Freestyle Explosion concert shows durability of Latin genre
Hard-core fans of the late-’80s electro-pop strain known as Latin freestyle are likely to spend Friday evening at the Gibson Amphitheatre, where several of the micro-genre’s biggest names — Stevie B, Lisa Lisa, Exposé and Debbie Deb, among others — will perform as part of Hot 92.3’s annual Freestyle Explosion concert.
As their inclusion in a radio-station-sponsored revue suggests, these acts have long since passed their chart-topping days; like Hot 92.3’s Summer Soul Jam (which goes down Saturday at the Greek Theatre), Freestyle Explosion offers its participants something resembling safety in numbers.
Yet despite Latin freestyle’s dwindling commercial presence, echoes of the form can currently be heard in the music of such Hot 100 habitués as Dev and Far East Movement: It’s there in the way Dev delivers her chanted vocals with friendly detachment in “Getaway” and “In the Dark,” and in the ping-ponging synths and lightly propulsive beats of “Like a G6,” Far East Movement’s massive 2010 smash.
You can hear Latin freestyle reverberating too with edgier indie types like Grimes, whose recent “Visions” album layers smeared art-pop textures over tinny late-’80s drums seemingly rescued from some out-of-print Cover Girls 12-inch. Brooklyn’s Lemonade makes similar use of that percussion sound in “Softkiss,” the beautiful closer of its excellent new album, “Diver.”
Why the revival? Part of it can be attributed to the increasingly insatiable nostalgia that Simon Reynolds describes in his 2011 book, “Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past.” But the resurgence of these featherweight sounds feels more specifically like a response to the bludgeoning Eurohouse groove that’s colonized the American Top 40 in recent years. A kinder, gentler version of four-on-the-floor, Latin freestyle refreshes on contact now. Don’t be surprised if you see young folks taking notes at the Gibson.
-- Mikael Wood
Photo: Debbie Deb performs at the Free Style Explosion at American Airlines Arena on Oct. 21, 2006 in Miami. Credit: Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images