Interviews

Hard Times – hardcore band QUESTIONS on Brazilian economic crisis

In the midst of a serious economic crisis in Brazil, where new president Michel Temer faces serious test as the country embarks on some of the most harsh reforms for the citizens, we have teamed up with Sao Paulo based hardcore veteran band QUESTIONS, to get an insider view on the crisis, and both political and social situation in their country.

Following a significat growth at the end of the 00s, Brazil’s economy experienced a serious contraction around 2010/2011. The real, cruel recession recession began at the beginning of 2015 and continued into 2016, as rising unemployment and the ongoing political disorder and corruptions scandals dragged the Brazilian economy into another stage of decline. Experts forecast it will shrink even more than it did. There are around 11,5 million unemployed Brazilians, as we speak. Many have raised concerns about Brazil’s readiness to host the recent Olympic games, which stood in a huge contrast to the political crisis. Despite off of this and actually much more band news for the country and its bleak outlook, my interviewees remain hopeful about the future. Here’s what they have to say about the current situation in Brazil.

Top photo by Pedro Henrique Fotografia. Other photos by Sete77Sete.

Hey there Pablo! It’s so nice to welcome you back here on IDIOTEQ! What’s up? How are you? How’s Brazil?

Hey Karol, what’s up? Thanks for having us again man!

We’re all good, thank you. Since we came back from our European tour last year, we’ve been working on new songs and playing shows around Brasil. In 2016 we wanted to go to Europe again, but we figured it wouldn’t be possible this year, since our economic situation is pretty fucked up. So we focused on booking shows around our country, which is pretty big, hah. We played in all regions, from Belém on the extreme north to Porto Alegre on the south, also in the big traditional festival Abril pro Rock in Recife, in the capital Brasília… it’s been a great experience!

Brasil’s situation right now is a complete mess. Last May, the elected president Dilma was put away by a coup. She’s been prosecuted and nobody knows if she will be able to come back or not. The current government is not lawful. They kicked her out saying she was corrupt, but they’re a bunch of thieves. We didn’t support Dilma’s government and her party, but we think that the democratic rules should be respected.

Anyway, the economy is fucked up and our biggest problem, the huge difference between rich and poor, didn’t change a bit on the last few years.

Yup, the political, social and economic situation in your country looks challenging. Please talk us through it and explain what’s happening and what’s the nature of the crisis you are going through.

Well, it’s very complicated but I’ll try to resume it. The presidential election happened in 2014, Dilma was elected and she was supposed to be in charge until 2018. But, since the day she was confirmed as the elected president, the right wing party that lost and other conservative forces didn’t accept the defeat. Even before the election, the campaign was very aggressive and the big division in the country comes from that.

The right wing forces, with the help of big corporate media, were able to lead a lot of people to protest against the government, and they finally succeeded in putting Dilma away last May. The impeachment process should last around six months, now we have the vice president in charge. He acts like he’s legit and tries to convince the country that he’s capable of getting us out of our fucked up economic situation, but he represent the same old corrupt “rich white professional politician” that has ruled Brazil since forever. So he and his government are old news, it’s the same old speech against worker’s rights and so on, we can’t expect anything good coming from them.

Right now, nobody can tell what’s going to happen. Dilma can be impeached, or not. Anyway I doubt she will be able to come back, even if she proves her innocence. A lot of people defend that the country should elect a new president in October, when we’ll vote for city councilmen and mayors, and don’t wait until 2018. It looks like a reasonable solution for the crisis, but I’m sure the vice president won’t support that.

Yup, we’ve all heard a lot of media coverage proving that there seems to be a very strong movement in Southern America to overthrow the left. What do you think are some of the reasons for that?

We have a lot in common with our neighbors on the continent. Many countries had military dictatorships in the 60’s until the 80’s. Our “democracy”, in general, is pretty recent. Years after these very violent regimes, left wing oriented parties (at least they call themselves “left”) were elected in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and some other countries.
The elite didn’t approve it, of course, but since the economic situation of the region was progressing, they had to swallow it.

