Photo: Ruben Schmitz
How Will Coronavirus Shift Electronic Music? Maceo Plex, Paul Van Dyk, Luttrell, Mikey Lion & DJ Manager Max Leader Weigh In
"Now, the silver lining could be that people are going to make some amazing music coming out of this. When you don't have the pressure of making a hit track for the club, you usually make something more interesting," Maceo Plex predicts
Amidst all the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, one certainty is this will affect everyone in some way, and it already has had huge effects on all who work in the music industry. As major music events like Coachella, Ultra, SXSW, Glastonbury, Time Warp and many more continue to be canceled or postponed, as well as upcoming tour and club dates, many artists, managers, promoters and the crew members are facing gravely reduced or non-existent income over the next few months and possibly beyond.
We reached out to four globe-trotting DJ/producers—Barcelona's Maceo Plex (Ellum Audio), Los Angeles' Mikey Lion (Desert Hearts), San Francisco's Luttrell (Anjunadeep) and Berlin's Paul Van Dyk (Vandit Records)—and London/New York-based DJ manager Max Leader to learn how the pandemic is directly affecting them and those they work with. While this crisis is radically shifting their plans this year, they all see silver linings, especially in the sense of unity felt in the dance music community and, increasingly, humanity as a whole.
The Show Might Go On
Longtime (he's been in it since '90s raves) underground legend Maceo Plex, a.k.a. Miami-born Eric Estornel, was set to headline Ultra, Movement (which was recently rescheduled from May to September) and Time Warp plus a bunch of major club dates over the next few months. He underscores that this is going to be hard for everyone as they all scrambles to readjust, reschedule and recover losses, and thus will likely reshape the electronic music industry as a whole.
"It's not just DJs it's musicians, bands, anybody that their job is to congregate people together to hear music is affected. That can be promoters, DJs, they all have the same story, club owners, everybody's pretty much screwed. It does give you a sense of unity because everyone's in it together," the Ellum Audio label head told us over the phone late last week.
Leader has been in the industry for years, formerly as a promoter and currently, for the past 18 years, as a manager of a roster of major DJs. He also paints the picture of a challenging year for everyone planning and playing events in 2020, highlighting just how many dates and dollars have already been lost.
"The bread and butter for my artists and for me is in live shows. My clients tend to do anywhere from six to 12 shows a month and we work three to six months in advance. So, what happened two weeks ago, was the cancellation or attempt to reschedule the gigs, between one to three months from that moment to three months ahead," he explained during a phone chat last week. "And the promoters that were booking for three to six months from that point, were not booking anymore because they didn't know what was going on, which means that you're already at nine months of no shows. So, if you start looking at nine to 12 months, it means in the space of two weeks, you're suddenly 12 months away from receiving any income from touring."
Canceling even just a few shows could be financially crushing to promoters, as well as the clubs and everyone else who works for them. "Also, these promoters, some of them are weekly promoters, some of them are monthly promoters, and they try to honor deals. Now you lose one show for artists of the caliber that I work with, you could lose $25,000, $30,000. If you lose that amount two or three times in a row, you could be out of business," Leader noted.
For Estornel, van Dyk and Leader, their long, successful careers have put them in a place where they are currently okay financially. Of course, dipping too far into savings is stressful, as is not having an income stream to share with your team. "I'm already going into savings, because of having to cancel the ongoing business," Leader added. "I would say that my business is 90 percent gigs, so I have effectively lost 90 percent of my business right now. And it happened immediately. It happened overnight."
Estronel was set to debut his new M^3 live show in Los Angeles on March 14, which, as he put it, ended up being "the first weekend that no events were happening pretty much anywhere." Two days before the event, California banned all gatherings over 250 people (now restrictions are even tighter) in the interest of public health and safety.
