Interview with Mariano de Melo and Dovglas Leal | By Hutch | Photo by Jean Ribeiro
DEAFKIDS play their brand of electropunk with an abstract delivery that is confrontational and disturbing. The band are not fettered by any conventional paradigm of song structure, tempo, or instrumentation. Dissonant barrages of tones and aural abrasions culminate in a cacophony of pulsating sounds that sit perfectly—or paradoxically—on South American and Afrobeat rhythms, breathing vivacious life into the songs.
Based in Volta Redonda, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, DEAFKIDS also embed political evaluation and criticism in their belligerent electronic screams and sonic aggression. Metaprogramação, the band’s third LP, out March 15, is a true fit for Neurosis’ label, Neurot Recordings.
DEAFKIDS have much to say about how individual identity is—often falsely—tied with political views, asserting that people bond with minimalistic, simplistic ideas with no depth or substance. Values are distilled down to one-note bumper stickers, stripped of nuance. The band’s home of Brazil has been a victim of its political powers, and DEAFKIDS infuse ideas into their music that they hope will instigate a change in their audience.
“There are many aspects influencing this relationship between identity and politics,” drummer and percussionist Mariano de Melo explains. “Our own vision of the self is affected by the stage of our civilization, with the technological and social relations implied by it. There’s also a huge boom on populism, since the credibility of representative politics as a whole—with its local differences and nuances everywhere—is close to zero. The catch is that with an increase on the importance of one’s self-affirmation of its own identity in all instances, we are trapped between having to justify every one of our actions, whether by its ‘political purity’ or as a declaration of lack of interest for it—hence ‘political incorrectness.’ More than ever before, we feel watched on our actions while watch the others’, and not only by their ethical meaning but by their aesthetical value and the ethical value we extract from it.”
“Add to that a growing dependence on tools on which control is exerted by algorithms not controlled by us, and we end up speaking to the same people, reading the same opinions, and distancing ourselves from contradicting perspectives,” he continues. “It’s not complicated for the people who have the power to manipulate emotions in such a polarized context by confusing and telling people what to believe, making their relation to the concept of truth a very different one—something blatant when politicians deny saying something even if there’s physical evidence of them saying it, all while nodding to their supporters. It’s happening here, and it’s happening there.”
“Our music has no power to change that complex game by itself, but we hope the heat it tries to convey—and its, both literal and sensorial, message of deprogramming [and] reprogramming—touches people in a deeper, less rational way,” de Melo adds, acknowledging their inability to empower listeners directly. “We are not avatars being controlled by a mental main core; body and mind are one, and as the idea that they’re separated spread and rooted itself, we distanced from such a notion. Only by comprehending this entanglement will we be able to take a leap toward emancipation.”
DEAFKIDS’ intent is to encourage listeners to desire that emancipation. Metaprogramação’s third track, “Pacto de Máscaras,” is approachable, with minimal static and a bouncy, repetitive bassline, but the machine-gun electropulses tear and grind as the listener is engrossed by demonic chanting. This repetition can force people of the struggling class to embody that discomfort, try to escape the snares of vapid rhetoric, and move with substance and power, and de Melo advocates for people’s exploration of their mental health and the histories that have shaped the lower class.
“We can support and promote initiatives to spread resources among ourselves, whether material or symbolic [and] immaterial,” he unveils. “Creating ways for people to master various instruments, tools, and forms of communication, for them to develop their own language with those things, taking a grassroots approach to it seems to be one way. Creating solidarity structures in such an individuality-based era is complicated, but it’s a necessity nonetheless.”
“Another thing is to comprehend how structures of colonialism and domination invade our lives in ways which we didn’t consider before,” he adds. “As inaccessible as it is for poor people, the mental therapy that is searching to understand why we were raised like we were, why we carry certain traumas, and how they influence actions seemingly unrelated to them is strictly necessary to break this cycle. This type of mental investigation is really important, especially for people who spent their lives watching stronger forces toss them around. To spread self-awareness is to spread emancipation. Abused people tend to reproduce abuse, whether on others or themselves. Our parental relationships, the expectations we create, and the illusions we build must be overcome for us to free our minds. By learning how to forgive our past, we may be able to cleanse it.”
Combining techno and South American percussive rhythms with an onslaught of jagged anarcho-punk execution suits catchier—even danceable!—tracks like “Mente Bicameral” and “Templo do Caos.” They illustrate DEAFKIDS meeting their listeners halfway from the blitzkrieg of the third track, but even the more solidly defined songs are still hostile, mangled music. DEAFKIDS concede that the lofty message must not be lost in the path of transmission. The manner has to ensure that people’s ears—and brains—stay in front of the speaker, but as Marshall McLuhan famously stated, “The medium is the message.”
“[The songs] end up being extensions of their message, as they carry the same kind of chaos we try to portray lyrically,” de Melo elaborates. “The message ceases to be something contained by the lyrics; it is something embedded on the sound itself, to be absorbed by other parts of mind and body. We don’t think such a relationship fits a common, literal song structure, where the song acts as a background to something being said.”
These tracks aren’t meant to simply be input into ears for the brain to decipher. Emotive responses and triggered feelings play an equal role. “It’s all a matter of feeling. That’s what determines when a song is totally explored,” de Melo confirms. “We have our own common structures to know when something will or not happen in a song, a loosened notion of parts we’re able to recognize, so there’s a ‘controlled freedom’ thing going on as well.”
