IT’S Saturday, so we’re in Manchester, mid-way through the NME rave tour, and everyone is a little subdued. Despite looking like a bad-ass girl-gang from the barrio in their skinny jeans and dirty trainers, CSS are friendly enough, but they’re tired – and they’re desperate to get sushi before Selfridges closes.
In the three years since they bounced out of São Paulo like some globetrotting gang of cartoon crime-fighters, CSS have amazed and befuddled audiences all over the world with their energetic, exuberant, slightly crazy live shows. They somehow manage to play up to Brazilian stereotypes without actually sounding remotely Brazilian.
“People think we’re this band who parties so hard,” smiles guitarist Ana Rezende. “In France, this guy said to me, where are you gonna party tonight? And I’m like, I’m gonna party on the bus, I’ve been on tour for like six months, I really need to have a good night’s sleep. He didn’t understand.”
Bassist Iracema Trevisan formed CSS after deciding that she wanted to be in a band with people who were more interested in having fun than being cool. The irony is, the friends she called on from art college and São Paulo’s underground party scene – filmmakers, musicians, graphic designers and other creative types – inadvertently became the coolest band in the world.
Like some kind of wonderful South American Girls Aloud Plus One Bloke, their foul-mouthed and funny debut album Cansei de Ser Sexy glories in plain and simple drunk-girls-on-the-dancefloor hedonism, but unlike Nadine, Sarah, Cheryl, Kimberley and Nicola, CSS also have songs called Music Is My Hot Hot Sex and Fuck Off Is Not The Only Thing You Have To Show.
Unconcerned about wearing their hearts on their sleeves, CSS’s extraordinarily inventive debut betrays influences as diverse as the slick stylings of US R&B and the old school bleep of Tetris, the big, big guitars of Sonic Youth and even high-gloss vintage Euro pop – in other words, the same jumble of sounds as internet-literate musicians all over the world.
“We all grew up listening to different things,” says the band’s effervescent lead singer Luisa Matsuita, who works under the inspired and entirely appropriate stage name of Lovefoxxx, “but we all listened to a lot of rock. And we liked to go out and listen to dance music.”
“In Brazil, everybody listens to a lot of the same things that you would listen to if you grew up here,” adds the band’s drummer, occasional guitarist and in-house producer Adriano Cintra .”It’s pretty much the same. But I think the one thing that everyone in the band likes is pop, you know, the shitty pop songs like Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera.”
This ambivalence towards pop culture can even be seen in the name of the album itself – Cansei de Ser Sexy is a Portuguese translation of Beyoncé Knowles’ laughable declaration that she was tired of being sexy.
“It’s like her saying she’s tired of being rich,” says Lovefoxxx, applying alarmingly bright orange lipstick.
“It’s a really retarded thing to say,” agrees Rezende. “And it was just the stupidest name that we could ever come up with – but it’s funny and I love it.”
CSS seem to have made a career out of doing clever things in stupid ways. Or maybe even doing stupid things in clever ways. They’re not entirely sure themselves. Then as now, they say, the aim was simply to throw a good party.
“We are happy and the whole idea is that it is like a big exchange with the audience,” says guitarist Luiza Sá from under her baseball cap. She shrugs. “We did the band to party together, so it is just what we do.”
“The first thing we did when we made the band was to have a party,” remembers Cintra. “We were all there at my studio, drinking vodka, and the idea was okay, I think we should have a party. I’m going to call the bar, we start next Friday.”
“We had a party where we said on the flyer, if you come and show us your butt, and let us take a photo, you get in for free,” says Lovefoxxx, practically hyperventilating. “So I ended up taking a photo of this guy’s ugly butt and it was very horrible. And his girlfriend was like, Oh, my boyfriend, he showed his butt and now he got in for free! And to get in it was 10 Reais, which is like £2.50. It was the ugliest butt that I have ever seen. Seriously.”
