Reclaiming the Jungle

Reclaiming the Jungle

Neglected for decades, life in the old city centre of São Paulo is being transformed, not by gentrification, but by an invasion of free ideas

A new film ‘O que e Nosso – Reclaiming the Jungle” (Jezmo Clode, Murilo Yamanaka, Allyson Alapont), takes on documenting a unique amorphous movement, still a long way from fully understood, which has developed in São Paulo over the last 5 years or so.

Encompassing street parties, art, digital & street-level activism, various counter cultures, new urbanism & psychology, it has been the catalyst for a re-imagining of the city’s neglected centre and energised attitudes towards public spaces in a megalopolis where they are scarce.

Evidence of how this scene’s emergence has altered not only perception of public space, but policy, arrived with the news that the São Paulo Prefeitura of Fernando Haddad had voted to transform the controversial Minhocão elevated highway into a public park – a similar project in principle to Manhattan’s High-line.

In São Paulo, where automobile-dependence and a paranoid security industry hellishly converge, this is extremely symbolic.

The move followed the introduction of a popular city-wide network of bicycle lanes which, despite being present in the European cities idealised by Paulista elites, face opposition in the affluent neighbourhoods of Jardim Paulista & Higienopolis. Elsewhere across the city ‘Urban beaches’ – brand new public spaces have been constructed and food trucks legalised.

Lynchpin event Voodoohop, originally founded by European immigrants Thomas Haferlach & Laurence Trille, had been amongst the first groups to begin using the Minhocão for parties when it was closed to traffic.

Laurence Trille -“São Paulo is changing very fast and it’s difficult to put a name on what exactly has developed or when or how. In a few more years it’ll appear more clearly. But I guess that just living in the center of São Paulo I’m in contact with those changes, it’s the heart of a city that hasn’t been turned into a museum like a lot of historical centres. It’s a melting pot where a lot of different worlds coexist, full of workers during the day, transvestites at night, streets of African & Bolivian migrants freshly arrived, Brazilian families living in squats, dusty hippies selling bracelets, tattooed teenagers hanging out in the “Galeria do Rock”. The centre of Sao Paulo is like an old bazaar, not good for fashion or refined items but where you can find all the essentials, food by the kilo, fabrics, electronics, any type of material, each block has its speciality. The area where you used to find all the cinemas in the 50s, Antiga Cinelandia, for example has hosted a lot parties in the last few years, as well as the area with all the old brothels. In general, the center of SP is a refuge for people who cannot afford or refuse to pay for the expensive part of the city. With this mix of people and interests, the centre ends up being very flexible and open for experiment, you can walk in some crazy outfit in the centre and people will hardly notice you.”

Voodoohop itself originated in the Baixa Augusta neighbourhood, or as is sometimes known, Boca do Lixo (Trash Mouth), in the now demolished Bar do Netão on Rua Augusta, which stretches from wealthy Jardins, traversing the ChampsÉlysées Avenida Paulista, down towards the decadent old city centre. A renewed wave of alternative nightlife in that area, sparked by the opening of Facundo Guerra’s Vegas Club, was already in progress, and eventually Rua Augusta itself became the party, a regular carnivalistic torrent of people unlike anywhere in the world.

LT – “When I moved to São Paulo, the first night I arrived I met Thomas Haferlach, doing one of the first Voodoohop parties in a small bar on Rua Augusta, which at the time was a street full of brothels and trashy little bars.”

Keroøàcidu Suäväk

Keroøàcidu Suäväk. (Photo: Daniel Hunt)

As Voodoohop grew, and more characters such as artists Keroøàcidu Suäväk, became involved, it moved towards the centre; an abandoned 1940s tower block known as Trackers, situated on Avenida São João, a street immortalised by Caetano Veloso in his ode to the city, ‘Sampa’. In an era of growing DJ orthodoxy, musically, these parties were revelatory; the more obscure & abstract the sound, the greater intensity of dancefloor reaction, and every room, across a floor of this semi-derelict edificio, contained another happening or secret.

Thomas Haferlach – “The parties developed without trying too much to imitate other cities and are very eclectic musically, thus reaching a wide variety of people/classes/tastes. The question of gay/straight/transsexual/rich/poor is pushed into the background.”