"I was waiting, too. I'm not a promoter, but I was promoting [M^3] pretty much in conjunction with Factory 93, so I already had the production and all the equipment and everything paid for. So that's why it's super important to reschedule. But, at the same time, I think Factory 93 was giving money back to whoever wanted it. I don't know how they were doing it, but I had to pay for a lot of that production out of my pocket. It was already there and I was like, 'Well, fk it. Let's do this stream.' That wasn't anywhere near what we were going to have planned for the holograms and all kinds of crazy stuff, but at least we used some of the cool lights. So those can kind of come together quickly."
Both van Dyk and Luttrell had major tours slated this year in support of their 2020 albums—the German trance legend's 10th album, Guiding Light, drops on April 17, while the S.F. deep house hero's sophomore LP, Lucky Ones, came out on March 13. Of course, with global spring dates, both tours have been put on hold.
Luttrell was also set to make his Coachella stage debut in April, which will now have to wait until October. "It's affected it quite a bit thus far. I have an album tour that was set to begin April 2. Now everything is being pushed back a few months to end of July through August. Feeling good about getting most of the shows rescheduled at least!" he shared over email.
For Mikey Lion and his Desert Hearts crew (the label/party maestro squad he leads and co-founded in 2012 in San Diego), their flagship "72+ hours of nonstop house and techno" festival was slated for April 23-26, but luckily they were able to find new dates pretty quickly. Some of the other festivals the crew were booked to play have also been affected, including at Lighting in a Bottle, whose 2020 edition was canceled, and Vujaday in Barbados, which was postponed to November. Desert Hearts is also beloved for the fun club nights and block parties they throw in a bunch of different cities. Those will have to wait this year as well.
"We postponed the festival to Oct. 22 to 26, 2020. Luckily our fest is in a really good place right now to come back because we were able to find a make-up date quickly and we didn't have too many deposits out there right now because we were monitoring the whole situation," Lion explained over the phone. He noted how this is not necessarily the case for other independent festivals and events, and that could have far-reaching negative effects in the industry. "I think that that's probably the biggest problem that all the other festivals are going through right now, is that if you're an independent festival that's not backed by Live Nation, AEG or some other big financial backer, you're using your ticket money to secure the acts that you're having, all the equipment, everything. You have so many deposits out there. Then we have this totally unforeseen disease that's coming through and everyone's having to cancel, and then all of a sudden all the fans are looking for refunds and those festivals don't have the money to be paying their fans back because it's all tied up, it creates this really hectic ecosystem where the fans think that they're getting ripped off and festivals can't do anything about it."
For all the events and festivals that are able to successfully reschedule and bring the majority of their lineup with them, that is a big relief, but of course a year's worth of events can't all happen in the fall and winter, especially outdoor events in colder climates. And who will get to play in the more limited event pool? Probably the bigger DJs, for the most part, with less slots for local opening acts—and less money for everyone overall. It is hard to predict exactly how hard the crisis will strike the global economy, but it has already done damage, with many hourly or gig workers currently out of work. For most people, the less income they make, the less money they will spend on going out, festival tickets and travel, so it becomes harder to get people to clubs and festivals.
"The festivals are already rescheduling and they're not going to be able to pay the same," Estornel noted. "So DJs fees are definitely going to go down in general. Which is kind of a trickle-down effect; the bigger DJs will have to charge less and some of the smaller DJs' fees will then obviously go down as well. Then resident DJs that live in that city might not even play at all. Or if they do, for very cheap, because the promoters are not going to be able to charge the same entrance at the same ticket price or entrance at their clubs or whatever because people are not going to have any money,
"Rescheduling events, in my case, because of the fact that I'm in a position to headline, I get to reschedule first before others. I feel bad for all the other people that are, to promoters, maybe second or third tier artists that aren't getting rescheduled right away… I'm in a position where I can't complain because I can reschedule. But then again, I can't because I'm booked. I was booked up for the rest of the year."
Estornel also underscores that festivals moving towards later dates is going to cut into the bottom line of clubs, as everyone is now competing for a limited window of dates and likely a smaller pool of attendees with any money to spend on nights out. "A lot of these festivals are moving to those [later] months and they're going to take up a lot of the weekends that clubs function really well in those parts. So economically, it looks pretty crazy," he explained.
