Various Artists / Various Artists
Não Wave / The Sexual Life of the Savages: Underground Post-Punk from São Paulo, Brazil
2005 / 2005
B / B+
he pale blue light of influence, regularly illuminating on a 20 year lag, has cast an alluring glow on the musical aesthetics of late 70’s and 80’s rock, dilating the pupils of a new generation bent on culturally remastering broken boundaries of the new-wave and post punk movements. In boardrooms and basements, interested parties are retracing footsteps into awkward dance-diagrams of mutant disco, goth-gloom, strangulating noise, and whatever else you learn from doing your homework penciling in the blank glossary of LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge.” Semi-predictably, beams have crossed with North America’s persistent, varied fascination with the music of Brazil, a phenomenon evidenced by years of flirtation made manifest in the living-room-bangin’ jazz samba pleasantries of stuff like Getz/Gilberto, to David Byrne’s importation of classic Tropicalia on his Luaka Bop label, to Diplo’s Favela on Blast or Rio Baile Funk, recent documents of the solar-plexus rattling beats storming out of São Paulo’s crime-strangled favela ghettos. Exhibit A, The Sexual Life of the Savages: Underground post-punk from São Paulo, Brazil from England’s reissue hounds Soul Jazz records. Exhibit B, Não Wave, a similarly themed compilation from Man Records in Berlin (the label's first release).
With cursory knowledge, it’s easy to deduce the sound of Brazilian post-punk as a distillation of its anglo-analogs with flashes of regional flavor, much in the way Tropicalia movement of the 60’s and 70’s interacted with UK and US psychedelia of the same time (I certainly did). Importantly though, the stars of Tropicalia and the ensuing MPB sound (Musica Popular Brasileira, a genre-term) were like Pink Floyd to Johnny Rotten—the inspiration for a studied destruction. Still, both musics were rooted in a similar ideal, what Julio Barroso (a poet, militant, and musician in São Paulo's Gang 90) called Anthropophagy, “our idea of cultural cannibalism as a positive force for transformation in the arts, in other words, our way of ‘eating’ from other cultures to produce new work."
There are plenty of familiar sounds to be found on both compilations, drawing from a definition of “post-punk” that equally encompasses the taut abjections of No Wave and the swirling romanticism of blue-blazer and eyeliner synth-pop, but the songs are accented with aural slang inaccessible—or, at best, awkwardly fitting—to their pale-skinned contemporaries. Take, for example, Akira S & As Garotas’ “Sobre As Pernas” (on both compilations) which coasts like Ian Curtis fronting a Duran Duran that only got turned on by the sour dejection of the distopia, burrowing into gauzy synths whose frequencies slide uneasily around each other like solemn hovercrafts on neon-saturated highways. A set of timbales and a lone horn tear violently into the final leg of the song, precipitating a climax that pits the sci-fi endgame of 1980’s São Paulo—essentially, an ultra-urban abscess of crime, prostitution, and decay—against the vibrancy of its musical culture. Elsewhere, native Brazilian rhythms percolate under fashionable discord; some of the most exciting material only bears resemblance to "post-punk" in its sheer exploration, like the stale eeriness of Chance's "Samba de Morro" (also on both compilations), or the prickly hyper-jazz of Patife.
While the two compilations overlap a handful of bands, they only share a few songs songs. In general, Nao Wave doubles on artists slightly less than The Sexual Life, which isn't a criticism more than it is a note; on the one hand, you get a little more variety, but on the other, it's also nice to get a more substantial picture of the better-documented artists on the scene. Ultimately though, they're both worth the time as otherwise peerless documents of a scene now of purely historical interest. While the post-punk/new wave tag has easily become irritating as a catchall that smoothes out stylistic diversity, it's fascinating to re-imagine the whole scene outside of Thatcher's England or Reganomics, illustrating the cultural mobility of the sound and its fetching regional inflections.