Brazil's freshest musicians band together in the name of G-strings.
“You can’t stop an avalanche, right?” he says, “But an avalanche is a cold weather thing, so we couldn’t be a regular one…”
‘Ok, so you’re a tropical avalanche, but what does that even mean?’ I ask. “An avalanche of what, coconuts?”
“Yes, coconuts, bananas, G-strings and caipirinhas,” he replies.
Without missing a beat, Dago ticks off a list of stereotypes that Brazilian musicians have been trying to shed for decades: the image of Brazil as a big-bottomed and nearly-naked girl covered in feathers, of palm trees, samba and cachaça – of the sexed-up, primitive paradise that’s been depicted by Hollywood for decades ever since ‘40s movie star Carmen Miranda danced around in a fruit hat for the delight of hapless gringos.
Step into São Paulo, the Brazilian megacity of almost 20 million people and the center of the country’s music scene, and you won’t see too many bananas. It’s a fast-moving, well-heeled metropolis whose citizens wear the latest fashions, smoke copious cigarettes, and are as likely to listen to Tupac, Beirut or Vampire Weekend as they are to Brazilian sounds like samba, forró or baile funk.
While generations of artsy Brazilians have fought to prove their sophistication to the world beyond, Dago and the rest of the Avalanche Tropical crew are methodically undoing all their hard work by putting their tongues firmly in their cheeks and playfully embracing Brazil’s wacky, tacky and downright weird sides – G-string bikinis and all.
But what exactly is Avalanche Tropical, you ask? Essentially, it’s a collective of like-minded people at the vanguard of the Brazilian music scene who, since 2011, have been working together on throwing parties, running a blog and periodically releasing music. It is made of tropi-rockers Holger, baile funk jokesters Bonde do Rolê, transvestite tecnobrega sensation Banda UÓ, and global-oriented DJs Andre Pasté and Drunk Disco. Think of it as the Brazilian answer to Mad Decent, or Argentina’s ZZK. And together, they intend on shaking up Brazil.
Avalanche Tropical has its origins at a party that Dago used to throw back in 2004 called Peligro (meaning “Danger”). Dago had been laboring inside the music industry for 15 years, covering rock as a journalist for Brazilian Rolling Stone and producing for the record label Trama, but threw parties on the side. “We would spin Black Flag, Madonna, dub, baile funk, kraut rock – whatever we thought people should dance to,” says Dago.
Artists like Diplo and Bonde do Rolê started to perform at Peligro, introducing Dago to global bass and leading him to start a new party to promote the sound in Brazil, called Explode. After that, it all just clicked, “I was already managing Holger,” he says. “André Paste and Drunk Disco approached me because of the kind of music I was playing at Explode. It turned out that the guys from Bonde had the same idea as us, and brought Banda UÓ with them.”
The artists were all seeing the same problem in the nightlife scene: there were places to go for traditional Brazilian music, and places to go for international music, but nowhere where you could find both at the same time.
“It was tough for us to have credibility at first because international or pop music parties were always separated from Brazilian music parties,” says DJ Gorky of Bonde de Rolê, who has had a longtime association with Diplo and Mad Decent. “They would never play a baile funk track at certain kinds of events. And we were trying to make these kinds of Brazilian styles popular with the crowd.”
Of course, baile funk was hugely popular in Brazil’s working class, but the music press and the middle-class paid little attention to it. Bonde do Rolê’s irreverent, outsider take on baile funk went over many people’s heads. The other members of Avalanche Tropical faced similar issues: Holger was adapting axé music (a pop style from Bahia particularly hated by the Brazilian middle-class) to clanky guitar-band indie rock. And Banda UÓ was covering Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” through the lens of tecnobrega, the cheesy lo-fi pop sound of the Brazilian Amazon, while dressing like total flaming hipsters. It was the kind of thing that confused people.
Despite their similarities, the collective hesitates to make a sweeping manifesto about its musical philosophy. “We don’t try to be a movement, you know?” says Dago. “I used to answer that we were connected by ‘putaria,’” (‘sluttiness,’ roughly).
“The main thing is, none of us take ourselves too seriously,” says Pata, lead singer for the band Holger, who just released their sophomore album Ilhabela last week. “But all of us want to make something that’s new and still have this Brazilian connection.”
But whether they want to admit it or not, the members of Avalanche Tropical are all doing something revolutionary with their music, by showing that there’s a way to be modern and cosmopolitan and embrace Brazilian pop culture at the same time. In a way, it’s a rejection of the classist notion that to be cool, they have to emulate foreign music. It’s music that says: It’s 2012 and there’s no need to front anymore, everybody can relax. There was no need to be embarrassed by the girls in the feathers and the cheesy synthesizers in the first place.
Since forming, Avalanche Tropical throws regular parties in São Paulo, as well as occasionally travelling to cities like Curitiba, Goiânia and Belém. Dago says they’ve been a big success. “The parties tend to be wild. People go crazy,” he says. “We always try to have something different for each party — surfboards over the crowd, fruits—whatever comes to our minds. People sometimes do a limbo line.”
As of now, the groups that make up Avalanche are still a tiny, tiny piece of the Brazilian music scene, but as Pata points out, it’s growing. Innovative producers, like Jaloo and Waldo Squash, are bringing tecnobrega into conversation with the global electronic dance scene. While singer-composers, like Lucas Santtana and Tulipa Ruiz, are blending international indie sounds with the Brazilian songwriting tradition.
“More and more, people want something new. They want to look at things that are new here in Brazil and how it connects with worldwide music,” says Pata. “There’s a lot of gringo music in Brazil and a lot of Brazilian music, but Avalanche Tropical is a place were both can talk to each other. I think that’s why people dig it and search us out more and more. “