A Guide to Deep Reggaetón
A Guide to Deep ReggaetónJune 15, 2022
There are a couple of things deep reggaetón is not. It’s not the endless, hypnotic trackwork of Ricardo Villalobos or Luciano. Nor is it playing Daddy Yankee at a slower BPM with slapdash effects. And deep reggaetón definitely isn’t an English DJ looping a bongo sample while playing in Tulum. But beyond the disqualifications, the elusive sound’s criteria and definition remains a plurality in the court of opinion. It spans two continents, three regions, and two cities and likely shorthand for an inner circle of young producers incorporating their identity past the antiseptic four-on-the-floor drum pattern.
The Miami-bred, New York City resident, DJ Python (AKA Brian Piñeyro) first coined deep reggaetón in a press release for his 2016 EP, ¡Estereo Bomba! Vol. 1. Throughout his discography, he incorporates his Ecuadorean and Argentine lineage with heady ambient textures, IDM-inspired downtempo, and the ubiquitous reggaetón kick and snare that’ll enthrall the club kid or late-night Little Havana.
Reggaetón’s history is comically complex. Neena Rouhani of Rolling Stone and Isabelia Herrera of the New York Times wrote reggaetón exploded in the 1990s, hailing [likely] from Panama as a prototype, then onto Puerto Rico with its origins planted in “Black diasporic sounds.”
“In its origins, reggaetón was about denunciations and grievances against an economic and political system that excluded the youth who were making the music,” wrote Herrera. “The circulation and metamorphosis of Jamaican dancehall, Panamanian reggae en español, hip-hop, and Puerto Rican underground.” Reggaetón’s DNA is at least reggae, hip-hop, dancehall, and bomba, but likely more, reaching across pan-Latin America and Africa. The music’s fervent kick, snare, and clap comes from dembow, which became the genre’s North Star rhythm—not a far cry from dub techno’s origins in Jamaica’s reggae culture. Unsurprisingly, electronic music has always adopted, or usurped, different culture’s sounds into club-ready homogeneity.
Photo: DJ Python
“I think it’s like the early 90s where all these breaks floated around on floppy disks; some people were making energetic club music, and then other people were using the floppy disks to make downtempo,” says Piñeyro. “And I think the way deep reggaetón is being used is similar.” Take DJ Python’s 92 BPM track “oooophi” off his seamless Mas Amable album. Glitched-out vocal-snippets float, and ambient pads splash in the background. The güiro, a hallow Latin instrument, scratches the ear, while relentless drums stomp the floor. boom, dum, boom, dum, boom boom. “I’m always curious if the music wasn’t put without this context; how it would actually be received. I think talking about it is important because of lineage.”
The term often ends with Piñeyro, but Miami has proved a microcosm where producers add meat to Python’s downtempo interludes a la jungle, dubstep, industrial, and techno, but with one deeply rooted similarity: the percussion. “For me, it’s the drum loop,” says Piñeyro. “I think it’s the dembow riddim, and people take it in other directions.”
With the resurgence of breaks felt all over electronic music from the likes of Skee Mask, deep reggaetón’s percussion-forward ethos is a jumping-off point for producers to incorporate their Latin and South American heritage.
“I would say deep reggaetón does exist, but it’s hard to put a label on it,” says Miami DJ/producer Nick León. “Deep Reggaetón isn’t exactly my favorite phrase, but it does give people access. In context to what I do, I think it goes to me using different classic dancehall drum patterns and using the dub side for more upbeat, or even aggressive sound.”
Raised mostly in Miami, the Colombian American record boss took over the Space Tapes label in 2017. His production has been featured on the Mexican label N.A.A.F.I. and Tra Tra Trax with Bitter Babe, his longtime collaborator. “It’s a thing of the times where people play the music they grew up on. I was in middle school, and there was the big reggaeton exploding with “Gasolina” I think it’s a mix of nostalgia and connection. I don’t think it’s a statement; it’s just that. It’s all made with the same software that you use to make techno.”
León’s most recent crowning achievement is a producer credit on Rosalía’s latest highly-acclaimed album Motomami. He also just pushed his DJ’ing accolades past Miami last month where he played a New Orleans show—a city neither associated with electronic or Latin music; yet, León had no issue keeping the crowd. “Bad Bunny plays well anywhere,” he quipped. This summer, DJ Python and León will release a split-EP, and a residency at Miami’s nightclub Floyd, dubbed “Suero” after a Mexican electrolyte water.
