Halloween night with Bestialo Culapsus and Caracas’ dwindling party scene
Word-of-mouth on Bestialo Culapsus siempre always struck me as “these guys really can pull off some mean parties”, and despite the stiff depressive winds that blow all over Caracas’ valleys and hills on this season, they delivered. At least that’s how I felt on November the 3rd’s Jijilloween, my first time on this particular breed of parties, as I am often late for everything. And the night was, on its tiny 300 people scale, a perfect metaphor of what’s going on in Venezuela, musically, socially and all other relevant –llyses.
I might’ve said “they” but what the original cool lapsus lineup has shrunk, like jeans, to a singular “he”. Abraham Araujo, who’s now 34, summons up these parties in collaboration with those of the music scene who are still tickin’ and the occasional new arrival. He started out in 2008 along his schoolyard friend, Gustavo Dao, who, as you might have guessed, left the country. With sustained effort and a refined musical palate, he’s managed to keep organizing great events and the morale up, even as our country’s steadily being sucked down.
The trajectory of the project stands on its own, as it brought about consistently wack parties to the dance music crowds whilst creating a spotlight a great deal of the most prominent players of the Venezuelan music scene – Diamantero from trendsetting netlabel Cocobass, Ernesto Pantin from former indiest band Todosantos and velvety voiced, prolific feature singer Alissa María, Sunsplash and VFRO. to name just a few.
The night in question we were honoured by renowned Tuki pioneer Dj Baba, often-ran-into-among-beers Alvy Singer, Anarculture a funny guy in suit and briefcase attire from Barquisimeto, Koji (Spokoji), a close friend of BINK andClub Haus collectives and Abe Culapsus’ heteronymous #DJWowQuéDJ. In short, players from influential and very different cliques.
So the party was rigged for a blast, not just for the music but for the kind of people who go there. From petite bourgeois to middleclass, according to taste. Hip, cute, batshit insane. Good people. And on this night, wearing costumes or presenting their creative excuses for the lack thereof. So there I was, between the mismatched crowd of the dress-savvy and the monstrous, babes a’ plenty, very very okay sounding music, and I was at work. Indeed, a guy gets lucky sometimes.
Call it entertainment, an art form, whathaveyou; truth is that DJing is certainly a thing. Young consumers and the globalized lifestyle they partake in often go about DJing, maybe not the most transcendent of crafts (for the opinionated) but indeed a means to punctuate nights, lift the spirits and connect – or disconnect – with the slightly intoxicated crowds in our own, postmodern take on what them Greeks used to call agape.
Now how does an art, craft or ritual survive? It needs to reach a certain degree of importance in everyone’s lives (granted, us caraqueños love to part-ay) and be taken care of. Economically. Receiving some funds from the state, citizens, or private enterprise. Set together with a system of social – also read: economical – practices that keep its blood pumpin’, keep it healthy and alive.
Sadly, there’s a bit of the ole Darwinism when it comes to arts, business and every facet of human life. DSLR manufacturers are probably feeling the hit of 20 megapixel smartphones in the junk, much like what followed from the arrival of digital synthesizers, which replaced pianos, trombones and even their Mellotron forefathers. And currently in Venezuela, the next big thing is just making it until next month. You know, stuff like, eating, drinking. Existing. Remaining there. Continuing the human drama. The other very popular thing is repeating ideological pamphlets and participating in the influence-mongering networks of the government’s affiliates.
These things, the economy and the gradual decrease of time and resources to go and spend time in fancy nonsense, dancing the night away like fools, have def taken a toll on Caracas’ music scene. Talking to Abraham and Koji, we can set the toughest turning point (or the beginning of the end) on that February of 2014.
“After the protests, everyone was left… I dunno… they didn’t want to party out of respect for the dead, or the other (most committed) protesters… la vaina (our word for ‘and stuff’)”.
Not only did the party-people stop partying. Businesses went bankrupt. Sponsors stopped their sponsoring. Bars and clubs shut down, leaving musicians and DJs without a spot to carry out their trade. Lots of the clientele went into exile, as did much of the talent behind the music scene.
Reminiscing on Haus Collective’s manager and promoter’s departure, Koji adds:
“The first to left was Diego García… who was the organizer. He was the one who had the skills and dedication to visit the clubs, speak to their managers, find sponsorship… everything! When he left, we were left adrift. After that there were just a couple more, tiny parties on Suka, at a discreet scale, for a little while. But it was nothing like House Collective’s parties, which were like, you know, on the bitchin’-est spots”.
He remembers the days where sponsorship was available, both from national and international brands (on a very special occasion, he and his pals got new headphones from Skull Candy). Not only did the sweet sponsor cash flow, but he also felt like he and his dudes were treated right: they were paid as they deserved and were supported by a network of media, businesses and venues which sustained and invested in the party scene. Now that’s over: it’s f*cked, gone to sh*t.
In around a year, things had taken a 180° turn, as Abraham Culapsus points out:
“By 2015 I noticed we were getting, barely, half the amount of people who used to go to the show, and venues started to become an issue… so we moved from clubs to house parties”.
There’s still talented DJs and people with enough showbiz pull to bring this kind of event together, but frequency is most eloquent: at the beginning of this decade, you’d find one such party in Caracas around 3 to 4 times a month. Now we only get these once or twice a year. If you google BINK, Voyage, Club Haus and other nightlife related acts and collectives, you’ll find flyers and press notes from 2014 and 2015 hanging from lonesome facebook pages and zines that hatched, took a couple of baby steps and then died miserably.
Photos by: @BINK
Among these you could find hints to Bestialo’s parties and his many, talented collaborators, which lost a great deal in profile and chances to develop their careers further. Acts like Bronson, Huge Hefner, DJ Carlton from around the times where he settled on Blow Up club. There’s still record of the times when Araujo and Dao aimed their enterprise to the greater goals of cultural promotion, producing zines and art shows featuring the work of graphic, film and animation artists: much more than just the music.
But enough gloom! You wanna know what special kind of people was there? Well, probably kinda bohemian but not as much, very millennial types from all around the city: there was your usual sifrinos – our very prejudiced way to call snooty upper class guys and gals – and some others from as far as Petare, a “lower income sector”, who eclipsed all the dancers around them with mad Tuki dance skills. I even bumped into one of my highschool friends who ditched his Economy and Social Studies major to become a rather successful cook in Florida (who also wouldn’t stop lecturin’ me on how to surf the economy whenever I bail the patria and, much to my surprise, suggested me to read “How to read Donald Duck”, a classic critique of ideology and colonization).
Photos: Izumi Takahashi.
So this was a kinda representative sample both of Caracas’ and certain universal characters. The guy with the hairy, campy monster mask with the fake blood was there, as was the lady with the pink hair who danced like an angel. Cute girls of all shapes, sizes, majors, vices and tricks.
Guys ranging from the classic assholeish-but-okay to palatably weird. The queeny divas set their kingdom upon the dancefloor, sporting Rei Ayanami’s blue hair or tuki dancing along the frontiers of vogue. Whenever we’d need a break, we’d go to the woodsy back yard, where we chugged, snorted or smoked at our leisure, as some couples took turns with guys pissing themselves to get out of light’s reach.
As varied as the demographic was, this kind of event wasn’t just in everybody’s budgetary range.
- Let’s talk beer: you could find endearing, 237ml polarcitas at 6000 Bolívares, that you’d probably have to pay using your smartphone (since there ain’t no cash on them streets) or ask a friend in front of a computer to transfer funds to the designated Beer Guy’s account. Wonder how he kept tabs!
- Let’s talk entrance fee: 20.000 Bolívares. Not considering the cab ride you’d prolly have to take to get there, since it was far up the sleepy hills of Los Chaguaramos.
- Let’s talk dollars: the much officialized, established and universal black market dollar price was pulling 32.000 Bs. at the time (see how it’s doing today – costing around seven times more the “offical” amount that the state, very democratically, sets for a selected group of impresarios).
Sounds all nice and cheap, right? Well, nuh-uh. That’s the kind of thing that can happen when you look from the outside. The minimum (monthly) wage in Venezuela is around 456.507 Bolívares. That’s 76 beers. That’s, like, 8 dollars. Enough to get you and five pals around proper hammered, yes, but only for one night. The party people at the scene ought to have had either: a (very) good job (salary-wise), a very busy Upwork account or they made it to the party (carefully) sharing expenses with their mates.
The guy who I asked how much the minimum wage – that he makes – was, who’s now working at a bakery near Barrio Eraso, the kinda-high-kinda-low-class sector of the city I live in, probably wouldn’t have been able to join the fun. Ever. Shit be fucked, they say. Esto se lo llevó el que lo trajo, we say. And if you wanna bring Phillippe Bourdieu into the mix, pointing out the distinction of customs and tastes among social strata, be my guest. It all adds up to “the class gap goes deeper and wider these days”, probably more than ever.
The fact that there’s still cool parties to go to in the dilapidated Caracas of 2017 is a display of attitude as also, let’s not be naive, of whatever privilege the middle and upper classes its citizens still can muster. But can you lead a life just on that? A couple of parties a year? Are celebrations, new acquaintances, talented artists, and dissipation getting the place they deserve in our lives? These evidently rhetoric questions make the author of this post yawn of disillusionment and it makes his balls itch.
By: Dmtri (CCS,VE)