A few hours before the beginning of Sónar São Paulo, the Brazilian branch of Sónar, we spoke with Dago and Chico Dub - both involved with this first edition of the festival and agents on the local electronic scene - to find out more about the current relationship between Brazil and cutting-edge dance music.
Mixing your poisons always gives you more of a hangover. But it is also enriching and, at times, inevitable. Choosing between vodka, hip hop, whisky, precursors of krautrock, rum, ambient, Jägermaister, soul, beer, progressive instrumental rock, caipirinha and carioca funk isn’t easy in Brazil. And even less so in São Paulo. And even less so at Sónar, which kicks off its carioca festival this Friday with a radically ambitious, eclectic selection. Here you find yourself required, at least musically, to get drunk on a roster that features worldwide giants like Kraftwerk, Mogwai, James Blake and Four Tet alongside the strongest artists from the national scene (stars like Emicida and Criolo) and up-and-coming artists from all over, even from Spain (like Za!). All of it is blended together in a mixture of vanguards and colours that is going to leave São Paulo, a city that had really been spoiling for a festival like this, with a major hangover.
Few people have seen that need so clearly - called for it more intensely - than Dago, a DJ present on the roster for Sónar São Paulo and also at the mother festival in Barcelona this coming June. For the last three years he has also been the producer and owner of Neu Club, where every Friday he shakes up the night for the people of São Paulo with what he calls “batidões globais”. An empire of enormous buildings, home to 11 million inhabitants, São Paulo today is a metropolis with one of the strongest cultural energies in the world. Much of this strength, as Dago tells us, lies underground:
“ I would say that São Paulo is a city with many scenes, and many of them are connected to each other in some way. I feel the city to be more alive than ever, but I think that the best things are hidden, in isolated actions. In spite of there being many clubs, I feel a contradiction: I hear similar things everywhere, but I also see things that impress me musically every day.”
Maybe the ambitious Sónar festival will act as a meeting point and showcase for all of those hidden talents, although the hidden underground culture is still one of São Paulo’s main attractions today. A member of the festival’s artistic team in the city, Chico Dub, highlights “the very interesting exchange” implied by Spanish artists such as Za! and John Talabot visiting São Paulo and, at the same time, Brazilians like Psilosamples, Ricardo Donoso and Dago himself going to Barcelona. He concludes:
“ São Paulo is without a doubt the most cosmopolitan capital of Latin America and the country’s musical Mecca. There has been a big increase in the number of electronic music producers in the city and country in recent years, whether for the dance floor or experimental. And that is fantastic for consolidating the scene”.
"In the fusion of music with traditional roots and electronic music, one must inevitably speak of carioca funk and technobrega, according to Dago 'the real Brazilian electronic music'"
The sound of the Brazilian vanguard is both national and international at the same time. “It’s odd when you listen to Brazilian musicians of the most different genres, they always have a national seal that they share”, says Ricard Robles, director and founder of Sónar. In Brazil, they confirm his theory:
“ Whether they like it or not, Brazilians have an inevitable informal musical training from when they are young. They are always going to hear music in the street, in bars, batucar with friends, sing popular songs or samba. However distant your music might be from this “Brazilian-ness”, it’s very hard to entirely get away from it.”
In their day tropicalism and bossa nova were vanguard movements that didn’t break radically with the roots of Brazilian music - but rather incorporated it into their discourse - today the same feel can be found, even in sessions of dubstep:
“ In the beginning, the Brazilian electronic scene was too worried about having an international sound. Today, fortunately, this is changing and it is embracing more tropical elements. Psilosamples, who will be in SP and Barcelona, incorporates elements of rural, folkloric music from inland Brazil into the Warp school.”
In the fusion of music with traditional roots and electronic music, one must inevitably speak of carioca funk and technobrega, according to Dago “the real Brazilian electronic music”. Equivalent to the pounding and commercial sound of the cheapest rave scene -especially the second, as carioca funk is a sort of mixture between electro and samba - these genres are always present in Dago’s sessions, despite the “enormous prejudice of the Brazilian middle class”, says Chico. The funk incorporates a tribal danceable rhythm (those Brazilian behinds moving in unbelievable ways) over frenetic raps, and it forms a part of the idiosyncratic nature of the favelas in Rio, where it was born. Drug trafficking, which tends to control everything that happens on these dance floors, also plays a central role (along with sex) in the majority of the lyrics. Technobrega, on the other hand, eliminates the acoustic instruments of brega (folk music from north-eastern Brazil) and replaces them with synthesizers, while maintaining the same vocal melody.
All of this, to a greater or lesser extent, can be felt in the local quality on the stages of Sónar São Paulo. And something of this aroma will certainly remain in June in Barcelona. El Guincho and Extraperlo, friends of Dago’s, have already planned good places to take him to eat. “I’m dying to see the city’s beauty, cultural life, and parties”, he says, having never been there before. But for now, he is revving up the engines for the Brazilian festival with his global mix.