Leading the Brazilian invasion at Counterflows are two of Rio De Janeiro’s most exciting underground acts: poet, songwriter and improviser Negro Leo and no wave/free improv band Chinese Cookie Poets. Both acts are associated with Audio Rebel, a Botafogo studio, venue and music shop. Its weekly Quintavant event features local and international experimental musicians, and has spawned the QTV label, which releases music recorded at the venue. Audio Rebel is one of six venues participating in the pioneering Novas Frequências Festival, a
Counterflows partner. Stewart Smith spoke to Brazilian music scholar and Quintavant/QTV representative Bernardo Oliviera about the present day scene and its place in the country’s cultural history.
Scottish music fans may be familiar with Tropicalismo and bossa nova, but less so contemporary Brazilian music. Are those older styles still relevant?
There’s an official Brazilian lineage in music which we used to call MPB (Popular Brazilian Music), that brought together Bossa Nova, Tropicalismo and Jovem Guarda artists. It’s not exactly a problem, those artists are still relevant nowadays. But, obviously the sonic landscapes are changing.
Brazilian music history is very complex and the internet is forcing us to review it with new lenses. Many artists who were considered important for many years can be seen today from another point of view. I don’t want to diminish their role or talent. My aim is to call attention to the fact that there are many other ‘Brazilian musics’. Today we have so many rhythms, acoustics and electronics, so many musical expressions at the same time, that this MPB scheme is no longer applicable.
Where do acts like Negro Leo and Chinese Cookie Poets fit into all of this?
Negro Leo and Chinese Cookie Poets are purely Rio 21st Century first decade music, drawing on a bunch of influences that cross through No Wave, Tropicalismo, Free Improv and, of course, some of São Paulo and Rio experimental music from the 80’s. From Rio, try Black Future, ‘Eu Sou o Rio’. Their contribution to Brazilian
underground music was invaluable. They were responsible for mixing samba elements with punk and funk.
Today’s experimental scene in Rio is driven by a remarkable Arto Lindsay influence. He brought his background in noise-experimental to Brazilian music, and he is so original when he creates. He is an inspiration for all of us. He’s been living in the city for a long time and and plays in some events we organise. We put on his first show with Paal Nilssen-Love at Quintavant (and we’ve released it!), and it was awesome! He is a genius!
I like Negro Leo because, besides being a poet/composer, creative and a stirrer/improviser, he can make songs that are unprecedented in Brazil. Joining song and improvisation in the country where the song is like a ‘golden calf’ is a bold attitude. I like Chinese Cookie Poets because they are the only band I know who are not afraid to reinvent two legacies that remained separated for some time: the recklessness of creative artists who participated in the No Wave movement (DNA, mostly), with deep research into the artists of the free improv scene, such as Han Bennink, Peter Brötzmann, among others. They’re developing a unique style in improvisation today.
How important have community spaces like Audio Rebel been to the Rio underground?
There’s this São Paulo band called Metá Metá that played at Café Oto in London in December. We did three sold out concerts with them. Great venues refused them, but after they realised it was a success at Rebel, they changed their minds. There’s a lack of boldness and creativity among producers and Rio venues. I think we supply a repressed, but significant demand for special, fearless, bold, creative, audacious events.
I think that our importance is huge, but we share this ‘glory’ with parties like Wobble (electronic, bass), places like Comuna and festivals like Novas Frequências, who are betting on a new way to conceive, design and carry out events related to music. Most of the biggest venues in Rio de Janeiro refuse to put on experimental and daring acts, so we usually do. And we’re doing well.
Some of Brazilian culture is produced by government support, through tax reliefs. You always have to apply, and to justify why this, why that. If you do not want to engage in this bullshit, you have to work hard and expect nothing. At least we have music.
Thanks to Pedro Azevedo for the Quintavant/QTV scene. He runs Audio Rebel, the studio where we make everything. So, we have to be honest: we are funded by the audience who attends and pays for shows.
Can you tell me more about the Quintavant events and QTV label?
Quintavant is a weekly event dedicated to experimental and improvised music based at Audio Rebel, a recording studio that works as a kind of venue. Audio Rebel has been running for ten years, Quintavant now in its fifth year. Quintavant is the place for new bands and projects from Rio. Projects like the combination of no wave and free jazz of Chinese Cookie Poets (who recently recorded a 7″ with Bill Orcutt that will be released by QTV in 2015), the drone-jazz-metal of Bemônio, the sound art of DEDO, and the free-bard Negro Leo, noise projects like VICTIM! and Sobre a Máquina (both of Cadu Tenório), and others. Some foreign artists have played here as well, like Paal Nilssen-Love and Arto Lindsay, Lichens, The Ex, Matana Roberts, Kevin Drumm, Zomes, Frode Gjerstad Trio, Joe Lally and lots of Brazillian artists from everywhere – like Metá Metá and Maurício Takara from São Paulo Underground.
The label has emerged as an inevitable outspread of the experimental, productive and collaborative
environment created at Audio Rebel. Musicians, producers, luthiers, audio and recording technicians and other professionals are working continuously at the Rebel, where there is also an instrument and record store.
Producing and recording the Arto Lindsay and Paal Nilssen-Love concert in 2013 was a crucial experience. The recording led to the Scarcity album, released worldwide by PNL, Nilssen-Love´s label, proving the existence of a ‘virtuous circle’ at Audio Rebel: get the exploratory Quintavant to record the concerts and release them in the form of digital audio files, CDs, cassettes, vinyl.
Ending its first year of existence, the QTV label released in December 2014 the compilation Three Squares, Swing on Fire, which exposes a wide panorama of sounds reflecting many nuances and aspects of what happens at Audio Rebel. The album features eleven tracks, mostly unpublished, presenting an accurate overview of groups, artists and projects that are often playing at Quintavant. Negro Leo´s twisted songs; Biu´s free rock; Chelpa Ferro´s 1-bit rock’n’roll; Duplexx´s analog spasms; Rabotnik Quartet Duplo improvising with Arto Lindsay´s regency; Cadu Tenório and Sobre a Máquina´s jazz noise; a collaboration between Chinese Cookie Poets and the polish noise musician Zbigniew Karkowski; DEDO´s collages and demiurgic manipulations; Baby Hitler´s overwhelming urgency; JP Caron and his composition opened to the chaos and unexpected; and, at last, Bemônio´s noisy doom metal.
So, what’s the Quintavant ‘Ethos’? I think we try to create culturally strong and relevant programming, which can’t find a place in Rio’s other venues. Most of these artists are of improvisation and experimental music.
Stewart Smith is a freelance writer for The Wire, The Quietus and The List.