada’s original happy accident as v1.0 and the recent gear shift into moombahcore and moombahsoul makes v2.0, then what’s currently happening here in the UK suggests that some kind of v2.1 is taking shape. The Dirty Dutch element, the Marmite riffing which at its worst suggests Donald Duck doing a trolley dash in a vocoder shop, is finding less favour over here. “It definitely seems that the UK producers moved away from the Dutch house sound a lot quicker than their American counterparts, that's not a coincidence,” rationalises Grimes. This seems to have been binned in favour of a composite of the grit of -core, the melody of -soul, the filth of Smutlee’s take on dancehall and the gleeful buoyancy that originally characterised the scene – all of these elements can be found in Jake Twell’s edits, such as Symone’s Runnin and Steve Aoki’s Show Me Your Hands, the latter included right here:

Exclusive! Show Me Your Hands (Jake Twell moombahton edit) - Steve Aoki & Afrojack

While moombahton’s clearly visible ingredients list of sounds means that it doesn’t scream with originality, it compensates with its verve and accessibility, which makes it easily appealing to DJ/producer. With the UK coming round to it, chances are it could prosper during the summer festival season. Already, DJs who don’t restrict their setlists genre-wise are dropping it, from Crookers, Aeroplane to Brodinski, and dubstep doyens like Skrillex are sniffing around, so the chances of it bypassing the summer are minimal - the  bouncily hooky and rousing Majic could easily reasonate with fresh air, warm weather and good vibes. “I think this year may be too early, but you never know, depending on how much coverage it gets between now and the summer,” says Smutlee. “But I could see moombahton working at the Notting Hill Carnival.”

Sinden sets his watch to Will I Am o'clock
It could just as easily drift past us, with Sinden suggesting a lack of foundations could hamper it: “It won't make an impact like dubstep, garage, house, drum & bass, grime. Things like dubstep are homegrown, so people in the UK can relate to it. I think moombahton can grow a cult following, but it needs an underground support network or some popular tracks. It’s basically going to take Will I Am to do something before people start messing with it, ha-ha! It’s going to need something that engages with people. Grime had Dizzee and Wiley, they put it on the map. Maybe that's what it needs - singers, rappers.” A point Toddla agrees with: “I’m looking forward to vocal stuff happening, I know Smutlee is doing that already, and its working for me, particularly on the radio.” Whole Sick is also on board with this idea, and is following the lead of Dillon Francis and Guapo Feo by working with an MC for his first moombahton outing.

But Jimi Needles has another theory why it could struggle: “I think it's gonna be a slow one to promote due to one simple thing: the name. Moombahton, what the fuck? There are other genres with shit names, like gabba, psytrance, grindcore, and none of them are that popular. When Annie Mac was on Radio 1 saying, 'It’s called, er, uh.... mum..  mumba.... mooooombah tonne?' Alarm bells started ringing immediately. My co-resident shat himself with laughter when I told him the name!”

Time will tell. Even if it doesn’t endure, there’s still plenty to look forward. Club Popozuda had Munchi booked for March, though this has since been postponed, but David Heartbreak is over in April to play a set, and the first proper parties are currently being cooked up in time for the summer. The simple fact is that it’s already bedding in at club nights, without question: “I’ve played it everywhere from LA to Huddersfield - and it always works,” says Toddla, a view echoed by all of the DJs I spoke to. Then we have Toddla’s own productions to look forward to, but he’s staying mum about that: “Heartbreak’s got something coming via me soon - that’s all I’m saying!” Bass newbie Mele is prepping tracks: “I’ve got a few ideas for my new Mixpak EP, but I don’t know if i want to jump on the bandwagon too much though!” More will follow. “People are gradually catching on,” says Smutlee. “I’ve been talking to a few people that I’m sure will be having a go soon. I reckon the dubstep & UK funky influences could work, along with dancehall.” Those who’ve already dabbled are heading back to the well: “I've been experimenting with some deeper sounds, trying to bringing in some big synthlines,” says Jera.” But we'll see how that goes. But I think bringing it with dancehall seems to be the way forward, just fun, party music!”
Nasty FM’s Sarah Young has her own take on what’s a-coming: “What is great about moombahton is that there are loads of sub-genres, and I've been sent a bunch of tracks by young UK producers, like Knicker Bocker Corey, that come under the realm of moombashment, moombahall, moombahsoul, all putting their own vibe on it. Moombahall will be big in 2011/12 - expect remixes of stuff like the track Dan Man from production duo Orange Hill. Tracks like that fit the moombahton sound and encourage producers to get creative.”  She’s not into the idea of grime having an influence, but Twell differs: “When some grime gets into a moombahton song it's gonna go off big time, imagine Tempa T spitting over a hard moombahcore beat. The larger bass music scene in the UK is gonna be a good influence on moombahton, I hope!” Frankie Grimes, however, is less in favour of the darker vibe: “I’m looking forward to the garage/2-step influenced stuff. I love the idea of using deep house or tech-house instead of Dutch house as a basis. I've heard a few tracks like this, and plan on making stuff like that. I hope that UK funky/garage scene starts to influence the moomahton producers, as that's a sound that really works.”
So, good times, busy times, lay ahead. Even while writing this new artists have been popping up, like Nadia Oh with her curious moombahton royal wedding tribute, Kate Middleton. The UK could have plenty to offer moombahton, and it’s been duly noted stateside, says Melo: “If anything, the UK has caught the attention of dudes from out here  who are making music out of their bedrooms again. It kinda reminds me of what went on in the 80s with the whole acid house explosion. It may not be on the same scale, but it’s still exciting to me.”


  1. All new to me - but glad to get it on the radar..

    Being on a pie and mash buzz, Pal Sinden seems to be sitting in Shanghai Dim Sum, Dalston, formerly Cooke's pie and eel house - my Shop of choice as a nipper. It's the tiles that give it away

  2. In an act of shameless promotion :) Here's a link to a group on Soundcloud which is focusing on the UK slant on Moombahton...