Away from the fanfare of carnival, with its vibrant samba and tropical grooves, Brazil is a country where dance music plays second fiddle to rock, Latino country and pop among its party-going youngsters. Surprising perhaps for a nation where rhythm pumps through its people's veins, but the significant divide, even still, between rich and poor — or lack of a middle class — has alienated dance music somewhat — or at least compartmentalised it.
Unlike Europe, where music takes centre stage, superclubs in Brazil — bar D-Edge — run as businesses designed to attract the more affluent section of society. Celebrities, models and sports players — not to mention the many millionaires treated like royalty — go out to be seen; their presence laid on show to aspire to. With this comes an intensification of VIP culture, where the raised, sectioned-off areas are reserved for the country's richest twenty-somethings to flash the cash, peacock ostentatiously over a bucket of ice and attract attention by ordering bottles of sparkler-topped Champagne.
Brazil's is a club scene hinged not on dance music heritage — like Berlin, London or Manchester — but the weight of its punters' wallets, so to hear of a club dedicated to electronic music celebrating its 20th anniversary, not in São Paulo, but three hours away on its outskirts, beside a densely forested golden beach community named Maresias, is eyebrow-raising to say the least.
Considering the context, Sirena has achieved a staggering feat. Surviving all these years and ranking at #8 in our Top 100 Clubs 2013 poll, it has no shortage of fanatical followers, so what's the secret to its success?
Location and setting is one. Stationed off the backstreets of a bustling beach community, popular among wealthy São Paulo-based holidaymakers, the gargantuan wooden gates lead to an enchanted playground within, which groups of excited clubbers congregate outside, drinking in the dusty foreground following a three-hour drive from the city centre. Inside, waiting, is a series of soundsystems and walkways within a jungle plantation; Sirena is no conventional nightclub.
Secondly, the club has stolen the hearts of the large population of electronic music lovers that do exist in Brazil with its 20-year legacy of top-end bookings. Displaying a massive wall of names from over the years — featuring everyone from Armin van Buuren to John Digweed — Sirena wears its dedication to dance with pride and it hasn't gone unnoticed.
The main room, a 2500-capacity building slap bang in the middle of the forest, naturally provides a stage for the club's marquee bookings — this weekend, Sirena favourites Bob Sinclar (Friday) and Kaskade (Saturday) — who are always nothing short of gigantic. Ticking all the boxes reserved for VIP credentials, white leather-lined booths and a raised balcony allow the club's privileged — visible to all — overlook the minions below (although with ordinary tickets priced at £100 for men, half for women, they can hardly be described as paupers) going apeshit to winding builds and drops. It's here the club makes its money. Knocking out marked-up bottles of spirits to its glitterati clientele, the music's role is secondary. Providing it's massive and gets a reaction, it's selected by the club's residents — Ricardo Menga and Magui — who drum out EDM pop banger after chart/dance bootleg through a horse-powered system, before an enormous LED panel. It's a formula that could be swapped with almost any other high-rolling big club across the country, or even Stateside, but Sirena's appeal extends much further than this.
With the tail-end of Kaskade's surprisingly restrained trance-tinged tech house set — “Sirena is a place where he says he can play deeper than anywhere else,” the club's booker, Jean Lacerda, informs us — the entirely rammed floor is completely absorbed by the saccharinely sweet set-closing sound of 'Eyes (feat Mindy Gledhill)', so we decide it's time to explore.
Unfortunately for the club tonight, the extent of the birthday celebrations have been stunted by the onset of heavy rain. After witnessing the club bursting at the seams last night, thanks to an exodus en masse of São Paulo city slickers fleeing to Maresias to make the most of the three-day national holiday, today has seen many return after hearing the news that storms are likely to continue. Tonight only 2500 have braved the tropical weather compared to the 5000 that packed the club to capacity last night — not a bad turn-out considering— meaning that DJs over at the rain-battered Pistinha (open-air) dancefloor are likely to be fighting a difficult battle.
However, when we arrive, we find D-Edge resident and underground Brazilian hero Paulo Bolghosian banging out Hot Since '82's remix of Green Velvet's 'Bigger Than Prince' as part of a skilfully deployed party set of UK-born 4/4s, German techno and funky tech house, from a booth in a tree house tower, to a charged crowd of drenched clubbers, filling half a floor and performing some sort of rain dance for the house gods above.
Tunes from Leftwing & Kody, Tiga and Luca Bachetti — even 'Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat' — all get outings and, as warm, sultry light beams begin the creep through the trees, the energy from the dripping wet crew below splashing about is showing no signs of waning.
Donning shades — men topless and women down to their underwear — the atmosphere is a far cry from the posturing witnessed in the VIP booths of the main room. Here is the face of Brazil's clubbing classes that rarely gets a look in, DJ Mag decides — a culture characterised by its carefree nature, throwing off their garms in tropical rain to music packed with nuthin' but groove, getting a taste of what electronic music can really do.
This is why thousands of people drive for hours to Sirena every week. For an experience like no other in this humungous country, where the smog-ridden climes of São Paulo allow serious ravers little else other than overpriced VIP hang-outs and a singular space-age superclub with an underground soundtrack (D-Edge). Here, underneath these fruitful woods, the sense of escape is one even we've rarely seen, especially within the jaded environs of a European club scene spoilt for choice for decades.
Even with the surrounding VIPs — sheltered from the downpour — getting down while sending love toward the DJ booth, unlike the inside room, there is a genuine sense of equality here, as clubbing elitism gets replaced by a hubbub and where the main protagonist is the movement of the music. It's this vibe that's stopped people from leaving, kept them dancing, smiling in the rain, even as Bolghosian fades out his last tune to exalted cries of applause and appreciation.
With Solomun, Danny Daze and Amine Edge & DANCE all poised to play out here early 2014, there is more to this club than meets the eye. Even after 20 years, Sirena is only getting started.