Pushing baile funk forward - An interview of DJ Sandrinho (7.3.2007)

When we climb up the winding, narrow streets and allyes inside the favela of Borel I understand why Sandrinho wanted to come to pick me up from the bus stop - I would have gotten helplessly lost in the midst of this drug and violence ridden favela, trying to wonder my way up to his home. Once there, he takes me through a tiny entrance to his studio upstairs. The room is small with some records lying around and the studio-part is formed by a computer, a technics turntable, a good pair of speakers, a couple of audio mixers and microphones and of course his beloved MPC 2000. ”Nice view, huh?” he asks when we go to chat on the small roof terrace that opens up to the shack filled hill slope of Borel.

Sandrinho is one of the best acclaimed new school baile funk djs. Something of this tells that he was elected by the baile funk artists as the best producer of the year 2006. This hasn’t been left unnoticed by anyone who has seen him working his MPC live. And opportunities for this have been plenty, even outside of Brazil.

27-years old Sandrinho was born in Borel and lived there ever since. Even though life can be ruff sometimes... ”Just a little while ago a 12-year old girl got shot by a bala perdida (=stray bullet.) Or that’s what they call them even though everybody knows it’s the police and the drug gangs confronting. I’m not against security, but I’m against the covardice of police when they enter the favela shooting all over the place! Everybody knows what follows of that. The authorities just don’t treat favela dwellers as normal citizens. I mean most of the people living in the favelas are normal people; workers, students, elderly people, children... People who live here need to live in the favela; they don’t choose it, they don’t have options.”

”Luckily life in the favela has also been improved a little bit by the city lately; we’ve got here a new asphalt road. You know, earlier it was a dirt road only and the stairways that lead up the hill were in bad condition and dangerous, specially for the older people. Now we’ve got also a new Wlan house for the internet, new football field, new basquet ball field, that kind of things. So good things are also happening, despite of the bad reputation of the favela. But we still need more; the politicans don’t often see favelas as a part of the city and their inhabitants are neglected the basic citizen rights. So we need also a change of attitudes. But I think we’re going to a better direction. Just take a look at Rochinha: There’s a supermarket, a bank and even a McDonalds. So there are good things happening also.”

Still he considers moving out someday, after raising up enough money. ”How can I live here with all this violence? If my son is out there playing with his mates, flying kites and police invades the favela shooting madly all over... What can I do to save him? So I have to leave, sooner or later... Nobody stays living in the favela voluntarily you know.”

When he tells about his youth and the bailes, Sandrinho still feels for the old days. ”My older brother was also a DJ and he was well respected back then. So when I was about 13-14 he used to take me to the bailes. Back in the days all was bigger; the sound systems used to clash against each other and compete about who had best sound and lights and all. Once there was a clash of 8 different sounds all piled up on the different corners and walls of the hall. And I tell you, the sound systems were HUGE in those days, nothing like today anymore. For me the era of -95, -96 was the best time of baile funk in Rio. Since then many of the sound systems have disappeared and I think it’s a pity. Nowadays it’s only proibidão and putaria...”

”When my brother was playing I used to watch him mixing and I was thinking: ”Shit, that must be so difficult, all these people and it’s live; you can’t make a single mistake.” And it’s like a marathon playing all night, but then when you see the crowd responding you realise what it’s all about.” Having an older brother as a role model Sandrinho got soon interested in the trade of DJing. ”I owe him a lot; he used to push me forward as he saw that I was interested. He gave me some advice, records, let me open the baile when he was playing. By the time I was 15 I was already DJing.”

”1998 I got my opportunity; they were looking for new DJs at Furacão 2000 and I participated in the auditions. I even lied to my boss I was going to a radio, in order to get there and not lose my job.” Sandrinho tells laughing. ”When I came, there were over 50 DJs lining up for 5 places... But I did my best and hoped the best. That was on wednesday and on friday I got a call, that I’m on the stage the next day. So I guess I passed the test.”

”It was Furacão 2000 who really trained me to be a professional DJ; I got to work with the best DJs; Jefferson, Dennis... and I learned a lot from them about DJing and producing. After that I played for 5 years with Mr Catra. Nowadays I don’t DJ for any MC anymore, because you have to be in it 100%. You have to go touring with the MC, you have to live for the MC. It was like where Catra was I was also. I learned a lot from Catra also and he is one of the icons of baile funk. It was through him that I got to play in Europe for the first times also. But nowadays I wanna concentrate on producing. You know how many tracks I produce per week? 20, I do 20 tracks per week and for that I can’t go fooling around with any MCs anymore.”

”So I produce tracks for many MCs; I still work with Catra a lot, also with Galo, Sapão, Mascote, Deize, Tikão, Frank, Menor do Chapa and so on. But whom I work most with is Didô. I’m my opinion he’s definately the most talented newcomer around. And I’m telling you man, more then half of the MCs in Rio use my beats. At the time I was working with Catra I did more simple beats, you know, raw and dirty. But those beats worked full on. And still even nowadays MCs are using those beats. And also many DJs use them. they loop them and recycle my beats, because they work. And they work because raw is the essence and flavor of the baile funk; it’s gotta be heavy and down low dirty.”

