Meet The Brazilian Artists Keeping São Paulo’s Queer Music Scene Alive (And Bringing It Here)
"Along with this oppression comes our will to affirm that we're not dead, and that we're fighting till the end - with our bodies, with our music, with our art."
It’s 1am in Hobart, and a crowd huddles together outside in a cavernous sandstone courtyard, inching closer together for warmth — and to see Teto Preto, one of Brazil’s most explosive live groups.
Teto Preto are one of three acts playing VIA São Paulo, Red Bull’s stage at Dark Mofo’s ‘ritual party’ Night Mass. For two weekends of June, the best of Brazilian capital’s queer underground came to play at what (in a few ways, given the event’s satanic aesthetic and apocalyptically high BPMs), is essentially end of the Earth.
It can be hard to describe Teto Preto. On paper, they’re a five-piece who combine techno, jazz, house and tropicália — a blend of Brazilian and African rhythms with psychedelia and colourful performance. But it’s better to see them, as they’ve known in São Paulo for their raucous, provocative performances — and online, for turning Boiler Room and RA sets into performance art, a nice change from the knob- and dial-twist shows we’re used to.
But Teto Preto member Loïc Koutana describes it best. While the name literally translates to ‘black ceiling’, he says Teto Preto refers to a very specific feeling: “when you take a drug that’s too hard for you, and it feels like you’re about to fall [and] lose your mind”.
We see what they mean when they perform ‘Gasolina’, their most well song. Fronted by singer Laura Diaz and Koutana, who dances at the stage’s front, Teto Preto melding electronic punk with queer club-kid performance art; in one breakdown at Night Mass, Diaz removes her chained nipple tassels in an orgiastic release, and the crowd absolutely loses it.
‘Gasonlia’ serves as a perfect introduction, too. It’s a sprawling near-eight minute track which establishes the club as a place of political resistance, pulsing with frustration at Brazil’s overbearing police presence and corruption (‘Who eats of my flesh/and drinks from my blood?’, Diaz sings). On-stage at Night Mass, steam surrounds Koutana as he struts and contorts his body at Diaz’s every scream and grunt. This is a group that feels what they perform, taking each snare like a gut punch.
Despite the cold, its hard to not warm watching — if not by jumping around, then by comparison. If they can handle the cold, can’t you?
VIA São Paulo…
Teto Preto are just one of many acts who were born from São Paulo’s queer underground nightlife.
Alongside her partner Carol Schutzer, better known as fellow VIA São Paulo act DJ Cashu, Teto Preto’s lead singer Laura Diaz is a co-founder of Mamba Negra — something which began in 2013 as a party night in abandoned buildings across the city.
“Mamba Negra was a way for me and Cashu to create spaces of freedom — especially for women and the LGBTIQ+ community,” says Diaz. “[It’s] way for us to connect networks of artists, like many other parties did, and to occupy spaces and places to be who we are and develop our artistic language.”
Mamba Negra is one of many nights that’s become only more essential in the years since it started. Over the past decade, Brazil has had an unstable political climate, an increased right-wing stronghold and rising violence against LGBTIQ people, despite the country’s standing as a gay Mecca.
It’s true that São Paulo’s homicide rate has dropped in the past year, but that’s attributed to a tightened police presence — one which Diaz says is simply not safe for her community. That’s part of why the parties are often announced just hours before they start, and take place in abandoned spaces.
While far from São Paulo’s only underground party (the third VIA São Paulo act, DJ BADSISTA, is part of the city’s feminist collective Bandida), Mamba Negra has undoubtably eclipsed the rest in size and stature. In 2016, it became a record label, helping propel Cashu and Teto Preto internationally, creating some amazing opportunities — and some issues, too.
While brand partnerships with Red Bull might seem antithetical to an underground night, Koutana says that what it offers is unparalleled — for him, visibility isn’t just a vague buzzword, but a material gain. Also a model, Koutana tells me he used to be rejected from casting for being too “extra” as an effeminate gay black man. After Teto Preto’s 2018 Boiler Room gig, he was booked more and more — and, integrally, paid.
