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Hay una discoteca por aqui?

Almost 30 years ago I was having a beer with a certain synth wizard idol of mine on a Copacabana beach terrace and thought that everything can only go downhill from now on.

The question in the title, loosely translated as "Is there a nightclub here?", can be heard on the track Discoteca from Pet Shop Boys' sixth studio album, released in 1996. The album was inspired by the Latin sounds and rhythms which the band fell in love with during their Discovery tour in South America, named after countries they had yet to visit.

The news about the release of the Discovery: Live in Rio 1994 concert recording finally in dvd format made this megafanboy drift away to early December 1994, when I received a call from the head office of the record company EMI. At the time, I was still a timid and inhibited individual in my early twenties living in a room I had decorated in the basement of my childhood home, which could even be described as a pretty cool man cave, if its occupant had been a proper man and not a nerdy basement-dweller. I picked up the call downstairs to a cream-coloured Ericsson landline phone, and was greeted by Rosie from London inquiring straight away if I am of legal age?

Then it hit me: I had won MTV Europe's Pet Shop Boys competition, the first prize of which was a trip to meet my all-time favourite group at the final shows in Rio de Janeiro of their ongoing tour covering Singapore, Australia and South America! One of the five Finnish landscape postcards I entered into the draw had somehow popped to the surface and found its way straight into the hand of the office intern.

At that time, MTV really was a pan-European channel, so I would assume that the Royal Mail delivery van dropped off a huge sackful of hopeful greetings to the MTV office in London's Camden Lock. MTV played a central role in my musical upbringing, and at the time it seemed amazing to be able to watch Ray Cokes pulling faces live simultaneously with all the youth across Europe via a giant satellite dish in our backyard. You can read more about my love for the channel's original VJs here.

But the strangest thing is, in a way, I didn't consider winning the competition terribly surprising, but a natural, fateful providence. After all, I had won also a few years earlier in another PSB draw. What kind of insolence dared I show towards Mrs. Fortuna even then, that I waited with my finger on the record button of my dual cassette deck for the announcement of the results of a competition on the local Radio Ykkönen radio station. And, as it happens, the now deceased radio personality Jarmo "Jay Jay" Leskinen (RIP) announced that I was welcome to accompany him at the vip stand in Helsinki Ice Hall and meet the boys in the cafe of the venue after the show. That's how I expected it to go all along.

I have since met Pet Shop Boys' Neil and Chris briefly after their Ruisrock and Vaasa festival gigs in Finland, and also chatted with Erasure's Andy and Vince, Depeche Mode's Martin, Dubstar's Sarah, Saint Etienne's Pete and Bananarama's Keren and Sarah, but those meetings were simply based on either chance and good timing, a perfect placement in the front row, persistence, or big money spent on a VIP fan package.

In any case, the situation was that I was now expected to relocate already within a week to the fabled, glowing hot beaches of Rio – quite a contrast to the early December sleet and rain around Finnish Independence Day. Because of the public holiday, the arrival of plane tickets by post in time could prove to be difficult, so a courier would transport them from UK all the way to my front door. The package included flights from Helsinki Airport via Paris to Rio and back, three nights in a five-star hotel on Copacabana beach boulevard and access to two gigs at Rio's Metropolitan Arena.

I was allowed to bring my friend along, so I called the biggest PSB fan I knew, and asked if there would possibly be an opening in his calendar for a trip to South America, where we strut backstage flashing our Access All Areas passes, sipping champagne, and casually hanging out with Neil, Chris and the whole tour gang. He agreed to cancel his sauna and laundry room reservations at short notice.

Our night flight on the Brazilian Varig airline was almost sleepless, and when we arrived it turned out that, apparently, as a result of the revaluation of the local currency, the US dollars we received as pocket money were merely small change and vanished in a snap in an already really expensive city. After one scam taxi ride to the iconic Jesus statue, we were faced with a "mom, send money" type situation, as us inexperienced travellers had decided to journey to the other side of the globe on a shoestring budget.

