Produced in collaboration with RhythmTravels.com
At a regular Saturday night in club Far West, Dallas Texas, once the ultimate example of a 3ball stronghold, very little is left that will remind of the cultural explosion that took place just a few years ago. Cowboys in skinny jeans and tartan shirts long were there long before the genre, just as the traditional North-Mexican nightlife custom of walk-dancing around the large hall in big circles. But gone are the extravagant pointy-boots, with their electric lights and shiny glitter prints. The timeless charm of traditional Mexican Norteño and banda music almost makes 3ball seem like nothing more than a historical curiosity. But the transformative role the genre has played in the development of the new generation Latin Music has left its traces for the future to come.
3ball was my first love of global bass genres. Back home after travelling in Mexico in the summer of 2011, I was hungry as usual after holidays to explore what music people over there are into. It was right at the moment when the pointy-boots hype was blowing up in the hipster-media. Vice was about to release its monumental documentary, and even a Dutch television show touched upon it. I was hooked from the very first moment I heard the fresh sound, which was electronic, Latin and urban-flavoured at the same time but very different from anything I ever heard before, like reggaeton, baile funk or bubbling. I spent days listening to DJ Carlos’ Bull City mixtapes, and as I got excited to spread this stuff to the Netherlands, I suddenly found myself surrounded by the vibrant international scene known as global bass. The rest is history.
3ball is almost a decade old now since its inception in the late-00s. Ten years seem like an eternity in times of cyberspace, where kingdoms can rise and fall as a matter of months. The story of 3ball is therefore not merely a story of one music genre. It is one of the best examples that shows how the internet has changed music and youth culture forever.
Back in 2010, a blogger nostalgically described how he witnessed the last days of record shopping right in front of his eyes. Mexico City’s labyrinthine, unregulated market of Tepito, was one of the last places to find the pirated CD’s for local consumption, which had been dominating the streets all over Latin America just a few years earlier. Among the CD’s he could find there however, were the first records of a new genre called ‘ritmo tribal’.
Tribal, often written as 3ball to avoid confusion in English, actually does derive its name from ‘tribal house’. If anyone can be credited with the ‘invention’ of the genre, it is Ricardo Reyna, one of Mexico’s most accredited house DJ’s, who was into tribal house and became inspired by the indigenous folkloric dances that can be seen all over Mexico City to create tribal house with a distinctly Mexican identity, as a response to the ever growing presence of western music genres. Mexico is one of the Latin American countries where the indigenous cultural heritage is most strongly engrained in the country’s national pride. And Mexico youth are, much more than in other Latin American countries, aware of their situation of being at the same time very close to and most clearly screwed over by the United States. Nothing would be better suitable to express a Mexican identity for 21st century teens than electronic beats that resonate the unique near-triplet patterns of the folkloric dances they’ve grown up with.
An indigenous folkloric dance performance in Ecatepec, Morelos, Mexico
Ricardo Reyna’s ‘Danza Azteca’, one of the first ‘3ball’ tracks ever produced
Mexico City and beyond
Reyna’s experiment was a success and his creation quickly moved away from tribal house into a full blown new genre. This new genre used to be a purely Mexico City thing in the beginning, barely heard of outside the city. The early 3ball was trippy and repetitive but also diverse, using varied percussion and samples, some folkloric, others more related to daily life. In this very local underground scene leaders like DJ Mouse created tracks that would become the genre’s first classics and would steer the sound into a more standard formula.
One of the oldest 3ball-tracks that can still be found on the web, apart from Ricardo Reyna
DJ Mouse’s ‘La Musica Tribal’, one of early hits that forms the basis of standard 3ball
Out of this early sound also emerged the first subgenres: tribal prehispanico, tribal guarachero, and tribal costeño. Tribal prehispanico has stayed most faithful to the oldskool, keeping the almost purely percussive vibe of the Aztec dances, enhanced by the folkloric samples such as flutes. Tribal guarachero introduced harder percussion, conga’s, shakers and cowbells from cumbia and lo-fi synth melodies. Tribal costeño fused the characteristic uptempo ‘contracted afterbeat’-rhythm, which came to define the genre, with the folklore of the Pacific south coast, resulting in pop-friendly sound, driven by accordion chords and catchy melodies. Notably, all three the styles removed the kick on the main beat, marking a definitive break with the Western music tradition.
Prehispanico remained the local sound of Mexico City while the hyper-energetic guarachero became booming in the North and the warm-blooded costeño in the South.
