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Band of the Week: Os Mutantes

Resident sound-nerd Tom Killingbeck thumbs through reams of musty vinyl so you don't have to. Here are his weekly recommendations...

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#26: Os Mutantes

Who: Sergio Dias, Rita Lee, Arnaldo Baptista.

When: 1960s-1970s.

Where: Brazil.

Why: With its sweltering beaches, kaleidoscopic carnivals and reputation as a hang out for the burnt out bad boys of Western society, Brazil was a psychedelic utopia for the frazzled hipsters of the 1960s. But those in exile found much to remind them of home; the country's youth were enraptured by the rock & roll vibrations of the UK and USA drifting down the Atlantic. Two of those invigorated by the buzz were Sergio and Arnaldo Baptista from Sao Paulo, children of a poet and a pianist. They formed the Six Sided Rockers with neighbour and singer Rita Lee as psychedelia exploded in 1966 after the release of The Beatles' Revolver, deciding on the name Os Mutantes (The Mutants) briefly before appearing on the television show 'O Pequeno Mundo de Ronnie Von'. Through this and other performances, they caught the eye of Gilberto Gil, a man so important to Brazilian pop culture that he's both served time in jail and served as Brazil's Minister of Culture.

Gil initiated the three into the circle of musicians that would come to typify the tropicalia movement, allotting them a position as his backing band. His endorsement saw them appear on 1968's compilation Tropicalia: Ou Panis et Circenses, a document akin to Lenny Kaye's Nuggets' defining of garage rock in its collecting of the movement's figureheads, Gil, Caetano Veloso and Tom Ze included. As 1968 waned the band released their debut, a sunny, heady treat for the mind that would prefigure and out-psych much of the detritus that would emerge during the nascent summer of love. With its use of tape music, melting shards of acid guitar and environmental, ambient textures, it now seems remarkably prescient. There's a naive innocence and honesty to the band's sponging of various musical elements, refreshing in light of the current pop scene's obsession with ironically and cynically referencing elements of musical history. Mixing psychedelia with Latin cadences, avant-garde classical sections, studio trickery and 'found sounds', their output is an indefinable concoction of reinterpreted pop that could only exist in its particular place and time.

While their songs sometimes jar, and feature noises any sane recording engineer would frown at, they could just as easily be lilting and lovely - 'Baby' being the prime example. Releasing a clutch of records through the turn of the decade - A Divina Comedia ou Ando Meio Desligado being the hallucinogenic highlight - the band were beset by issues arising from the restrictive military government of the time. As the brothers became more and more influenced by hard rock, the band became fractured, and dissolved following Rita's solo career and Arnaldo's mental health issues, that left him in a six-week coma after he leapt from a hospital window. Decades later, devotees of the band including Kurt Cobain and Beck led to a resurgence of interest in these early psychedelic dabblings. Their lava-lamp ambience and brain-damaged experimentalism has been idolised by generations of American underground music ever since. On a personal note, my love for the group took on a whole new dimension last year, when I was told that my uncle who passed away when I was young was in some way responsible for the appearance of the Rolling Stone magazine in Brazil. Interested, I found references to him in Os Mutantes biographies, and spent many hours putting Portuguese language books through Google translator. Bit by bit I discovered that he had been their friend and 'lysergic guru', even dating Rita and having a song dedicated to him - which officially makes him the coolest relative I could ever possibly have.

Influences: The Beatles, The Zombies, Jimi Hendrix, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Sly & The Family Stone.

Influenced: Talking Heads, Of Montreal, Nirvana, Beck, Beirut.

Sample Lyric: 'Voce precisa saber da piscina / Da margarina, da Carolina, da gasolina'.

Which Record: Os Mutantes (Polydor, 1968)

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1 Comment

Tom Posted on Monday 9 May 2011

This was one of the best Brazilian psych bands in a world full of awesome Brazilian psych bands.