Alexandre Furcolin Filho

Why Throwing Raves in Forbidden Spaces is An Act of Political Resistance

Female-run DJ collective Mamba Negra explain why they are starting a social movement on the São Paulo streets.

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Feb 22 2017, 7:10pm

Alexandre Furcolin Filho

Photos by Alexandre Furcolin Filho

It was 4AM in late-September in Sao Paulo. Some new friends and I were walking along a makeshift path bounded by a grass-covered train track and a line of abandoned boxcars. A thickset bouncer guarding a gap in the middle of the wall checked our IDs and guided us inside. Moments later, we emerged into a rave happening in an abandoned train yard. Tagged wagons were scattered across the grounds. Some lay dark and dormant; others were alight with mini-parties. En masse, the caravan formed a maze-like perimeter around several DIY stages and dancefloors bumping Brazilian-inflected techno.

The party's organizer, Mamba Negra, has become an integral part of the São Paulo underground. Mamba co-founder Carol Schutzer—AKA Cashu—played her minimal, Afrobrazilian-influenced techno at Dekmantel São Paulo in the festival's first international edition this year. Established in 2013, the female-run party collective/record label throws parties in neglected, often unregulated spaces in the city—and they're often willing to circumvent the law to do so. Mamba events are more than just parties; they're also guerilla tactics, occupations of contentious spaces that highlight the city's inequalities and factious politics.

On the night I was there, Mamba (legally) occupied an abandoned North São Paulo spot called Nos Trilhos ("On Rails"). An "electronic jam session" outfit called Teto Preto—comprised of Mamba co-founder Laura Diaz (aka Carneosso), Willliam Bica, and two of São Paulo's premiere producers, L-cio and Zopelar—was the night's bellwether. They mixed tribal drums and bulging synths with horn players, dancers, and vocalists, and all night we danced beneath the black pillars of an abandoned train track.

São Paulo held its mayoral election the morning after the Mamba party I attended. Incumbent Fernando Haddad—a staunch advocate of public art—was ousted by the businessman-turned-politician, João Doria (best known for hosting O Aprendiz, a Brazilian version of The Apprentice—sound familiar?). Since he took office on January 1, Doria has already declared illegal the city's heavy metal-inspired street writing, Pixação (aka pixo)—a crude, scrawled tag distinct from the more decorative art of graffiti. (He reneged after legal and cultural outcry). Still, underground artists are fearful that elements of rave culture could become targets as Doria continues to scour Haddad's policies.

Below, Laura discusses the socio-political importance of artistic occupation in Sao Paulo spaces—from busy streets in poor neighborhoods to abandoned buildings that shelter the impoverished—and how Mamba is endeavoring to bring art to, and raise awareness of, the marginalized communities inhabiting them.—MacEagon Voyce

Laura Diaz: "[Carol and I] grew up going to clubs like D-Edge and trying to find a place where we could listen to electronic that wasn't 'pop' electronic—to find a way to connect organic music with electronic music. We didn't used to have these places here, so we all grew up searching for secret parties and experimental music.

When we first started Mamba Negra, we were involved in lots of parties and temporary occupations of places that were abandoned. The first year and a half, me and Cashu were crazy because we did everything—from lighting, to playing, to production. It was really young and fresh and honest. We didn't think about what we were doing with our electronic music, with our production. We don't like labels like house or techno. We were always really open to new influences from Brazil and from other countries, so this was the way we found to make what we believe.

It was just a way for us to make our music. They were places for us to exist.

Now we try to find places that say something about why we're doing. We're not just using these places; we're thinking about the city that we want. This kind of party is in the streets; this kind of party is in occupations; this kind of party is in forbidden places.

We don't want to be populist. We don't want to assist people from the street by throwing a 'give them food party' to look like an NGO. We don't have this kind of power to help them. We are musicians; we are artists. And we try to provide this cultural production in the streets because people are starving for this also.

We have this [arts] occupation movement, which is close to the movements of people who fight for housing—these kinds of social movements. There are a lot of social issues in São Paulo and we try not to ignore them by going to these places and putting ourselves out there in contradiction. We're trying to use what we do to delay the police. We use the party to fill the place with people so the police won't come take the building. The cops don't want to mess with this without being supported by the mayor or by the law.

Have things changed since Doria [the new mayor of São Paulo] arrived? Yeah, one of the stronger things so far was around street art. Graffiti is [an art form] that's more commercial, whereas pixo is like the language of the streets—it's the city speaking through codes and letters that pixadores use. One of the first things that Doria said was that graffiti was honest, that it was art, and that pixo was a crime. So on 23rd Avenue—one of the main avenues—he painted all the pixo grey. The next day, pixadores painted 'Doria Doria Doria Doria' on the wall. That was their answer.

This kind of party is in the streets; this kind of party is in occupations; this kind of party is in forbidden places.

For the parties, he hasn't said anything yet, but we've heard a bunch of people talking. We know that the owners of the big clubs are angry with us because they're saying we don't pay taxes and we put people in danger with our parties. They're saying that São Paulo shouldn't be like that, that the culture will not be restored in São Paulo because people have to pay for quality. But that's not true. These owners don't pay their taxes either. And people don't have money to spend 15 Reis on a beer, and people can't afford to get into a club to listen to music. We're for the people that helped to build this [underground] electronic culture in São Paulo. And [the clubs] should be happy! They're calling us to play at them; they know that we're fresh. They need us. We could be united, but they're trying to persecute us for something that obviously isn't the problem. We're not rolling in money. We're not rich with these parties. It doesn't make sense.

The party you were at was the first and, I think, the last Mamba at Nos Trilhos. It's a really nice place, but it's really expensive. We're trying to find other places to host the parties—usually old factory buildings—but it's really hard to find them.

It's just really retrograde, because when we share the experiences of our parties with people from Germany, from France, from the USA, people say 'oh my god this is so good', because every city needs this. Every city should be able to accept this kind of movement. And these guys here are trying to destroy us, but we have nothing to be destroyed because we began when everything was already destroyed.

So we don't have one place to be Mamba. We've got many places. This is something we didn't choose—the city chose it for us. We would love to stay in one place to get the experience you can see when developing for years, but we don't think this will be possible in the near future.

Doria won't do anything about closing these parties; he's just going to make the owners of these buildings charge us more. We have to get out of Facebook because Facebook is like the police. It's really hard, and it's already been really hard, but we're not giving up so easily. We just want to assure people and the public that we're going to do this and they're going to do this with us. We didn't choose to be here, but now we fight for it. Only a city like São Paulo could produce what's happening here. It's out in the streets."

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