Energetic 3ball guarachero from Monterrey’s 3ball star DJ Otto
Catchy tribal costeño by DJ Tetris
3ball’s Moment of Fame
3ball blew up in the Northern Mexican states and started to create an entirely new subculture, fusing with the North-Mexican ranch culture, which spread to the Mexican youth communities in US cities like Dallas and Houston, where this subculture grew even more massive. At the same time, the international media started to jump on it, not just global bass blogs but mainstream media such as MTVIggy, TheFader, DummyMag and The Guardian. The influential Mexican music pioneer Toy Selectah’s dream with 3ball MTY was to transform 3ball into the defining sound of next-generation Latin music. Under his auspices, 3ball MTY lifted the sound out of the underground into the world of pop, creating songs that can be performed live. Their single Inténtalo, featuring the notorious pointy boots to the max, presented 3ball to the world, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Latin Song chart, leading the hit charts of Mexico and many other Latin American countries.
Inténtalo started a chain of enthusiasm for 3ball. 3ball MTY performed at the Mad Decent block party and in Europe and worked together not only with Mexican pop artists but also with the reggaetoneros J King y Maximan. Non-Mexican global bass producers like Munchi now fully embraced the sound and started to produce it themselves. And what few people know is that even South American countries artists pioneered with local, Andean flavoured 3ball music.
Urban-flavoured 3ball from Dallas, featuring rapper Juan Johnson
3ball MTY – Inténtalo, the defining track of the genre for mainstream audiences
3ball MTY at the Mad Decent block party
Munchi’s 3ball remix of Skrillex’ Scary Monsters
Andean 3ball from Ecuador
3ball from the Dutch tropical producer Café de Calaveras
After the Hype
3ball was internationally hailed as ‘Aztec rave from the future’, the ultimate sound to welcome the mythical aliens at the 2012 apocalypse. But interest in the sound faded almost as soon as the popular fear for the Mayan Calendar. Collaborations with the big Latin pop stars like Pitbull, which everyone probably expected, did never come. And global bass as a whole faded out of view in the shadow of trap, twerk, bigroom and deephouse. So what did happen instead?
First of all, the scene in Dallas and Houston quickly collapsed under its own weight. A who had been in Dallas around 2012 DJ told me that there were near-identical 3ball parties in almost every club, which drove Mexican youths away from it, returning towards mellow Latin hiphop, Norteño music and edited cumbias. Most of what remained of the subgenres of tribal prehispanico, guarachero and tribal costeño stagnated into repeating exactly the same sound.
But, as I wrote a year ago, the genre reinvented itself, now free from expectations to become the next big thing. EDM, especially and urban-latin-pop, the sound of most popular late-reggaeton, have been major inspirations for Mexican youths who kept making 3ball. In Oaxaca, DJ Giovanni Rios created a hybrid, EDM-flavoured sound of 3ball and brostep, dubbed tribal evolution. In Dallas, the influential DJ Tamalero kept pushing his unique 140 BPM style with hard synths. In Apodaca, the innovative duo Los Innsurgentes started pioneering with avant-garde underground flavoured 3ball-bass. And dedicated producers such as Clap Freckles and Alfonso Luna kept making forward looking tribal prehispanico.
DJ Tamalero’s harder & faster ‘tribal 140’ style
Super fresh forward-looking tribal prehispanico from Alfonso Luna
The most recent, and very promising innovation is the fusion with the dreamy, hi-fi futuristic synths of future beats, pioneerd by 3ball MTY’s Erick Rincon with the NAAFI signed avant-garde producer Siete Catorce as well as by the Canadian global bass allrounder Antae.
Examples of ‘future tribal’
Beyond Mexican Identity?
If anything, I expect the future of 3ball to be safe in the hands of the Mexican avant-garde platform NAAFI, one of my all-time favourite labels, who recently compiled an extensive anthology of the genre and its sub-flavours. The label is the one of the most important incubators of innovation in music and culture, not just for Mexico and the Latin world, but for the entire world.
NAAFI is post-global bass, post-future-beats, post-EDM and post-urban. Post anything we have known so far.
NAAFI is both internet-avant-garde and semi-mainstream at the same time.
NAAFI is where global youth culture leaves behind the rigid fixation on exclusive cultural identities as well as the vicious circle of global bass’ often inevitable colonial stereotypes and cultural appropriation.
NAAFI is respectful, ritual deconstruction and rising from the ashes. Mexican identity beyond Mexican identity. Cinco de Mayo beyond Cinco de Mayo.
NAAFI is, in short, nothing less than the future culture itself, and I’m somehow convinced that 3ball will be part of it.