“We understand that in order to survive, and start to do our art — even though our hearts are in the underground — we have to collaborate and go hand-in-hand with labels and brands,” he says. “It’s a way to hack places and also educate, open people’s minds.”
For Koutana and Diaz, the club scene isn’t just an escape. It’s offered a financial and emotional support network, one which hasn’t changed as it’s gotten bigger.
“Now, Mamba Negra is one of the most important independent parties in São Paulo and Brazil,” Diaz says. “And it began really natural — and it still is. We didn’t let go of [our] views — we’re still underground and stick to what we believe.”
That doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. Diaz tells me “it’s almost impossible” to hold Mamba Negra nights due to increased local government pressures, but she wants to keep going.
Last year, they released the video for ‘BATE MAIS’ (‘Kick Me Harder’) and dedicated it to assassinated left-wing black lesbian politician Marielle Franco and Matheusa Passarelli, a 21-year-old non-binary model who was murdered shortly after. Diaz, who knew both of them in passing, said it only made her more determined.
“Even with all the struggles that we have right now, we’re still doing something that’s really revolutionary and powerful,” she says. “Along with this oppression comes our will to affirm that we’re not dead, and that we’re fighting till the end — with our bodies, with our music, with our art.”
And To Tasmania?
The opportunity to play Night Mass came Pepper Keen, the Sugar Mountain co-founder and organiser of VIA — an event series created with grand intentions, realised with help from Red Bull.
São Paulo — essentially taking the energy of the city’s queer club nights and shipping them over — is the second of the series.
The first was VIA Alice, a VR and performance piece created by New York rapper and trained dancer LE1F and Bangarra Dance Company’s Waangenga Blanco which debuted last year. It takes audiences through Indigenous landscapes and cultures that cross Redfern to Marlinja in the Territory, while exploring the links in movement with New York’s ballroom scene. Well-received, Keen wanted to follow it up with something similar in ethos, if not form.
“[VIA’s] basically a platform to share a story,” he told me. “And bringing you closer to communities that you may not otherwise be able to experience first hand [in Australia], trying to fuse a mutual pathway that may not otherwise be there for many people — both [the artists] and those on the receiving end.”
The follow-up came naturally after Keen spent time in São Paulo, exploring the club scene there. He wanted to facilitate an exchange of cultures; one in which São Paulo experience Australia, and Australia experiences São Paulo. Dark Mofo felt like a good fit; Diaz agreed, saying the festival’s gothic aesthetic was a perfect fit for Teto Preto. But if we learn from them, what do they take from us?
“It’s really fundamental to show our hearts to Australian people,” Koutana says, before pausing. “To be honest, I’m so happy to be in Tasmania… but it’s very surreal to be here, and I’ll explain why. The day I arrived here, I asked people, ‘Where are the black people?'”
“I swear, I’m not joking! I was really struck by walking in the streets — people started to look at me. But the day after, I went to the museum here and learnt about the history of Tasmania, and that there used to be black people here.”
“Along with this oppression comes our will to affirm that we’re not dead, and that we’re fighting till the end — with our bodies, with our music, with our art.”
We talk a little about Tasmania’s colonial history, a genocide where the island’s Indigenous Australians were brutally and systematically slaughtered. It’s a fair bit deeper and darker than what Diaz says she knew about Australia previously — mostly Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds songs — but that’s the intent of VIA, to create connections previously unknown or completely new.
At the first weekend of Night Mass, Sydney’s House Of Slé members Bhenji Ra and Kilia Tipa performed alongside the Brazilian acts, bringing New York’s ballroom world to Hobart via Brazil, Sydney and the Pacific. It was an otherworld, literally; a combination that doesn’t exist elsewhere — but Koutana tells me, it was one that felt exactly like home.
Music Junkee attended and travelled to Night Mass and Dark Mofo courtesy of Red Bull Australia.
Photos by Ken Leanfore, via the Red Bull Content Pool.