uritiba, in Southern Brazil is one of the largest, most modernized cities in the nation. It’s also home to one of the biggest brewing arts scenes in the country, centered in the many museums, universities, and cafes (one of which gave Bonde Do Rolê their meeting spot and half their name). Despite the immense potential energy of this metropolis, few in the northern continent are even aware of it, or the fact that it lies over 500 miles from Rio, the undisputed epicenter of the uniquely Brazilian baile funk scene. For many groups, that geography wouldn’t particularly matter, but for Bonde Do Rolê, it plays an important part in their relationship to the Rio scene.
Baile funk, or favela funk, or funk carioca, or just funk, is as deeply inextricable from Rio as bass music is from Miami. Hyped-up, bottom-heavy beats dominate and vocals are generally relegated to dirty talk, thugged-out street argot, and party-moving chants. The samples that constitute the melodic element of the music steer toward the overwhelmingly familiar (you’ll hear that old “fresh!” scratch whipped out on With Lasers for instance). The more illegal and expensive the source material, the better. When combined with vicious, violent exhortations and shout-outs to specific local favela drug czars in the sub-genre known as proibidao (“highly forbidden”), it makes for an odd brand of music to fuel a party. But when guys with assault rifles are as common as enormous speaker stacks, well, it’s an odd sort of party.
Bonde Do Rolê, however, are as far from proibidao as a group are likely to get, some extremely saucy lyrics notwithstanding. Coming from outside the Rio scene, they’re already suspect to the hardcore favela constituency, sporting dyed hair, consorting with American producers, and performing with groups like CSS, whose femme electro-rock would get precisely zero airtime at any self-respecting Rio dancehall. Early tracks like first single “Melo Do Tobaco” or the non-album cut “Rap Do CB” firmly follow the blueprint: fast, aggressive beats; vaguely singsong rap-chanting; suspect samples; a rhythmic line of almost pummeling monotony, broken once in a while by some swicky-swick tactics. On With Lasers, the rigor of baile funk is bent, broken, and reshaped quite often, generally several times within each track.
First single “Solta O Frango” gives it away—funk for the playground, not the drug dealers. The beat is herky-jerky, but in a way that’s more like jumping rope than emptying banana clips. The easygoing feel (is that a high life sample in “Tieta”?), chummy brother-sister interplay between dual MCs Marina and Pedro, and the loose arrangement of complex (for baile) rhythms, all make for a set of roof-raisers with mass appeal. As With Lasers progresses, Bonde Do Rolê’s grounding in funk’s martial hammering is left further and further behind: a track like “Gasolina” (not a cover) is so spacious it’s nearly spartan. Meanwhile, in a move true to the roots of the scene, more and more wacky shit gets roped in—“Geremiah” busts out kazoos, “Quero te Amar” sports a Latin freestyle vocal from Marina.
How much Diplo (who produced the album) is responsible for the group’s palette-broadening matters little—with or without him, With Lasers is a lot like the cheery, unpretentious vibe the group brings live. It’s a group thing: everybody’s welcome to the Bonde Do Rolê party, though you might want to leave the automatic at home. If this means watering-down baile’s core aesthetic, so be it. After all, the ultimate result of party-fueling music should be providing grist for the mills of grinding asses, not machismo-encrusted boasts for drug dealers and thugs.