Despite having lived in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro, for the last thirteen years, I will readily admit to not being the most assiduous follower of the Brazilian music scene. There is some stuff that I really like, a whole load of stuff that I steer well clear of and a gaping black hole in between. Basically, I use the excuse that I just don’t have the time, but the simple fact is that I mostly prefer English language music, which is a little short-sighted of me. However, as recent experience has highlighted how difficult the music industry has become for new bands in England nowadays, it got me wondering about the situation here, so I decided it was high time I found out what was going on. In fact, I didn’t have to look very far; between ex-students, good friends, friends and relatives of other students and a handful of acquaintances I suddenly had access to a whole host of local bands, perfect for comparing the grass roots scene here with what goes on back home.
Primarily, I wanted to know about the difficulties faced by upcoming bands in Rio de Janeiro and the unanimous response was that outside of the Lapa district in Rio, there is a distinct lack of venues with high quality sound and an appropriate infrastructure. Personally, I put this down to a lack of pub culture, no sweaty beer soaked backrooms or spit and sawdust venues here, but the complex legal system and, at times, lack of adherence to is also a factor. Throw in the fact that if you can actually find a place to play, getting paid for it is a mission in itself, because not only are gigs badly paid, it is also par for the course for venue owners/promoters to pay late – we are talking weeks or months – no musicians union backing here. Also, according to Alexandre Daumerie of the “On The Rock” project, “That’s when they don’t ask you to play for free, which many unknown bands will often do just to show their work and get the exposure”.
In fact, the basic consensus is that there is not much money to be made unless you are playing covers of popular music or are willing to sweat blood for your art, and even then you won’t get paid what you deserve and you’ll have the demands of promoters to contend with. One reputable promotor that I spoke to, Vitor Da Cunha Gomes of A Conspiração Produções e Eventos, who moonlights as the bassist in metal core group Ambstract, goes as far as to suggest that to get on a relatively interesting bill “you have to sell a pornographic number of tickets for the event promoter, and the bands that do so are not always top quality (cover bands etc), so the event ends up full of poor bands that bring down the level.” Vitor’s company goes against the flow by only inviting bands with their seal of approval, with good material and marketing, and that are supportive of the local scene.
The proliferation of covers acts and the willingness of bars to book them as an attraction, also means that even bands with a strong local following are battling for space in the market. João Paulo Barreira of Barcamundi goes a little further still, citing “a lack of incentives for independent culture on the part of public organs, as well as a certain disinterest of the majority of the public for original music or for that not endorsed by mass media.”
This lack of interest on the part of the public could be a reflection of the dynamic of the class system here. In England basically you have a working class spectrum, so any given venue can pull people in democratically, whereas here you have a working class chasm between the haves and have nots, which is reflected in the public frequenting certain venues. The paradox here is that the bands making alternative, indie or rock tend to be from middle class backgrounds but don’t have access to middle class venues. Ok, so I admit that this is something of a sweeping generalization, but the point is that the structure and tastes of society here is a far more complex issue than in the UK.
Eduardo Marcolino of progressive rockers Anxtrongoes deeper into the issue of apathy on the part of the public: “many people are satisfied with free online material and don’t bother going to shows. Besides, almost nobody pays for an album anymore, making recording even more costly as it doesn’t generate much return.” Sound familiar English bands?
As such, the influence of the internet is frighteningly similar the world over, with bands more often than not peaking at the thousand true fans level and living in the hope of going viral or getting picked up by the mass media. In the meantime it’s online marketing and social media to divulge the new material, show etc, and just like in the UK (and probably the rest of the world) Brazilian acts love the fact that they have control over how they appear to the world and how they communicate with their fans. However, João Paulo´s guitarist in Barcamundi, Leon, makes the pertinent observation that number of likes/followers can be a doubtful indicator and just because one band has 20k “fans”, while another has the faithful thousand, it doesn’t mean the first band is 20 times more popular than the other. João completes the idea by saying “It’s necessary to work, make contacts, rehearse and publicize your band in the real world, but with the help of the internet.”
Although the internet is seen by all concerned as a useful tool in terms of publicity, especially given Brazil’s highly digitalized society, being social media savvy is quite simply not enough. Why?
Globo is one of the most powerful media organisations in the world and its influence here in Brazil is nothing less than massive. What little space they give to music, is dedicated to the mainstream or established “alternative” acts, as well as for more traditional Brazilian styles such as Sertanejo (Country), Samba, Pagode, Axé and even Funk Carioca. Even their coverage of Rock in Rio is a little limited, with the Sunset stage (the b-stage) only shown on one of their satellite channels, which does go to redress the balance a little by also showing events like Lollapalooza, but the homegrown programmes on the music channel are very old guard. So basically if Globo is behind you or willing to give you a shot, this will open a lot of doors, as in the case of Scalene, but if you are not a media darling, which most indie and alternative acts tend not to be, otherwise they wouldn’t be called alternative, getting any media exposure outside of social networks is gonna be difficult.
OK, so Globo is by no means the only media outlet in the country, but they lead by example and most other outlets tend to follow suit, so the indie/rock/alternative scene is very much an underground one. However, according to Vitor of A Conspiração and Fabricio Figueiredo of Útero Ruídosproductions it is a thriving scene and there is a lot of talent in Rio. Both suggested that São Paulo has a better infrastructure while Rio has the better bands. When I asked about how competitive the scene was, there was agreement that, as in England, in general it tends to be one of mutual support and incentive, despite the fight for attention and the occasional envious eye on another band’s success.
Vitor: “I always like to watch the local bands and see how they are doing well, recently there’s been an enormous improvement in the quality of the bands; they’re making music that’s getting richer and more elaborate, which always makes me want to improve.”
He goes on to cite a number of interesting local bands that cover the entire rock spectrum, far too many to mention here, but I checked out as many as I could and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Menores Atos, Cervical, Lougo Mouro and the one that particularly caught my eye, Parola, who play a highly competent brand of Brazilian Hard Rock.
As for other aspects of band life, just like their British counterparts it’s a labour of love here too. Having to run a band part-time means rehearsing only once a week and long term plans remain un-ambitious, the focus being on improving and continuing to enjoy playing, whilst hopefully building a competent body of work. So, all in all being in an indie or alternative rock band in Brazil has all the difficulties of the British scene plus a whole host of structural and cultural questions thrown in for good measure.
Nevertheless, there has to be some kind of middle ground between this level of virtual obscurity and media endorsed mega stardom, and just as English bands are starting to find with forward thinking indie labels and innovative PR companies, there is life beyond the DIY circuit and outside the limited rosters of the major labels. Companies such as Útero are working like a creative hub for artists where they can gain access to expertise in production, recording and mixing, creation of audio-visual projects, fundraising and distribution.
Fabricio Figueiredo explained that Útero’s vision actually goes beyond the artist; they see the lack of know-how on the local music scene as an opportunity to help stimulate and organise the market, providing a safe haven for artists to get their work produced and a focus for fans to connect with quality sounds. By coordinating the activities of studios, musicians, promoters, venues and fans they work as a catalyst for artistic projects and an opinion maker on the local scene. However, their vision goes beyond the local; the video they recorded for Rebeca Sauwen being one of the factors getting her on to The Voice.
Therefore, despite the apparent difficulties of the Brazilian music scene, it is by no means all doom and gloom, especially when you not only have talented performers, but also forward thinking individuals willing to stimulate the music industry in the name of art. Given a more sober vision of the music business, as is already being seen in the big international markets, there is no reason why we cannot form a sound middle class of music operating way above the thousand true fans level, but without the necessity to be the next big thing; whether it’s Brasil (sic) or back in the UK.