My final gig of last year was also the best. To call Fumaça Preta incendiary in their live incarnation is entirely apt (their name means ‘black smoke’ in Portuguese), but somehow doesn’t quite get the feeling across. Pure punk attitude screaming through Afro and Latin percussion, married with Radiophonic Workshop-evoking weirdness and lots of shouting – reminiscent of unhinged warlocks conjuring up something particularly twisted – sums them up a little better, but they’re a band who would prefer not to be pigeonholed. Regardless, their appearance at the Finders Keepers Christmas Party at the Roadhouse blew the place apart, full of energy, noise and unpredictability.

The band consists of Brighton-dwellers Stuart Carter and James Porch (of funk outfit The Grits) together with Alex Figueira, the Venezuelan-Portuguese founder of the Music With Soul record label and owner of Amsterdam’s Vintage Voudou record shop. Joining the band on percussion tonight was Baldo, aka Baldomero Verdu. I caught up with the first three to investigate their sound, how others perceive their music, and the Vietcong.

What brought you to Amsterdam?

Alex: A combination of falling in love with a Dutch girlfriend, my best friend living there and me being sick of Portugal, where I lived before. I met [James and Stuart] in Amsterdam.

Stuart: I was putting on a gig for one of my other bands and we got together in the studio one day and recorded some music. It sounded quite good, so we released that as a single [‘A Bruxa’ and ‘Loco’ on Music With Soul, 2012] and did it again six months later (‘Vou-Me Libertar’ and ‘Eu Era Um Cão’ on Music With Soul, 2012). It was always just a studio kind of project. We never thought about what it was going to turn into.

The Grits have a certain sound. I imagine this is more like your sonic playground?

Stuart: That was it, yeah. When we did The Grits it started off as a Meters [influential New Orleans funksters] sort of thing, and then it developed slowly and went off in different directions. But this was like, we have no idea what we’re gonna do, we’re just gonna go into a room and do it. We have a lot of funk influences, but before that I was really into heavy metal and acid house. Alex has a huge range of completely different influences that I’ve never even heard of, so we could do whatever we wanted. There were no parameters, no boundaries.

I imagine the funk scene can become stagnant in some areas.

Stuart: Absolutely, but I think the thing with the funk scene is, people still seem to want to buy, say, a J.B.s album [James Brown’s backing band, active in the 70s and early 80s]. They don’t want a J.B.s album with anything added to it. They just want to buy a J.B.s album, or a Meters album, or a soul album. Daptone, for example. I love their recording philosophy, but the music is pretty straight ahead old funk. It seems like the market – the people who buy that sort of stuff – don’t want it to go anywhere else.

Alex: But at the same time they ended up being sick of it and not buying it anymore. That’s why shops closed. Bands didn’t find gigs anymore. It’s kind of a paradox.

Stuart: So you try and do anything new with it and people are like, ‘That’s a bit too weird, I want to listen to the J.B.s’.

To do Famaça Preta was amazing because we did whatever we wanted. We had no thought about whether anyone was going to buy this, if anyone was going to like it.

Alex: Since you touched that subject, when I met Stu was when I put the 45 out from The Grits, ‘The Sons of Your Funk Mother’ [2008]. I was arranging a gig for them in Amsterdam. I went to the MySpace page and it was the first song out of the four, and my first impression was, ‘What the fuck is this?’ because it sounded like funk, but instead of having a guy trying to sound like James Brown, which is what most bands had, it had James doing like a punk thing on it, and it was crazy. I said, ‘Hey, who’s putting this out?’ because it wasn’t on [UK funk label] Freestyle, I knew, and they said, ‘Nobody, Freestyle didn’t like it. Do you know anyone who wants to put it out?’ I had just put a 45 out (The Slackers’ ‘Minha Menina’ and ‘No More Cryin’’ on Music With Soul, 2007] and I was looking for other stuff. So I said, ‘Yeah, I know someone…’

[With the label] I wanted to say ‘fuck you’ to the music industry, on a ridiculously low level. It was my fuck you, like you guys are putting a lot of crap out and nobody’s putting proper exciting shit out, because you’re scared of too much bullshit. I wrote a bit of a manifesto. It’s on the webpage.

James: I don’t think you want to give the impression, though, that there’s not good stuff out there.

Alex: There is a lot of great stuff out there. It’s not about that. I was just not finding it. I used to go to the record shop practically every week. When I moved to Amsterdam, it was the first time I actually had money to buy records. I was trying to go crazy and I didn’t find new stuff. Plenty of old stuff, reissues and comps, lots of great shit. But when it came to the new stuff I found that a lot of the time the music was right, but the recording wasn’t. That was my whole point.

You have your own studio in Amsterdam. I take it you have a very specific way of recording?

Alex: It was the second step of the label because I was finding it really hard to find bands with [the recording knowledge]. I kept on getting demos from bands and I kept having that feeling – the music was cool, I like it, but it sounds like shit, sorry.

James: I’ve got a good comparison. In Vietnam, the Americans had a system of microphones in the jungle. Some really clever American guys, they devised microphones that looked like plants. They hung them up in the jungle to listen to the Vietcong. The Vietcong were walking through, and of course they’re looking at plants every single fucking day. And someone goes, ‘What the fuck is this plastic plant, here?’, and all they did then was look for plants that looked blatantly the wrong colour and size, which was obvious to them. You know what, they pissed on them. And that’s what we do with recording.

Alex: Sometimes we have a gig and we try to convince the sound engineer to put a 58 [SM58, a standard vocal mic] on the kick and he looks at us like, ‘You guys are fucking mental’.

James: Say that we’re not stupid retro.

Stuart: We’re not retro!

Alex: That’s a label that I would wipe my ass with. I like tape. Not because it’s retro and it’s fancy and bullshit. It’s because it sounds like it sounds. If someone makes an ultra-modern laptop that has that sound, I would embrace it because tape is fucking expensive and inconvenient and has all kinds of disadvantages that I could be the whole night listing.

Why Soundway then? Did they give you the freedom to do what you want?

Alex: No, the album was made before Soundway. We gave them the album completely ready, it just needed mastering. It was Soundway because they were the only label that liked it, of the labels I tried. I mean, I didn’t try many. I only tried labels that I thought had an affinity to our sound.

Stuart: They just liked it. They said, even if we sell 500 copies, we don’t give a fuck because it’ll be great to have had it out. But it’s taken off much more than we expected, which is fantastic. Miles [Cleret, founder of Soundway Records] was so into it, and the fact they didn’t care if it succeeded or not, they just wanted to be involved with it, is the main reason for them.

Have you been playing as a live outfit for long?

Alex: When we announced the deal with Soundway, we started getting offers to play live. So I was like, ‘Stu, look, there is a chance to actually make a bit of money with this thing, bring it to the stage,’ which is something that really appeals.

Stuart: And to play live, which we love.

Fumaça Preta, the eponymous debut LP, is out now on Soundway Records.
fumacapreta.com
musicwithsoulrecords.com

The extended interview is on groovement.co.uk

Background image by Kid Acne.

Jamie Groovement