Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
When a CD compilation entitled Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque appeared on Strut Records back in January of 2011, I had already lost count of all the world music revivals going on in the dance music world. There was a Lagos disco revival, a Caribbean Islands (Barbados, Trinidad, Barbados, etc.) funk music revival, a Latin music revival, both an old-school Colombian cumbia revival as well as a more tech-y cumbia revival, and of course an endless renaissance for all things African: Afrobeat, highlife, rhumba, Zimbabwean psych-rock, etc. And yet this compilation, which sprung out of a long-running East London warehouse party thrown by resident DJs Hugo Mendez and Frankie Francis, eluded easy categorization. Sure, it touched on all of the above sounds, yet it managed to twine them all together, mixing in vintage finds with sterling new tracks and jumping across continental borders so as to make for a dizzying, globe-strutting dance mix.
And with a very quick turnaround on their latest set — this one subtitled International Soundclash — the latest Sofrito comp shows that Mendez and Francis won’t soon be running out of hot world tracks, nevermind the steady stream of revivals and reissues that flood the market. “There’s a mind-boggling amount of music out there, so I don’t think it’s any harder to find interesting sounds for the dancefloor,” Mendez wrote me via email. “There is a lot of music being made today so I think the well isn’t due to run dry for a long time yet.”
International Soundclash begins with Trinidadian legend Lord Shorty building up a soca groove — from bass drum to hi-hat to congas, to dancefloor nirvana — and the set barely lets up from there. “This time around, we looked more towards Cadence and Soukous sounds rather than the mixture of Latin rhythms on Tropical Discotheque,” Mendez said. “It can be more difficult to find an entry point into some of these styles for people who are discovering them for the first time, so we were happy to present things that may be a little off the beaten path.”
Off the beaten path is an understatement. Despite my proclivity to collect passport stamps, this set goes deep into musical terrain both familiar and wholly exotic: Colombian cumbia, Kenyan luo, Cote d’Ivoire soukous, Haitian psychedelia and calypso fusion, to name just a few of the genres that the Sofrito DJs effortlessly blend together. Massive hand-drum rhythms intermingle with rubbery basslines, mesmeric chants and blasts of synth throughout, making for one of the strongest music compilations I’ve encountered this year. Add to it the fact that Sofrito also does a 12”-only series, featuring rare African tracks getting remixes from the likes of Caribou (under his Daphni alias), Quantic and DJ Tropical Treats, and you have the Sofrito brand operating at an extremely high level.
And while the two compilations have brought worldwide attention to Sofrito, their parties continue on uninterrupted back in their hometown. “While the comps have allowed us to play a lot in other countries and introduce the Sofrito vibe to different crowds, the parties in London remain the same,” Mendez said. “Part of the point of the parties is to try to put on something that isn’t catered for in the mainstream, so the crowds have remained pretty constant.”
Tucked onto the first Sofrito comp was a tripped-out slice of cumbia from Bogota-based band Frente Cumbiero that was first released in 2010 on the New York City-based label Names You Can Trust. Specializing in solely analog formats like 45s, 10” and 12” singles since the label started up in 2007, NYCTrust recently compiled a batch of their finest selections on one handy CD, Volume One (which also includes that frenetic and thoroughly-freaked Frente Cumbiero track).
Centered around the brain trust of former Bay Area digger Eric Banta, DJ Oneman and Andrew “Monk-One” Mason (a founding editor of Wax Poetics Magazine), old-school New York hip-hop breaks, Afrobeat basslines, Jamaican dub effects, Cuban polyrhythmic breaks and crisp Latin percussion are the label’s forte. Most of the cuts on this compilation come from the imprint’s “house” bands Midnight Lab Band and Greenwood Rhythm Coalition (i.e., they’re mostly studio creations of the three gents), providing plenty of heady hybrids of such musical styles, all infused with a decidedly spaced-out sense of playfulness. Fitting then that Frente Cumbiero also collaborated with dub master Mad Professor last year for a wiggly cumbia-dub album.
Fun as the compilation is, one of my favorites for the year is a 10” that the label released just in time for summer (in fact, it was Banta’s song of the summer). It comes from Jamaican singer Tyrone Evans and is a song cut in the Bronx back in 1983. Rather than adhere to the reggae style, “Rise Up” drops into some strange middle ground between slinky American disco-funk and driving Afrobeat, suggesting the sound of some yet undiscovered land.