Leader echoed both of these points, that there are a limited number of dates for events and DJs to fill for the rest of the year and smaller pool of money for everyone. He is also cautious about predicting that events will be back up and running before at least a few months off. He notes recent conversations he's had with promoters, those who are looking ahead to book fall/winter dates—no one can pay deposits right now. Everyone is pretty much just trying to stay afloat at this point.
"The conversation that I do have with bigger promoters is, 'Okay, we're looking at the last two weekends in October, the first two in November, the New Year's Eve, we're looking to fill these holes. This is who I want from your roster on that. However, obviously we can't contract this right now. We obviously can't pay any deposits for it right now," Leader said.
van Dyk explains how not being able to travel to his sold-out Moscow show on March 13 led him to play via livestream to the packed venue in Russia from an empty club in Berlin. From that experience, he decided to launch a weekly livestream series from the club, which he's calling PC Music Night. He and fellow German DJ/producer Chris Bekker have shared two livestreams so far, much to the delight of trance and progressive house fans around the world.
"I was supposed to play in Moscow last weekend and because they have restrictions of people from Germany flying into Russia because of the Coronavirus and you have to go into quarantine," van Dyk explained. "What do people do when their shows are canceled and something cannot happen? Well we use the latest technology. We came up with the idea of me going into an empty club here in Berlin, have everything set up and then stream my performance from Berlin live to Moscow. It obviously is not the same as me being there because, it's difficult to interact. I had a little monitor so I was able to see what's going on in the venue in Moscow, but it was one way to sort of cope with the grim times and the possibilities that there are right now. and we came up with an idea from that streaming experience."
Since both the epic Paul van Dyk and Maceo Plex sets aired on March 13 and 14, respectively, many DJs and artists have understandably jumped on the livestream wagon, craving a way to continue to share their music with the world and engage with their fans. It's safe to say that music livestream offerings are a bit oversaturated at the moment, but it has been fun to see the different ways artists and their fanbases have been engaging with them. For Estornel, he's aiming to think outside of the box when it comes to interacting with his fans during quarantine times:
"Everything's flooded with DJs doing streams. So now I'm thinking of new ideas… something more interesting. Somewhere between nerdy, like a studio talk but musical where you could dance to it. Hopefully we'll do something for these months, until things get back to normal."
Since we spoke last week, Lion and the Desert Hearts squad have started a new daily livestream series that's very on-brand with their colorful, playful vibes. Stepping out of the box a bit, the eclectic offerings include Q&A on Mondays with Lion, cooking lessons with his brother and labelmate Porky on Tuesday, yoga on Wednesdays and DJ sets from the squad on Sundays.
It's About Time For Unity!
While not being able to interact with others "irl" is difficult for all of us, connecting online, especially over music, can be especially powerful during these times of isolation. van Dyk witnessed this during his first PC Music Night livestream, where he encouraged fans to send track requests and special shout-outs in the comments.
"Chris Bekker and myself played for five hours for free for everyone who wanted to join, just simply to put a smile on people's faces, for people to connect. There was so much interaction going on from people from the U.S. talking to people from Italy, from Italy talking to people in South America. It's like they were all interconnecting. There was a sense of community, a sense of being there for each other. That is the essence of what we are trying to do with this DJ set."
The Berlin legend underscored the importance of staying in touch with others while we are apart, as during times of global distress, we all need comfort and support. "It's those little things to still be there for each other. I don't really like the term social distancing because what we have to do is stay physically apart from each other. But if anything, we should be socially closer and support each other. I think this is what we can do, and this is what we should do in crazy times like this."
