Crazy name, crazy band

Three years ago Brazil's CSS played their first gig just for a laugh. Now they're touring the world. Tim Cumming reports
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The Independent Culture

Sao Paulo does not, apparently, boast the best or busiest live music scene in Brazil, but its club and party circuit is something else. "It has a great nightlife, but it doesn't have great music," says Luiza Sa, artist-turned-guitarist with the exuberant Brazilian art punk band CSS (Cansei de Ser Sexy, or Tired of Being Sexy - five girls with attitude and guitars and a chap on drums) who made their UK debut in Manchester last week.

"That was a great audience," she says. "England is a good place for us, I think. They were crazy. In Sao Paulo there are rock bands, but people are so poor they don't want to pay to get into the show, so the scene doesn't grow. Clubbing is the main thing. And parties. Everyone used to come to our parties," she smiles wickedly, "and stay until 6am. We never made any money - we drank all the money we made."

Sa ran a DJ crew with fellow band member Ana (the rest of the band prefer to be known simply by single names). In those days, they called themselves My Asshole and would advertise their parties by walking around Sao Paulo in a crocodile suit. It is from Sao Paulo's city-wide hinterland of nightlife - as well as the cross-pollinating world of the internet - that the CSS phenomenon has sprung.

They play scuzzy chords, metallic feedback, stomping choruses and Eighties-style synths. Though most acts from Brazil would probably head straight for the Barbican or the South Bank, CSS have sold out Dingwalls, in Camden Lock, on a Sunday night, following an early-hours knees-up at 93 Feet East the previous Friday. The queue begins to grow, and we talk out in the yard. A couple of people recognise Sa. They stop and ask for a photograph. She is gracious, but you can tell that it's still a bit weird.

"We never, ever planned or expected one day to live out of this," she says, laughing. "Playing in New York, coming to London. It's crazy. In Brazil, we're underground. Outside Brazil, it's much easier."

The band took their name from a junk e-mail landing in singer Lovefoxx's inbox prior to their first gig. "It was about Beyoncé saying she was tired of being sexy," remembers Sa, "and Lovefoxx thought: 'Wow that's so stupid, like "I'm tired of being rich" ', and we never discussed it, it was just like that's the name."

CSS came together in 2003 via clubbing, e-mail and internet photo-logs - big in Brazil before Myspace - without any of them, apart from drummer Adriano, having any real musical experience. The first call came from bass player Ira, a fashion designer "who wanted to start a band out of nothing," says Sa, "just a bunch of friends." She and fellow guitarist Carolina went to art school, while Ana studied film and Lovefoxx was a magazine illustrator. She hadn't even sung before arriving at the first rehearsal without her guitar. "In the beginning it was a lot of fun and noise," she remembers. "It's not meant to be perfect."

Adriano had a rehearsal space they could use for free, and when he arranged their first gig in a Sao Paulo club - "for a joke" - they had only three songs and lasted only 20 minutes. "It was a mess," admits Luiza, but soon they were playing in a lot of clubs. As tracks began to appear on the internet, CSS soon started making new contacts and performing farther afield.

A year after that first casual rehearsal, they signed to the hip Brazilian label Trama. Their eponymous debut album was recorded over a period of two months in Adriano's home studio, and after concerted campaigning by manager Eduardo ("sending it to everyone I could think of") it was licensed to the legendary Seattle label Sub Pop.

The album released by Sub Pop is pure adrenaline, featuring 34 unbroken minutes of energetic pop-punk shout-outs mixed with electro-pop redolent of early Eighties New Order or Soft Cell.

The spooky theremin disco stomp of "Let's Make Love and See Death From Above" was written, says Lovefoxx, simply as an attempt to get the band Death from Above to notice them. "Meeting Paris Hilton" marries sharp, hard electro-pop with global celebrity pop culture via the glazed eye of the peeping fan.

Live, they are much more rock 'n' roll than on record, cheerfully bleeding in and out of songs with feedback and stomping bass. Sa has the closest to Brian May hair and is the one most likely to windmill her arms over her guitar. The band have a habit of changing instruments - Carolina taking over the drums from Adriano, the tattooed, painfully thin Ana abandoning guitar for synths, then a cigarette, and on the ebullient party song "Alcohol", a whooping harmonica.

Sa says: "We're not musicians and we don't call ourselves artists. We don't care. And we don't stand for anything. We make music, and we make art, but it's not connected to any art gallery. If we want to do something, we do it.It's about the making of it, not the end result."

Later that night, the band take to the stage for 40 frenetic minutes. The boys leaping about in the mosh pit know the songs well enough for Lovefoxx to let the microphone go for a crowd-surf on the likes of "Alala" or the instantly popular"Meeting Paris Hilton", before she, too, launches herself upon the arms and the mercy of the audience.

CSS are signed by Sub Pop