Issue 3/2005 - Net section

Lost & Found (IX)

Brazil experienced its own small-scale post-punk boom in the 1980s, documented on current re-releases

Christian Höller

Post-punk that never ends? Post-punk at the other end of the world! That at least seems to be the answer the re-release strategists in the music business have come up with. Although the retro and pastiche boom is now getting a little old, one side effect has been to arouse interest in global music styles, especially during the years 1978-84. While the archives of western, i.e. British and US groups of this period have been thoroughly plundered, there is still the possibility of searching for parallel scenarios in other countries or continents. After all, even the most Euro- or US-centric music connoisseurs no longer assume that the »long rush of endless surprise and inexhaustible creativity,« as Simon Reynolds characterized the years in question,1 only raged in the heart of the West.

So why not look to São Paulo (and also take a quick survey of the other Brazilian cities)? According to the essay that comes enclosed with the compilation »The Sexual Life of the Savages«2, released on the Soul Jazz re-issue label, there was quite a productive scene here in the early 1980s—productive in terms of acting out and reformulating the saddest life prospects into fluent, forward-driving musical idioms. »Hell has 1000 entries« is the way one of the period’s most innovative groups put it, Akira S e as Garotas Que Erraram. The fact that their small Depro-Funk hit »Sobre as Pernas« features »Can« bassist Holger Czukay and evokes echoes of Joy Division and A Certain Ratio does not detract from their local aspirations—to set things in motion here and now, in this intolerable place. More strongly than their western »models,« the pieces collected in »The Sexual Life« manifest the peculiar constellation of circumstances that characterized Brazil in the last years of the dictatorship: a slowly setting-in economic tristesse, exploding cities, an outmoded popular culture, identity problems, and the first stirrings of do-it-yourself businesses, which were not averse even to the anthropophagous ideas of the tropicalists 15 years before. Signs of this constellation echo in musical gems like »Samba de Morro« by a group called Chance, in which Samba rhythms join forces with dark synthesizer patches and trance-like vocals to create a first-class apocalyptic mood.

Musically, it was above all the jagged, dry guitar rhythms (today often referred to as »angular«), the depro melodies carried by a dominant bass, and minimalist overall production values that marked pieces like »Mediocridade Afinal« by Smack, a kind of Brazilian post-punk supergroup. More even than the »Sexual Life« sampler, whose sharp edges are frayed by the inclusion of funk rock pieces, the »Não Wave«3 compilation documents the dawn of the new »bass, bass and more bass« movement. Drawing on the overview of the scene released in 1985, »Não São Paulo«, soundtracks from a post-dictatorial, post-industrial mode of life are made accessible here that deserve pride of place in any international »Death Disco« sampler: the abrasive, bass-crazy Ska produced by IRA!, for example (»La Fora Pode Ate Morrer«), or the sinister industrial funk of AKT (»Prince No Deserto Vermelho«), a kind of women’s all-star band made up of members recruited from the other groups. Former underground protagonists, such as the unpronounceable Vzyadoq Moe or the, even more cynically named, Voluntários de Pátria, ennoble the »Não Wave« performance spectacle, which reached its high point in the years 1985 to 1987.

One group that is still active, or rather active again, today is As Mercenárias, represented on both samplers and honored by Soul Jazz with its own retrospective of the years 1982-88.4 These female »mercenaries«—a blatant allusion to the military regime—occupied in São Paulo the same feminist post-punk segment that previously, or in other places, had produced groups such as Kleenex/Liliput, The Slits or Au Pairs. Taking traditionally male domains and lifting them clear off their hinges with weighty bass grooves, angular guitar licks and metrically minimal drums, and doing it in compact, two-minute pieces—that was the Mercenárias’ mission. Not only do titles like »Me Perco«, »Imagem« or »Ação na Cidade« evidence a tireless drive to shock like there’s no tomorrow and maybe never had been; the Mercenárias sound is also pervaded by a timeless paranoia feeling—sensing enemies and panic everywhere—which at times, probably unavoidable at this speed, relies a little too much on itself.

In the face of so many post-punk epigones, the question of whether the constellation of the early 1980s can simply be reconstructed today, let alone repeated, becomes a rhetorical one. We take the sound and gladly push the context aside. Exploring the historical background of scenes like the one in São Paulo, however, brings to light the specific mix of interests out of which musical booms like that of the post-punk years can arise—particularly because such scenes have always evaded the territorial centers.


Translated by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida


1 Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up And Start Again. Post-Punk 1978-1984. London 2005, p. 517 (cf. the review in the »Lektüre« section of this issue).
2 Soul Jazz 2005;
3 Man Recordings 2005;
4 »O Começo Do Fin Do Mundo« (The Beginning of the End of the World), Soul Jazz, 2005.