Arrested in rhythm

How the pulse of moombahton is infecting dance music worldwide

Globe-trotting DJ Sabo spins the infectious sounds of an emerging genre.

 Every lasting genre of music needs a mythical origin. And at the hurried pace that genres, subgenres, and microgenres now grow, evolve, dissolve, and regenerate in the flourishing system of online circulation, the myths, well, the myths have a digital life course too. There's hardly a linear narrative to it. Threads pop up on Internet forums tracing connections, blogs distribute mixes and links and downloads, Twitter feeds relay information and disappear just as quickly; stories transpire and expire, even flesh to flesh conversation refers back to the digitized fold.

The emerging musical phenomenon of moombahton might be rooted in rumor more than myth — or maybe active myth, one still in the works, loose and unfolding. Here's what I've recounted: about a year and a half ago, Washington D.C.-based DJ Dave Nada agreed to spin records at his younger cousin's high school ditch party, midday, in some basement packed with countless speakers, somewhere near the woods.

Kids on the decks were spinning reggaeton, ready to pass the torch to Nada, who was getting nervous because he was the oldest dude in the basement and comfortable with house and techno, not Latin jams. So Nada had the idea of pitching down the grimier side of Dutch house to about 108 beats per minute, the pulsating groove of reggaeton. First a slowed-down Afrojack remix of Silvio Ecomo and Chuckie's "Moombah," the polypercussive patterns suspended in their ecstatic tracks. Then Sidney Samsom's "Riverside," the synth keys expanding into a coursing alarm, the bass opening bigger and harder. And it worked. Shit went off, the kids went crazy.

It made sense too. Reggaeton had already traveled through the musical circuits of the islands, then across the globe, informed the origins of Dutch house, and come back around to this high school party in the suburbs of D.C., adjusted to its original tropic pace. The party was broken up. Everyone dispersed into the streets, the woods, their computers. Moombahton was born.

Ever since, Moombahton has become something of a bubbling undercurrent in the dance edits scene. A torchbearer of the movement is Los Angeles-via-New York City producer DJ Sabo, who got word of the concept from local Bersa Discos founder Shawn Reynaldo. Sabo, known terrestrially as William Sabatini, found Nada's Intro to Moombahton mix online and heard some of his cumbia edits in the cut, so he decided to connect with Nada. "He sent me all the moombahton edits he made, and I was instantly hooked," says Sabo.

For Sabo's first crack at moombahton, he crafted "La Gata Plastica" from Nada's original stepper, fusing mutilated elements of Major Lazer's "Pon de Floor" and Jaydee's "Plastic Dreams." "[Moombahton] returned me to some of my rave roots — it has a solid four-on-the-floor kick — but it also retains so much of the Latin flavor I had already been playing," says Sabo. "The songs also had really big build-ups and breaks ... but I never quite found that kind of drama in slower music."

Music seized, arrested in rhythm. Usually the story is that a DJ increased the tempo of a track, played ESG's hypnotic "UFO" as a 45, and discovered a new way to tune into the wavelength. Now another discovery, maybe like DJ Screw's intoxicated realization: a somnambulant beat, the entrapped groove.

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