Severed Heads ... What a band! Everything between 1979 and 1986, PURE GENIUS!!! The perfect blend of noise and disco.
Now then ... a story about Rio de Janeiro and the Tahiti-fication of the ‘artist in residence’ policies of Fonds BKVB. A couple of years ago Fonz BKVB decided to expand their empire and minds. Unsuspecting career-hungry artists found themselves forced out of the cosy Euromerican loop of Berlin, Paris and Jew York.
Rio de Janeiro was added to the list, as were Beijing, Cairo, Beirut and a couple of other ‘heart of darkness’ places (ask Kaleb de Groot about it … IF he is willing to talk about his traumatic African experience). I, who escaped Sweden to get closer to the artworld was again thrown out into the peripheral no man’s lands of the artworld to meet and greet the Hottentots.
Let's take it from the top. FOCUS this time!! When you spend extended periods in the backwaters of the artworld, you start to miss the centre of the world: Europe! You become mild, sentimental and homesick. De Appel, a school for curators? What a GREAT idea! Stipendias for artists? AMAZING! The Dutch anti- Goethe-and-British-council stance of ‘no money wasted in stone’? HEROIC! Holland is still a country that sees art as a vital part of the democratic process. Deep in the jungles of Mata Atlantica, I realized how blessed we are, living in the birthplace of modern art, with all our museums, artists, galleries, biennials and documentas. In my formative years, I really needed to see, touch and feel other people’s art. I would have been a HORRIBLY bad artist if I had remained in Sweden. I can only imagine how EXTREMELY bad I would have been if I had been born in China or Indonesia (and stayed there) ... HUGA!
My girlfriend/artist/DJ Daniela Bershan and I first came to Capecete, the wonderful artist-in-residence place run by Helmut and Denise, in 2007. Last spring we were again in Brazil and we took the opportunity to invite ourselves to a conference in Sao Paulo attended by a group of top-notch Dutch, Belgian and Norwegian curators and art sponsors. The Mondriaan Foundation was there, as were Fonzie BKVB, S.M.A.K., OCA and the people from the Prins Claus ‘Bilderberg’ Fund (plus a bunch of third worlders). They were all given a quick ‘shock and awe’ tour of art (institutions) in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Lima. We witnessed incredibly boring monologues about ‘the Global vs. the Local’. The Nigerians were complaining about underexposure and colonialism. The Brazilians felt cheated of their rightful place in the halls of modernity and Meta Knol warned us about the next ‘great’ wave of Indonesian art that would sweep the complacent Westerners from the art throne. I objected: most art from Indonesia is interesting because it's from Indonesia, not because it's any good. And why complain? The Hottentots are good at TONS of other stuff that we are NOT good at. Brazilians are TRULY great at samba and the Indonesians are EXCELLENT at Gamelan court music and shadow puppetry. You don't hear US complaining about European underexposure in the international world of shadow puppetry all the time.
Some people at the Sao Paulo conference felt that this was an INCREDIBLY offensive, colonialist WHITE POWER idea. But think about it ... how COULD they get good at art out there in the jungle? Art is HEAVY (and I mean this in its most concrete KILO form). It doesn't travel well. You can watch a ripped off DVD version of ‘Titanic’ in Jakarta but try to copy a Jason Rhoades (R.I.P.) installation onto a CD ROM!
We LOVE Rio, a tropical, urban, raw, funky, happy, sexy paradise (and Fonz for making our trip possible). I no longer need Europe for my art. I need inspiration, insight, ideas, otherness, weird lifestyles and attitudes from the REST of the world.
And if the hinterlands of art are low on museums, they are VERY high on energy, politically interesting contexts and history. I had a Swedish artist friend who always used to say, ‘Scheisse! If only I came from Germany, imagine the art I could make, imagine all that history and guilt! We're from Sweden, what the fuck are we gonna make art about?!’ I started to think about that while we were in Rio. For a properly educated European, it would be SOOO easy to make art in South America. So many sore toes that should be stepped on. In Holland, I have to work overtime to piss people off!
In 2008 Daniela Bershan and I came back to Capacete to continue making art, record a CD and to DJ and perform live together with our soul brothers, DJ Andre Amaral and the AMAZINGLY weird and talented Tantao a.k.a Carlos Antonio de Mattos from Black Future (I should write a book about him). I could also write a book about the record store Plano B and its owner Fernando Torres. A wonderfully misplaced record store specializing in noise and experimental electronics. I don't think Rio will EVER be ready for noise music, it just doesn't mix well with ‘dental floss’ bikini babes, Ipanema and Copacabana. Something that DOES go well with Rio and dental floss bikinis, however, is Baile Funk.
