How Moombahton Became D.C.’s Breakout Music Genre
In less than five years, moombahton—a genre combining house and the groove of reggaeton—has propelled itself in terms of popularity from a local sensation to a fixture of the international EDM scene. Naturally, it’s been a dizzying ride for two of the biggest names behind the sound, Dave Nada and Matt Nordstrom, who DJ together under the name Nadastrom. “It still amazes me how far moombahton has come,” Nada confessed.
Before the boom of moombahton, both Nada and Nordstrom were working the D.C. and Baltimore club scenes independently, building their own respective followings. Up until a mutual friend, promoter, and producer, DJ Jesse Tittsworth, introduced the two to each other.
“I remember Jesse saying to me, you should listen to my boy Matt’s new mixes, ya’ll have a lot in common,” Nada recalls. And so Nada and Nordstrom started to swap music and began to officially collaborate, as Nadastrom, in 2007.
“We would play the whole night and usually blow any money we had made on our bar tab,” Nordstrom says, reminiscing about those early days of the duo’s collaboration. In the beginning, they were working in Adams Morgan and audiences weren’t especially receptive to their sound. “The music we were playing was a bit weird, so they shut us down after a few months and we started making music together instead,” and the experimentation really took off.
Legend has it that moombahton sprang to life at a basement party Nada was DJing. While the kids were dancing to reggaeton, Nada decided to improvise and take the Dutch house track “Moombah” and slow the tempo down to better fit the vibe of the party. This spark of inspiration was a massive hit that night and Nada kept experimenting with it. He does admit that he was a little hesitant to play the new music for Tittsworth, Nordstrom, and friends. But the reaction it got in clubs was encouraging. “At first, I started teasing it in my solo DJ sets and then eventually we started incorporating it in Nadastrom sets and people would just lose it!” Nada adds, “people didn’t know what it was but they loved it anyway. It was infectious.”
Fellow producer Ayres Haxton (DJ Ayres) remembers the excitement of hearing moombahton for the first time; Nada played the music for him when they met up at a radio show in Vancouver. “I was bugging out,” he says. Tittsworth and Haxton, both on board, decided to release some of the tracks through their label T&A Records. Haxton knew that they had something interesting on their hands, something a little different. “I thought it was going to be sort of a mash-up genre,” reflects Haxton.
And so indie EDM label T&A Records ended up being a major player in helping explode the moombahton sound. The label released dozens of the moombahton records, edits, EPs and singles from a who’s who of DJs and producers.
Along with a label to champion it, moombahton needed a home base. It didn’t hurt,” explains Haxton, “that Tittsworth is one of the owners of U Street Music Hall, where Moombahton Massive was held.” Before there was the Massive, there was Moombahton Monday at the Velvet Lounge, where Nadastrom would play moombahton on a regular basis. Wanting to take it to another level though, with Tittsworth’s and the U Street Music Hall’s backing, the duo organized the Moombahton Massive party in October of 2010, which became an instant hit.
It wasn’t long before the music gained a wider geographic audience to match its global flavor. Nada recalls hearing his first EP being played in places as far as Miami and Austin for SXSW. At the same time, other artists, like Munchi for example, joined in, significantly raising the bar for the moombahton sound, says Nada. Famous producers of the likes of Diplo (Major Lazer) have also been having a go at it, which excites Nada even more—the thrill of hearing the artists and producers who have influenced him taking on the sound that he helped usher in.
Nada and many other supporters are pushing to take the sound outside of the United States. “We’ve started pushing the [Moombahton Massive] party worldwide, from Berlin to Bogota. Spreading the vibe properly,” Nada explains. Moombahton tracks are now being produced by artists from other countries who are adding their own unique flavor and flair to the genre. Germany’s So Shifty has incorporated soca and dancehall to the sound, while the UK’s Disgraceland has brought in a deep house vibe.
Haxton is pleased but still a little disbelieving of the popularity of the genre. “In the beginning it was just a fun thing, a slower pace to go during a DJ set, and I don’t think any of us dreamed it would get so big.” While some producers who dabbled in moombahton have moved on to other popular genres like trap, Haxton is more interested in sticking it out and seeing the music grow in the dance music underground.“My favorite place to hear it is in a sweaty club.”
Now based in LA, Nadastrom is busy expanding moombahton to the west and are working on more mixes and plan to release a full album eventually as well. Both DJs are extremely pleased with how far the music has come in such a short time. For Nada, the music “is more than just a sound. It’s a vibe and a cultural journey. If you fully immerse yourself in the music, you can see its potential to bridge worlds and open minds.”