|Renato Ratier: To the edge
RA catches up with the owner of D-Edge, one of Brazil's finest clubs.
Brazil is regularly heralded as the great hope in a brave new world of electronic music, but has seemingly struggled to get more than a foot in the door after numerous false dawns over the last decade. A recent study stated that Brazil was "now the country of electronic music," citing eye-catching growth figures in the market as evidence, although the fact that the study was commissioned by the organisers of the annual Rio Music Conference should give you some idea of the degree of independence in those findings. Musical positivity, though, is definitely on the rise in South America's largest country.
On a recent trip to Brazil, I was able to see first-hand just how vibrant things are there, firstly in Sao Paulo where D-Edge—with its renowned lighting system—has been very much the focal point of the city's clubbing culture for nearly a decade, and then further south at Warung Beach Club in Santa Catarina. I also caught the back end of the ten day long Rio Music Conference, the most likely candidate to become South America's ADE.
As founder, owner and resident DJ of D-Edge, Renato Ratier is naturally something of a figurehead for the scene. A larger than life character, he acted as makeshift-tour guide throughout my stay, during which time the extent of his own ambition seemed indicative of a scene reaching some degree of maturity. Or perhaps that's too much of a generalisation: Having blazed the trial for the last 15 years in Brazil, Ratier can hardly be described as representative of the average club promoter or owner. Moreover, as we discussed his past, present and future, it was hard not to feel that his words could at the very least serve as a rallying call for the wider Brazilian scene.
What was your first contact with electronic music?
Electronic music has been there all my life, from when I was a kid, but I started to work in electronic music—in dance music—in 1996, when I first did some parties and was a DJ. It was always a natural thing; buying records, playing music to friends, then doing small parties, but not trying to be a DJ. It was my friends who were telling me to play, so I just started to have fun really, playing back-to-back, playing for eight hours or more. I still do that.
Where was this?
I was born in Sao Paulo, but my family is from Campo Grande, in the middle of Brazil, in the middle of South America in fact.
And there was pretty much no scene then at all in Brazil?
No, there was nothing. It was hard, so I did a radio show, a magazine and I had a store. I stopped university in Rio, my Dad gave me a farm, some money and some properties and said, "That's for you, now go start your life." I started the club after that, I also started the clothes store and two fashion labels. I worked a lot within fashion at the time so I tried to connect fashion and music and the arts. My store sold records, clothes, little objects, tickets for parties and we also did fashion shows. I tried to connect people through music, people from fashion and the arts and photography; tried to make them all interested in the music.
And D-Edge began in Campo Grande in 2000?
Well, I was running a club in 1998 with a couple of friends, but I stopped because the project wasn't going the way I wanted. Later I found another place, which became D-Edge, and it stayed open for five-and-a-half years, but I had to close because they opened a hospital in front of the club and the emergency entrance was right opposite the club! It was really hard at the time because I began with underground music rather than the trance or drum & bass that was popular, like Marky. I invited guys like Craig Richards, Layo & Bushwacka!, Mark Farina and Luke Solomon. Very soon, the DJs and promoters in Sao Paulo knew about D-Edge in Campo Grande, the music magazines too.
What's the significance of the name, D-Edge?
I made a big list with lots of names and I think D-Edge represents what we [people in our scene] like. We like to go the edge, in whatever way that can mean. So like in technology, sound, lighting and design; in the first D-Edge, we spent a lot of time on sound and design.
In 2003 you opened the current D-Edge in Sao Paulo. What was going on in the city at that time?
There were some clubs in Sao Paulo, but at that time they worked with a very different type of music [from in Campo Grande], like hard techno, drum & bass and trance. At the time, I liked house and techno too but not the harder stuff. So anyway, a lot of resident DJs from Sao Paulo who came to play in Campo Grande were saying to me, "Hey, you have to open a club in Sao Paulo," mainly because there was no place playing their type of music. I was also DJing in Sao Paulo around the same time and it was a big coincidence, because I didn't come here thinking to open a club, but after playing I went to another place called Stereo—which is where D-Edge is now—and I knew the guy from my parties in Campo Grande in 98. And well, they offered me the chance to buy the place....
What was the concept initially?
We used Muti Randolph, the same designer as the D-Edge in Campo Grande, but with a different view. The original D-Edge was colourful, '60s style, lots of straight lines linked like on a computer motherboard but also with a street feel and, of course, psychedelic. It looked like a big machine. D-Edge now is like the '80s view, still a machine with all the lights, but a more modern view that's also retro.
What about the music policy?
I basically just did, and still do, what I like. I have to enjoy it. It wasn't because that thing wasn't here...
So what did you like then?
