A license to spin

 SAO PAULO — Outsiders might associate this nation with samba, but Brazil likes its trance, electro-house and techno too.

Huge crowds turn out when big name disc jockeys come from abroad; in return, Brazil dispatches its home-grown DJs to the world.

Last year’s DJ Awards in Ibiza featured a category specifically for Brazilians, the only nation so honored; DJ Marky, a Sao Paulo legend who tours internationally every year, won out over seven compatriots.

Unlike the other DJs that won in Ibiza, however, DJ Marky may soon need a license to perform in Brazil.

Proposed legislation by Senator Romeu Tuma would regulate club and event disk jockeys in much the same way the law already protects— or hinders, depending on whom you ask — musicians, radio announcers and print journalists. This move in the Brazilian legislature has generated considerable buzz in DJ and nightlife circles recently; MTV Brazil even hosted a debate on the topic last Tuesday.

The bill — which is before the Senate’s education committee — would forbid nightclubs and event planners from hiring anyone without credentials. The law also spells out protection from unscrupulous employers, and would limit foreign DJs — who are exempted from the certification requirement — to 30 percent of the gigs at any event.

“It’s nonsense,” said Facundo Guerra, owner of Vegas, a Sao Paulo nightclub famed for its after hours party. “It would be like if a visual artist needed a license to make a painting. We have politicians who are removed from reality.”

Many agree, but the legislation was actually the result of lobbying by SINDECS, a DJ organization in Sao Paulo. Antonio Carlos dos Santos, the organization’s president of the union and a DJ for three decades, said that among the intentions of the law is to protect professionals from hacks who download music from the Internet, and to give DJs access to government retirement and health benefits.

“Clubs hire good DJs to attract a following,” dos Santos said. “Then, some friend of the owner or promoter appears, and takes the job away from the professional, working for 50 reais ($21) a night, or even in exchange for whiskey.”

Santos also cited cases of DJs who worked for decades and were now indigent because there was no official record of the work that qualified them for government benefits.

Several calls to Senator Tuma’s cellphone were unsuccessful, but his reasoning is clear from an argument he makes in the legislation.

“We have before us a new form of work, a new profession...and that new profession is not regulated by legislation current in place,” he is quoted as saying.

Some in the DJ world expressed cautious support.

Camilo Rocha, a Sao Paulo-based DJ, said he considers the legislation well intentioned, and possibly very helpful to non-celebrity, working class DJs who have little job security. "But there's another side of it that is quite cloudy," he said. "It remains to be seen to what extent thing is going to paralyze things, to make things more bureaucratic."

He said he had never heard of SINDECS, and blamed them for not building a wider support base among DJs before the legislation was written.

The proposed law could stand to benefit those in the DJ-training business, said Wendel Vicente, owner of Beatmasters, a DJ school that he said had trained some of the country’s best known DJs. Though he understands the reasoning, he is wary of how the law would be implemented.

“We need to be certain about who is in charge of enforcement, of evaluation of DJs,” he said. “Who is that person? Who is going to decide who gets to be a DJ? If everything in Brazil is so messed up, how can we know that the DJ profession won’t get messed up, too?”

Dos Santos noted that the law provides for established DJs to be certified without going back to school. He also noted that he plans to revisit several points that have caused backlash; the senator said much the same thing when he called in to the MTV debate on Tuesday.

The 70 percent figure is one of those sticky points. Article 25 reads that “Events using foreign professionals must obligatorily have at least 70 percent participation by Brazilian DJs.” That would mean, theoretically, that French celebrity DJ David Guetta’s show at the Pacha nightclub in Florianopolis over Carnival — so well attended it caused total traffic mayhem and a several-hour post-midnight back-up — would need to have added three Brazilian DJs to the bill. But dos Santos said the article was only meant to apply to big festivals.

The United States doesn’t have legislation regulating the DJ profession, said the president of the American Disk Jockey Association, who is known professionally as Dr. Drax. Some DJs have tried to pressure American legislators to do so in the past, he said, but his organization is against it.

"It’s essentially job protectionism,” he said, arguing that those who promote it are inferior DJs who want protection from outsiders. “My response is, this isn’t brain surgery. Nobody’s going to die from a bad DJ.”

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