MOOMBAH-WEEK: Arizona gunslingers keep hitting the target
by Winston "Stone" Ford
This is a tale of reckless American punk club music with international influences. Less than 1000 days old, moombahton’s rise is a stunning tale of Dave Nada’s invention blending with technology, a perfect example of evolution and diversity, a now global sound that’s everything and nothing at the same time. “Past present future music,” it invokes cumbia, dancehall, house, disco, hip hop, dubstep, soul, rock, punk, and so much more. With the nascent genre’s only hard and fast rule being that the pace cannot leave over 108-112 BPM, it’s the height of controlled anarchy, an underground movement turning hip partiers into a sensual minded two-stepping army. It’s peace, love, unity and respect remixed, a brand new thing for a brand new dance music generation.
Moombahton’s incubation had everything to do with preserving the sound’s Latin legacy. In Phoenix, Arizona being one of the genre’s leading underground communities, the sound’s historical imperative is not forgotten, but improved. Latin sounds always had a stronghold in Phoenix. The area is relatively close to the Mexican border, therefore, club nights in the city often involve an inclusion of reggaeton, cumbia and other styles that remain Latin but are boldly inclusive of popular concepts. While DJs like DJ Melo, Pickster One, Frank Mendez, Riot Earp, Sluggo and a plethora of others are likely complete unknowns on a truly mainstream level, if you have ever listened to moombahton, you’ve likely heard their immediate influence.
In moombahton being so largely influenced by the viral immediacy of the Internet, the earliest adopters get the worm. Parent, then-occasional producer and top 40 club DJ Jorge Melo is a perfect example of this notion. Made aware of moombahton like pretty much everyone else from Nada’s T & A freebie release of the “Moombahton” EP, he set to work and was one of the first to truly harness the power of the concept. In fact, he was so gifted at the sound that he was included in Mad Decent’s incredibly influential Blow Your Head release, the only non- “brand name” American DJ included in the compilation. A phenomenal story of an underdog rising to the top based on talent alone, its stories like his that makes following and appreciating the genre such an endearing and populist concept.
Melo’s success has opened the door to underground notoriety for his frequent collaborator Pickster One and many of the Arizona locals. Their ability to gain a foothold in the nascent sound is entirely reminiscent of blues in St. Louis or R & B in Detroit, a group of like minded and inventive professionals dominating by defining the undefinable in every day behavior that becomes the next international imperative. Frank Mendez’s Phoenix-based El Cuco Recordings? A label driven by moombahton and inspired by dubstep, independent but important to the mainstream, a sign that the sound has permanence. With releases featuring Puerto Rican native Mendez along with Phoenix mainstays Pickster One, Sluggo and others, charity begins at home and influences the universe.
Both inventor Dave Nada and the wildly creative genre powering force David Heartbreak describe their time spent playing live gigs in Phoenix as “inspirational.” All organic genres that have experienced periods of international influence and pronounced growth did so with the assistance of spreading through a number of locally dominant scenes. In likely being the most dominant of local communities so far, Phoenix’s success so far allows for the belief that moombahton portends to follow a familiar path to excellence.