- São Paulo crews Gop Tun and Selvagem throw a festival in paradise.
- Just after 5 AM on January 1st, 2019, the sun poked over the Atlantic Ocean on Algodões Beach in Bahia, Brazil. A crowd standing up on the bluff cheered as the orange sun hit the horizon. About 50 feet back, 1000 or so people shuffled along to trance-kissed tracks like Todd Terje's "Ragysh." Staff laid out pizzas and fruit at the bar. In a hut at a near lagoon, DJs and punters set up CDJs for an afterparty that would stretch well into the afternoon. These sorts of idyllic scenes were commonplace at Xama 2019, the new festival from the São Paulo promoter Gop Tun and the DJ duo Selvagem.
In the past few years, the Gop Tun collective, consisting of Nascii, TYV, Gui Scott and Caio T, have become underground dance music's Brazilian envoys. They've brought the Dekmantel festival to São Paulo and staged parties in far-flung locales like Lisbon. But New Year's Eve in Bahia represents a time to celebrate the country's own beauty, to revel in saudade, the temperament characterized by longing, melancholy and nostalgia for times past. For Xama, Gop Tun booked a lineup almost entirely made up of Brazilian live acts and DJs. The eight-day program was a showcase for vibrant scenes from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and other cities in the world's fifth largest country.
This lent each dance floor a warm, convivial feel. A rowdy crew from Belo Horizonte's 101Ø party packed two buses to ride the 22 hours to Xama. During resident OMOLOKO's brilliant closing set in the outdoor bar, the party crew, consisting of DJs, drag queens and other joyful yahoos, whooped as he dropped heavy tracks like Physical Therapy's "Hit The Breaks." 101Ø regulars would remain in the front few rows for every party, possessing extraordinary energy at a festival where 10 AM curfews often stretched to midday, then 1 PM, then 2 PM, then early evening.
The all-Brazilian lineups also meant saudade increased every time someone dropped a Brazilian tune. Alter Disco's Barbara Boeing launched into her set at the hilltop blowout on December 28th with "Jóia Rara," a classy Brazilian boogie cut by Brylho. That morning, as the sun climbed high in the sky over the cliffside and beach below, Selvagem's Millos Kaiser worked Fernanda Abreu's unclassifiable 1990 cut "Space Sound To Dance" into his standout set. Forró Red Light put a modern, electronic twist on the traditional Brazilian genre forró in their two live performances. Carrot Green began his seductive 100-110-BPM set on the 30th with his acidic remix of Camila Costa's "Ponto Das Caboclas." And shortly after midnight on the 1st, Pedro Bertho dropped Milton Nascimento's immortal "Tudo O Que Você Podia Ser."
But it wasn't all remembrances of Brazil's past. TYV's deft live set weaved IDM influences into a Balearic aesthetic appropriate for the breezy beach. The Rio-based rising star Valesuchi was all over the shop for her three sets, dropping Britney Spears' "I'm A Slave 4 U" at the opening boat party, before playing the likes of Levon Vincent and Sunday Brunch's "After The Rain" at a low-key bar on the 28th and, on New Year's morning, delivering a banging and triumphant closing. Guerrinha, cofounder of the Rio label 40% Foda/Maneirissimo, flipped Brazil's rich jazz and boogie tradition during his excellent bar gig, dropping multiple Galaxy 2 Galaxy tracks and even a sped-up version of 7 Days Of Funk's "1Question?" instrumental. The Gop Tun boys locked into a dark, trippy groove prior to sunrise on New Year's Eve, unleashing rollers like Mr. Tophat's "Ketamine Boogie" and Ron Hardy's edit of Isaac Hayes' "I Can't Turn Around" onto a heaving crowd.
During free time at the festival, attendees camped out on the beach, sipped coconuts and walked the dirt roads of a remote town serviced by a single, tiny convenience store. This lazy, day-at-the-beach feeling was encouraged at the Na Manteiga stage, which sat in the middle of a peaceful lagoon. On a few afternoons, DJs played laidback sets to surrounding swimmers. The São Paulo selector and former Gop Tun member Berg used the low-pressure atmosphere to air out some wild selections, including DJ Sotofett's remix of Abu Sayah's "Houran" and a bizarre and beautiful Pepeu Gomes B-side. Mic Newman, one of only two gringos on the bill, dropped some drum & bass appropriate for the waterworld level of Super Mario before settling into some similarly aqueous ambient house. (Full disclosure: I was the other gringo on the bill, opening the Manteiga stage one afternoon with a mostly ambient set.)
Clues to the future of the Brazilian scene lay in the festival's final party on January 2nd. Vermehlo, who has hosted the likes of Honey Dijon and Legowelt at his roving ODD party, ended his set with his own acidic rave track, "Rock The Box," featuring the São Paulo drag queen Ivana Wonder. That teed up another of Brazil's hottest exports, Cashu, whose Mamba Negra party draws a queer-focused crowd of thousands to São Paulo warehouses. While that party's dark rooms often call for Berlin school techno, her set at Xama was a masterclass in taking the less obvious route. For the first 90 minutes, she avoided 4/4 almost entirely in favour of serrated cuts like Tessela's "Glisten." About halfway through, she dropped the Mamba Negra house band Teto Preto's jazz-funk odyssey "Pedra Preta." Only in Brazil.
Early on at the festival, Valesuchi told me about her first set at Berghain, a gig that came through Marcel Dettmann after she opened for him in São Paulo. She told me she built her set primarily around music from friends in Brazil, which made it feel like they were there with her in the club. A similar concept was at work at Xama. For a country so far from traditional techno power structures, the instinct could be to look abroad, to blow the budget on whatever headliner could be convinced to take a tropical beach vacation over New Year's. Instead, Xama chose to celebrate not only the country's scenic treasures, but its remarkable homegrown dance music talent.
Photo credit / Francisco Costa