Since the late ’80s, funk carioca (Rio funk) has been the indisputable party soundtrack for getting down in the hillside slums of Rio de Janeiro. Over the years, performers such as DJ Marlboro, Edu K, and MC Marcinho have been at the forefront of the notorious, all-night-long bailes (balls) that attract throngs of dispossessed fans whose lives are as raw as the music’s crude lyrics. Yet with the exception of isolated downloads and compilations, such as the ones the Philadelphia-based DJ/producer Diplo is famous for circulating, none of the homegrown artists glorified by favela youth have really broken out to represent internationally. At least not in the way that Bonde do Role is beginning to transcend Brazilian ghetto culture.
So how did this rowdy, three member clan of art-schoolers from the tranquil burg of Curitiba emerge as purveyors of a quintessentially carioca sound to the American and European indie scenes? Much of the responsibility lies with Diplo. And of course, not to be overlooked is the band’s keen ability to subvert a genre owned by a sector of Rio’s most marginalized denizens by making it palatable to the tastes of first-world consumers.
Bonde do Role members DJ Rodrigo Gorky, Pedro D’eyrot, and Marina Ribatski all hail from the south, a much tamer region that would annex itself from the rest of Brazil given the opportunity. Curitiba is home to the world’s second largest Polish community. Obviously far-removed from the grim realities of favela life, the city is everything Rio isn’t. As a result, it lacks the musical tradition that defines Brazil and that is essentially rooted in Rio de Janeiro (samba, bossa nova, MPB, and ’70s Brazilian funk were all born and raised in that fabulously fecund city).
“I think we started doing funk carioca here in Curitiba because people here have so many prejudices,” DJ Gorky says by phone from Brazil. “People think, ‘Oh, we’re not a Brazilian city.’ Curitiba is very European, and it’s really cold as well, and people really think we’re not part of Brazil Rio is a completely different world for us.”
Diplo is credited with raising the profile of funk carioca (a sound somewhere between dancehall and hip-hop, with a uniquely Brazilian fixation on rump-shaking rhythms) globally. He’s toured with DJ Marlboro, curated mixtapes like Favela On Blast, and remixed tracks like Edu K’s “Popozuda Rock & Roll.” While on tour in Brazil in 2005, Diplo was introduced to Bonde do Role through mutual friends at a music label. He made contact with the group via MySpace and was blown away by Bonde do Role’s aggressive scavenger approach to making music.
Bonde do Role’s sound is funk-inspired, though their sonic pastiche is a mutation of proper funk carioca. The trio blatantly sample retro American pop and metal, plunging the guitar riffs into an already kitschy mix of Miami-bass beats, samba drum-loops and relentless, tongue-in-cheek, raunchy rapping. The whole package sounds like just the right cocktail for kids abroad thirsty for the most diverse and unexpected sound they could plug into their iPods. Trendspotting music critics are already referring to the band’s dirty, obtuse amalgamation as the genre’s next evolution, or fourth wave.
“When he heard us, he was like, ‘This is completely different from everything I’ve been DJ-ing from baile funk tracks,’” recalled Gorky. “That’s when he realized we’re not from Rio. ”Bonde do Role became the fi rst band signed to Diplo’s own Mad Decent imprint.
Three months after signing, Bonde do Role embarked on a European tour, including London’s Barbican festival. On a small U.S. tour last summer, the band shared the stage with their patron and electro-rock dance band CSS, also from Brazil. Like CSS, they won over U.S. listeners with their wild onstage antics and deconstructed sound. Almost overnight the band became funk carioca’s de facto ambassadors. “We were like, wait, really?” Gorky said. “It happene