Being Brazilian, I often go back to visit home, but it was only on one occasion that Lula and me managed to actually arrange some gigs in Brazil. Dirtblonde were the first Liverpool band to play in Brazil post-2000. In fact, the only Liverpool band who played before us were Echo & The Bunnymen in 1987. Here’s our story, it was our first adventure abroad…
Ah… that trip to Brazil will always bring back great memories! In the wake of one of our typical setbacks – namely, fighting with our label on the eve of releasing our debut 7″ single – we decamped to Brazil at the end of 2004, to escape the British winter and enjoy the Brazilian sunshine. I had brought my Epiphone guitar and drum-machine, but there were no plans to play any gigs. For all we knew, Dirtblonde would never play again, after the debut single fiasco!
I really don’t remember how things came about. At some point in the start of 2005, when Lula and I were living in a tiny flat between Copacabana and Ipanema, we decided that we would release ‘The Hangmen’ ourselves as CD and download, and that we might as well get started and play some gigs in Brazil, while we’re at it!
The first step was to get some new gear, as cheaply as possible: Lula bought the cheapest bass guitar she could find, a Brazilian-made Fender copy that she still uses today – it’s one of the best and coolest bass guitars we’ve ever seen! I bought another guitar, also very cheap (like, under £30 probably) and barely playable – but it sounded good enough. I also got the basic setup I needed: a distortion pedal (Brazilian, excellent!); a wah pedal (also Brazilian) and I found a second-hand Boss delay pedal from an amazing guitar shop in Copacabana (the guy who owns it still remembers me, and always calls me “Jeff Beck” for some reason!)
Our flat was next to a popular basement night club we used to go almost every week in Copacabana, Bunker, and I think we’ve been to a gig there, and got some promoter contact. I recall he was called “DJ Terror”. He said he’d help us out and sort us a gig there.
First gig in Brazil took place on 4th February @ Bunker, Copacabana:
It was the first time we covered Beat Happening’s ‘Black Candy’… and the gig ended in our usual noisy mess, as you can see above! It was one of the most fun nights we’ve ever had. We only got to play after 1am, the place was busy and after our set, we went to a house party with some of our new Brazilian friends – I remember the guy who drove us there was drunk (!) and I was playing a harmonica on the car.
People were jamming at the party, and I remember leaving and returning to Copacabana in time to watch a glorious sunrise on the beach, then going to a 24h snack bar ’round the corner. Perfect.
The second gig was at Teatro Odisseia, Lapa:
Teatro Odisseia is one of the biggest and best music venues in Lapa, the bohemian hub of Rio. We were supporting Brazil’s foremost psych rockers, Jupiter Maca (aka Jupiter Apple for the international market). The funny thing is – we had been in touch with them a few weeks previously, and they said they liked us and they’d see about sorting the support slot for us… but then never got in touch again! So we thought no more of it. That is, until the night of the gig! I got a phone call from the singer saying “So Ivan… what time are you guys coming down to venue?” just ONE HOUR before we were due onstage! We rapidly got our gear and went down to venue. All of a sudden, we felt like a “proper” band – Jupiter Maca were quite popular and gig was a big deal… we had people asking for photos and autographs, and got interviewed for some cultural webzine, who filmed the whole gig.
As usual – we ended our set with a big noisy feedback orgy. People in Rio probably had not seen anything like this since Jesus & Mary Chain fifteen years earlier, and we got some big cheers.
Recording new songs…
Sometime before the next gig, we decided to book a recording session at a tiny studio in Tijuca, the neighborhood where I grew up, near Maracana stadium. We recorded two old songs, Snow White and Pretty
We also recorded a new one we wrote with our best new Brazilian friends Ju, Bianca and Gabriela on a happy, drunken night at our Copacabana flat: I remember us watching The Evil Dead and playing around with our carnival costumes (including Osama Bin laden mask!).
The song, however, was quite melancholic, and called Now That You’re Mine. The girls helped us in the studio: Ju sang backing vocals, Bianca played bass and Gabi played rhythm guitar.
Third gig: Baratos da Ribeiro Bookshop, Copacabana
Baratos da Ribeiro is one of the best bookshops in Rio, specializing on second-hand & rarities, comic books and vinyl records. The owner was a crazy Brazilian who gave us an advice we never forgot: “Remember Iggy Pop… the audience don’t like nice performers, they like it nasty!”
