This is not the first double weekender on this year’s festival circuit but unlike others, Amplifest in Porto, Portugal concentrates on the upmost quality over quantity especially given the no clashing mind set. This weekend is focused more on solo experimental artists and frequent collaborators leaning towards the post rock and metal side of things with a helping of black metal to spice things up. It is going to be a rollercoaster journey of emotional dishevelment and purging, and we are already strapped in and holding on to the bar.
Thursday – Day One
Kicking off the Bürostage on the first day which this time around falls on a Thursday is instrumental post metal Virginian quartet Shy Low. The dynamic range of the pace, tone and volume is mesmerising that gives heavy nods to festival cohorts Bossk and Caspian. Dual soaring and oscillating guitars layered over wailing distortion and groovy bass lines with methodical drumming mutates into ominous blackened tremolo and culminates in crashing crescendos. From the start it takes a while for the crowd to warm up but when they do the scene is an engaging sea of bobbing heads. There are a lot of beautiful intricacies going on here with space for the instruments to breathe, the piercing violin solo that comes from out of nowhere seals the deal. These guys are ones to watch.
Cave In’s vibrant performance on the Bürostage is bursting with upbeat and feverish rock ‘n’ roll vigor that careens between abrasive and anthemic with progressive pitch and pace changes. The dual vocal attack from Nate Newton and Stephen Brodsky hits like bullets with the soaring, clean singing pierced by Newtons ferocious barks and yells. A combination of galloping riffs, groovy, bluesy hooks, dominant and sludgy tones with bluesy groove all performed with a completely at ease nonchalance makes the show an infectiously uplifting and downright FUN experience. Nate Newton had some big shoes to fill when replacing bassist and vocalist Caleb Scofield (RIP). But his passionate and charismatic on-stage presence and crowd interaction while paying tribute to the bands lost brother – along with victims of Covid is endearingly heart-warming. Drawing heavily from the latest and critically acclaimed release Heavy Pendulum they burst onto the stage with “New Reality” and soon have a wild crowd going nuts. After a few tracks they veer into the softer rock territory but there are still atonal licks abound and the meaty bassline is satisfyingly menacing.
Gracing the Beerfreaks stage today on either side of Cave In are the experimental solo artists Luis Fernandes and Caspar Brötzmann, respectively. Fernandes plays an ambient and spooky cinematic set with modular synthesisers of punishingly loud drone that has the audience in a trance while Brötzmann focusses on off-key pedal effect laden guitar with a primitive post-punk and industrial noise vibe.
Sumac are a loud and dissonant as fuck force to be reckoned with, fronted by the ubiquitous and formidable Aaron Turner with bassist Bryan Cook of Russian Circles and powerhouse drummer Nick Yacyshyn. The trio play an incendiary and explosive set encouraging hypnotic, neck breaking head banging but behind the intimidating tone there is a message of hope and love. The frenetic guitar and bizarre time signatures that change in tone combined with Turners bellows are claustrophobic intensity. Yacyshyn’s vigorous and meticulous drumming is fiercely loose and free yet tightly controlled. While he comes up for air, Tuners frantic soloing is given the spotlight and this interplay of restraint and chaotic discordancy is what Sumac are all about.
Beerfreaks is an intimate setting for Oxbows Eugene Robinson. As the vocalist for the Italian quartet Buñuel– he thrusts himself about with wild abandon while making jokes about comparing lewd acts with performing. All this to a backdrop of dissonant rock and roll in between laidback lethargic vocals is quite the spectacle. An unholy and depraved concoction of deranged indie rock, post punk and industrial noise fizzing with distortion and reverberating feedback.
America’s Deafheaven are very much a marmite band, so it is hard to be subjective. As soon as vocalist George Clarke bursts onto the Bürostage with a Patrick Bateman vs Buffalo Bill “I’d fuck me” confident swagger, though it is possible that some might confuse it for arrogance. His on-stage presence is certainly visually compelling, but it is the vocals that are somehow completely off – with a choking cat or dying clown vibe (which surpasses expectations) and the clenched teeth and rolling eyes from some members in the audience prove that it is not just a personal opinion. All hips and wild staring eyes he makes the stage his own, standing out against the blackened shoegaze turned dreamy pop – with screamo turned emo vocals -soundscape played by the rest of the band.
Ending the night is the composer and violinist from Montreal, Jessica Moss, there is a feeling in the music that speaks to a Jewish background and the mournful melodies allude to the atrocities and continuing repercussions of the oppression. Further research after the show concludes this is the case and it strikes a chord how music with no words or explanation can convey such a strong feeling. In-between the sonic executions her jokes about her disorganisation and referring to the pieces of paper scattered about her as recipes for her music puts the audience – who she has invited to be seated on the floor – more at ease. Her innovative mixing of a sorrowful sound with high pitched choral harmonics, looping pedal effects and pulsing drone is hypnotic and the relaxing comfort of the floor allows space for contemplation and reflection as the music washes over us like a sound bath.
Friday – Day Two
BRUIT ≤ the name of the French quartet who emerged from nowhere is currently on everyone’s lips, and after seeing them decimate and astonish the Bürostage as the opening act of the day, it is easy to see why. A supernatural symphonic soundscape of experimental, neo classical music combined with post metal with moments of drawn-out eerie suspense. The pulsating electronic effects and jazzy drum rolls give way to waves of dismal strings that swell and crash through the restrained, euphoric calmness. By the end of the sonically grandiose ascent to the apex the audience are in utter amazement at another intensely breath-taking start.
On Beerfreaks stage the Bhutanese guitarist Tashi Dorji improvised moody set with the master of percussion Nick Yacyshyn is bursting with erratic feedback laden guitar, jazzy drum rolls and eccentric poly rhythms which also allowed space for Dorji’s frantic exploratory solos. It is an exciting collaboration, showing some incredibly skilled and intuitive musicianship.
Following last week’s surprise opening slot on the Bürostage this weekend it falls on the second day and after much speculation the band that reveals themselves are the philosophical and supposedly controversial band Canadian band Liturgy. Having been ridiculed for the labelling themselves as “Transcendental Black Metal” the quartet led by Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix will probably always split the crowd but with all important focus on inclusivity they fit Amplifest’s raison d’etre perfectly. . Triumphant surges of lightning tremolos are backed by machine gun blast beats and Hendrix’s yearning howls and shrieks pierce the swarming cacophony while upbeat video game style electronics lend an optimistic feeling. There is nothing that is not transcendental about this experience. Closing with the announcement of a new track – ‘93696’ which is a clever clamour of droplets of electronics with innovative time signatures, doomy chord progressions and tortured vocals that crawl rather than sprint juxtaposed against frantic explosions of strings.
William Fowler Collins set at Beerfreaks though unsettling in places is an ethereal reprieve of understated cinematic drone driven by the manipulation of his guitar and a selection of pedals. Though loud, the minimal wall of noise is gentle and allows another moment for quiet reflection while bathing in waves of feedback.
Portuguese post-rock /metal quartet indignu merge classical music with post metal. As they play, they weave sections of piano and folky violin passages over, and in between threads of trembling guitars which contrast the thunderous, decisive drums and amplified harmonised chants. A carefully balanced interplay of subdued subtle and epic crescendos that traverse a changing landscape of sorrow and joy, hope and loss. Playing the whole of their – yet to be at the time but now released adeus – they cast a spell over the enraptured crowd and engrave their name into the ever-growing list of ones to watch.
