Just because Moombahton is barely a year old doesn’t mean it’s not entitled to its own creation myth. After all, the dance-music genre has spread from suburban Maryland around the world during its brief lifespan, inspiring packed parties, scholarly examinations, and its own slew of subgenres. It stands to reason there’s a log-cabin story out there, too.
So here it is: One morning in November 2009, Dave Nada found himself in a basement in Prince George’s County, surrounded by fucked-up teenagers listening to the slow, cantering sounds of reggaeton and bachata. Nada’s cousin, Jean-Pierre, had asked him to spin at his friend’s “skipping party.” But Nada—a fixture of D.C.’s progressive DJ scene—hadn’t really arrived with this audience in mind. “I cant play house/techno shit,” Nada later wrote. “I’ll get jumped.” So he took one of the best-known tracks of the stylish Dutch house genre and screwed it down from about 130 beats per minute to 108. A slower, stretched-out track also meant a heavier one, with dense bass punctuated by hard percussion hits. Turn up the bass! announced a voice in the song. “And that’s when shit popped the fuck off,” Nada wrote.
He called it Moombahton—for “Moombah,” the Silvio Ecomo & Chuckie track whose remix by Afrojack he’d contorted, and for reggaeton, the immensely popular Latin genre whose slow tempo he’d neared.
And so it began. Nada—who is 32, and whose birth name is David Villegas—gave Moombahton its proper local club premiere this spring. By October, a “Moombahton Massive” gig had packed U Street Music Hall. The sound is undoubtedly the freshest thing to emerge from Washington’s electronic dance music scene this year. Incubated here, and featuring numerous hometown practitioners, Moombahton seemed to be a crowning moment in a year that has many local enthusiasts convinced that D.C.’s high-minded DJs have entered a golden age.
Which is why the final tracking point in Moombahton’s ascent comes off as a little bit tragic, for Washington if not for Nada: By this fall, he was a Los Angeles resident, drawn by Southern California’s burgeoning underground-DJ community and beckoned by one of the world’s most buzzworthy electronic-music producers. Our boy was spinning Moombahton on the roof of the W Hotel in Hollywood.
Another case of local talent lured away by bright lights and big entertainment industry? That’s where the story of Moombahton—and the very notion of geographic place in this age of webbified music—gets tricky. Moombahton (pronounced moom-buh-tone) may be from D.C., but it’s not exactly of D.C: The essential summery vibe of his music, after all, comes from the Netherlands and a variety of Latin sounds. Nada’s Moombahton peers, likewise, owe little to the Potomac basin. Within a month of his first Internet posting of Moombahton tracks, DJs elsewhere created their own versions. Even the Moombahton Massive gig featured artists from Alberta and New York, not to mention a 21-year-old Dutch wunderkind named Munchi.
Moombahton could never belong to D.C., because it almost immediately belonged to the Web.
Nada’s fans describe the DJ’s discovery of Moombahton as if he’d identified an element or a mathematic principle. “It could’ve been anybody who had a Serato box and had ‘Moombah’ in his Serato box and accidentally set the turntable box to 33 instead of 45, but the thing is, it was Dave, and he’s Latino and he has a deeper understanding of the history of [reggaeton],” says Marcus K. Dowling, a local blogger and EDM-scene booster. “It really could’ve been anyone, but it was Dave.”
The sound has a few basic identifying characteristics: A thick, spread-out bass line; some dramatic builds; and a two-step pulse, with quick drum fills. Sometimes, there are ravey synthesizers. Occasionally there are a cappella rap samples. Almost always, there’s a reggaeton vibe. Jesse Tittsworth, a DJ and co-owner of U Street Music Hall, says that vibe is one reason why Moombahton makes sense to D.C. crowds and DJs. “Being from this area, a lot of us have been exposed to reggaeton,” he says. “It has a scene, but musically it hasn’t progressed here. Moombahton took a reggaeton/Latin flavor, and it took that European influence. He tapped into something out there.”
But less than a year into the Moobahton era, when October’s Moombahton Massive rolled around, it was already pretty hard to pick out the original ingredients—because there were so many more. These days, it’s more like a club-oriented version of the unironic, continent-hopping style epitomized by M.I.A.’s 2007 Kala. The crowd at the gig was similarly diverse, ethnically and subculturally: DJ-scene mainstays, club kids, local music journalists and bloggers, and a large cultural-class delegation from Brightest Young Things. There were baggy jeans and skinny jeans.
“One of the biggest things I get from it, from fans or DJs, is that it’s a refreshing thing to hear, not just in the club but also to play out,” says Nada, a former punk rocker who’s been making music in D.C. and Baltimore for at least a decade. “Before, you either had to live or die at 130 bpm.” Moombahton is somehow different from other mid-tempo EDM, he says. “Even though it’s slowed-down house, the energy is very much there.”