Many of the same people I had in Campo Grande. Also all the guys from Chicago, like the second generation, Derrick Carter; we used to have a Classic Records party every two months at D-Edge. Also a lot of the Detroit guys like Kevin Saunderson and Stacey Pullen, the groovy and funk side. I knew lots of the guys already from them coming to Campo Grande.
How has the programming evolved over the years?
In Brazil, compared to other parts of the world, you have many influences. Not just a specific sound. So Berlin, London, Chicago, New York have all been an influence, but we try to keep the balance of the pioneers and their sound with the new stuff.
Do local DJs get an opportunity?
I'm working a lot with that to try to help to develop artists from here, not to be nationalistic about it, but just to help bring the Brazilian artists too. But it's true that people put a big value on international artists because we don't have many famous producers here, it's a process and, in a couple of years, there will be more known names.
"The people have to trust you, but
you have to push their limits as well."
Is that the big barrier then? Producing music? We were talking yesterday about Dubshape, who have had exposure from releases on Kompakt, 8-Bit and Crosstown but not really wider recognition.
Yeah, they have had some international success but it was only a few releases on a few labels. It's not just a thing that happens like that [clicks fingers]. It's so funny in Brazil, everyone talks about Jamie Jones like he's a new name, but he's been here for years. We need more time. Brazil is like a new country and the scene is new compared to the US and Europe. But I don't think of the bad parts. Like Portuguese, a different language that few people speak, geography is also a factor. We're quite far away from Europe and America and also it's hard for people to buy the computer equipment and software they need to produce music.
In a few years I think we can help to give the scene new artists. In Sao Paulo, we'll be opening a place, a community place, like a bar and restaurant with studio, so that people can come together. I think of it the way in Berlin where there are lots of artists living there, who live together, go to parties together, meet each other. This contact is important. Here we're going to try to do that, so that there is a place with a good studio, good mastering, a good engineer. I really think it will help a lot.
D-Edge has also changed in the last couple of years.
We just extended the club about a year ago. First of all, it was just the main room, and then we added two more rooms on different floors and a roof terrace. So it's bigger, but we can close rooms, just have one room, just do a party on the roof. We're now thinking about opening the club into the parking area that is next to the club, which we would be able to use for live events maybe three or four times during the year. During the day, it would be another space for interesting things like fashion, customised cars, bikes, music equipment and instruments.
Where does the expansion stop?
Sometimes I think that it's important to have a D-Edge outside Brazil. A couple of months ago I went to New York and I was looking for a place to do a D-Edge there, which would be great because there are so many good artists there and big history, but without many clubs. But at the moment I feel like I've got too much to do here [in Brazil]. This year we're going to do a festival in September for 8,000 people with a partner, who used to run Skol Beats, with lots of experience. We'll take care of the artists, line-ups, design, the concept of the festival and our partner will run the event side of things. We did a couple of D-Edge parties for 2000 people, but this will be much bigger. Oh, and I'm also a partner in Warung...
Tell us about that. You now have a 25% ownership of the club, right?
Well, I started as a resident last year and the owners thought it was important to have a partnership, so we started looking at artists together and working through the D-Edge booking agency. They know they can trust me because I like the music and I like the party. I want to be successful and make money, but I'm never going to do strange things to make money. They know my history, I spend money to try and get my dreams. So the involvement is programming, booking and we're going to look at re-modelling the club, changing the concept a bit to try to improve. In the south of Brazil, people are really into the music. The people have to trust you, but you have to push their limits as well.
What about a D-Edge in Rio?
Yeah, we're starting there and we're thinking about having a club there by the end of the year.
What's the scene like there?
It's crazy there, it's hard to explain. I try to understand sometimes because a few years ago I did eight parties in this place for 2000 people with big names like Cobblestone Jazz and Minus, but it's hard to work and organise things in Rio. Rio needs a place with a serious team doing a serious job and that won't happen in one day. We're going to have to take a lot of time and patience to make it work. D-Edge in Rio will have two rooms, one for 400 people and the other for 500, so we can open to nearly 1000 people but we can make a small party too if we want.
I guess you hope it can be a reference point for clubs in Rio, like D-Edge has become in Sao Paulo?
Yeah, when the people respect what you do and get influenced, that's positive, that's good. But when people just copy, that's really not good. So, we just always have to get new ideas and...well, we just need to stay one step ahead. In Sao Paulo, we have some clubs like Lov.E, but they don't take it as seriously as we do. I don't mean serious that it's not fun, I mean we love it, we believe in the music and we keep developing the things we like. So, it's not always easy but we do it. When we first opened, we had a lot of people who were curious to see the club, some were uncomfortable but many have just stayed ever since and now we only have people who love the music. That's the big difference with D-Edge in Sao Paulo. Yes, we do have some fashionistas but they still love the music. I like that we're still connecting the people through music.