Seeing as the coronavirus crisis really does affect everyone, van Dyk sees this as an opportunity to put aside our differences and practice real empathy and growth. "In these times right now, I think we can all interconnect. At the end, of the day it doesn't really matter if you're a Trump supporter or if you support Sanders. At the end of the day, it's about the species, us as humans. Everyone is affected by it. We have to be there for each other. And that's about actually putting the human first, putting the real us first and therefore being there for each other," he added.
Lion pointed to the surprising and rather atypical unity we're seeing here in the States between Democrats and Republicans as they try to address the crisis is something to be celebrated. It could also have policy implications that change our lives for the better going forward.
"I think that things like universal healthcare and ideas like universal basic income are at the forefront right now of things we're realizing would be a massive help. It's crazy to see Republicans even embracing those things right now because of the situation that we're in. I don't think they would ever come to grips with and accept it unless they're seeing it affect them," Lion stated. "Hopefully we start getting some relief for people that are really struggling right now."
"I think that people are going to come out of this much more understanding of other people's situations and we are all in this together," he added. "I think that we're going to start seeing a lot more compassion from people in the world."
Luttrell echoed their messages, in sharing what gives him the most hope right now: "I feel like a big crisis like this—especially one that affects the world all at once—gives us an opportunity to come together and become closer as humans on this planet."
In the midst of trying to reschedule, reorganize and roll with the waves of the world, everyone we spoke to has already felt unity across the electronic music scene and the larger music and events industry. As Lion noted, many artists have been understanding about returning deposits for canceled events, given the circumstances, even though money will not really be coming in for a bit. At the end of the day, everyone in entertainment is more or less in the same boat right now.
"For the most part, I think that agencies and the artists are being really cool with getting back to the deposits in a lot of circumstances because I think everyone gets it, that we're all in this together," Lion said. "People are definitely working together on it. At the same time, that's money coming out from the artists and all of our foreseeable calendar just got completely wiped out, basically. I don't have any income coming, none of the other Desert Heart guys do, and we don't know how long this is going to last.
"It's a really harrowing experience, and it's not just the artists that are going through it, it's the managers, the agents, all the photographers and videographers, security, bartenders, all the logistics people to build teams. The list goes on and on and that's just the music industry. You know, the entire entertainment industry is getting absolutely battered right now. Think about Las Vegas, it's a city of almost 700,000 people and their entire ecosystem is based on entertainment. That entire city's pretty much out of work right now, I'd imagine."
For van Dyk, it is important to him to be able to personally esure his regular team is financially stable during this time. "It requires us being socially aware of our surroundings, of the people who need help and then actually do something. I'm committed to do this in this way, and therefore I don't think my crew needs to be too worried about it."
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Here's a fantastic new video that we've made for you, I hope you enjoy it. When I wrote this song and named this album, I never expected it would be released during a time like this. However, instead of dwelling on the obvious and unfortunate irony of it all, I'm trying to make a conscious decision to continue reminding myself just how fortunate I am. I make music. I’m not putting myself in danger every day like the medical professionals and everyone still out there working to keep our society running - like the head of the CDC, or the people keeping grocery stores stocked and functional - but I do hope that what I have to offer can help bring joy to people feeling stressed, overwhelmed, scared or hopeless right now. If you’re stuck inside like the rest of us, put this music video on and dance around in your apartment, or lay in your bed holding your phone watching it, whatever you feel like. If you have one, get your dog all riled up. Give them lots of belly rubs and laugh at them zooming around the house to the music. Imagine how happy dogs are right now? Their favorite people are home all day. They’ll never disappear for hours on end (which to them probably seems like days). Dogs are possibly the most stoked they’ve ever been in history. Sadly, I don’t have a dog cause my landlord doesn’t allow them, but thinking of all the dogs out there living their best life with their favorite humans that are stuck at home right now makes me really happy.
To Release Or Not To Release?
As van Dyk put it, music is a necessity in most people's lives, especially those who make it. Music plays an important part in all of our daily lives, and right now feels like a time where many of us are turning to music to escape or to dive into our feelings. "I'm a musician. To me, music is an essential of part of my life. When I'm sad I'm listening to music. When I'm happy, I'm listening to music. When I'm somewhat in between, I'm still listening to music. It's my passion. Therefore, music is something that's essential, from my perspective, in everyone's life," the German artist said.
