Arizonaton: Local DJs Pickster and Melo Bring a New Latin Dance Sound to the Valley
On the last Friday in April, New Times met local DJs Melo and Pickster at Bar Smith to talk about a new sound they're helping pioneer in the Valley. It was loud in the downtown Phoenix club, which was gearing up for Sticky Fingers' first anniversary party, so we found ourselves in the back alley, accompanied by a buzzing AC unit, mops, brooms, crates, and other mundane, dirty things you don't associate with the city's hottest dance club.
Fireworks from the Diamondbacks game set off car alarms in the Phoenix Convention Center's parking garage, which towered over us, rendering the first few minutes of our interview an utter clusterfuck. As the deafening drone finally ebbed, we began talking about the pair's new CD, Arizonaton, and the state of a hot new dance genre called moombahton.
"I want people to know that although [moombahton] was started in D.C. and it went global and it's still just barely catching on, Phoenix had a part to do with it, and I hope people in Phoenix realize that and appreciate that," Melo said. "You know? That's cool."
Moombahton. That's moom-bah-ton — the budding dance music genre characterized by heavy bass, squirting laser synths, jumpy kick drum/snare progressions and distant, broken vocal samples that combine to form music that's out of this world. To virgin ears, it might sound like something Richard Branson would churn out if he were commissioned to DJ a zero-gravity Latin dance party on a shady Russian space station for the world's vanguard adventurists. Moombahton's actual terrestrial origins are more modest.
In the fall of 2009, Dave Nada DJ'd his cousin's high school's "skipping" party in a Washington, D.C., basement. The kids had all ditched class, got "fuuuucked up," according to Nada, and started raging to reggaetón. When Nada stepped up to DJ, all he had on hand was Dutch house music. He chose to maintain the vibe by slowing down Afrojack's remix of Silvio Ecomo & Chuckie's "Moombah" to reggaetón speeds of 108 beats per minute. When the "turn up the bass" vocals and synths dropped, the partygoers went bonkers, and the concept for a new genre was born in Nada's mind.
Nada released his Moombahton EP in March, and music blogs ate it up. Very recently, hipster tastemaker Diplo, along with a handful of other superstar DJs, including Brodinski, have begun releasing their own edits and playing them live. Before all that, a handful of globally dispersed DJs began producing and sharing their own original moombahton tracks, forging one of the first grass roots genres with truly international beginnings in the process.
Veteran Phoenix DJs Melo (Jorge Melo) and Pickster One (Dusty Hickman) were two early adopters of the moombahton sound. They recently released their collaborative Arizonaton EP, and on Wednesday, May 18, moombahton originator Dave Nada will join the duo for their release party at Bar Smith to help them unveil their tracks live for the first time.
Apart from Bar Smith regulars and the local DJ community, few Phoenicians are aware of moombahton's existence, let alone that local DJs have anything to do with it. But they've been a big part of bringing the sound to the Valley.
Just a few weeks after Nada released his moombahton edits in March 2010, Epidemic (Joel Davis), a former New Times Readers' Choice for best local DJ, released his own moombahton remix of JFK and St. Mandrew's "Beehive." He followed up with Cinco De Malo, a mixtape compilation consisting almost entirely of moombahton edits from early adopters Melo, Nada, and Austin's Orion.
Melo invited Epidemic to work on an original moombahton track using a reggaetón vocal sample from Hector El Bambino. After ending the session with nothing more than a kick drum and snare, it became obvious that the friends couldn't produce music together. That's when Melo turned to Pickster with the same sample, and they co-produced "Mas Poderoso," their first original moombahton track together.
Pickster, along with support from Ellery, Anthony Hartbreaks, and DJ Riot Earp (a.k.a. Moombahtron), started working moombahton into the format of their Scenario club night on Wednesdays at Bar Smith. Now Scenario is one of only five established club nights in the entire world where partygoers can hear moombahton live.
Melo released two solo EPs of original moombahton tracks, with killer cuts such as "Apreta," and curated the Winter of Moombahton compilation, which was pushed by the popular Mad Decent and Generation Bass blogs.
Then in March, after getting the invite from Nada a few months earlier, he played the Moombahton Massive showcase at South by Southwest alongside the genre's other major producers.
But despite their efforts, Pickster and Melo are textbook cases of what Pickster describes as the "my band is big in Europe" syndrome — "no matter how much we do, how much work we put in and everything," Pickster said. "Regardless, we'll get more props from other places then we will here. It's just the nature of the beast."
They've certainly gotten props from Dave Nada, who names Arizonaton's "Es Dificil" as his favorite moombahton track right now. "It has everything I love in moombahton: melody, Latin vocals, booming bass, and an uplifting vibe," he says in an e-mail.
"Melo's been there since the beginning of moombahton, and his experience and knowledge as a veteran club DJ gives him that edge in his production that most cats don't have," Nada writes. "I hope he keeps it up 'cause I think we'll all benefit from it!"
Pickster and Melo are among the handful of guys producing original stuff like Arizonaton. While the genre's prompt rise to semi-mainstream rotation (via the likes of Mad Decent) has given them exposure they've never experienced before, it could also turn moombahton into a fad that's absorbed into pop music and considered over by next year's SxSW.
"Just like how reggaetón in its heyday, in the early 2000s, was breaking the top 40 charts, I could totally see Rihanna having some moombahton track on her album," Epidemic said. "I don't think that's far-fetched."
That would be sort of devastating, especially to Melo, who adopted moombahton because it's every type of music he enjoys, rolled into one.
"Melo is a really seasoned DJ," Epidemic says. "And not only is he a really seasoned DJ, he's a really seasoned Latin DJ. Diplo is not a seasoned Latin DJ. Toddla T is not a seasoned Latin DJ. There are very few people in the world who I think have this sort of Latin music knowledge that Melo has."
If Melo guides their music with his steady Latin sensibilities, then Pickster oils its engine. He mastered much of Arizonaton, often playing songs over the sound system at Bar Smith before it opened to ensure that tracks like "Going Out to the Hardcore" were club-ready. He has a residency at three Phoenix club nights, has toured Europe three times, and is a partner in the state's most prominent hip-hop promotional group, Universatile Music.
"Pickster has a lot of the connections to really take their music beyond Arizona," Epidemic said. "So while Melo has a really good name within the moombahton scene and gets a lot of attention for that, I think Pickster has the capability to take them a lot further and put them in front of a lot more people physically. He's a fantastic DJ, too."
Pickster speaks about the possibility of touring Europe in the fall and playing some shows in California and Texas. Whether or not Arizonaton will evoke any love from their hometown for Pickster and Melo is yet to be seen.
Either way, Moombahton's undeniable seasonal appeal and the encroaching summer heat should combine to bring out the inner fuuuucked-up teen in Wednesday's attendees.
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