Monday, 18 July 2011

Moombahton 2011: A Quick Catch-Up, Plus Moombahsoul Volume 1 Review

Another month, another batch of big moments in moombahton’s development. It’s getting to the point where epoch-definition ennui is close to setting in; it's almost becoming de rigeur. If one thing sums up how accelerated the progress is it’s this: the release of Mad Decent’s Blow Your Head compilation was supposed to herald moombahton’s ascent and establish mainstream legitimacy - yet that buzz was quickly supplanted: Dillon Francis dropping the video for Que Que then remixing Calvin Harris, CSS, Chase & Status, Digitalism and probably even yer ma, Munchi playing to god-knows-how many thousands at Sonar, Nadastrom’s glorious tickling of The Weeknd’s House Of Balloons and their Church collabo with Heartbreak getting an airing, Diplo doing the full-on cosign with a mixtape, Generation Bass releasing Halo Nova's EP, the UK club scene potentially blowing up with the Kool Kids Klub special - and David Heartbreak firing off Blaze Up on his EP for Toddla T’s Girls Music after dropping his Moombahsoul comp. I’ve probably missed a hundred of other things, and by the time you read this there’ll have been a hundred more, during which time Neki Stranac will have finally fused to his hard drive after making his millionth edit.

It’s exciting to watch. From the moment Munchi took it from DC to Rotterdam, the defining feature has been a global wide-eyed eclecticism and a kids-in-the-sandbox abandon. Dave Nada’s original template of Dirty Dutch plus reggaeton has been fucked with so thoroughly and frequently that even if you’re not feeling that style, there’s the punch and scrape of moombahcore, the balearic textures of Sabo and Obeyah, while moombahsoul is there to make sexy in your ear. What’s also admirable is the flexibility of the pecking order. The swift ascent of El Cuco Records and guys like Australia’s J-Trick, Sazon Booya and DJ Melo cohort Pickster One has shown that quality is allowed to show through and that everyone is given a fair crack. Many look to Nada, Munchi, Dillon and Heartrbeak for the breakthrough, Sabo, Smutlee and Boyfriend can all make a difference with one drop, and time feels ripe for the one thing that puts a match under this thing.

Heartbreak & Toddla T Blaze up ( That Jeffrey ) by David Heartbreak

You can see it coming – tracks are being produced that reek not of the bedroom, but of the big rooms – moombahton is mutating and honing a sound that appeals to both the loyal and the uninitiated. For me, Cam Jus’ edit of Aaliyah’s R You That Somebody sums it up, redolent of all that we love, the beats and touchstones are all spot on, yet it’s working in perfect harmony with a pre-established mainstream sound – that there is a calling card to any major label looking to commission a remix. I’d argue that Cam’s track is as key, if not more, than Major Lazer going 108 for his remix of The Beastie Boys Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win. It’s not all about the potential for commercial success; no underground scene really wants to be defined in terms of commercial acceptance, but the producers involved here deserve something back for giving so much for free for so long.

Aaliyah - r u that somebody (brenmar remix) (cam jus edit) by Cam Jus

Though I’ve mooted that any producer can make a difference, one of the usual suspects will surely be the first to break out. Munchi has the respect of everyone, and his productions command instant hype, thanks to his flair, passion, imagination and untouchable freshness. Munchi's more interested in making the right move, rather than the big move, and in turning down jobs that would have sent him and the scene skywards - yet push the movement in the wrong direction - he’s taken a hell of a punt and seemingly put the long-term integrity of the scene before his own profit. Heartbreak’s off-the-pitch effort is as key as his tracks – nobody works harder at broadening the scene’s horizon, as his spots on the BBC’s Asian Radio and moombahsoul comp show - and his proposed moombashment comp will only reinforce that. The sheer scope and weight of Dillon Francis’ remixes show how his sound works in a wider setting and is getting recognised by the industry at large – though thank fuck he delvered a dubstep remix for the noxious plastic-swag X Factor concoction that is Cher Lloyd, rather than a moombahton one. Jesus. The more curious case is what Dave Nada does next; Blow Your Head aside, only a small clutch of strong, stylistically progressive remixes have emerged while peers have been getting busy – all eyes will be on his next move, this may be one he doesn’t want to get wrong.

