It Happened Here... Portuguese dance goes global

Ahead of this year's Neopop Festival, we look back at when Underground Sound Of Lisbon went global.
Underground Sound of Lisbon © Rita Carmo
By Rui Miguel Abreu

Theorists have argued that Portugal’s strong connection to rock music derives from the country’s deeply ingrained nostalgia, its connection to fado and the sound of the Portuguese guitar. It makes sense: dance music’s uplifting vibe and celebrative moods aren’t the first connections someone might make with the classic fado diva lament that is now a world treasure recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage (when will they recognise techno as such?).

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Portugal’s first impact in the world of dance music back in 1993, as house turned into rave and moved into fields and massive open-air venues, was achieved with a track that sounded as grim and dark as some of the most introspective fado: “The end of the world is upon us / Pretty soon it will all turn to dust” It’s not exactly day-glo, happy hardcore fodder is it?

© DJ Vibe

The words to So Get Up, the Underground Sound Of Lisbon’s 1994 world smash, belonged to Darin Pappas, a seasoned traveller, surfer and sculptor from California of Greek descent, who for a while had a parallel career in Portugal as the rapper and frontman of Ithaka.

In ’93, when he laid the vocals to a song stuck on the B-side of the aptly titled Chapter One, no one could have imagined that the nascent Kaos Records would go on to license the track to the then powerful Tribal America label that would then hand it over to be remixed by heavyweights like Junior Vasquez and Danny Tenaglia.

The song urged people to “go outside and have a blast”, connecting with a nihilistic ethos that prevailed on the dancefloor. And it ignited the brief world domination by Tribal, based on a harder and edgier sound. New York was the centre of the world, but Portugal revealed itself as a kind of secret paradise, a “new Ibiza”.

So Get Up sold lorry-loads worldwide and was licensed for countless dance compilations – for a brief moment the planet was marching to the sound of just one tribal drum. But it also altered Portugal’s dependence on rock, opening dancefloors all over the country to progressive electronic beats and paving the way for today’s healthy club scene. It also birthed a network of producers who’ve managed to stay away from fado guitars while at the same time reinventing the very fabric of Portuguese soul through electronic beats.

“I wasn’t even interested in running labels or making music, I just wanted to be a DJ,” said Tó Pereira, aka DJ Vibe, one half of The Underground Sound of Lisbon with Rui da Silva, recently. He speaks fondly of Portuguese rave from the first half of the ’90s – a more tribal, more percussive sound connected to our history and Africa’s. That’s why he still rates So Get Up as his best work – “way above anything else”.

That’s how you rate classics: placing them above anything else. “Go a thousand miles in a jet plane / Go out of your mind, go insane”. That still resonates.

Red Bull Music Academy are curating a stage at Portugal’s Neopop Festival this weekend. More here.

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