Following this successful period where the similarly diverse parties of Carlos Capslock (alter-ego of Paulo Tessuto), were running in tandem, it then evolved instead towards using a variety of public spaces such as Praca Roosevelt, Parque Augusta, and the Minhocão, where they would construct soundsystems and geodesic domes.

TH – “I spent a lot of time walking through the streets, especially the centre which has this old decadent feel and realised that there were things happening in the streets but it was not known by a large amount of the population. Especially the mid-to upper class, they seemed to not even know that the public spaces can be more than just a place for passing from a to b. Of course it’s nothing new in Brazilian culture, but a large amount of the population in São Paulo had distanced themselves from this and only partied in the street in other cities during carnaval”

What began as a democratic reaction against elitism, bureaucracy, expense and narrow artistic possibilities became intertwined with a battle against property speculation, and the support of social movements & urban occupations.

Jezmo Clode, one of the directors of the new film, along with Murilo Yamanaka and Allyson Alapont, hails from New Zealand, and like many who manage to break through São Paulo’s initially impregnable wall of concrete, decided to stay.

Jezmo Clode – “I have been in São Paulo for about a year and half, came for a holiday, loved it, but on a serious level I wanted to learn Portuguese; It was a period where i decided not to work and commit to more creative pursuits just as the documentary. I spent a lot of my life in two other emerging economies, China and India.”

“I was lucky…when I first came to São Paulo, I was going out a lot, and met some really super people, who were running street parties, it was kind of my natural scene here, as i love electronic music and am a staunch enemy of hipster culture and the tired club scene. Almost as a hobby, I went to all these parties, and naturally became close with these guys. One particular party which was blockaded by the police, sparked an idea amongst me and Murilo Yamanaka, that there was something very unique going on here, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, parties were actually transforming the way people looked at their own city, how they looked at each other, it was having an effect well beyond the parties themselves – socially, conceptually, philosophically and politically”

Ágatha Barbosa, 28, was born and lives on the periphery in the East of São Paulo, surrounded by street fairs & parties. She plays as DJ Cigarra and is a member of the audiovisual group ‘Jardim Eléctrico’ (with Bird Izzie and Jessica Trinca). Barbosa also has a children’s culture project she developed since her own pregnancy, ‘O Jardim das Descoisas’.

Ágatha Barbosa – “In adolescence I followed colourful groups of clubbers into the city, who hunted for electronic parties and cheap matinees on Sundays. From then, I wanted to be a DJ and to produce my own parties, and when I discovered Voodoohop it was love at first sight, it has been about 4 or 5 years now, I joined their troupe, toured and created a lot of history together.”

DH – Some years ago, I used to compare this to how central Berlin happened following unification. Now I feel like it is something too uniquely specific to São Paulo to make such comparisons. How would you contextualise it internationally, if at all?

LT – “There are some patterns that appear in the big cities of this Globalized world, it looks like repetition but it is reinvention. When I arrived 5 years ago, São Paulo reminded me of New York in the 70s/80s, the kind of decadent areas you see in Midnight Cowboy or Permanent Vacation. Berlin must have been an example for the the whole scene here, the squats, the history of the clubs, I guess that it would be more like what is imagined of Berlin after the wall, a more radical social context, with more inequality and abandoned spaces.”

JC – I think the first thing that has allowed a unique scene to flourish here is that the city is not yet developed as a modern city. It has the appearance of the first world in many suburbs, but overall the reality is “underdevelopment” – the centre of the city, once the centre of commercial activity, is largely abandoned and neglected, leaving spaces and buildings, that are not managed or maintained, and fall outside of the “concern” of the city and authorities. A similar dynamic existed in Berlin in the period after the wall came down, creating a freedom for expression and deconstruction. Certainly, in my interviews with the collectives here, there is an overriding motivation to take music to a wider audience in an environment which is open and nondiscriminatory in terms of social class or wealth. Alongside this is, a philosophy to enhance understanding of how public space can be utilized in a more collective way.”

Caroline Barrueco, 28, an artist & writer, was born in Caxias do Sul, in Brazil’s south, and has been living 4 years in São Paulo, where she became part of the collective around Voodoohop after meeting the group while travelling in Bahia. She runs various events & platforms, such as an open talent contest called “Liquidação”, which takes place on the street, and art projects which interact with it.

Caroline Barrueco – “For me, after a while Berlin missed the mess, the disobedience. To disobey not just the explicit laws, but also all implicit rules of behaviour, to try to feel like we still have a personal way of dealing with small everyday choices.”

