Brazil's Green Valley club is rebuilding to return better than ever
Green Valley in Brazil experienced a double disaster last year. First came the COVID-19 pandemic, then the venue itself was destroyed in June by a freak cyclone. Carl Loben talks to Green Valley’s International Managing Director to find out if there’s a route back for the club
At the start of 2020, everything was looking great for Green Valley. The Brazilian venue, which is more like a festival experience, had been voted No. 1 club in the world again, and there was a full programme of events booked for the year ahead. Then the pandemic struck. “We had a lot of shows scheduled, right up until November,” recalls International Managing Director, Antonio Afonso. “If I recall, it was in the middle of March that we decided not to open. It was the beginning of the COVID panic; there were only a few cases down here in the south of Brazil at that point, but the numbers were rising fast and we decided not to open on the 14th.”
The COVID-19 response of the populist Brazilian government, headed up by President Bolsonaro, has been described by medical NGO Médicins Sans Frontières as the worst in the world. It didn’t instruct entertainment venues to shutter in March 2020, but Green Valley closed its doors anyway. “We could’ve carried on, but we thought that it wouldn’t be good for anybody,” says Antonio. “When we decided not to open, we knew that it would be for three or four months because we saw what was happening in Asia and then in Europe. This was the early stage of the COVID situation — nobody could guess that one year after we’d still be talking about it.”
From humble beginnings, Green Valley has been an unmatched Brazilian success story. It began in 2007 as a party in the jungle, based in the Santa Catarina region in the south of the country. Some electronic dance music fans wanted to throw a big rave, and booked none other than Carl Cox to headline in a makeshift tent on an old airfield. After this, they started booking other international DJs and building some infrastructure to make a permanent venue.
By the start of the 2010s, Green Valley had been voted into the DJ Mag Top 100 Clubs poll, and in 2013 it claimed the coveted No. 1 slot — it has won the global public vote a total of five times now. By the start of 2020 they’d spent a considerable amount on improvements — upgrading the huge tent-like structure in front of the main stage, which itself had doubled in size and had its backstage and VIP areas revamped. The capacity of 12,000 meant each night there was the size of a boutique festival.
“Green Valley started from scratch and it was like a kind of Frankenstein’s monster,” says Antonia. “You upgrade one part then you upgrade another part, and then another. From this, 13 years of history — every time you build something new, something else is getting old.”
On Tuesday 30th June 2020, a cyclone ripped through southern Brazil and the state of Santa Catarina. The disaster left nine people dead and two missing in the region as floods and high winds caused landslides and knocked down power lines. Situated in a valley, Green Valley experienced 200km/h winds during the cyclone. The main stage was destroyed, the huge tented area rendered useless, and the infrastructure badly damaged. The roof blew off the second stage, UNDERline_ area, and landed in the lake 100 metres away. In total, 80% of the club’s sprawling panorama was completely destroyed.
With the club inactive for more than three months by late June, Antonio was staying on a ranch in the centre of Brazil many miles away with a friend. The day of the cyclone, someone sent him a picture of a destroyed Green Valley. “I thought it was like a joke at first,” he says. “I thought it wasn’t possible — the photo was in a very high resolution and I thought, ‘Who had the bad taste to do this?’ Suddenly people were asking me what happened and if I was safe.”
The core Green Valley team had been having a lunch meeting in the house next door to the club’s on-site office when the cyclone hit. Sat around a big meeting table in front of a huge window, GV owner Eduardo Philipps got a message from his mother about a cyclone coming their way. “Nobody was expecting it — and they got really scared to death,” Antonio recounts. “The big window exploded inside the house. If they were still at the table where they were having the meeting — because they got up to see what was happening — they probably would’ve been killed or badly injured, as the window exploded in front of the table. It was crazy.”
“Eduardo actually filmed the tent being destroyed,” he continues. “Imagine the owner and founder of Green Valley watching the forces of nature destroying the club in front of his eyes. Can you imagine how emotionally depressed he felt? The guy who made it from scratch watching everything being destroyed in front of his eyes.”
Eduardo was reportedly depressed for a few days, but the love from everyone towards the club — “all the artists, the public, all the friends, everybody sending great energy and messages,” according to Antonio — meant they had no hesitation in deciding to carry on. Lots of DJs — from Alok to Vintage Culture and beyond — pledged to donate a set for free in order to help the club recover, and they programmed a three-day Together We Rise event as a fundraiser to help pay for the rebuild. This event series was originally going to be in April 2021, but they’ve had to put it back to at least the autumn due to cases of COVID in Brazil remaining high.
“We sold out for the three days of Together We Rise, and after we had to postpone it we only had 14 people asking for their money back,” Antonio says. Everyone else rolled their tickets over. “We decided not to put a date on the reopening — we’re not going to announce it until we know there is a 95% chance of reopening. People were happy that this money they paid for a ticket is to rebuild their favourite club.”
Green Valley has also made some merchandise materials from the tent that was destroyed by the cyclone. “So now you can own a piece of our history — a backpack, a butterfly, a hat,” Antonio outlines. “There’s also an RFID chip inside the merchandising that allows you to open an app, so that we can communicate with people — send special offers to our fans and stuff like that.”
Everyone who eventually attends the reopening three days of Green Valley will be invited to write their signature on the new wall being built alongside the path when you first enter the complex. “Then we’ll put some spray over the top to keep it protected. It’ll be like the founders of the new Green Valley. It’ll be like, ‘You have helped us to rebuild Green Valley, you’ve made a part of history with us’.”
Antonio estimates that 80% of the club is now rebuilt. A recent productive meeting with the Tourism Ministry has allowed them to see a roadmap back to reopening. “They were really great guys, they are aware of the difficulties with the entertainment business, and they said they’re going to do something like vaccination passports or an app that connects your ID card to your vaccination,” says Antonio. “They’re studying the possibility to have events and entertainment areas that you can access if you’ve had the vaccination. This could be the best short-term solution.”
Admitting that health and hygiene procedures like sanitisation will remain in place for a good while yet — “it will be more normal to see alcohol gel at the edge of the clubs, cleaning procedures more hardcore and things like this” — Antonio is nevertheless optimistic for the future. Green Valley is principally an outdoor club, so this will help its case for a swift reopening when it comes to it. And the cyclone has meant they’re having to rebuild effectively from scratch, meaning a fresher infrastructure all round.
Green Valley didn’t have the chance to celebrate their last Top 100 Clubs win with one of their legendary parties, but it was always going to come back, even after the devastating cyclone, if owner Eduardo had anything to do with it. “Yes, I really admire his energy, he is a very positive person,” says Antonio. “The world can be ending and he will see some advantage somewhere! He’s a blessed guy.”
Antonio mourns the loss of lots of clubs, restaurants and bars in the Santa Catarina area — “The Ibiza of South America” — as well as the huge loss of life. Yet Green Valley, the jewel in the region’s clubbing landscape, will be back some time in the not too distant future. “We will once again, together, create more unforgettable moments,” he says. “The reopening of Green Valley will be much more than just a club reopening — it’ll be a comeback for freedom and partying. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes.”
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