Beyond Funk Carioca: Chico Dub on his Experimental Hy Brazil Series in the Post-Scarcity Music Era

Brazilian music doesn’t exactly lack for household names, from Jorge Ben to Tim Maia, Chico Buarque to Caetano Veloso. But in the realm of electronic music, which with the global rise of EDM is surging in popularity, the world’s fifth largest country has a surprising lack of internationally recognized talent. There’s DJ Marky, a drum’n’bass pioneer who brought the burgeoning London sound to São Paulo in the late ’90s and ignited a club scene fever. More recently, Gui Borrato’s dreamy techno soundscapes landed him on the coveted Berlin label Kompakt. But a continent of talent lies behind these few names to pierce the mainstream, now getting consistent exposure from the Hy Brazil series whose sixth edition dropped October 1 on Bandcamp.

“If people don’t have any idea what’s happening here, then imagine in relation to experimental and electronic music on the vanguard.”

The man responsible for an impressive six compilations in less than two years is Chico Dub, a Rio de Janeiro-based music maven and erstwhile filmmaker whose 2008 documentary about Jamaican music earned him his nom de plum. As curator for Sónar São Paulo’s 2012 edition and the mastermind behind the annual Novas Frequências festival in Rio, which brings international talent in experimental and electronic music for their Brazil debuts, he has his finger on the pulse of all things avant-garde. This year, the fourth edition will see the likes of Japan’s Aki Onda, Australian-by-way-of-Iceland Ben Frost, and Laraaji from the U.S. during its December 1-14 run of 33 artists, the majority from outside of Brazil.

Thanks to his connections on the global scene – Novas Frequências is the only Brazilian representative of the International Cities for Advanced Sound network – Chico has long been frustrated by a perceived lack of exposure for artists who don’t traffic in typically Brazilan styles. “Sure, Brazilian music is well known relatively speaking if you are talking about bossa nova, tropicalia, sambajazz, MPB, and that kind of thing” he says, “But what’s really happening here right now isn’t well known.” He points to innovative artists like the São Paulo hip-hop poet Criolo and genre-hopping überproducer Lucas Santtana as left-field pop musicians who are criminally underappreciated by the Brazilian public even if garnering a smattering of attention from music cognoscenti. “So if people don’t have any idea what’s happening here,” he continues, “then imagine in relation to experimental and electronic music on the vanguard.”

As a result, artists of that ilk scattered throughout Brazil have been releasing singles and EPs that barely travel beyond the artist’s extended social media orbit. “Hy Brazil was born out of the desire to map out, organize, and promote all this experimental electronic music,” Chico explains. Indeed, in the post-scarcity music era cultural gatekeepers can still play a useful role to help the listening public sift through the glut of free or dirt-cheap music (Hy Brazil runs at a respectable $7 requested donation or 50 cents a track). With exclusive premiers on major music sites and already a best-of nod – Volume 2, dedicated to experimental music, was on FACT’s 20 best Bandcamp releases of 2013 – Chico has elevated the profile of dozens of little known Brazilian artists that were languishing in Soundcloud purgatory with his formula of 14 unreleased tracks by 14 new artists per comp.

“Overall, the goal is to showcase artists who don’t fit into a pure Brazilian sound,” Chico says.

The name of the series, meanwhile, points to a fundamental tension as Chico’s curatorial stance straddles his home country and a cosmopolitan, global sound. Hy Brazil is a mythical island supposedly off the coast of Ireland. Despite the spelling coincidence, the sailor’s myth of Hy Brazil is a corruption of an Irish word and completely unrelated to the real Brazil. The idea of a Brazil that is not Brazil subsequently underpins all of the compilations. “Overall, the goal is to showcase artists who don’t fit into a pure Brazilian sound,” Chico says.

Some clearly do – in early compilations artists reworked funk carioca, tecnobrega, and Bahia bass. On Vol. 6, São Paulo’s DJ Tide plays with a pagode sample, axé creeps into a synth-heavy trap number by Salvador’s Lord Breu, and Mauro Telefunksoul pays homage to a Bahian carnival band. But on the flip side, Molar, Zopelar, and Vermelho, all artists affiliated with São Paulo’s leading nightclub D-Edge, don’t wear their nationality on their sleeves as they experiment with deep house, Italo, and nu-disco. “Why does everything have to fly a Brazilian flag?” Chico asks rhetorically. “I’m against that because we end up relating to traditional music in a kind of corny way.” He cites Brazilian drum’n’bass’s descent into bossa nova and samba samples meant to please a foreign audience as evidence of how this approach can go awry.

Whether that will be palatable to audiences both at home and abroad remains the big question, but Chico is bullish.

“I’m trying to balance that out,” Chico clarifies, “Music can have a traditional or domestic element and still also be completely international.” While emphasizing that the number one goal is to prioritize music that his eclectic ear genuinely likes, he still sees a pattern. “It ends up being sounds that don’t have an obvious Brazilianness to them,” he admits. Whether that will be palatable to audiences both at home and abroad remains the big question, but Chico is bullish. He has already thrown two Hy Brazil artist showcases. São Paulo is next and possibly Europe next year. “In two years we’re going to have these artists playing regularly in international festivals, I’m sure of it,” says the confident curator.

What’s more, he has plenty more material to keep cranking out compilations with the next as a real departure as he focuses on singer-songwriters who still meet his loose definition of experimental and avant-garde. Given Brazilian music’s propensity toward traditional songcraft, Chico Dub may just have his strongest suit yet to come.