Still, Cold War Kids syndrome looms large, the phenomenon where blogger frenzy fails to translate to anything substantial. While that notion suggests that internet warriors are no match for the system, it strikes me that this time it’s subtly different, that the initial impulse is stronger and from a different place. Firstly, it’s a primal drive, not an intellectual one. People react to it in the club, lose their shit, then, because of that, guys like Marcus Dowling, DJ Umb, Chris Kelly, Walmer Convenience, myself et al rationalise it and help to push it. It’s validated in the clubs before many blogs even have a sniff. They aren’t setting the pace - the producers, DJs and clubbers are. Big difference. Moombahton isn’t on the verge of selling out, it’s just found its feet. And anyway, as for selling out, I don’t think that’s a problem: it always was a populist, euphoric sound that simply retooled that which is already culturally accepted.

For me, David Heartbreak’s Moombahsoul Volume 1 comp represents an important step, a sign that the scene has nailed the ability to be emotionally expressive. Emotive, minor-key tracks have been slipping through: I nearly wept when I first heard the Nadastrom remix of Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition, though granted that was due to the unfortunate synchronicity of discovering that Fernando Torres was leaving Liverpool for Chelsea, the bastard. It’s okay, I’m over it now. A-Mac’s skyscraping O-Wey also delivered rich emotional melodic texture, and Nadastrom’s tryptch of remixes - Alex Clare, The Weeknd and The Deathset – are all far warmer and soulful than anything they’ve managed so far. But for me, Moombahsoul delivered – and provided a bold counterpoint to the bombastic Blow Your Head. Both house and drum n bass scenes had a similar fork in their paths, when producers sought to gentrify their sound and infer heft - but those shifts were laden with snobbery, even the names deep house and intelligent drum n bass were elitist. No such problem this time, Hearbreak is just expanding the scene rather than splitting it – there’s no rejection of the parent sound, this is polymathbahton.

Anyway, Moombahsoul vol.1 is at turns beautiful , sensual, stylish and utterly sumptuous. HB’s I Am Legend and Munchi’s Me And My Bitch (which only Spinal Tap’s Lick My Love Pump can top for gloriously inappropriate titling) were early flare signals on the H/M EP of what was to come, and both are included here. This is pure coffee-table business; a fur-rugs, drinks-on-ice and big-pack-of-condoms album. Sonora contributes with two radiant, luxurious downtempo R&B rerubs, which make whale songs sound like a row outside a Weatherpsoons in Romford at kicking-out time fighting over the last cab in comparison. It goes on: Cam Jus’ Ease The Pain counterpoints sweeping diva-isms with his trademark tougher production, and Jon Kwest maintains his rep as a go-to guy for well-crafted, flawless edits with two smooth and hypnotic joints. There are some truly divine moments. Given that this is a pet project for Heartbreak, it’s only fair that he should boss this, and his take on The Weeknd’s Rolling Stone is magical, while new tracks Style And Grace and Mi Amor make him four for four – but for me, two tracks loom large over the others. DJ Melo and Kwest’s team-up for Ecstasy is one of the most striking tracks to emerge from the entire scene, let alone this comp – the clean beats drive a winsome, soulful and gently cascading landscape of lilting chord pads and sweeping builds that are smooth enough to clear a Russian’s hangover. And then there’s Munchi. His Despair floored me when I first heard it. Deeply cinematic, mournful and haunting, its heartbreaking and childlike Art Of Noise-esque melody is genuinely moving - which comes as no surprise when you learn that it’s partly a tribute to his cousin, who sadly passed away last year. Talk about a sound maturing, that’s it right there. Munchi’s talents were never in any doubt, nor was his dexterity, but this suggests what he’s capable of, that he’s not just a man of ridiculously agile beats and intricate and fresh productions.

DJ Melo & Jon Kwest - Ecstasy by azdjmelo

Still, Moombahsoul is dominated by certain types of glossy arrangements, and I feel in some places that some of the tracks are weighed down by their source materials, but that fails to undermine what’s an impressive outing. Vol.2 can’t come quick enough. Same goes for everything else that moombahton has in store. I’m constantly being surprised and impressed by the sheer volume, quality and passion that the scene is generating. Bring it.

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