It was one of the most fun gigs we ever played! The bookshop was tiny and it was rammed. We were playing next to the entrance so lots of people were watching outside, on the street. From casual customers, street kids, drunken old bums… the crowd was a total mixture of what you’d find on an early evening in Copacabana! It was the only time we played Now That You’re Mine live, with the help of our friends.
After the gig, we made friends with three poor little girls, who enjoyed the music! Most people (us included) would think that these three girls were homeless kids, but no: they told us their mum couldn’t afford to pay for anyone to care for them when she was out at work, so they’d roam the streets the whole day until they’d meet their mum to go back home. I remember we felt quite sad when it was time to leave them, they were some of the best kids we ever met, very bright and very happy, despite their situation. The photograph of us with them kids still hangs on our house today.
Fourth Gig & Radio Show in Sao Paulo:
After those gigs in Rio, it was time to go to Brazil’s own answer to Gotham – Sao Paulo! We had a headlining gig at a cool venue called Funhouse, not so far from the red light district, so to speak. Seedy, but cool. We travelled to Sao Paulo by bus, a long journey taking us up the mountains that divide the South-East region of Brazil. Some amazing, very scenic sights, by the way – we recommend!
I remember arriving to Sao Paulo and heading to it’s main artery, the Avenida Paulista. Lula was looking for a newsagent to get a bottle of water, I wanted to get a copy of O Globo newspaper, the biggest in Brazil, because they had an interview with us. The headline was “Liverpool Beyond The Beatles”.
Before the gig, we did the popular Garagem radio show at Brasil 2000 FM, a rock station in Sao Paulo. They played some of our songs (including the ones we recorded in Rio) and interviewed us. I remember we had a great, fun, mad time, and at the end one of the presenters produced a screwdriver out of nowhere and destroyed a Colin Hay CD live on air, in our homage – he wrote “DIRTBLONDE” on the CD, with the screwdriver!!! Now, that’s how you do a radio show!
After the radio show (which we did about 2 or 3 days before the Funhouse gig) we travelled to a small tropical island, Ilha Bela (Beautiful Island). Unfortunately it was as rainy and cloudy as in England! But we still had a good relaxing time, before returning to the big city for our show.
The Funhouse gig was… fun! Once again, the venue was full and we did a rocking set. During the last song, I threw my cheap Brazilian guitar across the stage, and smashed it. I also remember jumping offstage and smashing a beer bottle on my guitar. Once again, a rockin’ mess… as IT SHOULD BE!
Afterwards lots of people came talking to us, take photographs and grabbed whatever they could from what was left of my guitar.
It was fun.
Last gig in Brazil… back in Rio de Janeiro… back to reality in the UK
The last gig in Brazil was two days after Sao Paulo. We were supporting a cool shoegaze band we first saw in a dingy Lapa bar a few months before, called Cactus Cream. The gig took place at Clube Boqueiro, quite near MAM (Museum of Modern Art) in Botafogo… it was an outdoor space with views of the bay… amazing location! It should be a great farewell to Brazil… but alas, it wasn’t. I don’t remember exactly why… some of the other bands were shit… the sound wasn’t good… we didn’t play well… and I got pissed off, kicked a bottle and it nearly hit someone on the audience.
Eventually… we had to head back to the UK. Back to reality. We released our debut single, to universal acclaim (well, everyone who heard it thought it was great! Our universe was small then) . Air France lost my beloved Epiphone Riviera sunburst. I had no insurance… all I got was £200 back, not enough to buy a new one. We went back to playing some shit gigs, unpaid gigs, gigs to audiences who didn’t get us. You know, our typical existence as garage rock’n’roll outsiders in Liverpool.
Other experiences abroad, when we played gigs in New York in 2006 and at South By Southwest in 2009, proved again and again that for some reason, our sound was (IS!) more appreciated in other, more distant shores, rather than in our own backyard… what the fuck is wrong with Liverpool? I never found the answer, and now, in 2014 (!!!) I really couldn’t give a fuck. It’s just pathetic.
But, gigs are just gigs… good or bad, small or big… it doesn’t matter. What made the Brazil time really stand out, was the good times we had, not just onstage, but offstage. We made some great friends, had some great times… and now, it’s all gone. Those days are just a memory. They were happy times, but happiness always plants the seeds to sadness, so looking back makes me quite melancholic.
I remember our last night in Rio, when we hung out with Ju, Gabi and Bianca, and when it was time to give hugs and say our goodbyes… it was sad, there were tears… I remember… but they were good times.
I found my original reminiscences of our Brazilian tour, here’s what I wrote: