Re-shaping Rio: DJ RaMeMes’s funk-defying mission04 July, 2023
With special thanks to Mariana Mansur for helping with the translation and interpretation of the interview.
The other benefits of his rising popularity aside, DJ RaMeMes has finally been able to make peace with his dad. “He had no idea why I was spending my time making music,” he says, “and instead wanted me to go to work in our family business, a bar operated out the back of our house, or as a city bus driver like he used to be.” It was a constant butting of heads that only subsided in February of this year, when the 24 year-old RaMeMes appeared on the local news in an interview about the song he had recently produced for Brazilian music giants Pabllo Vittar and Anitta, called Calma Amiga. “Then he understood that I was doing something serious. Now I work at the bar part-time, when I’m not making music, whereas it used to be the other way around.”
Before earning him the reputation of being one of the genre’s most exciting and unique innovators, RaMeMes’ complex, high-energy releases were notorious for leaving many in his native state of Rio de Janeiro bewildered. He started making music when he was 17, when he was dared by a friend to DJ at their high school’s talent show, and has dedicated the seven years since to creating and refining his own variety of baile funk–one that he says people are starting to identify as a proper funk do RaMeMes [a RaMeMes funk]. Blending the repetitive motifs and bright melodies of electronic music into the rhythmic structures of funk at rave-like speeds, he has proudly come to be known by another name that was initially applied to him in jest: DJ RaMeMes (O DESTRUIDOR DO FUNK) [THE DESTROYER OF FUNK].
If at one point he was seen as a destructive force, today the consensus is certainly that RaMeMes’ is a highly danceable, genre-bending iteration of an already highly experimental style of music. Integrating elements from a broad range of genres has made his music particularly approachable, and has “turned him into a friend of everybody,” his manager Mariana Mansur says, “allowing him to play spaces with all kinds of people, generating a social fluidity that turns him into more of a destroyer of boundaries than a destroyer of funk.”
With the release of his new album Sem Limites this May 26th on the Rio-based record label QTV Selo, RaMeMes has offered-up an eight track selection of thrushing, pixelated, brutally danceable funk, once again reworking the definition of just what a funk do RaMeMes can feel and sound like. In the weeks leading up to the album’s release, I had the chance to sit down and talk with him about the process that has led him along his upwards trajectory, thinking back on the ways in which his upbringing and his unique position in Rio’s funk scene came to shape him into the singularly eclectic artist that he is today.
NG: Let’s start with your background. I remember hearing that you were born and raised in Volta Redonda, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, but that your family’s originally from around the state of Minas Gerais.
RAMEMES: Yeah that’s right, my family’s from all over Minas: Ouro Preto, Divino, Leopoldina, etcetera. My granddad came from Matipó to Volta Redonda years ago when it was still a new city in the process of being built, and he saw the opportunity to bring over products from home and sell them here – things like coffee, cheese, lenguiça sausage. It worked well for him and so he stuck around; and here I am.
NG: And has that kind of remained the family business?
RAMEMES: Absolutely. They make a lot of cachaça in Minas as well, so my granddad brought a lot of that over and made a bar that we still run out the back of our house, and I’ve worked there helping my dad since I was young, even after I started making music. My mom was always really supportive of my ambitions, but my dad was always more of a traditional, rigid mineiro [a person from the state of Minas Gerais] in that he wanted me to work and that’s it. He didn’t understand me making music; what he understood was me working in the bar, or becoming an Ônibus [city bus] driver like he used to be. Even when I talked to him about going to university he was like “why would you do that? Just come work with me.”
NG: And did you go to university in the end?
RAMEMES: God no! I signed-up for a program in production engineering and then left after the first semester. I’ve been alternating between working at the bar and doing music since then.
NG: When was your first exposure to funk then? When did you have that “a-ha” moment where you realized that you wanted to be an artist?
RAMEMES: Funk is kind of an inevitable fact living in Brazil, and so I always had it on my radar and liked it, but when I was younger I was mostly listening to rock and electronic music like Linkin Park and Skrillex. I realized that I wanted to get into funk as an artist when I was 17, when a friend dared me to participate in the talent show at our high school just for jokes. He had a controller, and so I figured I’d get up and play DJ in front of everyone, the only caveat being that I had no idea how to work the controller at all. What I did instead was I showed-up with seven tracks that I had found on Soundcloud and just got up on stage and pressed play. To my surprise, everyone loved it – they all got up and danced the whole time, and a lot of them told me afterward that I should keep going, and so I did, seeing as I had such a good time.
NG: In the years following that experience, what made you realize that you wanted to focus on this very particular electronic-influenced funk you’ve been making?
RAMEMES: I wanted to make funk my way, with reference to all the stuff I got from listening to electro as a kid. As I said, funk is everywhere in Brazil, but especially so in Rio – I didn’t want to simply reproduce the kind of music I was hearing around me, but instead contribute something new.
NG: Which is why, I assume, I see your music being played in places that resemble raves more than the traditional bailes [neighbourhood parties] that funk artists usually play at.
RAMEMES: Right, exactly. Up front my music resembles electro more than anything else, and the funk aspect isn’t exactly the “normal” one either. The funk is preserved in the rhythm, meanwhile all the aesthetics and motifs are like electronic music in that I’ll have words repeat themselves over and over again with different melodies, I’ll turn them into different sounds. Initially I was working with MCs like with funk traditionally, but they mostly didn’t like it because I would take their vocal track and chop it up and distort it and turn the a cappella into more of an instrument than a set of lyrics. I stopped that, and then started making the sample-based funk that I make now.
NG: Absolutely, the repetitiveness is something that really struck me with your music right from the beginning: although of course with MC-based funk tracks you can have whole phrases repeated pretty frequently, but in your case it can really just be a sound or a word a lot of the time, like with your Trilogia do Sexo which has become something of a mythical reference.
RAMEMES: With Sexo I was composing with a lot of Daft Punk in mind, trying to use the kind of repetition that they used to make Around the World into such an incredible track, but substituting it with the word “sexo” as a funny detail. But it’s interesting: people love it when it’s Daft Punk, but when it’s a funk track using the word “sexo” people can sometimes react pretty negatively to it.
NG: How has your composition style evolved over the past seven years?
RAMEMES: I think the most important way in which it’s changed is that I’ve simplified the music a lot. I was making things too complex, thinking too much in terms of electronic music when I was producing funk, and it was too much for people. Before I would put so much in the song that it would kind of start to become incoherent – sometimes I’d have so many rows open on Ableton that my computer would crash! Now I’ve refined it down to four or five rows, and it’s a cleaner sound.
NG: How did you get your other name then, O Destruidor do Funk?
RAMEMES: When I first started listening to funk it was locked at 130 BPM basically without exception. It was in about 2017 when DJ Polyvox came out with his Coca Cola Beat, where he recorded himself banging out funk percussion with an empty bottle of Coke against a door at 150 BPM and started making songs with it, which was a huge deal because at the time people didn’t really have any exposure to funk that was played that fast. Other DJs started gradually boosting the BPM slowly to 155, 160, but by the time I got to making music I wanted to take it even further, so I immediately went to producing songs at 170, 180, 185 like a trance or a drum and bass song. With that plus all the samples and electronic elements I put into the music, when I went to go play in public for the first time people were like “dude, this is too much, this is way too fast – you’re destroying funk.”
NG: I suppose then that this translated to a sort of general resistance to you and your music?
RAMEMES: It definitely did. For a while people in Rio didn’t want to listen to my music or come to my events, but I think that only has something to do with me in part; it kind of fits into the critical disposition that you see different communities, cities, and even whole states or regions have towards one another. Funk is such an experimental genre: it’s always moving, changing, and people will make it with anything, with this or with that, with a recording of some refrigerator noise if that’s all they have.
NG: I mean look at how revolutionary an empty bottle of Coca-Cola can be when put in the right hands.
RAMEMES: Right, that inborn freedom to experiment which is such an essential part of the genre has really allowed it to become very diverse, and take on really distinct forms throughout the country. Rio has its funk, São Paulo has its funk, the north-east has another kind and the south has its own. People here say that I have my own style, that what I make is more funk do RaMeMes than anything. Where you’re born will affect what you like, and typically people listen to the music from their own state and are closed-off to variations from the outside, and in the end, it’s really just a battle between states to see who’s better.
NG: So for you it would be even harder to break out then, because not only is it funk from Rio de Janeiro being presented to an outside audience, but it’s also funk do RaMeMes that is also from Rio de Janeiro that is then presented to the outside.
NG: What was it that helped you break through all of that then? From the looks of your Instagram it seems like you’re playing more and more shows around the country.
