Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Defense of Moombahton

The 00's were a really cool time to be a DJ.  The internet fucked up the genre-based marketing plans that the majors had spent decades constructing to maximize profits.  A crop of amazing DJs made anything-goes parties the norm.  DJs from disparate genres started collaborating more and more.   I spent 1999 through about 2003 basically only spinning hip-hop.  From 2003 onward I've been learning about everything I was missing.

And it was in that market that DJ Apt One and myself started Philadelphyinz, a poorly named DJ night where two dudes who conversed almost entirely in obscure post-Rawkus underground rap references and stupid inside jokes about Pops Staples could run through 100 styles of music in four hours and get some of our friends laid at a bar with the worst bathrooms in Philadelphia.  BPM was more important than genre, and discovering complimentary songs from different universes was really satisfying.  (Really though I'm stil going "Brighter Days" to "African Chant" to "Closet Freak" to this day.)

For the sake of the post, I should add I also discovered Dancehall (and Reggaeton, to a lesser extent).  This sounds ridiculous for someone with a hip-hop background, I know, but I grew up in Pittsburgh and learned my music shit in St. Louis, so there wasn't really much West Indian influence.  And I've always been into polyrhythms and the dembow drum pattern and tracks that fuck with your expectations of tempo.  As far back as I can remember I've been looking for more shit that sounds like the "Applause" riddim.  The first Buraka EP is like my platonic ideal of dance music.  And I got into Dutch house when DJ Morsy played me Chuckie "Let The Bass Kick" because he thought it was up my alley.  It was.

Moombahton wasn't a "revelation" for me.  It was shit I loved repurposed in a way that opened the door to a lot of cross-genre exploration in a way that playing two songs 25 BPM apart couldn't. "Moombahton" to "Roll It Gal" to "Pass That Dutch."  My first reaction was to shit out a moombahton remix of "Mega" in like ten minutes.  Then I did the "Block Rockin Beats" remix and the "BMF" remix.  Me and Apt One even made a moombahton track out of the intro to Soundbombing.

So when DJ/promoter/ethno-provocateur Venus X wondered, at an Italian music conference sponsored by Vodafone why people like me who play moombahton don't just play reggaeton (and then ask people why they don't like reggaeton), I'd ask her why she thinks I don't.  I'm not even the person she should be asking.  She should ask Munchi, or Dave Nada.  Latino producers like Monterrey's Javier Estrada, who churns out moombahton, 3ball and cumbia at an almost Lil B-esque pace, or Queens's Sazon Booya, or Austin's DJ Orion, or Phoenix's DJ Melo, or Jersey's DJ Reck, or Rampage and Nader in Chicago.  She should also ask Chingo Bling.  She could even ask her buddy Maluca.

And while Venus is wondering why moombahton instead of reggaeton, the better question for Texans might be "why don't you just play cumbia?"  And as more moombahton sheds the dembow beat, she might also want to ask "why don't you just play Justice?"  (I don't know what she should ask the incredible Canadian First Nation crew A Tribe Called Red.)  And while we're painting with extremely broad brushes, maybe she should ask XLR8R why they were all about moombahton when it started, but haven't written about the Latino-friendly genre for two years, while they keep pushing Euro-centric nudisco and whatever Juke legends or gay New Yorkers the British are into this month.

(I kid, but how different is Diplo's much-ballyhooed relationship with Baltimore from Planet Mu's with Chicago?  I'm not being a dick, I really want to know how these two compare.)

But look, I know XLR8R isn't racist.  They're a great site that puts up a lot of awesome music and they don't avoid moombahton for sociopolitical reasons; they avoid it because their reader base has a lot of overlap with the kind of people that get really mad when people say they like dubstep but have never heard of Scuba or Mala.  Moombahton is firmly entrenched with "electro-house" and "brostep" in the minds of those people, along with Skrillex, David Guetta and, oh boy, Paris Hilton.

The result, as I've found, is that people like to hear moombahton, they like to dance to it and they like hearing new, weird, latin-infused versions of songs they know.  But they hate "moombahton."  There's plenty of self-professed moombahton joints that fans of, like, Jim-E Stack and Kingdom would go for (this, and this for example, not to mention the last Nadastrom EP, which was way deeper than I ever get), but they would see "moombahton" in the title or the Soundcloud blurb and pass right over it.

And I can't blame them.  It was the Diplo and Skrillex cosign that put the genre into something resembling the mainstream, and Diplo's tendency to scour the internet for good edits made minor fame seem accessible.  Not to mention the fact that making moombahton is fundamentally easy for anyone with a basic understanding of Ableton.  And while that was great for a handful of talented people whose moombahton productions got them noticed, it also created a legion of suckers.  For every Jay Fay, there are a bazillion dudes with Soundcloud pages full of shit like "Doctor P v. LMFAO - Sweet Shop And I Know It (Moombah-Sexy Remixxxx)".

And, to Venus's credit, there are some weird exploitative overtones going on.  There is awkward shoehorning of female reggaeton vocal samples, further perpetuating Glory's tragic anonymity.  There are Europeans throwing parties called "Moombahton Fiesta" that have the subtlety of a Party City Cinco De Mayo sale.  And, also to Venus's credit, she's not entirely wrong about people's lack of history on the genre from which moombahton draws.  It's not as blatant as, say, this summer's forthcoming tidal wave of "trap" production with ironic Trapaholics drops from dudes that have probably never heard Lebron Flocka James.  But I can see how it looks like white people yet again stealing art from minorities for profit.

Still, there isn't a lot of stealing, and, as much as it matters, way less of the people involved are white.  (There also isn't much profit, really).  Moombahton is a community of music nerds with extremely diverse interests and backgrounds making everything they can find into universally danceable music.  It has a branding problem and a too-many-cooks problem.  But you probably don't hate it as much as you think you do.

A day later:
You can kind of tell the adderall stopped working at about the last paragraph and I just wanted to wrap the damn thing up because I had better things to do.  But I gotta add something.

The thing about moombahton's diversity, and what makes Venus's statement so weird, also makes moombahton a really shitty thing to rally around.  It's great for DJs who can use it to pull together sounds from disparate genres and segue into new places.  But being a "moombahton DJ" doesn't mean anything in and of itself.  It's hard to get mad at anyone who identifies moombahton with the hard shit that sounds like dubstep and electro-house because that's anchored in something people can identify.

Anyone that wants to wrest 108 bpm dance music away from the kingdom of Skrillex would be wise to pick one angle and stick to it.  And don't call it "moombah"-anything.

On that note, Trap Rave 2.0 drops 6/5.  Check out Rack Skinny for what I do and previews of the EP.