Welcome to the inaugural edition of Sound Atlas, a weekly series showcasing LessThan3’s desire to scan the world for the most exciting sounds in global electronic music. This week, we turn our attention to zouk bass.
Dave Nada invented moombahton on the fly as a way to keep a dancehall and bachata-themed high school party from heading off the rails during his dance music set. Following in the footsteps of Nada, who slowed down Dutch house 108 BPM and gave it a more pronounced dem bow riddim, Lisbon-based production/live performance unit Buraka Som Sistema invented zouk bass by slowing zouk, a highly percussive West Indian genre typically associated with carnival parties, down to 90 BPM. When unleashed on an unsuspecting crowd during a Boiler Room set (video available at end of column), the sound sparked not just a dance party, but a SoundCloud production surge in a genre that had literally just been born.
Zouk ends up in Portugal because the nation had some type of one-time colonial rule over 131 countries throughout Africa and the West Indies. Thus, sounds native to these areas have made their way back to Portugal to become a part of the fabric of the nation’s underground dance scene. As well, similar to moombahton working as EDM because of Dutch house producers using car alarm-style synths and heavy percussion loops, zouk bass-as-EDM works as a result of zouk producers being fond of synthesizers, drum machines, and liberal use of vocal sampling.
Buraka’s MC Kalaf tells THUMP that zouk bass was invented because Buraka Som Sistema wanted to “rescue dance music with a global appeal from the periphery to which it had been relegated, returning the spark that was felt when baile funk or kuduro emerged.” The bang of zouk’s drums matches that of fellow Caribbean style dembow, thus making zouk bass’ early days similar to that of moombahton in that once bedroom producers figured out drum patterns, inspiration ran wild as an army of producers began cranking out 90 BPM edits of tracks at a pace once reserved for 110 BPM moombahton remixes just a few years prior.
Two years after the sub-genre’s invention the zouk bass craze has slowed, yet the style still remains popular and significant in certain circles. Zouk has cousins of a slightly slower tempo in Angolan kizomba and tarraxo, plus Brazilian baile funk-meets-breakbeat genre rasterinha is also now in the zouk bass drum catalogue. The sound of zouk bass bears a depth and scope in style similar to moombahton too, as these three styles allow for zouk bass to have sonic diversity similar to dubstep-friendly moombahcore and R&B-friendly moombahsoul.
What does the future hold for zouk bass? As with moombahton, SoundCloud is the best place to head. Outside of Enchufada and a few other underground-specific labels, zouk bass typically has only been heard in the mainstream via sets by Mad Decent head honcho Diplo. If you want to hoard away a stash of amazing zouk bass tunes, the #zoukbass or #zouk bass search on the service is certain to turn up a plethora of truly progressive gems released in the past 24 months.
Below are five tracks that showcase some of the best production and producers in the sound at present.
Major Lazer – Bubble Butt (JSTJR Tenko Remash) – Boston-based JSTJR may come from a place not renowned for a significant tropical bass community, but this flip of Major Lazer’s twerking 2013 hit showcases the producer’s ability to find the connective tie in a slowed drum loop between the West Indies and the Dirty South.
DJ Paparazzi – The Dreamer – A mystical, almost ambient take on the sound, The Dreamers features an organic feel on the drums and a DJ Mustard-aping vocal loop in the melody. Paparazzi represents the Setubal, Portugal-based collective DiZona Crew and is easily one of the best-regarded producers associated with the sub-genre.
Buraka Som Sistema – Zouk Flute – The first officially released single in zouk bass’ brief history comes from Buraka Som Sistema. Note how the flute weaves its way through the riddim creating the instantaneously danceable energy in the melody.
Dengue Dengue Dengue – Banana – Masked Peruvian duo Dengue Dengue Dengue is typically known for their techno and dub takes on cumbia, however, when working in creating zouk bass-appropriate riddims from sounds familiar to their strengths, we get a sweeping oddity that actually succeeds in surprisingly not straying too far from expectations.
Jeremih – All The Time (Banginclude Zouk Bass Remix) – Adding a soulful thump to a soothing R&B single is Brooklyn’s Banginclude, one of the least likely top tropical bass purveyors in the global underground. Keeping the seductive feel of the original locked in place while screwing down the tempo, this is a masterful pop remix.