By Felicity Clarke, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – When a Carioca friend tells you not to be scared before getting out of the taxi in an unfamiliar area in Zona Norte, you can be forgiven for thinking you’re going to encounter formidable men with big shiny guns.
As it turns out, the potential fear factor in a cluster of streets at Praça de Bandeira is not the roar of gunfire but the earnest roar of black-clad rockers with studded belts and surly faces yelling along to German metal band Rammstein.
Every weekend, this unremarkable, slightly shabby area between São Cristóvão and Estácio metrô stations and not too far from Maracanã stadium becomes the party central for those drawn to the dark side: invisible by day, the bikers, emo kids, transvestites and metal heads congregate here by night in a loud, thrillingly shambolic and refreshingly unpretentious carnival of alternative subculture.
Pardaria Lopes on Rua Ceará is a good place to start. It’s a standard bar of the dingy, plastic patio furniture and horrifying toilet variety found in abundance across the city, except for its seated goth clientele and ear-splitting blast of Guns ´n´ Roses.
Things get more animated around the corner on Rua Sotero dos Reis with sound competitions between bars, tiger-print low ride motorcycles and clusters of alienated youth lining the pavement.
Halfway down the stretch is JLS, a gay-friendly club with no signage and the place to head for a mosh if you catch it during its System of a Down or Korn phases. Unusually, this blank sweat box pumps out three or four popular tracks in a row, artist by artist, with the videos playing on a single TV screen above the dance floor. Once the music jilts abruptly from hard rock to commercial pop, a troupe of amateur male dancers perform almost in-sync Vogue routines complete with pouts and attitude on the forecourt outside.
Attracting a predictably older crowd is Abrutre’s Moto Club on the next street, Rua Hilário Ribeiro. Impressive motorbikes and bearded bikers congregate outside a bar whose matt-black interior is decorated with eagle motifs, a tattered Brazil flag and a coffin. Here the music is mostly Brazilian hard rock, which must be said is a lot softer and bouncier than its American and European counterparts.
What is always striking about places that attract perceived “scary” people (ie anyone identifying with a darker music-based subculture), is how unscary and nonthreatening they are. An environment where people have the freedom to express their style and themselves without the ridicule they’d encounter elsewhere has inherently inclusive vibe.
As such it’s easy to wander the streets in this part of Praça de Bandeira without fear and with a feeling of belonging, which is what any alternative subculture is about.
What’s surprising is that this culture is thriving in Rio, city of beach, samba and Carnival fame. Because it’s Rio, the manifestation is far more tame and subdued in style than those in for example Seattle or Berlin – for a start it’s too hot for the full goth get up.
But the be-yourself spirit uniting them is the same and so if you like thrashing guitars and can handle Trainspotting-style toilets, Praça de Bandeira offers a fun and incredibly alternative Rio night out. Really, don’t be scared.