If you ask a sociologist, a marginal man is a person who lives suspended between two cultures. The splintering causes their consciousness to fracture and makes it hard to develop their own identity. (Shout out to the University of Chicago’s human ecologist Robert Ezra Park, who coined the term and was a Booker T. Washington collaborator).
This is not, of course, what Gustavo Elsas and Pedro Fontes of Brazilian bass and baile funk duo Marginal Men named themselves after. They had just returned from a European tour when they spoke with Remezcla, ready to talk about they many worlds they walk in. But they actually got their inspiration from the 1980s Washington D.C. hardcore group of the same name. Elsas used to play in a hardcore band, and after teaming up with Fontes repeatedly for B2B sets during the early days of their recently canceled bass party Wobble, found himself thinking about the D.C. band’s power while the duo was picking out the term that would define them.
But the sociology nerd connection is real, if only because Elsas and Fontes find themselves at a cultural crossroads. They have been selected by the world, along with peers like MC Bin Laden, to be some of the ambassadors of baile funk, a genre that started on the dance floors and streets of the favelas near where they grew up in Rio de Janeiro.
Geography represents another bridge between two worlds in which Elsas and Fontes have thrived. The two moved to São Paulo years ago, enough time to be a part of a number of parties based around a growing scene of bass and baile funk artists who interweave the genres for club audiences. They joke that before committing to the move, their real home was the five-hour bus ride on Via Dutra, the highway that connects Rio and São Paulo.
How does Marginal Men communicate the cultural legacy of baile funk?
Marginal Men return to gig in Rio often. During the Summer Olympics, they threw a fifth anniversary party for Wobble at Aterro do Flamengo, a sprawling oceanside city park. It was good to be home. “But, to be honest,” Pedro says. “The city had a sinister vibe. It was under military occupation. Police and armed services where everywhere. They were there to protect the trademarks, to confiscate material from people selling [non-sponsored] beer on the streets, to keep the protests out of the way.”
The duo is pretty adamant that DJ-dependent baile funk occupies a spot in the panorama of electronic music. For proof that this is true, one need only return to Wobble, which Gustavo started with Rodrigo S. and Fabio Heinz a year before Pedro came to live in Rio for good and joined the crew. Besides hosting some of the country’s top talent like MC Bin Laden, DJ Marky, and Omulu, Wobble was responsible for bringing big names in electronic music to Rio audiences; Pearson Sound was the first foreign DJ to play the party, followed by Branko, footwork legend DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, and others.
Baile funk has been one of the backbeats to the two producers’ lives since Fontes (who grew up in an area of Rio that lay between three favelas) was listening to community radio in his parents’ car. Meanwhile, Elsas was rushing home from school to catch DJ Marlboro‘s Miami bass and Brazilian Montagen mixes on Manchete FM in the late 80s.
Baile funk continues to play a massive role in Brazil’s impoverished favela communities. So how does Marginal Men communicate that cultural legacy to the waves of club kids who are just now discovering the beat, sometimes through their own DJ sets? “We do feel that we need to pay homage to original founders of the baile funk sound, and not only for the international fans,” says Fontes, who has seen a marked difference between the way the international club scene has accepted baile funk, as opposed to the stereotypes it has faced in the country where it was invented, and banned by the government on various occasions during the 90s and early aughts based on its supposed gang connections.
“Baile funk still has a lot to overcome inside the country.”
“Baile funk still has a lot to overcome inside the country to be recognized as Brazil’s own electronic genre and a lot of the prejudice comes from inside the electronic music community,” Pedro continues. “But we sense that times are changing and that more people are opening their ears to the sound.”
Check Marginal Men’s 2015 Boiler Room session — not to mention sets they’ve dropped with Omulu at classic Rio street parties like in the Vila Mimosa neighborhood — and you’ll hear some of those classic tracks they grew up on. But no one would say that they’re classic baile funk DJs. Fontes and Elsas see themselves as part of a wave of Brazilian innovators that also includes MC Bin Laden, MC Pedrinho, DJ R7, Perera, Mano DJ, RD da NH, Yuri Martins, MC TH, and others who employ the sound in a broader frame.
In mid-September, Wobble announced that they’d be discontinuing operations, to the despair of many club kids and fellow Rio parties, like Doom, whose founders posted about how Wobble had played a pivotal role in the creation of a bass scene in the city.
It’s clear that this hardly indicates the end of the road for Marginal Men. The two have been involved in a variety of parties, and spent the summer hinting at a debut EP release with Lisbon label Enchufada, which has also released work by Dengue Dengue Dengue, Branko, and Buraka Som Sistema. The EP’s lead single “777” with Brazilian club favorite Vinicius Miguel (aka Viní) is a slow-burning, deconstructed baile funk hit, the bum-chuck-chuck dissected and inserted into a stark electro canvas.
The track reveals what is sure to be one of Marginal Men’s core themes on this album: the unification of baile funk with the global club music scene, in which the genre should rightly be considered an important player. That kind of context is important for a sound that is breaking out of its home country and out into the greater world — and should give you an idea of the important role that Marginal Men will play in its continued dissemination.