Post-punk’s seam has gotten severely depleted these last few years. So it makes sense that genre-mining bands and arcana-excavating archivists are now moving into the non-Anglophone world. The smart hipster money would surely have been on Germany as the next gold-rush zone, or maybe Belgium and Holland. Few would have imagined Brazil as a contender. But that’s precisely what’s happened, with the bizarrely synchronized arrival of two compilations documenting São Paulo’s post-punk scene.
It’s tempting to imagine a cargo cult scenario: a handful of Liliput and Flying Lizards import singles arriving to catalyze a mutant subculture, the local bands filling in the huge aesthetic gaps using their imaginations. But given that São Paulo, for all its subtropical location, resembles a European city somehow drifted loose from continental moorings, it’s far more likely the megalopolis’s hip youth were just totally plugged into every last thing going down in Ladbroke Grove and downtown New York City.
Não Wave kicks off with Agenttss’ “Agenttss.” Released in 1982, it’s a historic single not just for its mélange of then modish but still-thrilling elements (flanged guitar, synth bloops) but for being Brazil’s very own Spiral Scratch—a pioneering example of release-it-yourself autonomy. Throughout both compilations, foreign influences are obvious, but seldom to a slavish degree. Akira S & As Garotas Que Erraram alternately resemble Birthday Party crossed with Martha & the Muffins and a tropicalized Joy Division, balmy and sweat stippled rather than cold as the grave. Sexual Life includes a fetching pair from Fellini—one flinty drone rock, the other garage punk gone languid in the humidity. Inevitably, what captivates the Anglo-American ear is the exotic Brazilian tinge that creeps in every so often, whether intentional or not, as with Chance’s sultry “Samba do Morro” and Black Future’s “Eu Sou o Rio,” whose bassline doesn’t so much walk disco-style as sashay carnival-style. Approaching the end of its 1982-88 time span, Não Wave sags somewhat. And Sexual Life is occasionally marred by outbreaks of “quirky.” But overall, language difference notwithstanding, you can easily imagine most of these tracks getting playlisted by John Peel or working the dancefloor at Hurrah’s.