SCENE REPORT: Carlos Capslock In São Paulo

Kevin E.G. Perry shares the story of São Paulo's Carlos Capslock parties, which are using activism to foster a sense of community around their movement

São Paulo is the largest city in the western hemisphere, a vast and sprawling concrete jungle whose metropolitan area is home to some 21 million souls and more high-rises than anywhere else on earth. Yet as you walk the crowded streets it’s easy to spot buildings that have been left empty or abandoned, often half-hidden behind sheets that flap in the breeze, the architectural equivalent of Miss Havisham’s wedding dress. The best estimate is that there are more than 200,000 vacant buildings in the city.

For the DJ and cultural activist Paulo Tessuto, these spaces represent opportunities to party. Formerly a member of the diverse VoodooHop art collective which formed in 2009 to transform abandoned spaces for music and art projects, Tessuto went on to start his own spin-off DIY night, Carlos Capslock, dedicated purely to electronic music. “We started as a monthly night at Trackers, the first squat location we had in São Paulo,” remembers Tessuto. “After we had our third birthday party there, I started to search for new locations. We would just walk the streets, looking out for abandoned buildings that could become venues for parties.”

In a city where 15,000 people live on the streets, Tessuto argues that reclaiming empty spaces is an important step in changing how people interact with the city around them. “It’s a very political act, because those spots are empty and there are many, many people who need a place to live,” he says. “There are also people who need the space to work, or to create art. What I see as my contribution to the city and the scene was to be a pioneer. When people realised that it was possible to do this, they started to throw their own parties as well. From 2014 to 2016, lots of people started to set up their own parties, so I think that was a positive contribution for the city and for society.”

As well as taking over disused factories and other buildings, since 2011 Tessuto has been throwing Carlos Capslock parties in public spaces and parks around the city. He says these sorts of events have the power to transform how citizens interact with the urban environment. “To put on a free open-air party is a very political statement, because São Paulo is a very private city,” he says. “When you get people out of their cars or buses and on to the street you make them pay attention to and contemplate what’s around them. By changing their perspective, you add value to the architecture of the city.”

Free parties also remove the barriers to admission, meaning that they’re a rare example in a divided city of a place where an egalitarian community can form. “The most powerful statement we make with those parties is to bring society together on the street,” he says. “You can have a homeless person on the dancefloor next to a very rich guy who is following the party scene. Everybody is on the street, so you create those connections that are missing nowadays. We’re all in our bubbles, so we try to create spaces where people can get together and talk.”

Brazil right now is about as divided as it has ever been. At the end of October, right-wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro won the presidential election with 55% of the vote. Bolsonaro is the sort of knuckle-dragging thug who once told a congresswoman: “I’m not going to rape you, because you’re very ugly” and also remarked: “I’d rather have my son die in a car accident than have him show up dating some guy.” He would seem to be an easy figure for dance music to unite against, but Tessuto explains that it isn’t quite so simple. “If you consider the whole Brazilian electronic scene, it’s only a very small part of the scene that are really engaged to combat this right wing movement,” he says. “That’s because of two different reasons. One is that some groups don’t want to get involved in activism at all, the other is that some in fact support the right wing president. Of course, the ones who support him don’t bring the homophobic, racist, sexist and all the other shit ideas that Bolsonaro supports into their events. At least, they haven’t done so far.”

Tessuto is not afraid to bring activism into his own events. Homelessness is an issue that’s close to his heart having started Carlos Capslock as a squat party, so at previous parties they’ve split entrance fees with squats. They also ran one party where dancers got a discount if they turned up with a book under their arm. Those books were collected to create a library for the large squat that had hosted the party, where 800 families were living. “It wasn’t just fund-raising,” says Tessuto. “It was about trying to create a connection.”

Of course, while social change and activism is part of the night’s reason to be, people come to have a good time. The nights typically run from 11pm until well into the following afternoon. “We had a plan to get to a 24-hour party,” says Tessuto. “We extended the duration of the parties step by step. In the beginning they were 10 hours, then 12, then 16, then 18, and then we stopped because it was not working! Now it’s always 14 hours of party and that’s it.”

The venues do often open early, however. For the last three years, Tessuto has been opening up the party space from 5pm to be used for workshops on various topics, including but not limited to: How To Build A Synthesiser, How To Create A Track and How To Manage Your Career. “Dance music can be very elitist,” he reflects. “The equipment is very expensive, and some people don’t even have computers. We run these workshops because we want to open up electronic music and create connections within society.”

The nights themselves are known for their exuberant embrace of all kinds of freedom. Costumes are encouraged, with DJs often performing in drag. “The costumes are always related to the theme of the party so they’re always different, but the inspiration definitely came from ball culture,” says Tessuto, referring to the defiant LGBTQ club tradition that began in the United States. “When we started out, I looked around at São Paulo’s club scene and felt that vibe was really missing.”

At a Carlos Capslock party, the very act of coming together on the dancefloor is a political one. As Tessuto puts it: “To be together, and to dance, has always been related to revolution.”

Photos courtesy of Felipe Gabriel

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today