“Rio de Janeiro is known as the city of samba and carnival, but to most of its young population for the past decade it has been the city of funk. Depending on who you talk to, funk is either Rio’s richest contemporary cultural movement or a dangerous hotbed of delinquency: the music of choice not just for the urban poor but for the armed drug gangs who control the favelas. One way the gangs provide for their communities is by organising funk balls “.

At 4am our van turns off the main road and starts to climb a steep cobbled street leading to Formiga, one of Rio de Janeiro’s hillside favelas. We’ve been instructed to turn the van’s internal lights on so the drug gangs’ gunmen can see us properly. One passenger suggests flicking the headlights three times to announce ourselves. “Don’t do that,” says Speed. “In some favelas three flicks and you’ll be shot.”

Soon we’re above Rio’s middle-class tower blocks and into the altitudes of the city’s poor. A low thud-thud-thud gets louder until we reach our destination – a “funk ball”. Every weekend there are about 500 of these rave-like balls, almost all in favelas or poor suburbs. The music is called funk, but it’s not what a non-Brazilian would understand bythat term. There are no over-produced hooks or soulful melodies. Rio funk is a crude collage of Miami bass and rap – a pared-down anti-music made on simple machines, with almost identical rhythms and tunes, no grace of delivery and shouted lyrics, predominantly crude and sexual. “Sex machine, I shag like an animal,” goes one popular tune. “I’m from Mesquita and I like it anal.”

Alex Bellos for The Guardian