DJ Nervoso is a pivotal figure in the Lisbon scene. His DJ sets in the early 2000s were frenetic affairs, hungrily incorporating new sounds, rhythms, and genres, fostering a generation of producers with eyes trained on the dance-floor and ears attuned to outré sonics. His first release on Príncipe resembles the patient zero of the kuduro/batida/Lisbon sound: its nervous, hybrid beats are living fossils, its gangly syncopations woven into Lisbon’s dance music history, its fusing of divergent elements the raw materials that birthed Príncipe’s discography. It’s an archaeological product as much as a musical one, providing the album with a pleasing historical circularity — the master returning triumphantly to observe what his students have wrought.
A siren heralds the coming of first track, “Vuto,” which sashays forward with shuffling drums, guttural yelps, and a thick bass line. A shaker provides texture, the track pogoing gleefully, new rhythms appearing and dissolving. Much of the album operates in this modular style of propulsive, lucid minimalism. Nervoso generates drama by varnishing and stripping layers of syncopation and texture from his tracks, revealing works that have been sheared to the bone, sinew and rhythm replacing melody and flesh.
Second track “ah ah” best exemplifies Nervoso’s abraded approach to songwriting. It consists almost entirely of a spine-straightening snare crack, a loping kick, and Nervoso’s vocals. Audacious in its simplicity, it brims with ebullience, its dembow-like sway conveying a levity reserved for the hands of a master. The album’s other tracks hew more closely to recognizable kuduro structures, their skeletal forms morphing into kinked, juddering drum tracks (“djj”) and hypnotic, subterranean excursions (“27aca”). The drums on the latter are particularly mobile, flowing across it like the hands of a masseur, kneading and twisting around the beat, travelling alongside it for a measure before surging off into the distance.
The whole album is suffused with this nomadic, kinetic energy, the sense that, at any second, a track could veer off course, picking up momentum as it launches itself into the ether. One imagines DJ Nervoso tinkering away at his computer, carefully crafting his sonic automata, installing gears and levers, drums and claps, before filling them with current and watching as they duck and weave, jab and feint. Swaying from side to side, these quasi-humanoid tracks — all torso and limb — topple over and right themselves in ever quickening loops, their faces distorted by Nervoso’s pulsing, giddy momentum.
These are virulent, mutant dance tracks, and Nervoso their Dr. Frankenstein. When I saw him go back-to-back with DJ Marfox at Unsound, the sense of joy in the room was palpable; the two producers gleefully looking over each other’s shoulder as they selected the next rhythmic assemblage to unload on the febrile crowd. In a sense, they were staging Nervoso’s original intervention, transmitting kuduro across the generations to kids hungry for something to dance to. There’s pleasure to be found in the contamination.