[Self-Released; 2015]

Styles: baile funk, future bass, dembow, kuduro
Others: N.A.A.F.I, Fade to Mind, OMAAR, Mexican Jihad, Nguzunguzu, Dinamarca

If one thing’s certain in dance music, it’s the inherent tension that exists toward whether or not a rhythmic infrastructure should change. Of course, this tension presides as the ineffable, inevitable “drop,” but it also exists culturally. Entire sub-genres are centered around a specific, enduring rhythmic structure; or, the continuum trudges on in search of new, shiny patterns for midi-drum racks to skirt-out, one after another. On one side of the equation, we have centralized canonical producers who stick to their guns, with subtle innovation taking place within highly specified parameters — from large institutions like Teklife and Night Slugs, to tiny cassette labels like VVAQRT, to the curated “compilations” of Soul Jazz. On the other side, we have producers who skate across sub-genres like they’re meant to be exploited or celebrated momentarily — the Janus affiliates, Arca, or even the beat-craft of Actress. As tome-ic cultural texts are constructed and torn apart around these insular and/or massive movements, the fact remains that “on the dance floor” things either work or they don’t. The semio-text that gets tacked onto the essentiality of rhythm is often merely extra “candy” for the club-goer, and perhaps more than any other genre, failure in dance music can be seen from a mile away.

With N.A.A.F.I, the Mexico City label that released Javier Estrada’s cataclysmic Tribal Prehispánico, it’s a bit harder to peer directly into their world or even see what exactly is going on with their artist roster, events, or label output. Despite their online presence, the label seems bent on allowing their attention to grow naturally by getting artists to gravitate toward their physical artistic orbit: they even just flew in Jersey-club producer UNiiQU3 for an extended residency and show-series. It seems clear that the cross-cultural exchange between Jersey club and the various styles explored by N.A.A.F.I opened the eyes of everyone involved — not only because of the how different and cool their differing styles are, but because when it was time to dance, everybody knew what was up.

This sort of studious, careful approach to rhythmic change, inter-history, and genre can be heard distinctly in Monterrey producer ZutZut’s EL PACK VOL. 1, a five-track exploration in identity, craft, and genre cross-pollination that feels singularly powerful. The only text accompanying the work is the tag “3RDWORLD” and a few sentences describing how its compositional process involved file-sharing from Peru to Angola. The beats themselves are angular, razor-sharp compositions that bounce in a similar manner as some of the best KINGDOM or Nguzunguzu cuts on Fade to Mind — both feature metallic, virtuosic rhythm sequencing flicked over steady subs. Instead of the common posh-grime tropes, ZutZut utilizes baile funk, dembow, and kuduro rhythms to reach the same intense, floor-focused catharsis. Here, craft takes the primary role as the rhythms themselves are effective and simple enough for heavy rotation on dance floors both local and global. In fact, the first time I heard “Jala” was in a live L-vis 1990 DJ set — the endorsement from the Slugs boss himself further emphasized that EL PACK is full of club constructions — the WAV files are primed for the hard-drives of only the most worn CDJs.

The first two tracks on the EP feature ambient synth design perhaps in reference to Jorge Reyes’s solo career, a lifetime of work that synthesized and utilized various Mexican instruments and styles into electronic music. As if not to historicize too much, these floating synths are paired with the coos of Dominican rapper La Materialista; her voice provides contrast and energy to the aqua-colored synth textures that quibble above Zut’s sharp percussion work. The downtrodden enviro of “Lagrimas y Hustle” (tears and hustle) flips a calypso rhythm underneath recordings of vibrating phones and breathy voice expressions — the machinic toms and claps patrol the track’s interiority with a propulsive, effective voice.

EL PACK’s remaining three cuts are the show-stoppers. “Otra Vez Llegue,” a play on the idiomatic expression “another time,” pairs a sample of a children’s choir with precise, ripping beat design. Ocarinas float effortlessly on pockets of reverb that sit over rhythmic aggression; it’s the kind of track that impresses on club floors and headphones alike. The masterful EQing between different percussive gestures allows each hit a “maximum impact effect” that punches you, precisely and literally, right in the gut. “Jala” is a standout club hit for 2015, if not one of the most definitive “drop” moments we’ve received this year. The chopped vocals move gorgeously into a rousing synth progression that’s soaked in club solidarity, that type of moment where everyone stares around the room with starry eyes, completely enthralled with where the rhythm is taking the entire vibe. The drop itself is a brutal dip into pure, locked-in polyrhythm; it’ll knock you right off your feet.

The tracks on ZutZut’s newest show a functional clarity with definitive voice; he sits alongside a canon of artists in 2015 who are helping shift the focus away from the traditional hubs of New York, London, or Berlin in bass music. Their work helps expand our vision of rhythm as completely non-historical regarding the much discussed “continuum-progression,” but totally historical regarding the present, as well as the ancient rhythms that are informing our newest club fire.

Links: ZutZut

Most Read