"Right now, everyone has endless time on their hands," Lion added. "People are digging, people are paying attention, everyone's at their computer. It is a good time to get stuff into people's hands and really try to affect people in a positive way. Music's absolutely one of the best ways to do it."
"To me, music is an essential of part of my life. When I'm sad I'm listening to music. When I'm happy, I'm listening to music. When I'm somewhat in between, I'm still listening to music. It's my passion." – Paul van Dyk
Perhaps it's a great time to put out an uplifting track or music video, but what about releasing an album or club cuts? While many in the industry seem to be encouraging fans to support their favorite artists with online album and merch sales, other entities, like Amazon and even some artists themselves, have decided now is not necessary a good time to release projects. If you can't tour in support of the release, will the financial investment in the project be worth it?
For electronic artists specifically, who support and promote each others' new, often then-unreleased, records by playing them at their DJ sets around the world, the hype and release cycle just had a big wrench thrown through it. Additionally, if most of the DJs of the world are hunkering down in their home studios right now, which tracks and albums will cut through the noise when everything is dropped in a few months?
Leader's comments speak to this, and the "hustle," as he put it, that will ensue to get the gigs and have your music heard this year.
"You can definitely plan ahead in terms of what you're releasing to the world. Everyone is assuming that come July, August, this will die down. I personally am not having conversations besides with the most optimistic of promoters about shows, pre-October, right now. And really, most of the conversations are 'Well, let's see what the next couple weeks unfolds for us,' so you're not really banking on anything there. But in terms of products or music being released, and social media, building your fan base, and working on consultancy jobs or working with brands, there's still some business out there that can be done. It's a hustle."
"One thing that I am thinking is that all these DJs who usually are gigging Friday, Saturday and Sunday, home on Monday, recovering on Tuesday, making music on Wednesday, and then getting ready to tour again on Thursday, are finally having long periods of time to actually make music. And so, I think what we'll find is a plethora of music coming out at the same time, which has an effect on the developing artists," Leader continued. "Even if I'm looking in October [for their release], I think the market is going to be really excited about the [bigger] producer who's finally released some new material because they had four, five months off the road."
Estornel and Lion also spoke to releasing tracks during the age of COVID-19:
"You don't sell music to dance to or to DJ to when nobody can go out and dance," Estornel explained. "They're not really selling that much music. You have all these artists that had their releases planned and it's like if you postpone the schedule, then their music doesn't come out until way later, when that music's old, basically."
"You can't really go test out new tracks now. I feel like the entire record label promo system right now is just worthless, because how are people even going to go try out your tracks or get feedback on stuff?" Lion says. "I've been seeing a lot of artists go to moving all their stuff over to Bandcamp because it's a much more direct peer-to-peer system over there than having a middle man like Apple Music or Beatport. I'm actually running through and getting our Bandcamp set up today."
Creativity & The Future Of Dance Music
Regardless of artists' personal stances on releasing new music now, it's likely many of them will be using the ample free time to work on music in some way.
"The city where I live, San Francisco is now on lockdown," Luttrell said. "I won't be traveling outside my apartment much the next few weeks. I'll take it as an opportunity to focus on having more interaction with fans online and come up with fun ways to promote different songs on the album... I'm already working on a bunch of new songs that will eventually be the next album, so I feel like there's going to be a lot of time to make that really special. A lot of those songs will have been written during this lock down in S.F., so maybe I'll use the weirdness of it all as some sort of inspiration."
Similarly, van Dyk also feels new music will come out of this experience for him. "I finished my new album," he said. "I was ready to be out on the road in the world to play my music in front of my audience. So it's a bit of a strange timing for me, but I constantly make music and so, I'm pretty sure whatever extra time I have at hands now, some music will come out of it."
