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SPIN Essentials

Various Artists, ‘Moombahton Forever’ (T&A)

Nadastrom / Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Image
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: January 09, 2013
Label: T&A Records

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Who even thought moombahton would make it to 2013? The great dance-fusion craze that first appeared three years ago was widely dismissed as an Internet-fueled DJ novelty act, launched at the dawn of the SoundCloud Era by the oddball realization that if you slowed down Afrojack’s manic “Moombah Remix,” you could turn Dutch house music into reggaeton. It didn’t help that the burgeoning genre’s biggest producer, Munchi, seemed to prefer SoundCloud exclusively. And despite inventor Dave Nada’s lovable origin story — he found himself playing a party for his cousin’s reggaeton-loving friends, and was forced to improvise using house records — the style seemed destined for the same everything-sounds-the-same subgenre graveyard that claimed “bubbling” (a.k.a., sped up Dutch house) before it. But T&A’s new, free, pointedly titled Moombahton Forever is here to prove the doubters wrong.

To convince anyone this music has a future, however, first you have to illuminate its past. Let’s not forget that Nada, a Washington, D.C. native, did time as both a hardcore kid and a Baltimore club head, while his DJ partner, Matt Nordstrom, previously worked with Iranian techno luminary Dubfire; joining forces as Nadastrom, the young pair morphed into a tech-house duo best known for, uh, “Pussy.” And here they are, leading off Moombahton Forever with “Snake Juice” in tandem with Gent & Jawns, giving this 19-track set an immediate highlight: A sticky dancehall riddim clicks and claps its way to an emotionally manipulative build where elastic, horn-like synths mix with menacing dub growls, snaps and whistles, and a rallying cry of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” Delicate nuance balances the frenetic builds.

Signs of a similarly techno-loving lineage abound: Tittsworth’s “Club 219” cruises along via minimal, echoing bass and the motor-distortion fuzz redolent of “Schranz,” Germany’s dark, ’90s-era take on club music. But there’s plenty of meat for the modern festival-circuit masses here as well. Dillon Francis, the guy partially responsible for the in-your-face Maluca banger “Que Que,” turns toward peaceable, sunshine-kissed glory with “Beautician,” light waves of psyched-out trance synths washing over a shower of laser-show melodies that bounce around a syncopated bass line, the huge, trance-y builds dissolving into a laid-back groove rather than a wall of wailing synths. Not that mosh-pit-inducing grit isn’t still dominating moombahton overall: DJ Craze’s “How Y’all Feel” turns pitchy rave stylings against marching drums. Heartbreak and Rell the Soundbreaker’s equally pointedly titled “Aggro” runs on roaring horns, spurts of static, and fight chants. Bro Safari and UFO’s “Savage Beauty” favors industrial knocks. And Nick Thayer and DJ Yoda’s “Da Wheel Klamp” uses turntablist know-how to sustain a formidable wobble without over-relying on clichéd, Skrillex-style drops.

Meanwhile, DJ Ayres’ “Suenos” tells the story of a different dance hall with his reinterpretation of Jaydee’s “Plastic Dreams” — a sultry enchantress coos over the quietly gorgeous track, turning a dream-like state into a compelling late-night adventure. And then there’s Sol Selecta’s DJ Sabo, joined by Shelco and ex-Ninjasonik producer Teenwolf for the equally restrained “Vibracion,” where the confident bass strut walks a strange and compelling line between hints of strident techno and a bruising reggaeton beat.

Yes, reggaeton — while only a glimmer of a reference point for much of Forever, Jay Fay’s “Dibby Dibby” and Kingman Fire’s “Miami Whine It Up” hold the line, augmenting classic genre rhythms mostly by leaving them be and revving up the energy level with repetitive vocals and grinding grit. Unsurprisingly, moombahton stalwart Munchi’s previously released “La Brasilena Ta Montao” steals the show in this department; with vocals from young Puerto Rican star Angel Doze, the producer’s drunken synth melody would be right at home in a sweaty, tropical, drop-it-low dance hall.

There’s no way to avoid the cultural confusion inherent to e-genres like this; the surrounding regional accents (the fashion, the slang, the sexuality, the dances) are just as vital as the music. Building such a concrete structure around moombahton is an ongoing challenge — cue the never-ending debate about Internet trendsetters co-opting the exotic, sexy, bikini-clad-women-of-color-heavy promoter-kitsch imagery common to reggae and dancehall. It’s difficult, contentious work, but Moombahton Forever proves that the work continues; whether such a no-rules, shifting-boundaries style can truly live forever is an open question, but regardless, this stuff has already lasted much longer than anyone expected.