I can’t say that much about the other countries, but in Brazil that changed in the last couple of years. We have a huge economic crisis and the hope that the left could make a real change in the structure of the society didn’t come true. So many people were disappointed, they lost a lot of votes. On the other side, the rejection of the traditional elite towards the government has increased a lot. It seems like they said: “ok, we let you play a little bit, but that’s enough!”. They control the big media and managed to do a huge campaign to convince the people that the government was corrupt and the only responsible for the crisis. Many people were seduced by this interpretation and these ideas gained force.

It’s kind of scary to see that there is a lot of hate speech going on. The politic debate on the internet, and also on the traditional media, is full of stupidity, prejudice and ignorance. And right wing radicals are more visible than they ever used to be. Most people refuse to even listen to different ideas and see all the others as enemies. It’s sad, but it’s happening.

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So what developments can we expect following the recent changes in the government of Brazil? How do you see the future of your government and its structure?

Honestly, I have no idea, hah! The future is completely unpredictable in my point of view. If I have to take a guess, I’d say Dilma is going to be impeached, and Temer (the vice president) will stay until 2018. That would suck, but at least right now, it looks like it. I don’t see the left united enough to try to anticipate the elections or impeach Temer as well. Since he committed the exact same acts that Dilma is been accused for, the common sense would be to throw him out too. But common sense in Brasil is something, let’s say… “particular”, hah! Some are more equal than others, if you know what I mean. The right wing forces aren’t united either, if the election was this year, they wouldn’t have a strong candidate. Even with the support of the big media.

Anyway, I’m concerned about the damage they can do to the worker’s rights on next couple of years. I think our future is pretty bad with this current government. I just hope they stay the least possible.

Is there a real way out of the political crisis?

It’s just my personal opinion, but I think we should anticipate the presidential election and let the people decide soon who should be in charge. It’s not a real solution, but I think it’s the most reasonable way to deal with the situation right now, at least it’d be a legit government. Then we could move on to the next political crisis, hah. Don’t believe it’s gonna happen, though.

I just hope all this shit we’re going through leads to a growing process in the country. Maybe make the institutions a little stronger, or make a little harder for politicians to steal the people’s money.

Would you point out art and independent movements like the hardcore punk community as a safe haven in times of economic and political turmoil like the one your country is facing? Has the crisis had an impact on your local art and music scene?

I wouldn’t say that, there’s no safe heaven. Independent art movements in general and our great hardcore punk community worldwide are things that people are building up everyday. It’s a permanent effort. And sometimes people can and will fail or contradict themselves here and there. That said, we learned to love this music scene so much because it’s supposed to be a place where we don’t judge the others by the color of their skin, their appearance, sexual behavior or anything like that. Obviously, all that leads to a much more tolerant and inclusive ambient than the “normal” society. It’s a place where you can find information and learn about all the social injustices we have to deal with. In that sense, yes, the scene is like a sanctuary, but it’s our job (everyone truly passionate and involved) to keep our eyes opened, stay careful to keep it like that.

The crisis affects all of us, of course. With the fucked up economy and paralyzed political system, there’s less money for everyone, so people don’t have much to spend on shows, or merch.. Or a producer take less chances on putting up shows, the venues don’t wanna risk it either, the bands don’t get good deals, it’s bad for everybody. At the same time, since we never depend on any kind of government help to make things happen, we and other independent artists and producers continue to do our thing. Do it yourself is the answer, as it ever was.

Just one example of the short mindset of this unlawful government, one of their first decisions was to extinguish the ministry of culture. The reaction was immediate: lots important artists and people in general protested so much that they had to step back on this a few days later.

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What does music, independent networking and your creative activity bring into your life these days? How else can it help in this specific difficult situation for your society?