RAMEMES: Honestly, if it wasn’t for the people in Volta Redonda and the way we all support each other, I’m not sure if things would be the same right now. There are lots of really excellent DJs and producers there, friends of mine like DJ Pretinho, DJ Ramom do Gustão, DJ LC da VG, Jaca Beats. I came up following in their footsteps, going to play music with them when they invited me out to bailes as a person who didn’t go out much before the age of 18. The kind of stuff I make now is a product of the time we spent making music together, in that there was a dialogue there where I brought the electronic influence from the outside that they didn’t have, and they brought the funk. The relationship allowed us to start making a kind of funk that was really different, and that people from the outside have begun identifying as distinct: a feat in itself since it’s so hard to get noticed as an artist when you’re from the country’s interior.
NG: What does being from the interior change?
RAMEMES: People don’t listen to you with the right ears. They kind of take a side-step away from you because they have this vision of us being a people far-removed who don’t have much to offer culturally. There’s also the fact of money, in that all the funding that sustains public cultural life and that fuels upwards mobility in the industry is concentrated in cities on the coast, especially in São Paulo. People from the interior don’t usually leave the interior – here, people come together to do things because we’re not given chances from the outside as easily.
NG: Not only are you in the process of making it on the outside, but it seems like your fanbase has come to extend across a really wide variety of social spaces across Brazil, from neighbourhood bailes to LGBTQIA+ raves. I was talking to your manager Mariana Mansur, and at one point she described you as “more of a destroyer of boundaries than a destroyer of funk,” which I really liked. Do you think that’s the case, and if so, why?
RAMEMES: I see what she means and I agree, and I think it’s because I come at the music open to everything, with no fixed ideas or preconceptions. As I said before, lots of people just do funk in the style of where they’re from, whereas I do the mixed thing: I listen to funk from everywhere, I like to listen to everything, and so when I approach the music I put references to a lot of different ideas from different genres and places into it. I think that this allows all kinds of people to identify with the music easier and embrace it. For example, when I mix my funk style with something more pop, the pop crowd will tend to like it; and the same goes for any other genre and its crowd. It’s something that they’re already familiar with and know how to like, but then when it gets mixed-in with the funk it becomes something distinct. And as for funk, all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds already like it to begin with – Brazil loves funk on the whole, in all its forms.
NG: There’s this picture of yours that I love that I was already planning on asking you about, but what you said just now about looking towards all kinds of things for inspiration made me think of it. Could you explain this picture to me? I’ve been laughing about it for nearly a year now.
RAMEMES: Oh yeah this was great. I got invited to go play at Mamba Negra in São Paulo, and so naturally I wanted to learn more about funk and funk culture specific to there: I wanted to see how they were speaking, where they were hanging out, what they were wearing, and so I was told to go to the Praça da Liberdade where everything usually goes down. I saw guys there wearing things like this and I was like “damn, I need one of those too – I mean, I should dress like them seeing as I’m in their city” and so I went and bought this outfit immediately. This kind of thing full of patterns of cartoon villains is super common and well-seen there for whatever reason, but in Rio people would probably tell me to throw it in the trash. I went walking around the Praza dressed like this, and when I saw this Hello Kitty standing outside of a store I knew that I needed to take the picture, because I think it so hilariously and absurdly contrasts two things that couldn’t be further apart: São Paulo funk and Hello Kitty.
NG: The contrast is hilarious, and I think the thing I find the funniest about it is how casual you seem about the whole thing. That very casual feeling is something that I’ve felt a lot in your music, and that I’ve heard you speak about in the past: I remember you saying that your objective from the very beginning has been to make music that you like and that you can listen to with your friends, and nothing more. Why do you think you’ve hung onto this creative outlook over the years, and how do you think it serves you?
RAMEMES: I’ve seen a lot of people burn out, lose the love they had for their craft, and I never want to do that. Since the very beginning I’ve focused on producing lightheartedly, focusing on whether or not I like it and whether or not my friends like it so we could have a laugh about it and that’s all. I think it’s important to focus on right now, on what you’re producing, on liking it for yourself. It’s important to let things flow and see what comes out of it, rather than approaching production with a fixed idea of what you want to do without exception. I think that that becomes boring pretty quickly, and that in the end if you keep doing a thing you don’t like, you’ll wind-up not doing it at all.
Noah Geffroyd is a freelance film-maker and journalist. See his Instagram page: @noshgeffroyd
Follow Sounds and Colours: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Mixcloud / Soundcloud / Bandcamp
Subscribe to the Sounds and Colours Newsletter for regular updates, news and competitions bringing the best of Latin American culture direct to your Inbox.