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“This is our grime”: DJ Marfox, DJ Nigga Fox, Principe Records and the Sound of the Lisbon Ghettos

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  • published
    18 Oct 2013
  • words by
    Robert Barry
  • photographed by
    Diogo Simoes
  • tags
    DJ Marfox
    DJ Nigga Fox
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As far back as he can remember, Marlon Silva always wanted to be a DJ.

As a child, growing up in the high-rise estates of Bairro da Portela on the outskirts of Lisbon, he would watch his father and older cousin set up for the neighbourhood parties. His cousin was the DJ, mixing Luso-African genres like semba and kizomba with The Beatles and whatever else would prove popular with the ever-demanding crowds of dancers. His father owned the sound system. Today, Marlon can walk around the projects and everyone knows who he is. “Hey!” the kids shout as they see him pass, “DJ Marfox!”

At 25, Marfox is already seen as an elder statesman of the burgeoning Lisbon scene. His name comes from a Nintendo game – Star Fox, a blocky 3D outer space shoot-em-up for the SNES – that he was addicted to as a teenager. By way of tribute, many of the younger producers on the scene have similar names: Karfox, Liofox, Dadifox, Nigga Fox. Marfox calls his music “free”, unbeholden to any style, be it African, European, or American. But its origins lie in the hothouse atmosphere of Lisbon’s noites africanas on the edges of the city, where West African zouk rubs up against Brazilian pagode and commercial r’n'b, and “DJs have to be very attentive to what the crowd might be into at any given moment. They’re very demanding crowds,” Marlon tells me, “they know what they’re into and they know what they expect from a club. They expect to dance.”

I met up with Marfox and his younger protégé, Rogério Brandão aka DJ Nigga Fox, at a coffee shop near the container port on the east side of Lisbon. On a block of converted warehouses by the waterfront, the cafe sits next to a record shop called Flur where José Moura and Márcio Matos work. José and Márcio make up half of the team behind Principe Discos (with Pedro Gomes and Nelson Gomes), the label that’s been releasing Marlon and Rogério’s records over the last couple of years. They’re also here, nursing cups of espresso, to translate for us.

Since the release of Principe and Marfox’s debut 12” last year, Eu Sel Quem Sou, their frenzied polyrhythmic hybrid of Angolan kuduro, batida, and kizomba with western house and techno, has been moving out of ad-hoc parties in abandoned buildings in the peripheries into the hip clubs in the city centre and beyond. Recently, Philip Sherburne, writing in Spin, called it “the waist-windingest music I’ve ever heard…like an ultra-vivid hybrid of grime and trance.” This weekend, Marfox and Nigga Fox take the stage at the Unsound Festival in Kraków. I’m here to find out how the scene came together in the first place.



Rewind to 2005. Meeting for the first time on the platform of a suburban train station: DJ Marfox, DJ Pausas, and DJ Fofuxo. Coming from different bairros, their paths had never crossed. But they knew each other by reputation thanks to the Maquinas do Kuduro (trans: ‘kuduro machines’), a dance crew uniting dancers from different neighbourhoods to face off in highly competitive full-body-shaking kuduro dances at the aforementioned African nights. The Maquinas brought their own mixtapes to dance to and those mixtapes were made variously by Marfox, Pausas, and Fofuxo. “Why not form a crew,” they decided at that train station in 2005, “why not melt all this together and try to go further, leave a mark.” That was the beginning of the DJs Do Guetto.

Marfox was the linchpin of the group, the fulcrum. He brought in DJ Jesse, a computer nerd who taught them all how to use Fruity Loops. Already Marlon had started making his first steps towards making something of his own from chopped up fragments of other tracks. With Fruity Loops he started to work more seriously on his production. “If you were only a DJ you wouldn’t go very far,” he figured. “The guys who were also producers, they were the ones who could evolve and go up some steps.” Pretty soon two other guys called Nervoso and N.K., already established “kings” on the African party scene, got into the group. The DJs Do Guetto were becoming something almost unprecedented: a DJ crew uniting broad swathes of Lisbon’s suburban periphery. “Normally neighbourhoods are stuck within themselves,” Marfox explains. “Local producers, local DJs, local parties, local audience.”

September 18 2006 was the first day of school for Marlon and his friends. It was also the day the DJs Do Guetto posted their first compilation, 37 tracks of frenetic digital kuduro and twitchy-twisty tarrachinha, onto the peer-to-peer file-sharing site eMule. Seven years later, these tracks (now re-issued as a free download on Principe’s WordPress site) still sound fresh, urgent, infectious. Not bad for a bunch of teenagers who only started making tunes less than a year before.

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