“It is not obvious to say that São Paulo is a beautiful city. Everything here is messy, the architecture looks like a collage made by a crazy child, it grows organically, totally without a plan, in just one block you can experience 4 different types of sidewalks, for instance. I feel a freedom, in the pixação and street art here too, that I could not feel anywhere else.”

“These open events like Virada Cultural and SP NA RUA are great opportunities to interact with different people and allow them to show themselves, to have voice and also to have fun, of course – many people that are just passing by, maybe people that are living in the streets or that live around, participate…at SP NA RUA there were no boundaries at all, a post-apocalyptic scene, with colourful zombies, and all this dirt and mess.”

AB – “Here we live immersed in a very mixed culture. The way we occupy public spaces encompasses the idea of a new urbanism – using an old expression of the periphery – “O que e Nosso”. I see this independent scene in Brazil as comparable to other expressions of ghettos in the world, such as Angola, India, Colombia, Southern United States, etc… there is a indispensable chaos in São Paulo, with the smell of the botecos.”

Musician & Designer Daniel Scandurra, 26, son of legendary Post Punk musician Edgard (Ira), symbolises the activism that walks hand in hand with the events & parties. He has been organising urban interventions since 2008.

Daniel Scandurra – “In 2011 I started to spend more time in the centre of São Paulo, I moved there and came into closer contact with the artistic people and groups working in the region. In 2013, with the June street protests, I started working with an activist collective for democratization of the media – “Occupy the Media” and also “Marco Civil Now”, then, in December I began to attend meetings of the Augusta Park Movement, which organised intense inter-collective activities in the Minhocao tunnel, cultural occupations and street events.”

“Brazil was not the focus of a World War, but has historically lived through a hidden civil war – a result of high social inequality. I know Berlin, but I have the impression that here, issues such as homelessness, police repression and gentrification are more part of our daily life and are also the themes for artistic events in the streets and in the occupations, increasingly. What happened in Brazil during June 2013 reminds me more of Spain and Turkey than Berlin, although this film portrays a scene that makes me think of Berlin, because of the hedonistic aesthetics and focus on experimental electronic music.”

And of Brazil’s Antropofagical tradition? “Brazil is eating Turkey, Spain, Germany, Mexico, and is eating well: São Paulo is eating Belo Horizonte, Recife is eating São Paulo, Porto Alegre, Rio de Janeiro … a world without nations is interpenetrating as the water runs out. I’m optimistic.”

DH – How much potential do you think a movement like this can have for actually changing public policy, to make our urban environment more liveable?

LT – “It’s not just potential, it is already having an impact on politics. The city council is encouraging people to use the street artistically much more than ever, new laws have passed benefiting street artists, parklets, the process to get authorisation to make a party in the street has never been so easy. It’s no surprise, the current major, Fernando Haddad has just been elected using this kind of movement by staging a big street party, with 5 stages and 10 000 people all dressed in pink for the event “Existe amor em SP” – a kind of manifesto against Haddad’s opponent. This was a particular moment when independent collectives joined forces with the more political, far-left (and controversial) Fora do Eixo. But really, the movement is not about supporting any political parties, but about transforming the centre, creating new spaces and rethinking the place we live. Other questions like gentrification are emerging and it’s nice to see the collectives facing up with those questions and considering new ways of occupying the streets. The Festival Parque Augusta was one instance which really struck me with the potential, when the people of São Paulo gathered in great numbers to reclaim that park, threatened to be turned into the garden of some new upper class building.

AB – “The potential is in remembering the people who brought this carnaval culture here and not allow ourselves to be co-opted by shopping centres & retail. The street is not a meeting room of city hall or government, it is public space. The parties remind us that the city remains place of passage, memories and emotions which bring colour to the grey asphalt.”

DS – “The use of the Minhocão as a park or scenario for a party, and the birth of the Buraco (Worm hole, a tunnel which runs underneath Praca Roosevelt) are evidence that the inhabitants of São Paulo are understanding the true “public power” born of these meetings. Independent activity & street demonstrations gained strength and political legitimacy from the state and society – the growth in public meetings is a sign that the population is increasingly keen to organise and influence the urban direction of cities. The Minhocão is already a park, a common area, Maluf (Notorious politician who commissioned the highway) would not have built it if he knew what accidental riches we would gain from this bizarre construction.”


