An important thing to understand about genres is that they don’t just represent a style of music; they represent a movement. A style of music is static, but the word ‘movement’ represents a dynamic collaborative effort by connected individuals. One of these movements I’ve been keeping a close eye on for the past few years is moombahton.
The origins of moombahton
It started out with Dave Nada (left in the above photo, with Nadastrom partner Matt Nordstrom) playing a high school skipping party in Washington DC back in late 2009. The DJs had been playing bachata and reggaeton, while his laptop was loaded up with mainly Dutch house, a house sub-genre which takes inspiration from Caribbean rhythms. He realised that he couldn’t get away with playing house or techno, so he took the track Moombah, as remixed by Afrojack, a major proponent of the Dutch house genre in that time, and slowed it down from 128 beats per minute to 108. The crowd went nuts, so he followed it up by slowing down Sidney Samson’s famous track Riverside.
Soon after, police stopped the party, but a new sound had already been born. Dave Nada went home, made proper edits of the slowed down tracks and put them online. The sound exploded online and expanded rapidly, conveniently coinciding with the internet-aided rise of the US rave scene. While initially it was mostly edits and remixes of existing tracks, as the scene matured an increasing number of originals started being shared and uploaded.[youtube]YYz4gt8gtiI[/youtube]
The birth of the movement
Up until quite recently, most of these releases were available as free downloads on Soundcloud or blogs, which greatly helped increase the size of the movement. It’s a young movement, in multiple ways, where a lot of the fans and DJs involved don’t have a lot of money to spend on music, but are rich in time. Therefore I’ve experienced moombahton to be a participatory scene, with minimal distance between artists and fans and basically no middlemen. A great example of this is Nibootoo, an early-stage fan of the genre who played a great role in connecting and creating the movement.
As the sound grew, new sub-genres came up. The one that’s really taking off is moombahcore, which uses popular sounds in dubstep and sets them to the 108 BPM ‘dem bow’ percussion pattern. This is getting a lot of support from heavyweights from other scenes, like Diplo and Skrillex. Here’s an example:
Blogs as labels
An interesting aspect of the movement is the pivotal role blogs play in its survival. Most of the blogs out there are not run by producers, but by fans and DJs. It’s their way of contributing to the scene. Here’s a very clear symptom of blogs acting like labels: the regular (free!) releases organised by blogs. From the MoombahLuv series by Generation Bass, the 110 BPM Collection series, to The New Wave of Moombahton series which exposes new talents and for which the selection and releasing is passed on from blog to blog with every edition.
These bloggers understand the movement very well, they’re in the middle of it and spend much of their time exploring it. While producers are making tracks and playing gigs, these blogs could easily develop themselves to makeshift labels. Adding rosters of artists they support, helping artists identify opportunities, giving artists recommendations for the development of their sound and image, setting up merchandising and distribution, etc. Generation Bass is already doing so.
Among labels’ prime tasks are: support, providing a recognisable mark of quality, and channeling new music and artists. The old type of channel, which ran through radio and physical shops, was hard to set up. Pretty much anyone with the right amount of dedication can set up the new type of channel though. I’m not saying blogs replace all the functions of a label, but they could negate the necessity for a label in many situations.
In a conversation I had with music entrepreneur Olivier Rosset a year ago, he already stressed the way blogs were ‘the new labels’ in particular scenes of Brazilian electronic music and it appears it’s not limited to emerging markets.
Create your own hype
In the early stages of a genre movement, it doesn’t need traditional labels. It doesn’t need help with gatekeepers. What it needs is to build momentum. With momentum, it can cross boundaries and tear down obstacles. So if you’re operating in a niche, by all means, create your own movement.
I’ve been saying it for years now, but I think this year I’m actually right: it’s going to be the year of moombahton. How can you tell? No song is safe from a moombahton remix. As dubstep started to take off and cross the ocean, you only needed to go to YouTube, enter the name of a song followed by “dubstep remix” and you would often find multiple dubstep remixes of that track. It’s an important symptom in an age of democratised means of production.
DJ sets used to go from deep, to heavy, to hard and back to deep. Now sets are just “dancefloor killer” after “dancefloor killer”. It’s boring, the sound is burning out and the fact that the rhythm of dubstep is awkward for mainstream audiences doesn’t help. When dubstep burns out, moombahton will be there to integrate the sounds and popularity of dubstep and put it to a rhythm that’s easier to understand for the mass audience.
Brands: energise movements
It’s important to understand the general sentiment of members of niche movements towards the idea of commercial brand involvement. It’s not positive, and that’s an understatement. So if you, as a brand, want to jump into a niche, by supporting certain artists, events, etc. it’s important that it’s done with the frame of energising and supporting the movement first. Sure, it will only be the hardcore members of the movement that will actively criticise brand involvement, however these same people are the mavens and the influencers of the movement; the bloggers, the superfans, the connectors. Any message you inject into an ecosystem of fans will be more powerful with the approval and aid of influencers.
So you need to listen first. Understand the scene. Understand where it comes from. Understand why people love it. Understand what it means to be part of the movement. Then you can become part of the movement. Doing it any other way will violate people’s trust and will negatively impact your brand in that scene, even if you see positive short-term results. Amplify has an excellent video up about the evolution of influence in fan culture.
Moombahton is a product and a movement of the digital generation. This digital generation has implicit rules about communication and trust. Play by them, or lose.
The rise of moombahton signifies certain trends for the future of music. Some of these are facts that were always true, but increase in importance and some are new. The future is:
– Democratised means of production = genres being born from remix culture
– Genres are movements
– Movements can come (and go) much faster than in the past, due to increased connectedness
– Less of a geographic centre of genres, although hotspots will remain
– Blogs get to choose between being a media outlet, a new kind of label, or both
– Superfans and mavens are liquid gatekeepers, meaning you can reach the movement without their support, but with it, you’ll be much more successful.
Explore, immerse, and learn. The future is now.
Bas Grasmayer is head of information strategy for Russian music platform Zvooq. We highly recommend you follow him on Twitter; check out his previous midemblog appearances; and his midem 2012 videoblogs