Scene Spotlight: Grime in Rio de Janeiro

“What keeps this scene alive is that reception from the community that continues to show up and out, time and again.”

Words by Jesse Bernard

Jesse Bernard is a writer, DJ, music researcher & documentary maker. His latest project COMO VOCÊ is available to watch via WePresent and hear via Bandcamp

My last night in London was a Butterz night at fabric before flying out to Rio de Janeiro via São Paulo in late October last year. Prior to that outing, I was DJing at a size? store event in Brighton. 24 hours later I was quite literally in the jungle, reestablishing my footing in a city I’d not stepped foot in for over two years.

I’d flown out to Brazil to shoot my first film on the grime scene in Brazil and what began as a three-month trip, lasted six. I was spellbound almost immediately and it wasn’t long before the story and angle of the film COMO VOCÊ started to change. COMO VOCÊ then became about the pursuit of dreams and opportunities in a state that’s constantly pulling itself back from the edge of collapse. 

On my first night, I was at an ORA Sessions party run by creative agency On-Retainer in Botafogo where I played a set. The energy felt like it had truly pent up inside for two years along with the joy of being in the dance. It was a nice segue from the previous night in fabric, as though I was leaving the main room, hopping on an eleven-hour flight to find myself in a smaller, much sweatier room. 

The grime scene in Rio de Janeiro was alive and, for the first time in over two years, being able to feel and smell up close, awoke an excitement for what it feels like to be a part of a music scene that has no choice but to rely on the community to survive. But in reality, it also revealed the costs.

It took a few days, maybe even weeks or months, to fully grasp just how much COVID-19 had impacted Rio. It’s a city and state that often hasn’t had its public resources and infrastructure managed by local officials and government. The high unemployment rate and poverty existed long before the pandemic. 

At times, it did feel as though the scene was stitched together by a shared commitment and determination but often we can romanticise how underground music communities operate. It’s because there aren’t enough opportunities to go around for everyone that you tend to find some tension, infighting and politics. But the grime scene, however small it is, is woven and bound by a shared love and fierce desire to provide opportunities for themselves while doing what they love. It’s as simple as that. 

There aren’t art funds and grants that exist for artists and organisations in abundance as they do in the UK, US and other regions, even if those have been stripped to the bare bones here. There’s far less brand involvement as well, which depending on how you look at it, could be a good or a bad thing. Simply put - there just isn’t enough money to go around in Rio de Janeiro and even less so for arts and culture of this nature. The infrastructural issues are compounding and multilayered which have trickled down into the underground music communities surrounding grime and other electronic sounds in Rio de Janeiro. 

Promoters and those who run parties possess ingenuity when it comes to finding venues - there’s an abundance of them in Rio, partly due to so many having been closed before and during the pandemic. At the height of summer in February, parties were to be found across the city with streets heaving with people sitting or standing on the sidewalks at bars. Of course, in Rio’s inner-core, deep below the underground, in the underbelly, bailes (parties held in the favelas) were to be found every week in favelas across the city but those have been reduced due to COVID-19, the police and lack of resources. 

My friend and producer Gustavo Elsas always said that “Gringos have to work twice as hard but we have to work seven times as hard and that’s sometimes never enough.”  Having founded Festa Wobble ten years ago through a love and passion for dubstep, grime, garage, jungle, funk and house, he’s seen the height of the underground scene, the dips and rises, further dips and reemergences. The pandemic caused a reset for a lot of movements within the wider scene, those who had spent years cultivating and crafting spaces and platforms for others. Wobble and the more recently founded Brasil Grime Show represent the DIY essence of grime within Rio partly because those within often began in the rap and funk spaces of their local neighbourhoods. MCs such as SD9, MC Smith, Diniboy, N.I.N.A and more have funk in their blood and with the addition of grime to their repertoire, performing live is as natural as breathing.


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