Leader also sees these times as a creative challenge and powerful reset for his work. "I think that everyone's playing from a level playground now. You know, everyone is suffering, and in a way, we're all in it together for that reason. And I'm optimistic by nature. I believe that this will end, and we will get back to business, and that it allowed me to really think outside the box in terms of my business. If you're in an intense job like I'm sure you have, you're going a million miles an hour, and you always wish you had a second to breathe, this is giving us that second."
Estornel, who has a young son, acknowledges the challenge of working from home if you have kids that are now out of school. Yet he is embracing the creative exploration that may likely come from the reduced pressure he and other DJs are inevitably facing to make the next club banger.
"Now, the silver lining could be that people are going to make some amazing music coming out of this. When you don't have the pressure of making a hit track for the club, you usually make something more interesting," Estornel said. "So maybe something new will come out of this, but for the most part it also kind of depresses people because if things are kind of bad out there and you're making dance music and nobody's dancing. It's like, fk. You don't feel inspired. It's tough.
Maceo Plex added, "I feel less pressure to make a bomb kind of, because there's no reason to right now. In the past, the reason why I have any kind of a bigger name is for all the music that I made that I wasn't worrying about making a bomb. I was just trying to make something that was cool and creative, or pretty or just different sounding tracks. Those ended up becoming bombs. So, I mean, it's kind of good. Creatively, I don't have that pressure. So I might have a bomb after this, I don't know. I'd rather not think about it."
Regardless of whether or not the world is gifted any glittering Maceo Plex bombs over the next month, electronic music will be shifting. With a halt as drastic as this, there is no way things will remain exactly the same when we return to the dancefloor. He sees parallels to the disco backlash in the late-70s that, while harrowing, directly led to the emergence of house music and thriving underground scenes in Chicago, New York City and beyond. As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens.
"I think this may be the biggest blow to clubbing since the disco backlash back in the late-'70s, early 80s when everybody was for just a moment it was like this media-driven burning of disco records and stuff." Maceo Plex said. "Since then, clubbing got bigger and better and dance music got way more popular over the past 30, 40 years. I think this is kind of like a reset. I'm hopeful we're going to come out of this strong. Nothing can really stop people from listening to dance music and dancing. …We'll be fine, in other words. It's just that it's going to take a couple of years to get back to the size of festivals that we were used to for a little while. They're kind of almost ridiculous at this point; 100,000 people festivals and stuff like that. I don't feel bad for them as much but because they've made so much money, but EDM, this is probably going to be such a huge blow to commercial EDM music more so than underground music."
"I think underground dance music's going to get big. It's going to get bigger, in a way. It's going to see a Renaissance," Estornel concluded. "Whatever happens, the dance music community is in for a wild ride, with new faces and sounds likely emerging over the coming years."
Photos: Buda Mendes/Getty Images
A Timeline Of Brazilian Hip-Hop: From The Ruas To The Red Carpet
The timeline of Brazilian hip-hop leads to the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs, where several Brazilian hip-hop artists are nominated in the inaugural Best Portuguese-Language Urban Performance: Planet Hemp, Criolo, Filipe Ret, Luccas Carlos and Dallas.
"Going downtown back then was like going to NY with all the lights, the buildings," said Brazilian artist Mano Brown in the 2022 documentary Racionais MC's: From the Streets of São Paulo.
In the 1970s, Brown was only known as Paulo, a teenager from one of the harshest favelas at the outskirts of the 20 million person Brazilian metropolis. Then taking baby steps into hip-hop — a brand new form of music-making — Brown could barely imagine becoming one of the most relevant figures in national culture. Nor would he dare to say that Brazilian hip-hop would go big on a global level.
There are three new categories at the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs, the inaugural award for Best Portuguese-Language Urban Performance. Among its nominees are two mainstays of Brazil's hip-hop today: the '90s rap-rock staple Planet Hemp's collaboration with São Paulo sambista-rapper Criolo, "Distopia"; and Rio trapstars Filipe Ret and Luccas Carlos, along with top-tier producer Dallas, featuring "Good Vibe."
