Our Year in Moombahton How a local DJ created a genre, and why D.C.’s ascendant dance scene couldn’t contain it

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Nada’s Moombahton year paralleled a watershed year for D.C.’s EDM scene. U Street Music Hall opened in the spring, and almost every regular progressive DJ night based in a rock club moved to the new venue. A-list DJs who previously spent little time in D.C. began stopping by UHall. The venue even inspired a parody involving the Hitler-and-his-generals clip from the German-language film Downfall, surely an indicator of post-modern cultural penetration.

On the production end, the city’s DJs also impressed. Dowling points to Steve Starks’ tribal house track “Git ‘Em” and Will Eastman’s warped disco anthem “Feelin’” as essential works. Nacey, who along with Starks and Gavin Holland runs the popular Nouveau Riche prog-house night, saw Diplo and Switch use his remix of La Roux’s “Bulletproof” to lead off a Major Lazer mixtape. It went to No. 1 on Hype Machine, a site whose algorithm tracks the dissemination and popularity of songs on mp3 blogs.

Tittsworth, one of the city’s biggest DJ names, has been around long enough to know that scenes ebb and flow. But he says the tide is currently high. “I got my start in the mid-’90s,” Tittsworth says. “I kind of cut my teeth when [defunct Navy Yard–area clubs] Tracks and Capitol Ballroom were going really, really strong. When that area died down, for me the scene slowed down…For a while, the feeling wasn’t quite there. I remember talking to Dave and Matt [Nordstrom] and Will [Eastman] about it—it was frustrating, I would tour extensively and come home and I wouldn’t really have anything.”

The scene began to pick up several years ago with an influx of younger DJs and producers—and now with his own dedicated venue. “To play 9:30 Club a few times a year is a far cry from having a healthy EDM scene in the backyard.”

Dowling, an office manager by day and independent professional wrestling manager on weekends who says he only sleeps four hours a night, is essentially the only local writer wholly dedicated to the DJ scene. (He’s written about Moombahton on his site True Genius Requires Insanity almost since its inception). He’s perennially enthused, but he’s not sure the city’s there yet. “People talk about how D.C. is the next New York. But it’s really the fact that D.C. is evolving into becoming D.C.,” he says. “It’s really the fact that D.C. is learning how to support a dance scene.”

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But if D.C. is becoming an EDM hub, why did Nadastrom move to Los Angeles?

There are some personal reasons (Nordstrom’s wife works in the film industry) but mostly professional ones. “The move to L.A., it’s basically us just pushing our careers trying to see how far we can take it,” Nada says. Switch, of Major Lazer, has been releasing singles by Nadastrom since 2008, and this spring invited the duo to join his L.A.-based production company. They’ll release a series of singles next year, mostly the kind of electro-house and tech-house bangers by which Nadastrom made its name. (Moombahton notwithstanding, Nada still wants to live by 130 bpm some of the time.)

There are also some things about L.A. that Washington can’t match. Nada had five gigs his first week there. He rented an apartment that’s close to more prominent electronic artists than live in all of D.C. That proximity to the industry—both the increasingly useless major labels and some high-cachet independent ones—is important, Nada says.

By contrast, D.C.’s small boutique labels are mostly vehicles to larger platforms. Munchi is releasing a record on T&A soon, but it’s hard to imagine him spending a career there.

The decision to move wasn’t easy in the end—especially once D.C.’s DJ scene really began to pop. But you can stage a successful DJ career from anywhere, Nada says. “It’s definitely possible, especially this day and age,” Nada says. Certainly, an in-demand DJ will spend plenty of time in the air, brought to cities by party promoters and fellow DJs. “Look at Munchi, he’s 21 from Rotterdam, and now he’s getting flown to play just months into his DJ career,” Nada says.

And Moombahton still needs to grow. The sound hasn’t yet penetrated DJ culture like reggaeton or dubstep did, and probably won’t—it’s too dance-focused for listening outside the club, and too specialized for wide appreciation in every dance club. But it’s about to get some critical endorsements: Nada is working on a dedicated Moombahton compilation for Diplo’s Mad Decent label, and rapper Waka Flocka Flame has commissioned a Moombahton remix of his hit “No Hands.”

Nada may yet return to D.C. His L.A. lease, he notes, is only for a year. And he’ll be back a bunch in the next month: Nadastrom will spin at U Street Music Hall on New Years Eve; he’ll host Munchi and others at the second Moombahton Massive party there in January. All the same, when we chatted over coffee at Tryst in October, his always-enthused tone ticked a notch higher whenever our chat turned to his new home. “You go out there and you just get inspired,” he said. “It’s a good time to be out there.”

Our Readers Say

Actually no. Dj Cullen Stalin invented that in 2008.
“Before, you either had to live or die at 130 bpm.”

Yes, why until this year did no one ever try to make electronic dance music that was slower?
@professor: Did you miss the next sentence? "Moombahton is somehow different from other mid-tempo EDM, he says."
@Fence noooooooooooo! Nada all the way!
Well done! Enthralling piece ... I hope to see more of Jonathan's "take" ...
Very interesting. I'm starting to really take to Moombahton.
Moombahcore is also a great sub-genre to listen to, try that shit out! =]
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