It’s 3pm on any given Sunday in São Paulo, and I’m walking with my friend Bianca, a paulistana of Italian heritage like myself, through the Largo do Arouche — São Paulo’s wild downtown.
We’re leaving from Bianca’s mom’s apartment, and it’s funny to see such a classy, mature lady choosing to live in this area — where male prostitution and crack smoking are daylight activities.
But it’s not difficult to understand why the Arouche square is a magnetic spot for anyone who appreciates the quirks of urban life. One of the treasures of old São Paulo’s downtown, it has a charming flower shop in the middle, a fantastic (and affordable) French restaurant, a traditional cantina called O Gato Que Ri (The Laughing Cat) with a large painting of the happy bichano on the front window. The buildings are as old as things get around here, with a decay-elegant vibe.
I remember coming to the theater at Arouche when I was a kid — one of the first megaplexes in town (three screens!). Today the cinema has turned into a 24-hour gym, the fine gentlemen and ladies into strong young guys in tight jeans, drag queens in red leather, teenage girls with blue-dyed hair holding hands, lawyers and couples having lunch, South American expats, and the occasional old lady coming back from grocery shopping.
Arouche welcomes everyone, and this is as Brazilian as it gets. And it hosts one of the most crowded stages of the annual Virada Cultural, the all-day, all-night party that takes place in São Paulo streets every early June.
But it’s also where the LGBT community throws a hell of a party every weekend. Inclusivity has proliferated around the Arouche clubs the last 30 years or so. Or maybe it’s the other way around: The gay-friendly clubs and bars are there because that’s where their clientele is.
But Bianca and I are leaving before the nightly Arouche bas fond starts, heading to a Sunday afternoon street party a few blocks away.
Actually, it’s more of a viaduct party, taking place at Minhocão. It’s a joint venture between some of the underground nightlife promoters, the main one being Voodoohop.
The group’s been around for almost four years in São Paulo’s subculture, starting as an anything-goes weekly night led by a German promoter in a small bar, slowly developing into one of the city’s best experiences. It bears the same open-minded attitude that old-school ravers might remember from 20 years ago. But being in Brazil in this era is different, especially music-wise — where you once had house and trance music, nowadays you’ll find anything from rare old funk to macumba chants.
Voodoo doesn’t have a fixed venue. It can happen anywhere (waterfalls in Minas Gerais included), with location details revealed on the website just hours before kickoff. Today Voodoohop is taking place at the monumental viaduct that connects east and west in São Paulo, crossing above the old central district.
A hideous act of engineering, the Elevado Presidente Costa e Silva, popularly know as Minhocão (meaning “big worm”) was built during the first of Paulo Maluf’s terms of office as mayor in 1970. He is today known as one of the most investigated (and never convicted) Brazilian politicians, his name synonymous with corruption. Maluf may be gone for good from São Paulo’s government, but the worm is here to stay — as grey, ugly, polluting, and just plain wrong as the overpass is, it’s a necessary element of the city’s infrastructure.
And maybe that’s a good thing. Especially on Sundays, when Minhocão is closed to cars and people take over — kids riding bicycles, youngsters skating, couples walking dogs, families sunbathing. Today the party occupies the area between Angelica and Amaral Gurgel. There are four different sound systems, each blasting its own music. You can hear pure MPB, or techno, or samba-rock, or a mix of it all.
Police officers look around peacefully, couples (all combinations) hold hands, groups sit on the sidewalks to chat, drink, and smoke. Since it’s an improvised experience, there’s no alcohol sold. But that’s fine — people just bring their own booze, like Mariano, Bianca’s fiancée, is doing right now. He arrives with a white termo bag full of ice and beer he just bought from a boteco on the street bellow the viaduct.
In less than an hour I meet people from everywhere — past coworkers, long-time-no-see friends, former dancefloor colleagues. When the beer is all drunk, someone has to go down, buy some more, and come back, delivering the empty cans to the garbage bins bellow.
People dance in circles. I decide to wander trough the viaduct and notice a small stand selling pot brownies. It’s been forever since I fancied myself some space cake, so I give it a try: R$5, which is more or less the price of a beer.
An hour later, I am stoned as fuck. So much so that I actually can’t speak with my friends anymore. I meet some people at the dubstep sound system and realize the party is going to continue through the night.
Suddenly we’re chatting at the counter of a boteco on São João Avenue, then I’m saying my goodbyes, then I’m walking alone through dark streets towards Arouche again, where my car awaits me in a parking lot.
The streets may be dark, but they’re full of people. It’s Sunday night, summertime, and the way Brazilians party goes a like this: No time to start or finish, anywhere, with anyone.
***Explore the world party scene with Matador’s own nightlife guide 101 PLACES TO GET F*CKED UP BEFORE YOU DIE.
Part travel guide, part drunken social commentary, 101 Places may have some of the most hilarious scenes and straight-up observations of youth culture of any book you’ve ever read.***