Brazilian hip-hop has walked a long, rocky road from the tough favelas and skyscraping downtowns to the 2023 red carpet in Seville, which will host the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs on Nov. 16. It's a story of many acts, a wide range of beats, clashes with the establishment and Black pride, genre-hopping creativity, and unstoppable endurance. As with samba and funk, innovative artists reinvented and reshaped the culture of hip-hop, claiming it as their own.
Follow through the decades of Brazilian hip-hop's rise and and press play on some hallmark song from the country's artists below:
1960s -1970s: Spoken Word, Proto-Rap & Local Influence
It's undeniable that those kids in the Bronx in the late 1970s were the first to create a music genre out of a given prosody, spoken word traditions, double-entendres, displaced rhymes, and wordplays. All of these features, however, can be found across several disparate cultural practices. In Brazil, these were seen in Northeast repente practice, and also in samba or marchinhas — century-old songs chanted during carnival street parties.
One of the first popular Brazilian artists to record a song drawing from these elements is Jair Rodrigues. With his "Deixa Isso Pra Lá," the singer playfully jams with a staccato pattern following the broken beat rhythms of the samba ensemble. Other notable examples of this avant-garde era are Gerson King Combo and his funky "Mandamentos Black" and Miele, who recorded a parody of Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."
1980s: Roots In Rio And São Paulo
By the late 1970s, the most populated cities of the country, Rio and São Paulo, witnessed the growth of favelas and low-income suburbs that eventually became essential hubs for Black-centered cultural practices. There, American funk music was highly appreciated and James Brown records were a must for DJs playing the massive parties that took place in local sports courts over the weekend.
Brazilian hip-hop evolved in this landscape, and was first compiled by a Brazilian major in 1988 on Hip-Hop Cultura de Rua. Thaíde was one of the main acts on the compilation; the young rapper and b-boy was often seen at the square in front of the São Bento — the central metro station that gathered these new aficionados.
Joining the ranks were Região Abissal, a group that recorded the first album of Brazilian hip-hop, 1988's Hip rap hop, and the Black Juniors, whose 1984 album Break melded funk, electro, and the country's burgeoning rap style.
1990s: Rap Rises Against All Odds
The 1990s laid the foundations of hip-hop in Brazil. The country kicked off the decade with its first presidential elections since 1960, following a three-decade hiatus of military dictatorship. Freedom of speech was the norm once again, and the racial and social fracture faced by underprivileged populations was moore palpable than ever. In this context, rappers used music as a manifesto, bluntly denouncing the daily racism and violence experienced by Black youth.
There's no other group or artist that captured that zeitgeist as Racionais MC's did, coining all-time classics of Brazilian music such as "Diário de um Detento" — the story of an imprisoned man killed during a massacre that took place in the Carandiru correctional facility in 1992. Their albums Holocausto Urbano (1990), Raio X do Brasil (1993), and Sobrevivendo no Inferno (1996) are revered masterworks. Racionais MC's shaped rap during a decade that also saw Planet Hemp's first album, Usuário (1995), and Bahia duo MD MC’s recording a music video in New York — a first for Brazilian hip-hop artists.
2000s: Hip-Hop Culture Continues To Grow
Brazilian hip-hop kept a steady pace throughout in the early aughts. In 2000, Sabotage's Rap é Compromisso set a higher bar for storytelling and wordplay, earning the rapper national acclaim. Female artists such as Dina Di and Negra Li also became more vocal, claiming space despite a constant misogyny that often made performing or recording a tough task.
