Sunday, June 21, 2020

Brazilian Nao Wave and Postpunk

Nao Wave: Brazilian Post Punk 1982-1988
(Man Recordings)
The Sexual Life of the Savages: Underground Post-Punk from Sao Paulo, Brasil
(Soul Jazz)

Village Voice, 2005

by Simon Reynolds

Postpunk's seam has gotten severely depleted these last few years. So it makes sense that genre-mining bands and arcana-excavating archivists are now moving into the non-Anglophone world. The smart hipster money would surely have been on Germany (in the early '80s, a Sprockets-y wonderland of art-into-pop) as the next gold-rush zone, or maybe Belgium and Holland (both rife with Factory-fixated aesthetes).  Few would have imagined Brazil as a contender. But that's precisely what's happened, with the bizarrely synchronized arrival of two compilations documenting Sao Paulo's postpunk scene. It's tempting to imagine a cargo cult scenario: a handful of Liliput and Flying Lizards import singles arriving to catalyse a mutant subculture, the local bands filling in the huge aesthetic gaps using their imagination. But given that Sao Paulo, for all its sub-tropical location, resembles a European city somehow drifted loose from Continental moorings, far more likely the megalopolis' hip youth (many descended from German or Italian immigrants) were just totally plugged into every last thing going down on Ladbroke Grove or the Lower East Side. 

Nao Wave kicks off with Agenttss' "Agenttss."  Released in 1982, it's a historic single not just for its mélange of then-modish but still thrilling elements (flanged guitar, synth-bloops) but for being Brazil's very own Spiral Scratch--a pioneering example of release-it-yourself autonomy. Throughout both compilations, the foreign influences are obvious but seldom to a slavish degree, and coordinates get pleasingly jumbled up. Akira S & As Garotas Que Erraram's "O Futebol' (on Nao Wave) and "Sobre As Pernas" (on both) respectively resemble Birthday Party crossed with Martha & the Muffins and a tropicalized Joy Division, balmy and sweat-stippled rather than cold as the grave. Sexual Life includes a fetching pair from Fellini, "Rock Europeu" (flinty drone-rock chipped from the same quarry as Josef K) and "Zum Zum Zazoeira"  (garage punk gone languid in the humidity).  

Inevitably, what captivates the Anglo-American ear is the exotic Brazilian tinge that creeps in every so often, whether intentional or not, as with  Chance's sultry "Samba Do Morro" (another track on both comps) and Black Future's "Eu Sou O Rio", whose bassline doesn't so much walk disco-style as sashay carnival-style.  Approaching the end of its 1982-88 time-span, Nao Wave sags somewhat (the UK's Bad Music Era kicking in, with horrors like The Bolshoi becoming reference points?). And Sexual Life is marred by occasional outbreaks of "quirky," like Patife's Camper Vannish "Teu Bem." But overall, language difference notwithstanding, you can easily imagine most of these tracks getting play-listed by John Peel or working the dancefloor at Hurrah's.

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