It's midnight and the road to the nightclub is long and flooded in places. Getting to the Castelo das Pedras nightclub, home to "the best funk ball in the city," is taking some time since it's situated in the similarly-sounding Rio das Pedras favela, a community on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.
The taxi driver tells me on the way to the club that I have nothing to worry about. "No need to fret about drug traffickers," he assures me. "That favela is protected by militias," he says, referring to the organized groups of former policemen who take the law into their own hands.
"So, no police?" I ask.
"No. No police there, only militias," he responds.
After that comforting thought, the taxi driver leaves me at the entrance of the club where I join the queue of teenagers and 20-somethings decked out for a hot-and-heavy night of funk carioca.
The dress code? Minimal. Clothes only impede the grinding and squatting moves that funk dancing demands.
The Castelo das Pedras nightclub is a superclub of its kind, hosting one of Rio's most famous "funk balls."
It's just ghetto enough for the rich kids from the city's upscale southern zone to get a flavor of the favela, yet mainstream enough to broadcast its balls on cable TV without the violence or other murky associations that have given the funk balls such a bad rap.
Funk balls aren't all alike. There are different genres, and the parties at the Castelo das Pedras are in the spirit of fun and commerce. They attract a mixed crowd: glamour girls and rude boys, all out to dance and flirt in the club's dark, sweaty surroundings.
"I came here tonight because I'm looking for the real Rio," says Luis, who's on vacation from Spain. "This is not fake; it's the real thing."
Luis is among a group of chic partygoers from Rio's southern zone, bored of the more stylish clubs and looking for something more down and dirty.
And it does get dirty. Funk carioca has come under a lot of fire for depicting women as sex objects. For example, one "MC big" on the scene at the moment is MC Creu. The word "creu" itself refers to a sexual act. His songs center on thinly veiled innuendo, blatant and often shocking to the uninitiated. But they ignite huge cheers when played in the clubs, everyone squatting and grinding frenetically.
Another point of controversy with the funk carioca scene is the link between underground funk balls and the city's drug traffickers.
The type of funk usually played at these parties is known as "proibidão," which means "forbidden." The proibidão dances started to take off back in the early '90s when drug gangs began taking over favelas.
The shantytown scene is more extreme. The drug gangs such as the Comando Vermelho (The Red Command) and Terceiro Comando (The Third Command) sponsor certain DJs and MCs to eulogize them and promote hate messages toward rival gangs.
The government actually forbids proibidão songs to be broadcast. It's a raw, aggressive style that captures the dangerous and seedy elements of the funk carioca scene.
But Castelo das Pedras's resident DJ — DJ Phabyo — argues that it's more of a protest song than anything else.