All over the country, different regions and artists appropriated that new sound, proving that São Paulo was not the only hip-hop antenna. In the national capital Brasília, Gog released four albums, following five other releases in the '90s; in Salvador, Vandal, Lord Breu, and Dimek linked up with the UK hip-hop and grime scene on their mixtape Fayaka Stepaz; in Fortaleza, the group Costa a Costa debuted in 2007 with the seminal mixtape Dinheiro, Sexo, Drogas e Violência; Rio's MV Bill released his sophomore album Declaração de Guerra (2002), and Black Alien showed off his complex, multi-punchline Babylon by Gus Vol. I: O Ano do Macaco (2004).
Early 2010s: Hip-Hop Becomes MPB
Although hip-hop was inescapable in Brazilian music throughout the 2000s, it was still overlooked by the media and music industry; rap was still seen as an underground fad and a combative platform that had no place in most TV channels or radio stations.
This started to change in the early 2010s. With a background in street rap battles and performances at underground venues, São Paulo's Emicida and Criolo took a place among the big sharks, showing off their skillful music-making and bending boundaries of hip-hop. In just a few years, they released songs that made the radio charts, collaborated with major Brazilian artists such as Caetano Veloso and Milton Nascimento, and performed at several festivals.
With their 2009 mixtape Pra Quem Já Mordeu um Cachorro por Comida, até que Eu Cheguei Longe…, Emicida proved how universal and still local his rap could be, writing about love and self-care while still denouncing the challenges faced by Brazil's Black population.
Criolo's Nó Na Orelha (2010) snuck rap into the MPB, featuring the sad, larmourous song “Não existe amor em SP” and the Afrobeats-laden jam "Bogotá."
Not by chance, Emicida and Criolo were the first Brazilian hip-hop artists amongst the Latin GRAMMYs nominees. Criolo is nominated for this year Best Portuguese Language Song for "Algoritmo Íntimo" at the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs, and Emicida won the 2020 Best Portuguese Language Rock Or Alternative Album, with Amarelo.
Late 2010s: Hip-Hop To The People
Criolo and Emicida's national success echoed that of American artists, and informed the country's appreciation of hip-hop. Brazilian underground rap grew stronger in the second half of the 2010s, which saw the first massive wave of young hip-hop fans.
This period also saw the rise of trap music made in Brazil via the likes of Raffa Moreira, who managed to adapt and expand the Atlanta-based formula of triplets and snare rolls in his own style.
Crews were also on the top then: Costa Gold, Recayd Mob, and Nectar Gang are some of the collectives who laid the groundwork for artists such as BK and Jé Santiago. In 2018, Minas Gerais' Djonga released his first album, Heresia — his first step on the path to Brazilian rap stardom. Up in the Northeast region, Bahia's Baco Exu do Blues collabs with Pernambuco's Diomedes Chinaski and releases "Sulicídio" — a powerful jab to the Rio/São Paulo-centered hip-hop Brazilian scene.
Early 2020s: Brazil Becomes A Hip-Hop Powerhouse
Blending with different genres, but especially branching out of trap, the rap game got big in the beginning of this decade. Fortaleza's Matuê became one of the biggest stars in Latin America, amassing millions of streams, while pop act and Latin GRAMMY/GRAMMY nominee Anitta collaborated with up-and-coming MCs like L7.
Spearheaded by Filipe Ret, trap began to meld with baile funk in Rio and São Paulo. Meanwhile, Marcelo D2's Planet Hemp joined forces with Criolo to revamp their rap rock. Not by chance, both acts are among the first list of rappers nominated for the Best Portuguese-Language Urban Performance.
Female artists such as Tasha and Tracie, Nina do Porte, Nic Dias, and Ajuliacosta are keeping the pace and the memory of pioneers, but now they rise as innovators. LGBTQ+ performers like Rico Dalasam, Mona Brutal, and Sodomita are also taking centerstage, pushing aside homophobia and dropping bars about topics that cover queerness and much more.
Grime and drill also see the day of light by the hands and pens of SD9, Leall, Fleezus, and Febem. Rap seems unstoppable now, in every corner of every big Brazilian city. From north to south — and now going global — hip-hop reigns supreme in Brazil.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].