Meet Your Moombahtonistas #9 – Smutlee
This Special Edition of Meet Your Moombahtonistas combines some of my favorite things from across the pond: Smutlee, Neil Queen-Jones, and moombahton. Smutlee produced one of my first and all-time favorite moombahton tracks – an edit of Mescal Kid & Ms Kid’s “Majik”. This carnival-esque jam led me on the craziest Internet goose chase for it’s download but I finally found it, along with a connection to the man himself via Neil Queen-Jones. Neil has written for his own blog, Pop Culture Care Package, but has since moved on to bigger and better things, like writing consistently based articles for Mixmag, joining me at Moombahton.com, and constructing devious plans for moombahton’s world takeover. All that being said, it was only right that I gave him the very first guest post on Cool Breezy. – -Casey
God help the person who has to write the story of moombahton. It’s a sprawling, viral bastard, one that has zero regard for potential journo man hours. Even trickier to write will be the chapter on the UK. Nobody can fuck with our contribution to dance music history – if we’re not giving birth to genres like grime, we’re making them happen, as we did with house, or finding a way to put our own stamp on it, as we did with hip hop. We feel that we have our own special cosign tucked away in our back pockets, that genres aren’t complete unless the UK is involved. Even moombahdon Dave Nada admitted this: “I’m beyond excited about the UK response, that’s the biggest compliment. You’ve got cats like Toddla and Smutlee on it – and I can’t wait to hear new stuff from other UK producers. I think my brain just melted!” See? So the fact that moombahton is doing perfectly fine without us is pretty fucking galling. I blame the island mentality – it’s the geographic equivalent of only-child syndrome, the isolation makes us here in the UK a bit chippy. It’s not like we haven’t played a part; Toddla T, Sinden, Annie Mac, Zane Lowe, Mixmag, The Guardian, Mistajam and Kayper have all given it a huge push, it’s just that any kind of scene has struggled to take shape, and no discerning sound has shown its buds. Yet.
That’s not quite the whole story, though. One man has been a virtual cottage industry within the genre: Smutlee. Emerging from a background of bashment, UK funky and tropical, The London DJ may not have been the first person in the country to pick up on the sound – DJs like Martelo and Sinden clocked it early doors, while journalist Joe Muggs wrote an outstanding intro piece that helped win over Smutters (and myself into the bargain), but Smutlee did make the biggest moves to boost the profile in this tiny island of ours. All it took was one tune: his edit of Mescal Kid & Ms Thing’s “Majic”. Knowing Smutlee as I do, it’s hard to not see how the man and the track are inextricably linked: he’s perpetually happy, positive and buoyant – everything you could say about “Majic”, a ready-made anthem converted to a compact 108bpm bundle of elation. It also hit a sweet spot in terms of the UK’s involvement in moombahton: though a highly multicultural land, the influence of latin culture is marginal – far greater is the Caribbean vibe, so Smutlee’s Majic edit customised moombahton’s DNA, reducing the latin, pumping up the Dembow connection by giving it a dancehall collagen shot. With Dave Nada offering full support and DJ Melo reaching out to include the track on his Winter Of Moombahton comp, alongside fellow Brits Jimi Needles and Jera , Smutlee’s spot had been secured, and moombahton finally had a foothold in the UK – and his bashment vibe set a template for a nation; check out Jake Twell & Jamrock’s Elephant Man-led Neck Tie on Pickster’s Rise Of Moombahton comp and the presence of Feral, nee MC Kinky, the glorious potty-mouthed toasty ragga factory that she is.
And so it continued, with drops like his blend of Booka Shade’s Body Language and Natalie Storm’s Look Pon Me, the fella confirmed a distinct flair for highly melodic and resonant tracks, a trait that also runs through his DJ sets and mixtapes – always led by an ear for character and melody, full of expansive emotional drive. For me, his Mixpak mixtape remains one of the genre’s finest, followed closely by his one for Mixmag, which is a virtual Cliff’s Notes for newbies.
While he sits on a pile of astonishing but ungrabbable edits, many of them featured on his Mixpak set, another of his tracks, his official remix of Schlachtofbronx’s Chambacu (munch on that shit, Scrabble heads), proved that he neither follows anyone else’s sound, nor does he recycle his own. One part Dembow, one part cumbia, 2,000 parts airhorn, it sticks out in any set like a ginger albino at an Odd Future gig. Then there’s the Toddla T connection. Before T went
stateside to hang with Nada, Munchi and Dillon, Smutlee was on hand to keep the Sheffield DJ on his 108s, popping up on Toddla’s Radio 1 show. Not saying that Smutlee gets the assist for Toddla’s patronage of the scene, but I am in a roundabout way saying that he should get a knowing nod and a large glass of whatever he fancies for being there.