The immediacy and ubiquity of technology can add to feelings of isolation, but these tools are also essential for any modern revolution. The urgency is buried in the need to not render users mindless consumers, and de Melo sees a difficult road ahead. “This is quite complicated, as technology is not neutral,” he says. “By the time we adapt to its repercussions and create a way to properly answer to them, it has already taken leaps of evolution. This is something we see nowadays, faced with the challenge posed to teachers and education-related professionals, especially in the Third World. Literacy levels are low while the students have access to a plethora of gadgets and a better comprehension of how they work compared to their teachers; [they are], at the same time, being bombarded with information and questioning older people’s credentials and knowledge.”
“A focus on the creation of forms of communication on which we control the algorithms and usage of the data we insert is something very important,” he notes, “as well as using technology—artistically, practically, and both—to say what we need to say in ways never imagined before. The limits of our language must be expanded, and the control of these technical processes is mandatory for this to happen.”
On Metaprogramação, the seven-minute “Raíz Negativa (Não-Vontade)” bears the bulk of the album’s heft, perched in the middle. A dark but crisp guitar riff repeats and bludgeons. The energy level of the drums and electronics ebbs and flows, recedes and explodes. On “Camisa de Força (Inferno ou Sem Saida?),” the dichotomy of the centuries-old tribal rhythms and relentless assault of electronic sounds and pulses is definitely stimulating, but de Melo rejects the idea that utilizing electronic instruments as the core of DEAFKIDS’ music is counterintuitive. He sees no irony.
“It’s only ironic if you consider these rhythms or this relation with them a thing from the past,” he states. “This bodily relationship with the rhythmic phenomena—by which navigating through time becomes less of counting one-and-two and more of a fractal-like, corporal comprehension of its fabric—it is high-technology but believed by many to be something that ‘avant-garde’ music has already overcome. This relationship can be future as well as it is past; it has never died. Such a view is a present and primordial characteristic in many musical and cultural backgrounds, such as African and Afro-Latin, Arabic and Indian, to name a few. By applying the same idea to electronic beats and pulses—and by the contrast of their union—something can be pushed forward, connected to a traditional modus-operandi while expanding its possibilities. Of course, as those are elements that are not commonly combined, or not like this, it ends up being both dichotomic and unusual, somewhat enforcing this connection.”
The other half of the Brazilian duo breaks down the enigmatic title Metaprogramação, why it is the word chosen to encapsulate the ideas on this album. Vocalist, guitarist, and effects maestro Dovglas Leal says, “Metaprogramming is a concept that comes from the eight-circuit model of consciousness, created by Timothy Leary and expanded by Robert Anton Wilson. It basically refers to one’s consciousness’ programming of its own self-programming. By reaching higher levels of consciousness, the mammal politics that manage the struggles for power among humanity are transcended and seen as static, artificial, an elaborate ruse. As we reach such levels, we stop being affected by an extraneous territorial reality. We cease to be forced to fight this emotional game of domination and submission. We can voluntarily choose to refuse [or] accept and incorporate [or] refuse others’ vision of reality, and up to what extent. Our perception of ‘reality’ is haunted by evil stimuli, and the title serves to represent a search for a change in perception, to fight against the symbols of oppression, from inside to outside. A journey to take control of our true will.”
Continuing to balance approaches, or simply relying on impulse, “Vírus da Imagem do Ser” relies on heavy, charging d-beat guitars, while the six-minute “Espirais da Loucura” is solely reliant on polyrhythmic percussion, organic chants, and a siren for its first two minutes, natural and hypnotizing. The static bursts and teases do persist, though, and eventually win. An added wailing guitar and harsher rhythms build tension in the song incrementally.
DEAFKIDS have previously released two full albums and several EPs and splits. Metaprogramação does not represent a true sonic departure but an evolved extension. “Since this is the second time we recorded an album all together and that we had a due date for it, it is closely related to [2017’s Configuração Do Lamento] in that sense,” de Melo relates. “However, while we had three months for Configuração…, for this one, we had a month and a half to write and record the whole thing. We had a major help from our big friends João [Kombi] and [Thiago] Barata from the band TEST, as they shared their home studio with us. We went there every day and rehearsed, wrote and recorded some rough mixes of what the songs would become. That was something new for us, and it helped us a lot to get to the studio knowing exactly what to do.”
In its entirety, Metaprogramação is a journey—an arduous one, though the instrumentation is vibrant. Explaining his weapons of choice, de Melo says, “We used timbales, a djembe, a conga, and an atabaque. Me and Dovglas played the percussions, and we used everything we had available. If we had more percussions, I think we would definitely use them.”
“We’ve always been great fans of the way Afro-Latin music deals with the freedom of rhythm,” he adds. “While there’s a distinct, recognizable pulse, there’s always this feeling that the musicians are freely interacting with the groove. As you play, what you do both reaffirms the rhythm and denies it, creating tension and release at the same time in a serpent-like movement through time. This is the basis for most of the rhythms used in the album: a certain sense of pulse and length, inside of which there’s freedom to attack the way you want.”
The tones, emissions, and audio techniques used on Metaprogramação and its message of mental exploration seem to imply the album will become a chemically-assisted endeavor for some listeners. Do DEAFKIDS recommend their audience benefit from synthetic or natural alterations to supplement the experience? “Of course!” de Melo exclaims. “As these alterations many times promote distortions in the way one experiences things like time and response to sonic phenomena, they might make people prone to connecting to it in different ways. As we create psychedelic music, psychedelic states of the whole self always tend to enrich the experience.”