Music is one of the most powerful forms of expression, it can help get people together and open minds to several issues of our times. It’s also fun, of course. But it can be used to make people relate to other people’s feelings and think about their problems. In these difficult times, it’s even more important to keep the independent art expressions alive! They are much more diverse and interesting than what’s happening in the big media. The true dedication and authenticity are in the underground, no question about that.

Right now in Brazil, it can help to spread the word about what’s going on, and hopefully strengthen the bonds between those who fight for the real democracy. To be part of all this brings us some hope we can help to make a change towards a better direction. The less ignorant we get about our country issues, the more we can make things harder for the elite to control us.

Wrapping it up, what has upset you the most about this crisis?

For me the most frustrating thing is to think that we’re regressing as a country. It feels like we’re going back to a more primitive time. It took us more than 20 years to get rid of a military state (from the 60’s to the 80’s), and then the politicians made a new constitution in 88, which may not be great, but at least it could assure more rights to the common citizen than ever before.

All of that is gone or at risk.

There’s no democracy if there’s no respect for the people’s will through the election. I’m not saying the Brazilian regime was good and perfect, but at least you could believe that the population was heard, the votes were legit. Can’t say that anymore. I may not know the right direction to go, but I’m sure we’re going in a wrong path.

Ok Pablo, thank you so much for your precious thoughts. I sincerely wish your country to remain free and get back on its tracks.

Before we sign off, let’s touch on some of the most important stuff regarding your band QUESTIONS. How has this year been for you guys?

Thanks for the opportunity man, it’s always interesting to try to figure out what’s going on and an interview like this makes us try to organize our thoughts and present the situation in a way someone living in complete different conditions can understand it. Hope I could do that.

The struggle for our freedom and rights will go on, despite the bad times the left in general is experiencing
right now. It’s time for auto criticism and reorganization, but never depression or conformity. “Hard times are coming through, but if you’re hard they won’t get to you”, like the CRO MAGS said, hah!

The first band decision we made in 2016 was “we won’t tour Europe this year”, since our economic situation was fucked up. So we wanted to play in Brasil the most we could and that’s what we did. We’ve played in the extreme south, Porto Alegre, we did another North East tour (3 shows, 3 different states in 3 days, where we played in one of the most traditional independent festivals, Abril Pro Rock), we played in Espírito Santo, a state we had played only once 7 years ago, we played again in our capital Brasília and in Goiânia, a city where we did the first QUESTIONS gig ever, back in 2000! It was a great feeling to visit or re-visit all of these places, to catch up with old friends and see the new kids coming in to support their local scenes.

And then we decided to do our first live DVD. Never did it in 16 years, so it’s about time!

It will happen next October 29th, we’re concentrating all of our energy to do it the best way that we can. Always DIY, always with the help from many friends. It’s going to be a big celebration and we hope the result can translate a little bit of the feelings that we wanted to share through this band over the years. Everybody’s anxious, counting the days!

Awesome! Apart from the DVD release, what other steps do you have planned for the rest of this year and beyond?

The DVD will be our main focus until the rest of the year, since we’ll shoot other things for a documentary, we want to put on it a little more than just the show. Maybe we’ll find time to play some other shows here and there as well, we’ll see. There might be the recording a new song for a compilation too, but it’s too soon to be announced..

In 2017 we want to record new songs. Don’t know exactly how many yet, but we’ve got an idea about the direction we wanna go and have some ‘sketches’ we’re working on. And we’re planning another European summer tour. We are already confirmed on the next edition of the Hardcore Help Foundation Fest and we are booking more shows… it’s gonna be great!

Cool, thanks so much! Feel free to add your final words and take care! It’s always a pleasure talking to you.

Thank you for your interest, it’s a pleasure for us too! Our final words doesn’t change much over the years, hah, it’s the spirit we try to carry… keep moving on, keep supporting real underground music and art, keep questioning authority, keep alert and sensible to the humanitarian causes and keep our scene free from homophobia, racism and any kind of totalitarian ideas. We can do it, let’s do it!

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