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Os Mutantes

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

A couple of months back, I wrote about how 70s Brazil was a hotbed of musical genius - which it was, FACT. I talked about the freakiness of the Pernambuco psych-folk scene, the gender-bending outrageousness of glam rockers Secos e Molhados and the state-baiting sensuality of tropicália star Gal Costa, all of whom deserve to be discovered by a new audience. However, I now realise I left out another band who made a massive contribution to the exciting music coming out of Brazil during this era. And it's kind of funny that I didn't know about them already - this is a band lauded by likes of Kurt Cobain, David Byrne and Beck, a band who continue to act as a shadowy psychedelic influence on generations of musicians. But discovering something great accidentally, sideways even, is always fun and now I want write about what I've found.

The band is Os Mutantes, whose output, beginning with 1968's eponymous debut, was a Technicolour explosion of musical ideas combining psychedelia and bossa nova, Sly Stone and The Beatles, The Velvets and The Monkees, garage rock and daffy pop in a way Brazil had never heard before. Formed by brothers Arnaldo and Sérgio Dias Baptista, along with singer Rita Lee (with a third brother, Cláudio, helping out with electronic sounds), the band was originally called Six Sided Rockers before switching to Os Mutantes (The Mutants) before their debut TV appearance.

The group hooked up with Gilberto Gil, who introduced them to the tropicália movement with which they would become associated. Os Mutantes' debut revealled music layered with feedback, distortion and musique concrete but also bursting with melodies and catchy hooks. The band even staged their own multimedia extravaganza, perhaps inspired by Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable, featuring actors, dancers and film. Such wild experimentation did not go unnoticed by the repressive military regime which ruled Brazil at the time, however, and the leading lights of the tropicália scene came under increasing harassment. Gilberto Gil and his collaborator Caetano Veloso were held for nine months in 1969 before being forced to flee the country. (Gil would later return to Brazil and serve as its minister of culture.)

After a successful run of albums, the band began to disintegrate. Lee left in '72 to pursue a solo career, followed the same year by Arnaldo, whose LCD use was spiralling out of control. He was later institutionalised and jumped from the building were he was held, resulting in a six week coma. Sérgio Dias continued with the band until '78. However, that was not to be the end of Os Mutantes as their influenced spread to new music fans, especially in the US.

Kurt Cobain famously wrote to Arnaldo requesting a reunion tour. Beck has paid tribute with the single 'Tropicália' on his album Mutations (gettit?). David Byrne has released the group's music on his Luaka Bop label. Since reforming (minus Lee), the band has recorded with The Flaming Lips, Of Montreal and Devendra Banhart and remains a potent creative force. Maybe you caught them at Glastonbury last year? If not, never mind, now's the perfect time to discover them. Here's a couple of songs to get you started:

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