22 January 2010

Rio de Janeiro: In between Gangsters and Drag Queens

Electronic music scenes are quite unique in Rio de Janeiro. They unfold upon a sharp divide between funk and house, the underclass and the upper class, pushing and pulling a sizable middle-class youth in opposite directions.

On the one hand, "bailes funk" are highly popular parties playing a sort of proto-hip hop, James Brown-inspired music marked by a tough syncopated beat and irreverent, goofy lyrics. Originated in marginal segments of the working-class youth, funk parties are often sponsored by drug lords in ghettos outside police reach.

Nevertheless, funk music has become fashionable among a larger segment of the middle-class, and can be easily found in nicer venues, such as those in the "bohemian" (gentrified) district of Lapa and uptown Barra. "Ghetto cool" is not unique to Rio (- just see, for example, white college kids dressing like gangsters in the U.S. or France). But the popularity of funk among well-off segments also expresses the glamorization of gangsterism, a historical feature of carioca culture unfortunately.

On the other hand, electronic dance music per se (house, tech house, deep house, industrial, etc.) is almost exclusively found in gay milieus of uptown Rio. In larger parties, a mass of G.I.-looking teen males can be seen sweating shirtless on the dance-floor, showing-off their beefed-up muscles as if holding imaginary buckets. Most gay nightclubs in the city charge incredibly inflated entry prices to opposite sex individuals. (So, fag hags must find some other safe venue to show their love).

Yet, there are a few truly exceptional nightclubs in Rio that are more eclectic, diverse, queer in essence, welcoming all sorts of smart clubbers: straights, gays, lesbians, more or less discreet, more or less outrageous - just like any good party should be! Against the myriad of club labels that come and go over the years, I must mention Dama de Ferro (Iron Lady), located in an oddly-looking bunker-style house in Ipanema. This is a small yet highly cosmopolitan venue, hosting clubbers and DJs from the best corners of the planet. Moreover, in a fashion resembling Manumission (now defunct) or Bar 25 (Berlin), the creative promoters of Dama de Ferro - led by charismatic Adriana - have expanded their party portfolio to include experiments with cabaret art and "silent [headphone] parties". Viva Dama!

1 comment:

  1. I was recently in Rio over the Christmas holiday and have to say that the club scene in Lapa is lively and very diverse. There is also a strong GLBT presence there not just in distinct clubs.