DJ Marfox

Liberating Music from the Ghettos – Meet DJ Marfox

Interviews By
DJ Marfox

Lisbon’s energetic “new wave” kuduro is taking over the world. PW-Magazine met DJ Marfox, a child of the early hours and one of the most famous of this movement.

Marlon Silva, better known as DJ Marfox, is considered to be one of the pioneers of kuduro, the ghetto sound of Lisbon. Originally created in Angola in the late 80s, the music spread to the low-income suburbs of Lisbon and was then popularized by Buraka Som Sistema in the mid 2000s. A DJ since the age of 14, DJ Marfox has travelled the world in the last few years to spread the vibrant sound of Lisbon beyond the borders of Portugal. Despite being only 28 years of age, he’s one of the godfathers of the sound, member of Príncipe family and acts as a mentor to the younger generation of up-and-coming kuduro producers.

After a night of sweat and good vibrations at Club Titanic in Vienna, DJ Marfox took some time to talk to us about his new EP, Lisbon and kuduro’s liberating power.

You can usually tell a difference between producers who are DJs and those who are not. Do you consider yourself a DJ or a producer first?

For me the process was inversed. I was a DJ first and then a producer, but it has always been connected. People are reacting to your music with a different intensity. When you see them reacting in a positive way, it creates happiness, a motivation, a connection and it’s great to have direct feedback from the crowd. When people scream and ask for your music, it’s something that you normally don’t see as producer, but as a DJ you do. The thing that I do with my music and the dance floor is create a story, but a story that no one knows and sometimes not even I as a DJ.

With music like kuduro, that is not that well known yet, I think it’s important to be patient with people and to show them what the music is about. Do you often experience that?

Yes, that is important. When you are on dance floor the people are the most important thing, because they stimulate you, they give you energy, they are like a mirror and they feel this when they’re dancing. You in turn are a reflector for the people as well. When you bring negative energy the people will feel it. It’s like a trade. When you have the experience – I have already been a DJ for 12 years now – and you watch the people, you understand that when they aren’t dancing it’s not because they don’t like it, but because they’re unsure about the music at. But then they usually come around and can’t help but dance. It’s something that is stronger than them.

“Kuduro basically has three platforms: first in Luanda, Angola, second in Lisbon, third in the world.”

You said that you are a DJ first. Do you think that your music would change if you quit DJing and work as a producer only?

You know, I think it would be easier for me to quit being a producer than quit being a DJ. It has a lot to do with the fact that I really like being a DJ. On the other hand, I’m a producer and I manage to combine both. But DJing is a thing that is so fun, so intuitive for me, while producing is something that I do at home in front of the computer all by myself. Playing out is not like that, it’s like talking to the people without opening your mouth and that is beautiful.

You travel a lot now. What’s the city that has surprised you the most?

Actually, I liked the reception in Vienna a lot. It was my birthday recently and the promoters made an actual banner for me as a birthday present. So I felt an even bigger responsibility to make a perfect DJ set. It was surprising and heartfelt and meant a lot to me.

DJ Marfox

To follow up on my earlier question… Are there places where you felt that people had a lot of energy?

I felt a special energy in two cities especially. The first was New York, when I played at MOMA at the PS1 party. I felt something unique. New York is the capital of capitals. The second was in Glasgow last year, which was also incredible. I felt a completely different energy.

When you travel a lot and play all kinds of festivals and parties what happens is that you sometimes get tired after a while, you carry a lot of weight in your bag, you eat badly, you sleep badly and all that influences your music as well, that’s why you need energy. When I played in Glasgow in November, which is a very charged month for DJs, it gave me the energy to finish up the year. I had been to London, Manchester and Liverpool, Glasgow was the last date after four consecutive days of touring, so initially I wanted it to end fast, but when I saw the people dance and scream I played a three hour set instead of just one, because it was so frenetic.

Is travelling something that you still enjoy, or has it become a routine for you?

It’s always great to travel because you meet new people and new cultures, but there’s also a tiring side to it and when you have a girlfriend, a family and friends that’s. At the beginning it’s great because you don’t travel as much, maybe 10 times a year, but when you travel 100 times a year it becomes more difficult. It’s mostly weekends, so you can’t really do much like go out, go to the cinema, because you’re always working, so your life becomes a bit monotonous. In a way travelling also takes away a bit of your freedom. But it’s my work and I really enjoy it, sometimes you have to give up a little bit, it’s kind of a professional risk.

“My house was literally like a “Chapa Quente”, a hot plate.”

Let’s talk about Lisbon. What is the scene there like? Does it revolve more around clubs or are there off-venues and block parties?

You have a little bit of everything. People in Portugal generally like partying. You can put a speaker in the streets and have beer and snacks for 1 euro and people will come, because they like those sorts of things. It’s like Brazil, you know. You have everything, big clubs, small clubs, parties in the streets. There’s always something going on.

One thing that people always have cash for in Lisbon – even if the country is in crisis – is partying. If you go for coffee in the afternoon people will say “Ah sorry, I don’t have any money to pay”, but in the evening they’ll say “Let’s go to a club!” (laughter)

Tell us about your new EP “Chapa Quente”. What’s the idea behind it?