Building on their growing word-of-mouth reputation for their incendiary, celebratory live performances in São Paulo, the band used MySpace and Flickr to spread the message further afield. They know that bands like them don’t have to play by music industry rules anymore; if you have access to the internet, you have access to the world. It is, says Cintra, “the end of the lie”.
“That’s the thing about YouTube, it is very democratic. Any band can film their rehearsal and they can have it on YouTube,” says Trevisan. “This is very different to MTV.”
After some success in Brazil, they signed to Sub Pop, the label which brought Nirvana to international attention, neatly bypassing the curse of ‘the foreign and exotic’ by writing most of their songs in English. They enjoy writing in a second language because, as Cintra puts it, “we don’t think that it is going to be lost in translation but sometimes it does”.
“We always did songs in English, because we always listened to music sung in English,” he says. “And we love a lot of artists who don’t sing in English, like Bjork, but we never thought what we do would be something exotic, you know? But we didn’t do that looking for success.”
“It was very natural,” adds Rezende.
Their nationality is, they feel, about as important as the fact that most of the band are women, or that a couple of them are gay. It’s not a big deal.
“I think the people that come to our shows,” says Lovefoxxx, “they’re not too focussed on our … Brazilian-ness”.
“We could come from anywhere,” decides Rezende. “I think the scene is the internet now. It’s not something that is connected to any one country. It could be Mexico City or São Paulo or Berlin, or anywhere.”
The worldwide success of their ramshackle punk electro-pop has been as swift as it was unexpected. CSS’s celebratory and uninhibited live performances, it seems, translate easily into any language. Their secret weapon is their live-wire Japanese-Brazilian singer, an effortlessly charismatic frontwoman who only got the gig because she once forgot to take her guitar to rehearsal.
Cute as a button and as crazy as a box of frogs, this hyperactive superstar-in-the-making provides the focal point for the band, bouncing from one end of the stage to the other, throwing herself into the audience and generally having the time of her life.
“She rips her clothes a lot,” laughs guitarist and drummer Luiza Sá.
“I always have a bunch of bruises,” says the singer, rolling up one leg of her white spandex leggings, “my legs are always fucked up. Oh! And my teeth. Each tour, a small bit breaks off somewhere.
“But I think someday I am going to break this one”. She sticks a finger into her mouth. “This one is very frail, because once I hit my face there when I was riding a bike. But that’s all.
“Oh no, there’s also this,” she suddenly remembers a bruise on her arm.
We could be here all day.
“But this,” she points to a small scar at the side of her face, “when I was a kid, me and my brother used to climb trees on the street, and my father used to encourage us. He used to buy us hooks, and we used to do some things with judo straps. We looked very ghetto.
“I’ve always done pointless things,” she adds with a winning smile.
They have spent much of the time since the release of their album touring the world. They still can’t quite believe their luck.
“For us now, it’s the best thing for us to be onstage,” smiles Rezende. “Everybody is screaming your songs at you and you can just scream back to them. We all love that.”
How do you keep it exciting playing gigs day after day?
“This is very important,” says Cintra, waving a bottle of Absolut around, to general agreement.
Later, they troop onstage beneath swathes of burkha-like, black fabric before exploding into their opening number, a typically exuberant take on 2Unlimited’s trashy euro-rave anthem, No Limits. The crowd goes bananas.
The sleazy electro edge of their album is replaced by a heavier, more guitar-based wall-of-sound, although the biggest cheer of the night comes for the loose-limbed punk-funk of Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above. They simply rock.
Lovefoxxx is a revelation, throwing herself around the stage, leaping up to catch the glo-sticks thrown by a young, enthusiastic and largely drunk audience, before diving off the stage for some serious crowd-surfing.
The best frontwoman in the world, it seems, is now a 23-year-old Japanese-Brazillian giddy-kipper from São Paulo in white spandex – and there is no going back.
[This piece has been put together for two separate features written for Flux magazine and the Big Issue in the North, based around an interview with CSS in January 2007]
The excellent picture of Lovefoxxx at the top of this piece comes courtesy of Neil365 at musiclikedirt. Obrigado!