If you listen to Sandrinho’s beats and tracks you’ll understand what he’s talking about. He really is one of the most innovative DJs/producers in the Rio scene. If you listen a lot to baile funk, you’ll see that the same samples are used over and over again and when a new thing breaks out, everybody’s doing their version of it. And it’s not really the artists who keep it going, but the DJs and producers who do endlessly montagens and remixes. All the DJs have their own special versions that they play at the bailes. Even though tamborzão is ever present, Sandrinho has lately been moving on from the used miami bass and techno samples to experiementing more with the elecrto rave side and baltimore club sounds. ”I get ideas also from Jamaican sounds, drum’n’bass, house... 5 years ago we still used 125bpm, but I grew faster a little by little. Nowadays I do all my beats in 130 bpm. It’s easier to mix. And goes perfectly together with the baltimore club beats...” And as those who know something about baltimore will surely notice, it has a lot to do with baile funk after all. ”But these new sounds are only for night clubs; in the favela you play baile funk, and only baile funk. Maybe a little bit of comercial hip-hop, but still baile funk with tamborzão is the sound of the favela.”

Nowadays Sandrinho is known in Europe of his amazing live gigs with the MPC. And when you see him working it live, you really can’t help wondering how he gets it all out of the box and puts it together so smoothly. Sandrinho estimates that nowadays 60% of the DJs in Rio use MPC in their live gigs, but it hasn’t always been like this. So where does this special way of playing it live come from? ”The first time I saw someone using MPC here in Rio was in 1999 at the Furacão 2000 studio. It was Dennis doing some programming. Also Jefferson and Grandmaster Raphael were experiementing some things on it. But at the time it was more for producing beats. Next year, in 2000, Dennis was already using it live for effects and so. But it was simple, MPCs they had weren’t that avanced yet. But from there people picked up the habit and created more styles. The most amazing thing I saw was DJ Marcelinho at Castelo de Pedras doing live an remix of ”Saturday Love”. First I thought it was a recording, but then when I got up the stage I saw he was banging it out live. And I was just wondering how the hell he was doing that. ”

”Another great one in DJ Pokemon. Once I saw him play with 2 MPCs at the same time. It was at the grand opening of the ”Evolution” sound system by Pipo’s. It was the biggest wall of sound system I ever saw, enormous, new, shining and still smelling of fresh paint! Pipo’s was playing against Big Mix of Marlboro and they were doing the opening. The new ”Evolution” sound wasn’t still on. And everybody was like: ”Look at the SIZE of that wall, just imagine the sound coming out of that...” So Big Mix ended their part and Pokemon gets on the stage with 2 MPCs. I was wondering what’s he gonna do with 2 MPCs; I mean he doesn’t have 4 hands! When he started banging out the beat: ”tum, tum, ta, tum, ta, tum, tah”, everybody was pushed backwords. The pure pressure of the soundwave hitting your chest was enourmous! He kept fooling around with the MPCs, releasing the beat loops from the other one and sampling and effecting with the other. It was absurb man!”

MCs in Rio usually have a regular DJ that produces for them. But along that all the MCs get beats and tracks from other DJs also. The beats are sold on a single hit basis for the MC or for the label. Afterwords most never hear from any royalties or radio play benefits. ”When I sell by beats... 5 years ago I sold them for about 50-80 R$ (18-30€) each. Nowadays it’s a bit more. Or if it’s a friend then less. When Didô was starting his career, I did beats for him for free, because I saw that he has talent, but he doesn’t have any money on him. So then it’s like an investment for the future. When it’s a friend price, like for example MC Gringo, whom I like to help out, he pays about 80R$ (30€). But if it’s a regular artist who’s on the radio and tv it can be from 200R$ to 300R$ (75€ to 110€)for the production.”

Sandrinho has also done some remixes, both bootleg and official, like the ”Aumenta O Som” for Gotan Project. ”When I was asked if I wanna do a remix for Gotan Project, I was like ”what the hell why not? Send me the material.” I had never heard about the group and when I listened the track I was thinking: ”Shit, this hasn’t got anything to do with baile funk.” But heck with it, I started trying out something; took some samples from it constructed a funk beats around it... And it came out good!” Sandrinho says also that he likes to do his own production, but remixing is also fun, so if someone wants a booming baile remix of their track, contact this man!
Sandrinho is propably the most seen baile funk artist in Europe. ”First time I went to Europe was in 2004 with Mr Catra. We were invited to play at the Favela Chic in Paris. All went perfectly and the people loved it. So because of that I’ve been back to Europe already 12 times, more or less every 3 months. I always stay in France, it’s like my second home; I have friends there, people like my sound. And from there I do other shows in other countries. Since I’ve been there so many times and I got a 12” out on Man Recordings and some remixes like the one for Gotan Project, people are already recognizing my name. So I think year 2007 will be a good year for me. A year to collect what I’ve planted.”

Now Sandrinho is coming to Europe again and staying here for almost a month and touring with Tchiky Al Dente. So if you’re around, be sure not to miss this one, because Sandrinho is without a doubt one of the best DJs coming out of Rio and he’s sure to throw a hell of a party!

Dj Sandrinho on Myspace
Sandrinho's 12" EP on Man Recordings