JC – “The movement of street parties is part of a wider community of activism here in São Paulo, for example, the collectives support the “occupation movement” here, the parties of Mamba Negra and Carlos Capslock at Cine Marrocos are an example of this. Also the collectives have participated in specific causes such as the Fight for Park Augusta, where Venga Venga and Voodoohop were part of festivals inside the park. Certainly the parties that have taken place on top of the Minhocao highway and underneath in the Buraco – have challenged assumptions about the utility of space in Sao Paulo, and created a discussion regarding alternatives. But the reality there is a fundamental disconnect between the city government and the collectives – sometimes they are in favour, so when they participate in SP NA RUA, but a majority of the time, they are seen as niche and not part of the city government’s agenda, which is still deeply conservative and biased towards elite interests. Still residents in richer neighbourhoods exert an undemocratic influence on the city government in São Paulo – it is almost impossible for public and street events to be held in these areas, the discontinuation of the Green Sunset party (a paid event) at MIS, is an example of power of elites here. But there is no denying that the movements have created a new consciousness about the use and comfort of the centre of the city, they have broken down negative stereotypes about these areas and the people that live there.”

DH – The film deals with the cross-pollination of types, generations, origins, orientations and so on. I am so used to it now that it seems as if São Paulo was always like this. Just how different do you think things are socially to say, 2004, within both the city centre and the counter-culture generally?

JC – “This is an interesting one – perhaps the best way to answer this is to say, that Sao Paulo was stuck in negative form of modernisation back in 2004, hyperdevelopment that was stratifying the city spacially and socially. The result was set of negative behaviours – use of cars, avoidance of particular areas for social reasons, conceptual re-appropriation of the “centre” of the city to Brooklin. The movement is representative of a new form of post modernism that is embraced by younger and more open Paulistanos – they like the eclecticism of the party themes, that they are held in downtown locations, that they can bike there etc. The personality of Carlos Capslock is actually a direct critique of this modernist character (a person completely trapped by these ridiculous expectations of society), for me, the collectives created a reimagining of how the city can function, which has contributed to a city that is happier, more open, more artistic and safer than 2004.”

AB – “In 2006 the Gay Parade, the Peace Parade and electronic street parties had lost their power, then Kassab came along, a mayor who was totally against the culture of the city – full of absurd prohibitions … in short, for about 5 years now we are helping to revive the living spirit of the centre, and it seems that it is working. Highlighting this is that there were zero police reports during the first SP NA RUA – a sign that side is improving too.”

Agatha Barbosa (Photo: Pita Uchoa)

Agatha Barbosa (Photo: Pita Uchoa)

CB -“Of around 12 people that were interviewed to represent the scene, just one is a woman; Laura Dias, Carol Schutzer, Carol Malinowski, Florence Moles -producing, Agatha Barbosa, Marina Sarno – djs, Luiza Só, Fabiana Faleiros, Alzira Incendiária – trans-disciplinary artists, Kamila Tatin – scenography artist and producer. All of them are essential to the thinking and construction of this scene. But to make parties free and open is great, and this is happening more and more.”

DS – “São Paulo is massive, few cities in the world are anywhere near its size. In 2004 many groups and counter-cultural ideas already moved into the city, which has always been lively and diverse. I think the difference is that in 2004 the dialogue and contact between these movements were less apparent than they are today. There are many more meetings and invitations. We did not have such widespread access to the internet and I think the difference is rooted there; it facilitated this crossing of autonomous movements, which are bearing new fruit and direct action, consolidating the fundamental cultural & political direction of the city. Another interesting note is that arrived in 2014, with the lack of water in the reservoirs, an unprecedented environmental crisis in São Paulo and that is increasingly perceived as linked to poor urban planning & neoliberal policies. The issue of property speculation, for example Rua Augusta which is being overwhelmed by new buildings, brings even more importance to struggle for Augusta Park, – the last green area of downtown São Paulo.”

TH – “I would say that things have changed drastically in this respect at least in the scene we are talking about – 8 years ago in I felt that São Paulo was far more fragmented, especially in regard to music tastes, sexual orientation and class division. The parties have definitely contributed to this which makes me very happy.”

DS – “In 2004 much of the countercultural scene took place in nightclubs; today it happens on the street, during the day, it flows in every corner. The political scenario is different and, especially, the individual consciousness about involvement in politics is changing. The concept of autonomous popular organisation is maturing.”

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