I used to live in Quinta da Vitoria, a ghettoized district of Lisbon, in a building that was destroyed, therefore I moved to another neighborhood that was more suburban. When I went to live in another area, it gave people the impression that I was a fancy DJ now, who travels more, plays more and is the son of that new district. I spent 25 years of my life in my old neighborhood and “Chapa Quente” has to do with the conditions in which I used to make music. In summer it was always very hot, it can get up to 40°C in Portugal and the roof would always heat up. My house was literally like a “Chapa Quente”, a hot plate. When I was creating this disc, I was in search of my origins and what influenced me. I mostly listened to radio, listened to music from the Indian community, the Portuguese community, Cape verdian, Angolan and so on, I had many different influences. When I tried to remember what influenced me the most, my Indian neighbors immediately came to mind, so it was normal to me to think of that music. I try to represent the Indian community as well as I can and make them part of my musical process.

What’s your process when you produce? Do you usually begin with an idea or do you start out from material you already have?

I constantly produce and save music. Sometimes I produce a track and put it away two years. Then a label like Principe approaches me, as it was the case for the new EP, and suggests that we work on something. Sometimes I might just go produce for one or two hours, but other times I look at a track from 7-8 years ago and use that as a starting point. I think it’s good to look at past work as well as new things. It creates a completely different sound. As an example, the first track of the EP “2685” which is the postal code of my old neighborhood Quinta da Vitoria, is a mixture of everything. There are influences from Brazil, from soap operas, Indian music, kuduro, percussion rhythms, all kinds of great music. It actually consists of two tracks, one that I made in 2008, which I really liked as a foundation, but I also wanted to implement another part of my identity. The great thing is creating something different, something new, without losing your identity.

“When did the media take note of it? When they realized there was money to be made.” 

Do you collaborate with a lot of other musicians? 

In the beginning, I thought that I had to work with a lot of musicians from around the world in order to make my music more popular. I came to the conclusion that since I was one of the faces of the kuduro movement, I had to make sure that it would stay intact first before spreading the music. When you are the face of the movement and you start working with other people, with Diplo, with Skrillex, your music stops being original, it becomes a sort of Global bass and stops being kuduro from Lisbon. But I do work with DJ Nervoso, Firmeza, Niggafox, Nidia, Maboko, and help them out as well, so that the sound improves.

Are there some musicians that inspire you though?

For sure, I like Teklife a lot, Rashad and Spinn. I like a lot how they built and spread Teklife across the globe. It has become a strong brand. That’s what I want to pursue myself, so they were and are one of my biggest inspirations. The fact that footwork came from the ghettos of Chicago and today it is played in some of the best clubs in the world is great. I think that kuduro has this potential and we can manage to get there as well.

Another one is Buraka Som Sistema, a group from Lisbon. They introduced kuduro to the Portuguese and made them accept it. Before them, kuduro was seen as black music, music from the ghettos.

Do you see a development of kuduro in new directions?

Kuduro basically has three platforms: first in Luanda, Angola, second in Lisbon, third in the world. You see more and more producers from Paris, London and New York who make “global kuduro” that is different now. I heard some things that I liked, but Luanda and Lisbon are still very strong. When you produce kuduro you can tell different influences from different areas, for example the strong bass that is characteristic of Lisbon and accentuates the style is missing. But I think this third platform will develop a lot in the next 2-3 years.

Moreover you have a lot of styles from other countries such as baile funk in Brazil and similar sounds coming from South Africa that are merging, since a lot of musicians are connecting via the Internet.

Yes, when you look at funk from Brazil, the most fantastic thing is that it used to only be funk carioca [note: from Rio de Janeiro]. Now there’s also funk from Sao Paulo with MC Bin Laden for example, who says of himself that he’s making a totally different sound. You can observe an evolution, which is why funk will never die out. The same thing goes for kuduro. First it was in Angola and then in Lisbon and you could tell the difference of course. The same goes for Afro-house and other styles in South Africa. You have great producers like Black Coffee and others who say that there has to be an evolution of sound. You need other people with a different approach to the sound, with a different vision about the music. What connects those styles is that they are all from the ghettos. They were all segregated for a long time, without having a medium. When the internet came along they started to have a platform and the music started to spread through social media. People started posting tracks they liked and journalist picked up on it and realized that there were these styles that 20 million people were listening to, while there were only 5 million people listening to minimal.

DJ Marfox

The good thing is that the perception around the music is also changing. There’s less of a stigma now.

It’s beautiful music and there’s money to be made. When did the media take note of it? When they realized there was money to be made. It’s sad to say, but it’s true.

You’re a bit of a mentor to the younger kuduro generation. Will you be running a label some day or another platform to support the younger guys?

The sound of Lisbon has to grow first and gain more notoriety before that can happen. After that, it would be a possibility. At the same time it’s not really necessary because with Principe, even though I’m not the boss, I work with them a lot and bring them a lot of artist. I brought Nigga Fox, Nidia [Minaj] and many others to different labels like Enchufada, Lit City Trax and so on, so I think there’s enough labels to support artists at the moment. If some day I see that there are not enough platforms for artist to put out their music anymore, then I would consider opening a label to support the music.

Can you give the young artists any advice in general?

Identity. It’s very important that you have a sound of your own. When you look at Lisbon and even just Principe, no sound is the same. I have a certain style, Nigga Fox has a style, Nidia has a style, Maboko has, Firmeza has a style. You have to build your own sound and make other sound otherwise everything just sounds the same.

Last two questions: What are your top tracks at the moment?

Top 3: 2685, Terra Batida and Dj NK has a new EP coming out of which I like track 6 a lot, but I can’t remember the title.

And what is your track that always works?

2685, de-de-de-de (sings), the melody of the flute always kills. It’s a very happy track. It has Asian influences, techno, kuduro, Brazilian sounds, everything mixed into one. It’s my best track, but also the most work.

Text by David Muhr
Photos by Dominik Geiger

DJ Marfox