Down the Rabbit Hole of Chaos with Psych-Punk Hypnotists Deafkids

This piece is taken from our fifth print issue, available here

The struggle to get signed is one that many musicians will undoubtedly relate to – long hours spent crafting promos and sending emails only to receive radio silence or outright rejection in response can be a gruelling endeavour. But for some, the stars will align and the right label will stumble across your work instead. This is what happened to Brazilian psych-punk trio Deafkids, who caught the attention of Neurot Records co-founder and Neurosis member Steve Von Till after their 2016 LP Configuracao de Lamento found its way into third place on an Albums of the Year list – Neurosis’ Fires Within Fires was first. Von Till, now a huge advocate of the band, who he calls “a unique psychoactive journey of Brazilian polyrhythmic percussion, hypnotic chanting, and aggressive repetitive raw punk all echoing out from another dimension,” signed them up straight away, telling the band he was “blown away” by their music. And as luck would have it, Neurosis were soon set to tour in Brazil for the first time. Deafkids jumped at the opportunity to support them, and in March 2019 released Metaprogramação through Neurot.

It’s not hard to see what impressed Von Till so much. Inspired by ‘60s and ‘70s Brazilian artists who worked the country’s traditional music into experimental percussion-based compositions, the band craft a sonic monument of defiance, borrowing from the boisterous angst of punk, the frantic intensity of noise and the perplexing otherworldliness of psychedelia. It’s overwhelming and yet utterly engrossing, with an undeniable human element despite a life-affirming energy that feels not of this world. It’s an unshackling of chains; a total rejection of unrestricted hegemony and depersonalisation.

Not your average political band, Deafkids think about life and the modern sociopolitical landscape in a much deeper sense, burrowing into lines of thinking that we’re not used to addressing on a regular basis. Bassist Marcelo Dos Santos and guitarist Douglas Leal are quiet, shy even, with Dos Santos saying very little and Leal occasionally struggling to put into English the deeper meanings behind their work. At first, Astral Noize sits down with just the two of them in the press room at Roadburn Festival 2019, discussing the band’s sound, their set at the festival and how their collaboration with Wayne Adams’ and countryman Iggor Cavalera’s experimental noise project Petbrick came into being.

First though, we ask about the band’s blend of the chaotic and the psychedelic. “I think it has to do with our lives and living in São Paulo,” says Leal. “Things are really chaotic there, more than ever now I guess. Plus, we’re not like acid-heads but we’re very into psychedelics. The trance-like feeling and the discharge of energy that comes with this loud and rhythmic music, it gets to you through the body, so that’s what we’ve been searching for when creating music. This idea comes from who we are and what we believe.”

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“And where we live,” adds Dos Santos. It’s clear that both the atmosphere of their home city and the political happenings there inspire the band’s music. “It’s about both inner and outer influences,” Leal tells us. “It’s not only about the external influences. We think that music is very related with your personal processes and the feeling you want to bring with the music that relates to your life and what is necessary for that moment.”

The band’s musical style is a coming together of sounds once thought disparate, but its heavily psychedelic flavourings certainly recall many artists with whom they share a homeland. “Why are there so many psychedelic bands there?” Leal begins. “I don’t know, maybe everyone just likes to get high, Brazil has good weather for it! A lot of the psychedelic bands there are softer. Which isn’t bad or good, but we’re more interested in other characteristics of psychedelia.”

The band’s psych-fuelled voyage of an album is certainly not of that softer variety. Metaprogramação is a tough listen, but one that’s richly rewarding, flowing as one continuous piece that transcends boundaries. The unique sound they’ve concocted is the perfect vessel for their message, one that the band are open about expressing. Reading the bio on the album’s Bandcamp page may begin as an innocent attempt to understand what the band are conveying, but it can lead you into a myriad of contemplations on life in the modern world. 

Soon, as drummer Mariano Melo joins us, we explore these lines of thinking. His unique way of looking at the world takes us through an interconnected maze of interestingly different topics and ideas. He speaks frankly about his and his bandmates’ views on the world, throwing out an overlapping map of ideas in long sentences that meander and deviate, giving some insight into a band whose collective mind seemingly operates on a different level than the average person’s.

Despite always having a lot to say, he offers the floor to his bandmates on numerous occasions, with them often declining – presumably safe in the knowledge that Melo will have a lot to say on any topic. When he first sits down, he launches into an intriguing monologue on freedom and what the concept means in the modern world. Speaking consistently for roughly five minutes solid, he grins upon reaching the end, apologising for falling down the rabbit-hole as his bandmates laugh.

“I think there’s freedom [in the modern world] to a certain extent,” he muses. “The amount of freedom we would want is not unreachable but harder to achieve, especially in the modern day and age, because politics are leaning more into individualist aspects rather than collective aspects. Ideas like socialism and communism are being seen more and more as something from the past even though the critique still makes sense, and we’re reaching a point where things are getting so hectic that this type of freedom is distant to say the least.”

Melo cites a variety of factors when discussing the topic, something that he has evidently spent time thinking about and which clearly influences the organised chaos of Deafkids’ music. He references colonialism, ethnic heritage, class, parental relationships and more, then relates these to how aspects of our lives repeat in an ongoing cycle. “This spiral structure is something we need to transcend,” he suggests.

