A new empress of the nightclub has arrived.
A generation of incipient stars are sidestepping big label attempts to commodify the worldwide Latin takeover. Take Sandungueo, also known as Perreo, a ceremonial style of dance synonymous with reggaeton, adopted en masse by fans even beyond the Spanish-speaking world. MJ Nebreda, a singer, DJ and producer based in Miami, is much more than a proponent of Perreo, but a scholar honouring its roots.
“There’s a big difference with what Perreo means depending where you are,” MJ explains. “Perreo in Miami is different from in Perreo in Spain, but it comes from Puerto Rico and draws inspiration from artists like Plan B, DJ Nelson and Jowell y Randy. It’s one of my biggest passions as a DJ and where I do most of my research.”
With a background in A&R, MJ developed an acuity as a tastemaker within the Latin urbano and pop worlds, but her own latent ability as a producer bubbled to the surface during the pandemic. “I was working in the background of the music business for 4 years but once I started producing during quarantine I simply couldn’t stop. I was singing on top of the tracks from the start and I guess somewhere in that process, I realised I was making songs that I needed the world to hear,” she shares.
MJ soaked up her influences moving between Latin America, London and her current base in the US, and the impact of those scenes and subcultures is an implicit marker of her creative DNA. “I let my music explain that part of my story but being multicultural is of course a part of my identity. I was an 11-year-old dancing to reggaeton songs in a Minteca and also a 15-year-old obsessed with Frank Ocean, Grimes, and Odd Future in London. Both parts heavily influence how I approach any song that I create,” MJ continues.
Still, a sense of being tethered to one place has brought with it a sense of ownership and belonging. The place she calls home is Miami; its embrace of cross-cultural experiments in dance enriching her fluid process as a budding beatmaker: “I’ve always loved Miami because it’s the first city I lived in that makes me feel like I’m from here. Miami is the city I chose to be my home. The scene is so inspiring. I’ve had the chance to work with club scene artists like Coffintexts, Bitter Babe and Danny Daze. Look out for my track ‘Arquitecto’ in the Homecore! Miami All-Stars EP with all your faves coming out in December!”
MJ’s ‘Sin Pensar’ EP, released earlier this year, is a patchwork creation of buoyant 90s house tropes and dembow dirges – a soft precursor to the darker, hybrid feel of her new collaborative EP, ‘Amor En Los Tiempos Ds Odio’. The latter was created with Nick Leòn, affiliated with innovative Mexico City imprint and talent incubator NAAFI. Together they shift between honouring and destabilising the essence of raptor house, which came to prominence in the 00s as not just a genre but a municipal lifestyle born in the capital city of Venezuela. There are of course core conventions to adhere to. “To me, it’s about the fast-paced drums, vibrant synths and dance melodies,” MJ explains. “There is a heavy cultural meaning behind it and I think we have to keep pushing it out so that more people support the growth of the genre and continue to elevate its pioneers.”
‘Amor En Los Tiempos Ds Odio’ (‘Love In The Times Of Hate’) takes cues from pioneers DJ Baba & DJ Yirvin, merging reggaeton, Dutch house and melodic rap; an acerbic expression of youth culture blurring socioeconomic lines from deep within the barrios, to the metropolitan elite in the Caracas. MJ is the bridge between past and future on tracks like ‘Bubalú’, where rapture is found in one’s own self-styled dominion; on ‘Frida Kahlo’, MJ matches the hyperactive pace of the drums with clipped phrasing, purring at her paramour with an unrehearsed coolness.
With ‘Rottweiler’ the inspiration is grounded by interiority, it’s springy merengue-inspired soundscape a base for familial healing. “I wrote this after my grandmother died,” MJ says. “It’s about waking up every day and fighting against your insecurities and anxieties. My family in Peru are very emotional, being with them during that tough time inspired me to finish the song and make it an ode to them.”
As her credentials as a DJ and producer crystallise, expect MJ Nebreda to continue exploring the club continuum with universal messaging as the new year beckons: “I have some amazing collaborations with artists that I admire coming in 2023. These new tracks are there to make people feel important, they’re grounded in happiness and a carefree attitude: it’s about giving them the license to not give a fuck about what other people think!”
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Photo Credit: Gabriel Duque