Words by: Andy Beta
In dance music, small and localized scenes rarely stay intact for long. The favela sound of funk carioca, once picked up by Diplo, spread well beyond Rio; moombahton quickly left DC and grew into a worldwide sound; and after decades underground, Chicago footwork became a global force. That Lisbon’s Príncipe label has nurtured the vibrant and febrile batida scene rising from the city’s African immigrant community for over seven years while keeping its rhythmic sensibilities intact—and undiluted—is remarkable. Providing a nexus where African rhythms like kuduro, batida, kizomba, funaná, and tarraxinha can intermingle with house and techno, they’ve made plenty of fans: Thom Yorke has repped for DJ Nigga Fox, labels like Warp and Lit City Trax have put out batida records, and last year Nídia produced the frenetic “IDK About You” for Fever Ray’s Plunge. This sound remains as wildly innovative and compelling as it was at the start, with the label’s roster having been allowed to mature and evolve without any pressure from the outside world. That isolation can be a double-edged sword: The music’s spikiness can seem baffling to outsiders and casual listeners. But Paz & Amor, the label’s 23rd release, might be one of the best gateways it has opened yet for newcomers to explore this peculiar Afro-European sound.
Of Cape Verdean descent, DJ Lilocox has been affiliated with the Príncipe imprint since 2013, both as part of the Piquenos DJs Do Guetto collective and the duo Casa Da Mãe Produções, but Paz & Amor marks his first proper solo release. The five-track EP presents the most formidable iteration of batida to date; it’s a release that retains all the show-stopping muscle and grace of DJ Nigga Fox’s Crânio from a few months ago with a streamlined approach that might be more readily embraced in house, bass, and techno circles. In just a handful of tracks, Lilocox shows off a wide array of styles, revealing how thrilling batida can be when melded to modern dancefloor sensibilities, without losing one iota of its livewire energy.
“Vozes Ricas” puts Lilocox’s rollercoaster polyrhythms front and center, a tumble of shakers, rattles, claves, and barrel-sized toms topped by pressure-ratcheting tympanum rolls. Lurking behind all these thundering beats are the title’s “rich voices,” a dark and tumultuous choir that Lilocox slides and stretches around an array of shifting rhythmic patterns.
That push and pull—between tension, drama, heightened emotion, and rhythmic release—is dance music’s métier, but batida’s dizzying beats can sometimes obscure that sense of play. It takes the steeliest of DJs to slip the music of Nigga Fox or DJ Firmeza into a set, as most of their productions move as predictably as spilled BBs on a dancefloor. Lilocox is well versed in tricky styles like funaná and tarraxinha, but Paz showcases his ability to pull also from tribal house, South African gqom, even Brazilian samba, and make them all cohere. The tough and skeletal “Ritmos e Melodias” has the fidgety buzz of gqom and the slipperiness of UK funky, but Lilocox makes it yield to his syncopated thwacks. “Fronteiras”—with its glowing synth chords, flecks of piano, and crackling percussion—rides a house groove that brings to mind Ron Trent’s classic Prescription sides: sensuous, contented, and deep.
“Samba,” per its title, builds itself up from a nimble samba pattern. But soon Lilocox fusses with it, detonating dubby drums and claps alongside a nervy bit of acoustic guitar; for the first half, he entirely forgoes the kick and the bassline. And while almost all artists on Príncipe watermark their music in some manner, branding the beat with their names in a fashion akin to DJ Mustard or DJ Khaled, Lilocox doesn’t shout out his own name until two-thirds of the way through the EP, punctuating the track before letting all the fidgeting drums take over. It’s as if to suggest that Lilocox’s batida is so distinct, so wholly his own beat, that it’s impossible to mistake him for anyone else.