AS RIO DE JANEIRO clears up after Carnival, it is not only the sound of samba that is subsiding. The relentless dance music that is increasingly a feature of the week has also been turned down from 11. On March 4th Brazil’s annual electronic-music shindig, Rio Music Conference (RMC), came to an end after a two-week festival that included workshops, seminars and, for the first time, a 32-venue club week running alongside Carnival. Clubs have always capitalised on the huge crowds that Carnival draws, but RMC’s new venture is just one indication of Brazilians’ appetite for electro music and the industry that is growing to feed it.
When RMC was set up in 2009, the electronic dance-music industry worldwide was worth an estimated $3 billion. It’s now reckoned to be worth $20 billion and the Brazilian market, in particular, is set to surge. In 2013 over 27m people attended electronic-music events in the country, with 3 billion reais ($1.3 billion) spent on ticket sales and drinks, and a further 967m reais collected in sponsorship. RMC’s founders wanted to capitalise on Rio’s reputation for partying to make the conference a hub for culture, technology and creativity within the industry. Today it draws 1,500 people from around the globe, and also runs five regional editions throughout the year.
Electronic music is not new to Brazil, but the country’s authorities have been slow to recognise its potential. The RMC is now sponsored by Rio’s mayor’s office, but only after demonstrating its value over many years. It brings together DJs, club-owners and festival-organisers keen to share expertise and experiences, and also provides networking opportunities for students with aspirations to work in music. Brazilian universities are slowly starting to teach subjects related to the “creative industries”, but many jobs in new media are exactly that, new, and so lack established institutions.
It was not until 2013 that “DJ” was included in the country’s list of official occupations, which does no justice to Brazil’s many and long-serving music producers. Best-known among them is probably DJ Marky, who has been playing drum-and-bass for over 20 years and had a residency at a now-defunct London club, The End. But there are many others—Renato Ratier, Wehbber, Mary Zander and Gui Boratto among them—whose names you may not know but who regularly play to crowds in Europe and America.
Travelling the other way, foreign DJs who visit Brazil often talk of its inspirational quality. Diplo, an American DJ, is an unofficial ambassador for baile funk, a gritty kind of dance music that originates in the favelas. His mixtape and film, “Favela on Blast”, were instrumental in introducing the genre to America. Fatboy Slim, a British house DJ, has a well-documented love of Brazil and is a regular on the decks at Carnival time. His next album, “Bem Brasil”, will be released to coincide with the World Cup. Annie Mac, another British DJ, said after a recent visit to Rio, “You could feel the music from all the parties around the city bouncing off the mountains.”
While São Paulo has an established clubbing scene, and Rio’s is slowly growing, it is the city of Balneário Camboriú, in the southern state of Santa Catarina, which is being hailed as the Ibiza of Brazil. It is home to a handful of mega-clubs, including franchises of Ibizan clubbing meccas such as Pacha and Space. In 2013 readers of DJ Magazine voted its Green Valley the best club in the world, and another six Brazilian clubs also appeared in its top-100 list.
Sadly this party culture has an underside. A fire in the Kiss nightclub in Santa Maria last January killed 242 people. The aftermath saw a push to revise club safety, but little has been done so far to move legislation forward. With persistently high inflation, event organisers who have to pay for DJs, their flights and hotels have ongoing worries about the stability of the real. Only last year, Sónar, a Spanish festival, cancelled its Brazilian offshoot because of “difficulty and instability in the Brazilian entertainment market”. Brazil’s electro music scene is getting going, just don’t let the DJ stop.