From its fiery beginnings as hyper-rhythmic, percussion-driven dance music rooted in Angola, kuduro has gone through a number of alterations over the last 30 years. As its practitioners have played across Luanda, Lisbon, and Cape Verde, the local inflections that give this music its clout have dramatically begun to shape the way it feels from the perspective of a listener foreign to these places. Through its ferocious energy and characteristic samples, the most contemporary form of kuduro depicts a physical space that you can draw on a map and define with borders; it expresses the vibrancy of a district, the acute demographics of a community, and the livelihoods of the people who reside there. But for all this, Afro-Portugese dance music is about how it makes its audience move, not how it makes them think.
Marlon Silva (a.k.a. DJ Marfox) has been turning heads over the past few months after playing to international audiences in Europe, grabbing the attention of RP Boo at Unsound, and prepping his fourth EP, Lucky Punch, on Lit City Trax. Thanks to Lisbon-based label Príncipe, the style of kuduro that Marfox and his affiliates are producing has instigated the publication of a number of features on this expressive type of dance music. Of particular note is a recent piece on Dazed Digital by Charlie Robin Jones, which followed Ryan Keeling’s article, “The ghetto sound of Lisbon,” on Resident Advisor. After giving the lowdown on Marfox, the latter discusses the importance of his surroundings; despite the “tough conditions, social and physical isolation” that’s rampant in the bairros, people strive to create incredibly penetrating art, perhaps even as a consequence of situations they find themselves in.
On Lucky Punch, three degrees of perception are discernible in Marfox’s approach: reflection (after having spent years absorbing a specific landscape), depiction (where reflection manifests into rhythm), and observation (where outside environments and scenes provide an alternate take on preconceived ideas). These beats have consequently taken their own form, which is currently seated at the foreground of online Lisbon kuduro appreciation; along with DJ Nervoso, Marfox is seen as one of the founding fathers of the style in its present state. He was, after all, the first act signed to Príncipe, which is responsible for bringing these frantic manifestations to wider attention.
Lucky Punch borrows extensively from beat-driven, high-impact kuduro and slower, tarraxinha-flecked house, conjuring a berserk, crowded image of the physical setting this music draws from while forcing an inevitably kinetic response on playback. These six belting tracks combine the metallic hammering of industry (“Noise”) with a flagrant, yet punishing jamboree of chimes, percussion, and hand claps (“Banda 52”) — it’s the intoxicating grip of an urban carnival; life, work, and dance, fastened together and presented as a singular, essential rhythm. Each beat underscores the reputation that both Príncipe and Lit City Trax are forging as labels conscious of local dance scenes and the potential they have in broader contexts, without forgoing any of the maneuvers that tie these tunes to the places where their roots were formulated.
The mood of this EP exemplifies a mad vigor and incessant passion, presenting its own paradigms for proximity and movement. The foundation for this energy emerges from the localized version of kuduro Marfox is assimilating, even though that comes with a personalized set of imports. Take the vocal samples of the title track or the trance-like synths on “Beat and Break,” which is nestled in the hard percussive aspects of kuduro but also bears similarities with old-school UK rave, grime, and even footwork. Although Marfox has established an international fanbase, the elements that keep his music local mix with these external influences in a way that remains loyal and dignified.
As a listener outside of Lisbon, this loyalty allows for a sense of privilege through listening in on something so exclusive, while tying together any geographical or cultural distance with the desire to move. Lucky Punch alludes to a fresh perception of localized dance music that’s bound by the way that people live and breathe across continents. As Keeling noted in his feature, the success of producers such as Marfox comes down to respecting the music as it is on the ground, not as a refined rehash that chips away its core in order to appeal to a broader audience. I’ve never been to Quinta da Vitória, and I’ve never heard a kudoro beat thumping from a car window in Quinta do Mocho, but that’s what reigns true when tuning into this EP — its ultimate impression is knock out, regardless of how you come at it.