One of the fastest growing economies in the world, Brazil isn’t best known for its selection of underground clubs. Instead, increasing affluence among its upper class society, especially among young professionals, has generally stifled clubs with a serious musical agenda. A-list celebrities, professional footballers and models buying sparkler-topped champagne bottles are where the money is. Not scruffy music geeks more interested in the model of the DJ’s mixer than the mixer in the booth’s ice bucket.
Still, this hasn’t stopped one club in Sao Paulo sticking true to the clubbing principles that Berlin and London cling dear. Opened in 2003, D-Edge’s determination to book DJs based on underground credentials rather than their ability to pull cash-rich punters has won it plaudits worldwide.
Despite trailblazing an audacious path for over nine years in a nation already steeped in effervescent carnival tradition and samba groove, it still looms large as an anomaly within Brazil’s financial capital.
It’s for this reason that Renato Ratier, the club’s owner, is recognised as nothing short of a subcultural figurehead. Jumping between resident DJ sets at D-Edge and the club’s southern sister, Warung (of which he’s secured a 25% share of the business), regular tours of Europe’s finest clubs and releases on the club’s label, his guardianship of high-end house and techno in Brazil is no secret, albeit within a niche local circle.
House and techno refinement might be increasing in Brazil, but it still lacks the potency it has in Europe by miles. The gap between the upper and lower echelons of society still dramatically dwarfs that seen elsewhere in Western society. This BRIC economy may be faring well in comparison to developed financial markets, but corruption sends money upwards, lining the pockets of the most privileged, therefore thwarting rapid middle class growth. As a result, clubs target those who do have floods of cash to spare to make amends. Generally, these are not the sort of clubbers interested in seeing Martin Buttrich and Adam Shelton at D-Edge on a night like tonight, a Thursday. So, does this put pressure on promoters to book commercial acts to help balance the books? Not Renato.
“I want to be successful and make money, but I'm never going to do strange things to make money,” he tells DJ Mag with an air of nobility. “They know my history, I spend money to try and get my dreams. So the involvement is programming, booking and we're going to look at re-modelling the club, changing the concept a bit to try to improve. In the south of Brazil, people are really into the music. The people have to trust you, but you have to push their limits as well.”
That D-Edge’s model — to fly over relatively unknown international talent (locally, anyway) in exchange for an affordable door tax — isn’t deemed attractive enough for others to follow suit is the very thing that’s helped keep it alive. According to Renato, while other clubs in Brazil are pushing underground dance music — Club Vibe (Curitiba), Beehive (Passon Fundo) and Warung (Cambouriu) — D-Edge stands pretty much alone in Sao Paulo, the country’s largest city.
It might sound clichéd, but Renato’s heart is with the music not with making money. The lack of competition is testament to Brazil’s limited demand, but sticking true to principles is core to the agenda.
“It’s financially feasible, we work hard to keep the quality and we are always searching new paths,” adds Renato. “We are now in an international crisis but we are still keeping investments in necessary points to keep the club in service. We consider this an investment for the concept, so it’s a sustainable project for sure. And we consider D-Edge an institution, not only a business.”
Besides, it’s not only its music policy to rival any of Europe’s elite that’s won hearts. More aligned to establishments such as Watergate or the now-struggling Cocoon, due to its sleek, space-age interior, than the nondescript tunnels and warehouses of East London, an air of mysticism surrounds D-Edge for those yet to enter, especially from a European perspective. Winning vocal advocates (and repeat appearances) in the form of Luke Solomon, Sven Väth and Solomun, it exists in the minds of the uninitiated not only through their continued support, but through aspirations generated by photos of the underground’s brightest stars before Tron-like visuals, cubic neon strips and modular laser panels. Sao Paulo’s outsiders hear the club’s revered name uttered through hushed tones and knowing glances. Occupying a very unique corner of the city’s nightlife, it’s a beacon that hasn’t gone without notice.
As we enter, it’s the club’s ultra-chic decor that strikes us. Upstairs, the recently opened VIP snug, with its smooth warm-up house grooves, could almost be computer generated, its deep red light-stripped walls and ceiling extended by a hall of mirrors; an optical illusion that gives it a sense of extra length, potentially hazardous for first time clientele in search of the toilets at the far end.
Meanwhile downstairs, One Records boss Adam Shelton’s energetic tech-tinged house is drumming up a commotion from the enthusiastic congregation below; his tough, jacking percussion bolstered by a sturdy underbelly of groove, made infectious by loopy swirls, vocal samples and soulful chords.
This main room — a tall but compact jet-black box tiled with luminous flashing squares, which give its flat floors a false sense of varying dimension (tricky after a few vodkas) — is something you’d expect from one of Steven Spielberg’s wet dreams: high walls, a dynamic arrangement of motion strip lighting and a flashing LED surface behind the elevated DJ booth that make for an immersive experience — the perfect setting for Martin Buttrich to step up to deliver some deep, sense-altering house.
Levelling space-age vibes to match the futuristic surroundings, yet harmonic enough to send the floor into a hypnotic trance, Buttrich’s set builds from lush house melodics towards more driving techno, still honouring the majestic musicality we’ve come to expect from the Desolat co-boss. By now, the VIP area to the right of the booth is as jumping as the dancefloor below, as pressure within edges towards optimum level.
Outside on the smoking terrace on the roof around 6am, the bar is still in full service as the orange glow of sunrise rears its head, as lively crowds of clubbers continue to congregate in high spirits. The 3000AD-inspired VIP room underneath is equally vibrant, manned by Diogo Accioly winding up a vivacious classics set, while downstairs in the main room, crowds are begging for one more to finish off Buttrich’s delicately layered set of sublime techno-laced sonics.
Made up of multiple facets — the intimate and slick VIP room, main room spectacle and rooftop smoking terrace — the D-Edge experience washes over with all the synapse-rushing intensity you'd expect of a high-end superclub. However, you won't find many with a music policy this tight — even in Europe. Let alone, Brazil.
Words: Adam Saville