Photo: Nick León & Bitter Babe (by Karli Evans)
INVT (pronounced innovate), a duo of DJs/producers/fashion designers tapped into jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, acid, and dubstep to drive their smitten sound and cultural underpinnings. INVT’s Luca Medici and Delbert Perez, two recent Mexico City transplants, formed the music and art project in 2015.
“In our case, it’s just Latin bass music,” says Perez, a first-generation American from Venezuela.
“We grew up in Miami and have been around so much of that Latin influence that it makes sense to tap into it,” Medici adds, who moved to Miami at five-years-old from Uruguay. “You say, ‘damn, this is who I am, and I want to incorporate it.’ All our music is just our experiences. Much Latin music is focused on dancing—whether slow or fast.” What started as a middle-school friendship grew into a slew of self-released EPs and albums, a fashion brand, and a labyrinthian live set that entrances the viewer as much as the listener with once-in-a-set music.
“I think the umbrella would be Latin club; we play reggaetón, but we also did cumbia, dembow, baliefunk and influenced by dubstep, garage, techno, tribal house—a lot of it comes down to the percussion,” says Medici.
Just one example of the eldritch hybrid is “Culo Rebajado” off INVT’ recent Zona Percusiva EP; a brutal dembow-like percussion pang the speakers. There are nimble womps and bubbly noise–an homage to dubstep, but it all comes second to the beat. “We all have different styles in this community, but the one thing that ties us all together is the percussive tracks,” says Perez. “We can go back-to-back with anyone [in this article] because we’re all friends and know we share this one intention of making percussive music.” The duo is set to go back-to-back in London with Skream next month.
Photo: Coffintexts (by Yana Gueorguieva)
León mentioned he notices sonic differences between those who grew up in America, and those who grew up in Latin and South America. When the two perspectives merge, as is the case with Bitter Babe, it becomes a short circuit of industrial sounds and hypnotic rhythms. The Bogotá-born DJ/producer lives in Miami and earned a repetition for speedy electronica, which expanded past the East Coast as she debuted at Coachella this year.
“At this point—everything mixes; every sound exists,” says Bitter Babe (AKA Laura Solarte). “You just have to name it and push for it, and people will acknowledge it pretty fast. I don’t think it needs to be pre-approved by anyone. I think deep reggaetón is more symbolic right now, but I like the name because it can mean many things and hints of where the sound goes.”
As a DJ, she scales through smoldering anthems chopped and diced with UK hip-hop, grime, and reggaetón amalgamations. “You’re not sure if you’re being booked for the music and not because you’re a woman,” says Solarte. “But I spoke to the person who booked for Coachella and told me he did the research and actually liked my music. The night I played was more reggaetón and hip-hop; in a way, it was perfect.”
“SMS_229_305,” a collaborative track between Solarte and León prefaces her latest EP, Delirio, off Club Romántico. At times trance-like synths are charging up, cutting through magnetic steel drums; a combination few could imagine, let alone have the wherewithal to play out. “Deep can mean so many things, but when you link it to reggaetón, it makes something specific. The fun to it is exploring and connecting and seeing how it works. The generation changed, and the crowd wants different things,” she says.
“I think it was inevitable that my sound as a producer would feed off these influences. I find percussive soundscapes with clever, repetitive vocals that bite very pleasing,” writes Miami-raised, Peruvian queer DJ Coffintexts” (AKA Alexandra Muggli). Muggli chisels deep reggaeton’s fogy elements with a scabrous warehouse sound padded between breezy synths and adrenaline-filled hip shaking. She often uses silence and utopian-sounding ambient as a coup de grace to the listener before pushing the chaotic rhythm back to warp speed. “I’ve lived most of my life between Miami and Lima, Peru. Both places are very vivid and multicultural, so I was introduced to a lot of music growing up. I think this blend is developing due to the increased ease of access in developing countries. The internet has facilitated the cross-pollination of sounds from previously remote locations. It is very heartwarming to see music transcend cultures.”
None of these artists are pigeonholed to deep reggaetón’s ridged criterion; nor do they reject Westerners’ incorporating certain elements. But the cultural cross-pollination that Muggli alluded to is the cornerstone to the sound’s future. So, if you are still unsure if the sound exists while lost in the club, just find the beat.
Grant Albert is a freelance music journalist living in Miami. Find him on Twitter.