CSS are a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Founded in 2003 in São Paulo as Cansei de Ser Sexy (“tired of being sexy”) they have always been lo-fi, sunny, quirky. Above all, however, CSS have always seemed ephemeral. Their fun-loving, slacker approach to things has always given the impression that they would inevitably fall apart, leaving behind a few hummable songs and memories of some blissful, chaotic concerts. The band have always had dissolution in their DNA.
Yet CSS have survived – they’re still here, ten years on, giggling, gigging and about to release their fourth album, Planta.
Against the odds and against all expectations, they survived their biggest crisis when songwriter and instrumentalist Adriano Cintra left the band in 2011 amidst a world tour. I was due to see them a few weeks later at the Heaven nightclub in London, and was horrified by the news. In the days leading up to the gig, I nervously awaited word that they had split up. I wouldn't have blamed them, and fully expected to be asking Heaven for a refund. However, the day arrived with no news, and I turned up to find the club full to the rafters and buzzing with anticipation. Having recently bought the lyrical, shambolic album La Liberación, I was buzzing too. But, how could they possibly perform without Adriano? How good could they be?
The answer came bounding on stage with a frizzy wig and leather jacket. Heaven exploded, and responded immediately with echoes of “calling, calling” to the opening number. Lovefoxxx had hit the stage.
Simply put, Lovefoxxx is one of the great contemporary performers. Her very presence is enough to start a party, and that’s partly what makes CSS events so exciting and intoxicating – they are not gigs in the traditional sense, but carnivals, celebrations.
That night, the wig and leather jacket came off quickly to reveal a red haired, hot panted Luísa Matsuchita leading the singing of “Short shorts, short skirts / Flower tops, denim shirts / In the big city, nothing hurts, nothing hurts”. And you know what . . . nothing did that night, as she threw herself into the crowd, and Luiza Sá, Carolina Parra and Ana Rezende kept the beats and melodies flowing - everybody danced.
Nothing hurt . . until the next morning that is, when my head certainly did. Before going to bed, I had tweeted about what a storming gig the girls had put on. Turning on my IPad, I saw that they had actually replied to me. CSS are like that.
A year past. A year listening to the albums, and following Lovefoxxx’s various DJ stints and collaborations, such as with Steve Aoki on the catchy and strangely moving Heartbreaker. Actually the song was so catchy that it stuck in my head for a week, and I had to hum Beethoven’s 8th loudly to muffle it out.
Again the expectation, the conviction, that what seemed ephemeral, actually was. OK, so the girls had managed to pull off the gig of the year without Adriano . . . but what about the songs, perfectly pitched for the four intoxicating muses? Could they write their own material? With Lovefoxxx herself being a one-woman brand for cool, and getting all the work she needed, why would she bother? Would Luiza, Carol and Ana form another band?
As the year rolled on, the CSS tweets and Facebook entries became fewer and fewer. They did a series of entertaining, chaotic, radio shows in LA. At least they still enjoyed each other’s company, but the expectation was that they would fade into the Californian sunshine.
Then out of the blue, and totally unexpectedly, guitarist Luiza Sá posted that they were doing a fourth album. The tweets and Facebook entries started up again, along with pics of the girls in residence at an LA house, swimming, smiling, partying. A UK date popped up, with perhaps the most appropriate sounding announcement of all time, “CSS at All Tomorrow’s Parties, Camber Sands, Sussex”. It was like a keyword distillation of the band:
Then came news of the London gig on Hoxton Square. I hurriedly bought a ticket, and put it on the mantelpiece.
I counted down the days, then a chilly Monday 13th May 2013 arrived. I met a couple of friends for drinks and trouped over to the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen for a few more, before joining the expectant sell-out crowd.
Ana, Luiza and Carol came bouncing on with a male drummer, and Lovefoxxx followed, strangely subdued, and complaining of being cold (she was right to). This incarnation of Lovefoxxx had a painted face, long, long, black hair, and she was wearing a substantial and rather stiff cloak. Very Dada - Lovefoxxx as Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.
And the band did their thing, effusively, infectiously. The musicians, Ana, Carol and Luiza seemed to be having the time of their life up there – laughing, pointing, acting up . . and man, they were good. Often overlooked is that CSS are a very tight, hard hitting band. Luiza Sá struts and preens self-mockingly like a young Keith Richards. Carolina Parra keeps it all together, surveying the others knowingly. And then there is Ana Rezende – keyboard maestro, and heart of the band. The three slide and dance, carve out rhythms and hooks, weaving their unique, euphoric magic.
Shortly into the gig, the stangely subdued Lovefoxxx suddenly raised her hands; the levers in her stiff cloak clicked in, and she became a huge butterfly. Lovefoxxx reborn! After a couple of minutes as this startling, rhythmic insect, she dispensed with the contraption, and became the centre of the party she always is. The rest of the gig was an uplifting melange of old and new, with a thunderous duet at the end, with the girls yelling “I seen you drunk girl, but you ain’t drunk yet.”
I, however, was indeed drunk, and drifted off into the night with my ears ringing.
I forgot to mention that in the run up to this gig, Kevin Perry, Deputy Editor of the NME, had tweeted asking whether any CSS fans would like to see their session at the NME offices. Err . . yes, I replied. Yes, please.
So on the following Wednesday morning I turned up to the NME offices in a cab, only to see the girls in shades passing from their car into the building – the Rolling Stones at their coolest did not look as cool as this. After a long wait downstairs, fifteen young fans and myself – a rather old fan – were ushered up to the huge offices on the 9th floor. At the end of the corridor sat the girls, with a couple of friends and a bearded bongo drummer.
Lovefoxxx opened her arms beatifically: “Thank you so, much for coming!!” she smiled, with genuine warmth, as the young fans sat cross-legged in front of her like disciples around the Buddha. Luiza Sá started to strum, the bongo drummer kicked in and Lovefoxxx began to sing their latest, and self-penned, number, “Hangover”. It was rather like sitting around a camp-fire on a beach in Brazil. With a bit of banter and chat in between, the band did another three or four songs, and that was it. Morning had broken.
I left the NME offices glad that I had gone and seen a new side to the band. CSS, acoustic? Who would have thought that would work? It started to rain; and as I crossed the Thames, I smiled as I thought about these bright, funky Brazilian women. When they play together something happens, something rare. Luiza, Luisa, Carolina and Ana make the world more fun, less predictable, more human. CSS are four girls against the world - and they are winning.
Will I ever see them again? I really don’t know – they are ephemeral, after all.
But I hope so.