What remains so striking about Smutlee is that he observes a strict quality over quantity approach – he’s not one to flood SoundCloud, nor does he seem the go-to man for compilations, but this doesn’t seem to dampen the regard he’s held in. In the past few months he’s been more in demand than ever – with bookings at the bookends of the states, first at Que Bajo in New York, then more recently alongside Sabo at Vibrate in LA. Oh, and he’s just off for some dates in Australia as you read this (warning: this sentence elapses NOW), plus he’s actually prepping to release an EP, due on Greenmoney in the new year.
Before he disappeared Antipodes-wards to get stock up on wifebeater shirts and to step up his finishing-every-sentence-tonally-as-if-it’s-a-question game, I took the chance to speak to him on behalf of your girl Casey for Cool Breezy. Here’s what emerged from the part of his brain which selects words and constructs sentences…
Neil Queen-Jones: Hello, Mr Smutlee, you all comfy? Most of Cool Breezy’s esteemed readers will know who you are, but can you tell those who aren’t fully up to speed all about yourself?
Smutlee: I’m DJ Smutlee from London, nice to meet you. I’ve been djing for about 10 years. I guess my sound combines UK and Jamaican sounds, I’ve been playing predominantly Dancehall & UK Funky over the last 4 years. I’m not really a fan of that term ‘Tropical’ but I guess if was to be labeled it would be that – more of a carnival sound.
NQJ: How did you find out about moombahton? What was it that really appealed to you about it? Any opinion/take on Dave Nada and the scene over there?
S: I’d downloaded Dj Sabo’s edit of “Hey!” by Dennis Ferrer, cos I was looking for a new version of this to play as the original was getting a bit played out. At first I didn’t really get it, but liked the concept of it having a bit more of a dancehall sound. It wasn’t until I’d read an article by Joe Muggs that it all made sense. I guess the appeal for me is that it sits right in the middle of two styles that I usually play, house and dancehall, and works as a good transition between the two.
NQJ: As a producer, what do you think that you’ve brought to the scene? And what has the response did you get when you first got involved?
S: As far as what I can offer, I guess I bring the Dancehall feel to it. It’s been great, I did that first edit “Majic” just to try to understand it, sent it out to a couple of people and put it on SoundCloud, suddenly I had people hitting me up from all over the world to get hold of it. Gotta big up Dave Nada for that, he hyped it up on Twitter. Since then Toddla T’s been playing my edits on Radio 1, and had a lot of support from blogs such as Mixpak, Seen, and XLR8R.
NQJ: You’re now known for that dancehall influence – what did you see in moombahton that connected with that particular sound?
S: It seemed obvious to me, with the drums obviously from reggaeton, which derives from dancehall – so it just made complete sense to me.
NQJ: So you did the Schlacthofbronx mix. How did that come about? Were Mad Decent into your stuff?
S: I don’t know, I just woke up in the middle of the night to read an email from them I’d been sending Diplo stuff and he was liking it, possibly it came from there? I’d also just put out that mix on Mixpak….
NQJ: You’ve hit the states twice over the last few months, what struck you about the difference between UK and US clubbing?
S: The biggest difference was the crowd. We don’t really have the huge latin influence in London, which was clearly present in the states, and so the reggaeton/latin samples in tracks relate to the crowd a lot more, people recognise them much more. That’s why I make more dancehall edits, as it relates to the audiences i play to a lot more.
NQJ: First you played “Que Bajo”, how did your set go down? You’d mentioned there was a cultural difference in that there was more of a Latin element than you were used to.
S: Yeah was mad, everyone was dancing, and there was no attitude at all, just wicked vibes, and good people – and tequila!
NQJ: Then more recently you played with Sabo at Vibrate in LA. What was that like?
S: The hospitality was excellent, Sabo, Devro & Benzona kept the rum & cokes topped up all night. That was a wicked party too, I played it a bit harder than in NY, more of the synth-heavy stuff, but a lot more dancehall thrown in, too. I even had kids wanting autographs at the end, haha!
NQJ: You’ve been djing around the UK this year, notably at places like Yoyo. Are you noticing a change in the way people respond to moombahton?
S: Yeah, it’s slowly picking up, my sets are getting tighter, and I’ve found a good balance between, dancehall, moombahton and house.
NQJ: So you have an EP in the works. What can you tell us about that? Will you be looking to explore new sounds?
S: That will be out early next year, I hope, just finding time in my busy schedule to get fully involved. I have a remix for Isa GT coming soon. That’s like a 108bm bass-driven dancehall track. I think I’ll just keep along the dancehall/carnival vibe.
NQJ: What else do you have planned over the following months? Any big stuff we should look forward to?
S: I’m off to Australia at the end of the year, got a few parties in Melbourne, and sorting some stuff in Sydney, plus I’ve got some great bookings in the pipeline for next year. Oh, and djing at my mate’s wedding in Marbella!
**Photo by Lee Ticket**