There were also other "shortcomings" in the practical arrangements of the record company, as we had to find our way to the hotel completely on our own, and there was no message for us waiting at the reception. The band's assistant and future manager Mitch Clark didn't get in touch with us until late in evening, when there were only a couple of hours before the start of the show. We made an expensive phone call to London, where word finally got through to Mitch. So we had to wait for a call nervously for the first day mostly in the hotel room and on the balcony, which was probably a blessing for the locals, as the reflective power of our exposed chalky white legs penetrated even the darkest of sunglasses. Moreover, the 37 degree daytime temperature was simply too much for us Nordic boys.

The lovely Maria G proudly announced that the winner was her compatriot.

When the evening finally arrived, everything became magical, and our little complaints were forgotten. We boarded the minibus, which – as far as I remember – included not only Mitch, but also the well-known make-up artist Lynne Easton, who, in addition to PSB, had worked with the likes of Boy George, George Michael, Elton John and Robbie Williams. The Elysium album track Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin portrays the funeral of Lynne, who tragically passed away at the age of 46. On the way to the gig, we saw thousands of twinkling lights of the favelas spread out on the mountain slopes. The coexistence of extreme poverty and luxury was evident on the outskirts of the tourist quarters and shops, which were guarded by police in heavy assault gear. I can probably consider myself lucky that only my Discovery tour cap was snatched from my head when walking down the street the next day, as my brand new glowing white sneakers also attracted an awful lot of attention.

Once there, backstage at the venue, we met PSB's tour manager at the time, whose name you can probably check in the end credits of the dvd, programmer Pete Gleadall, known as the "third Pet Shop Boy", and the band's trusty scribe Chris Heath. His perceptive and frank observations translated into the Literally and Pet Shop Boys versus America books, widely considered classics of pop literature. In the end, no such account was published from the Discovery tour, but the cover of the upcoming DVD should contain previously unpublished material from Neil's diary entries. One can only hope that they include a laconic mention in the style of Yesterday When I Was Mad about "posing for pictures with competition winners".

The gigs themselves were quite straightforward and traditional compared to other more theatrical and visual PSB productions, but their atmosphere became memorable above all thanks to the boisterous Brazilian audience. The fan behaviour was really different compared to Europe and felt more like a chanting football stand.

Local dancers and percussionists helped to raise a carnival mood, and most probably for the first and last time at a PSB concert, mash-ups of old club classics were heard live, as Mr Vain paired was with One in a Million and Rhythm of the night combined with Left to my own devices. The genius combination of It's a sin / I will Survive also had its premiere, since then making the audience go bonkers also at their legendary Glastonbury gig.

After the show, we stopped to pose for photos with Neil and Chris in an empty hot tub in their backstage dressing room - before moving on to the after party at an authentic samba club. In an industrial hall-like space, my friend and I – in wallflower mode – marvelled at the sweaty frolicking of hundreds of locals, when I noticed Neil standing in the same loft, looking a bit lost and alone. It would have been my chance to chat with UK's national treasure and the elder statesman of pop, but I considered it impossible due to the intoxicating noise and I didn't really want to disturb my hero.

On the way home, our taxi – which was speeding wildly – had an accident in the tunnel, which, in retrospect, could have turned out to be much worse. Fortunately not, because my life had not yet reached its fulfillment. It didn't happen until the next day.

Us Finnish boys were sitting on one of Copacabana's numerous beach terraces, waiting for the second Rio gig of the evening, when Chris Lowe just happened to walk right by with one of the dancers named Flavio. I'll never forget how he bumped into us and exclaimed "What are you two still doing here?" The gentlemen really sat down at our table, and I got to rave about the live experience, but also chat with Chris for half an hour about remixes, b-sides and rarities, among other things.

However, my favorite anecdote concerns the completely new version of Paninaro that premiered on the Discovery tour. I praised the mix as excellent and asked if there had been any discussion about releasing it as a single. Chris denied that there were any plans, but was clearly left thinking about it. And so it happened that the following year, the single Paninaro '95, based on the tour version, was released. I'm not claiming anything, but I want to believe that this excited little fanboy may well have left his mark on PSB history.


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