"You're going to São Paulo?"
"Okay, we're running there together."
Having just left the snow-battered Midwest, my travel plans to Brazil for Carnaval were going to be dashed if I missed my connection in Miami. After pleading with the stewardess who offered little consolation that I wasn't going to miss my flight, I bolted off the plane with my temporary travel companion as we sprinted across the terminal with only minutes before the doors closed on us forever.
With our lungs failing, our pitiful state caught the attention of a handicap transport operator who drove us the remaining 20 gates through the terminal. Desperately, we made the way to the gate as our names were being echoed over the MIA intercom.
The short, but frenzied burst of cardio proved to set the tone for the high energy that was to come as the plane took off to São Paulo for Carnaval
Brazil has only recently begun garnering global attention for its electronic music scene. Despite the fact that beat-driven genres like sertanejo and funk have long had an imprint on the culture, Brazil has only become a focal point as a burgeoning music market as competition and oversaturation clobber North America and Europe. Hosting the largest population in South America with a staggering 200 million citizens, Brazil has been looked at with hungry eyes from foreign investors looking to capitalize on the nation's increasingly well-connected audience.
And who's to blame them? With emerald forests and enviable beaches, Brazil has all the makings of a dance music destination; with none of the competition from its Northern Hemisphere counterparts.
Although many global festival brands have dipped their toe in Brazilian waters by bringing in dozens of headliners and massive stage production, there's one thing that foreign event brands have struggled to capture: the natural essence of the people who live there.
That's where Laroc Club steps in.
Just 90 minutes from São Paulo amongst rolling green hills, Laroc's presence is commanding. As a mixed open-air venue, Laroc is nestled in a small valley surrounded by palms and dense subtropical forest. Open all year long, Laroc produces 18 events a year which culminates during Carnaval weekend with a special three-night run. This year, Alesso, Kungs, and Armin van Buuren all took on hosting duties to capture the high-intensity energy of Laroc's musically hungry audience.
When we arrived at the venue early Saturday evening, the charged spirit of the audience was already palpable. Led by Mario Sergio de Albuquerque, Laroc's CEO and Co-Founder and long-time veteran of the dance music industry, we took a tour of the venue's state of the art facilities.
The free-standing covered arch which hosts a mammoth dance floor doesn't appear striking at first, but a tour of the main floor quickly changes first impressions. The electric energy of the crowd enjoys space to breathe as the soaring convex ceiling prevents the floor from feeling tight or claustrophobic – despite the venue's 5000+ capacity. Wooden laser-cut LED panels create puzzle pieces of visual brilliance above the audience, giving a stunning multi-dimensional feel to the dance floor.
Even at 6pm, the crowd was already beginning to swarm. "The crowd usually arrives by 7pm," Mario says. The sunset-nature of the club gives fans the opportunity to settle in for an extended sesh without seeing things get too messy.
"For us, it’s special when you arrive at the club with the sun, the pool, the green area. Being surrounded by nature when the sun goes down behind the stage creates a big transformation with lights and visuals! That mutation from the day to the night is inexplicable, it looks like two different venues and the music has the same flow. We start with a nice chill/ lounge music and it grows until the peak time at 9pm.
The experience is different as it’s more sensitive, more colorful, different than nightclubs when you enter and it’s dark. Nothing against them, I’m a clubber, but the idea and concept from Laroc was to be different than the standard model."
And it's certain that Laroc is anything but standard. Operating as a smooth, well-oiled machine, Laroc staffs 300 day of show event and production employees who are professional and on-point. Having previously worked as a nightclub manager and Music Director for Brazil's incarnations of Electric Zoo and Tomorrowland, Mario has surrounded himself with a team that takes immense pride in what they're doing. Because for them, this isn't simply a casual endeavor.
"When we opened in 2015, everybody was wary about the project, especially because of the location. Valinhos was not a tourist destination and is an hour drive from São Paulo.
Everything went so fast, from the time when we announced the name/concept until the official opening. We showed off some 3D Images but nobody realized how big it is in fact, so our first 5 months was really hard to get attention from the public.
Because of that, we invested a lot on the first summer bringing names like Hardwell, Axwell, Robin Schulz, Nicky Romero. They were the reason for the public to come, not the club itself. After surviving the first year we decided to be more aggressive in investments to be really differentiated from the competition."
But during Carnaval weekend, the regular off-season stressors are put on the back burner as fans and staff alike deeply drink in the moment.
On Friday, Alesso brought the big EDM anthems to a nearly sold-out crowd. The audience put their best fashion foot forward for Carnaval weekend with carefully selected club wear. Though young, the crowd was certainly seasoned partiers that fed off the energy of Alesso's set which included a sprinkling of classic dance floor burners like Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" and Zombie Nation's "Kernkraft 400."
Although the party starts early, fans aren't shy to stay late. And unlike the haughty club atmosphere found in other popular dance music destinations, the dance floor atmosphere of Laroc is genuinely passionate.
"Partying in Brazil is different than Miami and Berlin. Brazilian people are more emotional, and you can see it on the dance floor. Energy is always higher than other countries. All DJs say the same. Not only the energy, but everything is more intense."
On Monday, the buzz was heightened for Armin van Buuren to make his way to Laroc. During Carnaval, the return to the regular 9-to-5 is the last thing on anyone's mind, as droves of fans came to Laroc to witness a sold-out performance with stunning state-of-the-art production. Unknowingly, the crowd was about to be treated with customized visualizations developed specifically for Laroc's modern projection system.
For fans, the anticipation was high. Over 5,000 people simultaneously chanted "Armin! Armin! Armin!" as the trance icon took to the decks. As soon as the soaring synth lines took over the perfectly tuned sound system there was never a moment's lull in the movement of the crowd. Commanding the crowd much like a conductor directs an orchestra, the dance floor became a hypnotized movement of bodies swaying to the direction of Armin's every beat.
And somehow, quite quickly, 3am arrived and fans began to disperse to head back to their homes – or for the more adventurous – the afterparty. As our time in Brazil came to a close, the feeling was that this wouldn't be our last time at Laroc. The friendly and sincere conversations with fans, locals, and industry professionals left a strong impression that the dance music community in Brazil has by no means peaked. And for people like Mario who have been pulling the strings to put places like Laroc on the map, staying connected with your fans is important.
"You need to always improve your network. If you stay isolated in your world without connections from all over the world, it won’t be easy to achieve your goals. You can't only stay backstage, you need to talk with the public, you need to be proactive and always try to bring news to the public. When you create a reputation, people will trust you, and it doesn't matter which project you are taking care of."
Message received, loud and clear. 🇧🇷