When we talk about the aesthetic qualities of music after the advent of the internet (what might be termed “post-internet”), the conversation often alights on “futuristic” sounds with no discernible sense of place. Glossy, hi-fi, and maximalist productions, which seem to spring from the internet itself, are taken as emblematic of its new forms of production, distribution, and reception. What gets lost in this rush to focus on new and post-geographic musical forms is the concurrent emergence of forward-thinking music that is very much in conversation with its place of origin, as well as its global reception. These embedded styles often emerge from locations outside of the cultural capitals of the West, making their way into Anglophone consciousness through labels like Honest Jon’s, Planet Mu, and Lit City Trax. Lisbon’s Afro-Portugese club styles (kuduro, tarraxinha, afrohouse, batida, etc.) are exemplary products of these internet-driven systems of production and consumption. Head-spinningly fwd, artists like DJ Marfox, DJ Nigga Fox, and Normal Nada are straight up producing some of the best dance music around, all while retaining a firm sense of connection to the material realities that birthed it.
DJ N.K. has been in this mix since the beginning. Part of the pivotal DJ’s Do Guetto compilation, which amalgamated various incipient crews and presented their unique fusion of styles to a wider audience, he’s as much a steward of this sound as DJ Marfox or DJ Nervoso. DJ Do Ghetto, his first full-length, is being released through Lit City Trax and stands as a personal intervention into the “Ghetto Sound of Lisbon,” a meditation on N.K.’s past, present, and future within this community. It’s a heady brew, content to keep the listener guessing with its variety of sounds, rhythms, melodies, and textures. DJ N.K. skews toward the organic, minimizing distortion in the percussion and melodies in favor of a crisp and inviting sonic palette: rich synth-work, visceral drum production, and an acute ear for a sample. The resulting sound is polyvocal and polymorphous, twisting and turning through styles and moods with the jocularity of a DJ set. Tracks lock into a groove — both functional and playful — before a rewind or filter is applied, sending the track in a different direction, suddenly augmented with a new element, a new sample, another rhythm.
There’s a rootedness to this approach, an attention to the spaces and contexts in which this music will be heard — the ghettos of Lisbon, the dance floors of London, etc. In the press release accompanying the album, N.K. stresses the importance of his connections to the music of his ancestors — nomadic tribes residing in Angola’s Namibe desert — and the Angolan music his father would play — Bonga Kwenda, Maya Cool, Angelo Boss, Rey Webba, Banda Maravilha, DJ Amorim. These influences are most clearly felt on “Tribalistic Face,” wherein tumbling African rhythms and percussion are beautifully interwoven with flute and guitar. The track embodies the sense of continuity that runs through the album, an embrace of heritage that pushes the music forward. As a result, these tracks share a keen sense of trajectory, a conception of where to go next that stems from an understanding of their origins. Consequently, there’s an openness to the music, a sense that it can move anywhere, transcending boundaries, whether sonic, geographic or social.
In Lisbon, this music has already succeeded in bringing disparate groups together: both at Príncipe’s parties at Musicbox and in certain clubs in the city center, which as DJ N.K. notes “have been pushing our music, Kuduro, the music of the ghetto, to mixed crowds of every sort of background, from all races and classes.” When we (as internet-subjects) listen to this music, we’re not only hearing some of the most unashamedly exciting, experimental, and generous contemporary sounds, we’re entering into a network suffused with history, with economics and with politics, a sonic community intent on recognizing its roots while always pushing things forward. As DJ Firmeza puts it, explaining the name of his crew, Piquenos DJs Do Guetto: “There’s not a problem with us calling ourselves ‘little ghetto DJs’, because that’s where we’re from, and that’s where our music is from. But at the same time it’s not ghetto in my mind. It can be from somewhere but it can expand way beyond.” If that’s not post-internet music, I don’t know what is.