Baile Funk hit us like a tsunami when we first heard it. It was ULTRA hard, raw and funky. I had never heard anything like it in my life. The weirdest thing with Baile funk was the samples. No DJ in ‘the West’ would DARE to use a Dire Straights saxophone ballad as a starting point for a party anthem. Baile Funk was a disco-vore monster that swallowed everything that came into its way, Dire Straights, Cyndi Lauper, Europe, The Smiths, Benny Benassi, Ennio Morricone, Techno, House and Samba. It sounded like a happy, gangbanged and abused tropical brother of Miami Bass, vomiting HUGE cascades of Funk all over the dance floors of Rio de Janeiro (and later Europe and the US). Mixing was considered gay, so when a song stopped they would just push the play button to unleash the next Funk monster. There was a raw, refreshing amateurism to it. Miles removed from the overproduced intelligence of Berlin Minimal or London Dubstep. The songs made sense...TOTAL sense, but not ‘Western’ sense.
Getting to these Funk balls, however, was a problem in the beginning. Is it safe? Can you go? The favelas can be very violent. The police sometimes do military ‘Gaza’ style invasions (with armoured cars and helicopters) and the three big drug fractions are constantly fighting to overtake each other’s selling points. A good selling point is one that is close to a lot of white kids, since they have the money. Santa Teresa (where we spent our AIR period) is such a place. An idyllic bohemian area filled with white artists, surrounded by favelas. I sent this enthusiastic e-mail to friends in 2007, after Andre Amaral helped us to overcome our fear and ‘just do it’.
‘Why do these favelas hold such a sway over my imagination?’ I asked. ‘It's easy ... they're just TOO cool! The Rio gangsters are the pirates, Vikings or cowboys & Indians of our time. It is Hakim Bey's T.A.Z. mania (Temporary Autonomous Zones). A city with 700 Christiania's that are a million times more sex, drugs and rock ’n roll than the Danish free zone. The favela girls also look much better than the old saggy hairy Danish hippies. Favela romance ... it's still s bit messy and violent, since it's happening in the here and now. But cowboys & Indians was probably also messy and violent back in the days (the Vikings were for sure – as many dead, raped Christian monks can testify to). You just need to let some memory-loss dust fall over the subject and then ... the Jonny Depp of 2080 will star in the Hollywood blockbuster, ‘Drug Traffickers of the Favelas’.
The first time that I saw ten teenagers with enormous machine guns walking towards me, I panicked ... SHIT ... QUICK!! ... Pass me a joint or ANY illegal substance, so that they can see that I am a PAYING customer. In Europe, if you're surrounded by men with guns, drugs are usually the last thing you want to be seen with. But(t) ... you get used to it, and you start to understand the logic. They are not angry at YOU, they are angry at the police. They organize the parties to make money and generate goodwill, they WANT people to come. They just don't want the police to come, which is how I also feel when I give parties. The difference being that I usually won't KILL the police if they come, I will most likely just turn down the music.’
Since the war on drugs in Rio kills much more people than the drug itself, most of the artists I know are for it. The only problem I have with legalization is that all the money would then go to administrative, Balkenende types, instead of going to funky Latinos with HUGE moustaches and machineguns. And we mustn't forget that crime helps more people out of poverty than the UN and the Red Cross together. So in a way, we must support crime! LEGALIZE IT! (as Bob said). In the 80s, this idea was not as off the mark as it might be now. The drug trade in Rio was controlled by Comando Vermelho (CV), the Red Command, which was THEN a Robin-Hood-like organization created in prison from an amalgam of leftist intellectuals (imprisoned by the US-supported military junta) and old-school heavy criminals. The motto of Comando Vermelho was ‘Peace, Justice and Liberty’. And since it's hard to be against peace, justice and liberty, the artists saw buying drugs as a way of paying taxes to the poor and supporting the resistance.
Would you REALLY want to live in a world without crime, drugs and war? It would be HORRIBLE! What would you read about in de Volkskrant? A typical ‘STOP THE PRESS!’ item would be, ‘Yet another successful negotiation between Israel and Palestine granted even MORE water to the inhabitants of the Gaza stroke.’
Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens
Capacete is the vaseline that makes entering all the little holes of Rio possible, so a BIG ‘We LOVE you’ goes out to Helmut Batista and Denise Milfont.
Links to Baile Funk, police & gang violence, videos, great artists’ images and songs Daniela and I did in Rio:
Baile Funk links:
Mc Creu-Danca do Creu (The MEGA Jews harp hit from 2007!!!) www.youtube.com
A GREAT video of a chunky, happy transvestite dancing to the same song...
Mc Bill E MC Bolihno-Bufalo Bill
(This year’s mega hit! AMAZING video and amazing song)
Gaiola das Popzudas-Agora do Solteira
(The Brazilian PORN version of Destiny’s Child)
The genius of Tantao
Here is a list of GREAT up and coming artists from Brazil...
Tantao a.k.a Carlos Antonio de Mattos (of legendary band ‘Black Future’)
AND we recorded a CD in Rio, released by FUCK and MIHAN
Here you can get links to a lot of Baile Funk DJs and acts (via our friends) and you can check out the music and images of Rio.