Friday – Day One
With an experimentally diverse range of bands all spanning the darker realms it is no surprise that Amplifest is compared to the likes of Roadburn and Supersonic; but really this wonderful musical mecca is its own entity. Not only housed in a stunning and atmospheric blood red iron structure situated in the stunning historical coastal city of Porto in Portugal, the terraced main entrance and seating area overlooks the river and beautiful architecture. The magnificent building features two stages which also unusually and miraculously means there will be no clashes on either weekend. The focus is quality over quantity and each act is given the chance to really shine. Held over the pleasantly mild first two weekends of October, means there will be SIX DAYS of impeccable music, drinking of wine, bonding with like-minded music lovers and stubbornly ignoring the excellent selection of record vendors.
Now in 2022 it could be the eleventh anniversary if it weren’t for that word. This is why, following an unfortunate cancellation in 2021 and some big line up changes since- festival founder, local legend, and Amplificasom promoter André Mendes and his team decided to compensate and double down two weekends of incredible and innovative music. Upon hearing about this relatively unknown festival with a jaw dropping line up we knew had to reach out to attend and, here we are! On the first day, Friday 7th October, right from the off there is a strong and heart-warming feeling of unity and most importantly of all-inclusiveness. This mindset is evidenced everywhere, from the conversations being held and physical signs declaring an intolerance to any form of prejudice. To the focus on giving the most inclusive and outspoken bands in the scene a platform to talk about the need to fight against an ever-increasing right-wing society and make the oppressed in that society feel equal and welcome.
To start there is an in-depth Amenra documentary by Bobby Cochran being premiered in the second stage- Beerfreaks. It is just as emotional as the music itself and gives detailed insight into their long history with of course the stunning monochrome visuals they are known for.
The ‘?’ in the opening time-slot of the main stage (Bürostage) has raised many questions, and is finally revealed to be London’s A.A. Williams. The third time this year for us, it is of course an emotional start and sets the tone for the visual and audible feast that Amplifesters can look forward to.
Process of Guilt from Portugal are an intriguing recent discovery, and they exceed expectations. The heaviest band of the day, and as the first crushing riffs kick in alongside the moody, violently flashing lights the excitement builds for what is yet to come. An ominous sludgy industrial tone is met by searing chord progressions and Godflesh style howls; while a pulsing relentless drumbeat collides with chugging, Gojira style riffs.
Over in the smaller Beerfreaks stage is another fellow Londoner Jo Quail, It is an intimate setting for the esteemed cellist who is equally at home on far grander stages and for the first time in many it hits just how much of a privilege it is to be here at Amplifest. It would seem Quail herself would agree as she addresses the audience with humble excitement and gratitude while also explaining the meaning behind her epic compositions. With an almost feral energy she creates a cacophonic and symphony with the loving caress of the strings while the pounding of the sides creates experimental glitches to loop over the haunting layers. Like a Viking seeress manipulates the skeletal looking instrument to provoke the most otherworldly sounds that invoke the feel of a trippy shamanic voyage.
Also gracing this stage are queer no-binary blackened doom duo turned trio Vile Creature and they are the perfect band to highlight the importance of inclusivity the festival promotes. In between skull crushing riffs they convey messages of trans equality while also checking in on the wellbeing of the audience and dedicating songs to lost loved ones. With a drummer (and ‘token straight’) taking the place of vocalist Vic (they/them), they are able to give all their energy to an extremely caustic and volatile performance. Glaring out at the audience while raging at the fucked up world with anguished growls and snarls interspersed with choral gospel music and slowed down groovy fuzz filled riffs from KW(he/they). Their latest release Glory, Glory, Apathy Took Helm hit hard- but live, it is positively monolithic.
It was announced before the start of the festival that Belgian post hardcore festival favourites Amenra, would not be able to play their latest release De Doorn due to bassist Tim Di Gierter recovering from surgery. After cancelling the next couple of weeks of the tour however they still honour their slot at the festival where, according to the founder André Mendes, they are “seen as family” For this performance they play an acoustic set, with the inclusion of covers of Townes Van Zandt by vocalist Colin Van Eeckhout and guitarist Lennart Bossu. Having previously performed and recorded these in a church in Belgium it was a joy to witness in real life. For the rest of the set the other members join the duo and gently launch into a beautiful iteration of ‘Razoreater’ which is later followed by the equally heart rending ‘A Solitary Reign.’ It might not seem possible for Amenra to be any more tortuous to the soul, but this pared down raw set proves just how skilled they are at crafting cathartically cleansing songs that cause a constant lump in the throat.
The only criticism of the festival is that given the heavily emotional nature of the bands there is not a lot of time in between the stellar acts to take a breather and recompose oneself for more. Regretfully we only catch half of Midwifes endearing set of ‘Heaven metal’, which was coined by sole creator Madeline Johnston. Singing through an old phone receiver her subtle vocal effects are heavily manipulated with a background, dreamy, Americana quality. The reverberating guitar however towers over the delicate singing which is also punctuated by looping pedal effects and slow finger picking.
The first day on the Buro ends with New Jersey duo of MC’s Dälek who play a loud set of experimental hip hop doused with elements of industrial metal. Unfortunately, this performance doesn’t hit quite as hard and heavy as on record fading which could either be put down to an already stellar day of bands that are hard to follow or just downright exhaustion/wine.
Words and photography by Abi Coulson – Darktones Photography
Part two here