Something Melo also seems keen to discuss in relation to their sound, though, is the relationship between the mind and the body. To him, it appears, the mind represents modern society and the ways in which we struggle to control ourselves to conform, whilst the body represents our true self – a locus of resistance against this control and the cyclical nature of societal living. “We feed on control in society,” he says. “We struggle to control ourselves, and sometimes I think this shouldn’t be the path. We should try to get more in contact with ourselves.”

To Deafkids, then, psychedelia is music that affects the body as well as (or perhaps even instead of) the mind. “The types of psychedelia that become more of a social thing interest us more than something more cerebral,” he says, linking the latter to a church, where a pastor may try to influence your mind through speech, whilst the former he compares to the umbanda rituals of his homeland: “There’s drums and singing, so they’re building this energy where your body takes you to another level. If you have a certain inclination to it, you will feel it and it inhabits you. We’re not that powerful, but I think that’s what we want to offer. Music with a social function of cleansing, of going to a concert and letting things go.”

And so it’s clear that Deafkids want to turn the modern world on its head, but they want to do so with a sense of togetherness. “We want to start a fire,” Melo tells us. “But we want to start a fire that is personal and also collective, because you can’t get it through individual experiences alone. You need to share it, like through music. At the same time, the fire is individual because it sparks awareness of what you are because you’re working with your body – your full self. So most of the percussive music we like is related to that feeling of transcendence because you’re in a state of mind that is altered.”

That spark is tangible within the Brazilians’ music. It’s fast and frenzied, unpredictable in its blazing cocktail of noise manipulation, ferocious guitars and tortured vocals. Holding it all together, though, is Melo’s ritualistic drumming – the mere hint of structure amongst the chaos. Though the band’s music is inherently modern, that element of control also channels an energy akin to traditional religious rituals like those Melo mentioned. “Our music reflects what we are, as children of technology and of our time,” the drummer explains. “And something that sometimes bothers us is when it’s called ‘primitive’ or ‘tribal’ – it’s more primal. It’s more about a certain energy that’s never stopped existing and is still present in many cultures and many cultural backgrounds throughout the world, including ours.”

This primal energy is also seemingly what the band most enjoy about playing live. “Our messages can be addressed in a less rational way, in a less poetic way, through sound,” Melo says. Their music is largely wordless, but their shows are energetic, connecting the band with the audience in a way that we can’t attain through normal, day-to-day interactions – the “social psychedelia” referenced earlier.

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Melo reflects on the musical energy of psychedelia as a sort of “transcendence through repetition.” It pulses, and demands you be actively involved with it, he suggests. “It’s live music, alive music in a sense. And it’s not just music but a relationship with life that some, for example, African and Brazilian religions have… I think we try to reflect this type of connection with life, but through the lens of the time in which we live. Otherwise it would be just a relic, it would be just a statue from the past that people wouldn’t take seriously. We’re both our past and our present in order to meet the future. We couldn’t just represent the past, otherwise we would be just a homage or some sort of antiquity.”

Learning from the past is often an effective way to predict and thus better our future, but even with this knowledge, it can be hard to find optimism in a world so wrought by major political upheavals, inequality, the rise of neo-fascism and a rich/poor divide that’s growing by the day. For Melo, looking forward with positivity is tough because of the fact that so much of modern life is beyond our control. “Like algorithms,” he suggests as an example. “What we see and hear is actually controlled by someone else. I’m optimistic when it comes to personal relationships, and what we do is a burst of our own optimism in a sense. It reflects what we want, the heat we feel is lacking in the world. But I think in a rational way we’re not that optimistic about the future because of the rise of the [political] right – there’s a lot going on in Brazil, there’s a lot going on in the world – but at the same time we try to touch people with a more corporal optimism, a less rational optimism, so we can affect each other in order to change things.”

The rise of the right is something Deafkids know all too well – far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro became their country’s president just two months before Metaprogramação’s release. The heat and togetherness that Melo references is something he believes the political left can use to combat the right, but he also thinks it is something the left lacks in the modern era. “I think we need to regain it somehow,” he says, noting that third world cultures, which he believes are less focused on “rationality,” could help developed regions in this regard. “Many African and Arabic cultures, and India and so forth, are seen as the past, as the beginnings of humanity, and that view perpetuates an idea that they can’t represent anything for the future, so it erases any vanguard that can come out of this relationship with things. So I think we’re trying to express our optimism by taking those energies and blending them somehow.”

These energies coalescing is perhaps what gives Metaprogramação its all-encompassing energy. Deafkids are a band who know what they are, and their music is all the more captivating and affecting for it. They have thought deeply about why they do things the way they do, and can thus hone it to the extent that a cursory listen can affect you in ways you can’t quite conceptualise. It is cleansing, ritualistic, psychoactive punk that grabs you by the body. The band don’t need poetic lyrics to drive home their worldview. Instead of making you think about their beliefs, they engage with their audience through an aural assault that makes the listener feel something, perhaps waking them up to the world’s injustices in the process. Just like the rituals that Melo tells us about, if you have a certain inclination to their music, Deafkids will inhabit your body and enliven your spirit, sparking a collective fire that could just bring about the beginnings of positive change in a world run rife with chaos.

Metaprogramação is out now on Neurot Recordings. Order here.

Words: George Parr

Photos: Jean Ribeiro

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