The first of two enigmatic, female headliners of the weekend is composer and organist Anna Von Hausswolff and her band. An ominous dirge of her signature pipe organ and distorted experimental noise engulfs the Bürostage. The droning organ shifts between church like ceremony to an otherworldly realm of euphorically uplifting and shimmering psychedelic folk rock – conjuring images of Scandinavian folklore and pagan rituals. Her powerful liquid gold vocals are at times comparable to Kate Bush and goth rock goddess Chelsea Wolfe, alluding to a balance of dark and light that dwells in the depths and rises to the heavens. Throughout the enchanting set there is a sense of a build to a triumphant climax and a freeing of inhibitions. As the music becomes looser and freer, the whole room succumbs to the primitive and shamanic beat – punctured by her wild whoops and cries, pedal stomping, and a building battering ram of percussion. After facing being censored and banned from churches in France by paranoid priests it begins to make sense why the music is just so magical because surely there must be some witchcraft at play here.
Both the leather clad quintet Spectral Wound and solo project Hellripper are a welcome moment of ridiculousness in amongst the sombre sea of emotional bands, and both play the smaller Beerfreaks stage. On either side of AVH they play a raucous set of speed black metal with their own twists. First up is Montréal’s Spectral Wound and they conjure an almighty storm with a surging frenzy of dualling guitars, frostbitten drawn out howls and a deluge of thunderous drums. An old school take on black metal, diabolically fast tremolos they are terrify and delight the manically fist shaking and head banging crowd.
Hellripper from Scotland perform as a quartet to an ever-maddening crowd of moshers and crowd surfers and it is a manic and supercharged hour of blackened speed metal riffs set that is tight as fuck with heavy nods to the old eighties’ greats such as Venom, Motorhead and Darkthrone with a modern twist. absolutely thrashtastic.
It is the end of a long day, but all the exhaustion is quickly ripped (excuse the pun) away by Chicago’s miserable doom quartet Bongripper’s hypnotically repetitive, tectonic bass lines that rumble through the Bürostage. Tuned low and played slow, the doom worshippers mix in plenty of grooves, drawn out heavy hitting percussion and steady build ups. It is not dynamic per se, rather a dragged-out slog through a sludgy quagmire that descends into chaotic noise. The reverberating and engulfing dense wall of noise induces a bent in half, headbanging induced trance which is going to hurt tomorrow – but is one hundred percent worth it. An excellent end to the penultimate day
Saturday – Day Three
Cited as another firm favourite it is none other than the multi-disciplinary artist and composer Kristin Hayter – AKA Lingua Ignota to both open the proceedings of the last day as a headline act. It is an exquisitely beautiful and excruciatingly experience which provokes feelings of awe and discomfort while watching her tortured laid so bare. Surrounded by pillars of light she is a haunting vision of beauty, much like a spectre- in a transparent green billowing dress especially combined with her occasional tortured banshee like howl. Creeping and gliding about the stage and later around the dumb founded audience extolling and purging emotions of rage, confusion, sadness betrayal and redemption is. The poignantly merciless tracks from Sinner Get Ready make up much of the set but she also includes covers and material from Caligula.
Both celestial and hellish she is a formidable figure of judgement and redemption – her classically trained vocals with elements of gospel choir whisper and crack and swell to booming operatic bellows- akin to Jarboe or Diamanda Galas. It brings at least a lump to the throat – if not streaming tears – of every attendee enraptured by her sorrowful preaching. The backing track is a disturbing dissonant cacophony of clashes and contrasted later by ethereal piano and spoken work soundbites of fanatical zealots. Only later do we learn that her abuser Alexis Marshall had played this very stage just three years ago, had it been known at the time would have made this even more unbearable, but it is also another testament to her profound strength as she purges the inner turmoil, he caused her to live with while cursing his name and soaring above like a phoenix from the flames.
It is a challenge to recompose in time for Bossk but the first twinkling finger picked notes of ‘Kobe’ are an immediate distraction and it is time to buckle in for a sonic journey through space and time. With their sludgy take on undulating post metal. The quintets figures silhouetted against the dense smoke and projections of space adds to the atmosphere with groovy down tuned riffs, and electronic effects punctured occasionally by harsh howls and plenty of reverb.
Aaron Turner is back, but this time it is just him, his guitar and a plethora of pedals and amps on Beerfreaks. He plays an eccentric improvised set of guitar and effects proficiency, exploring and manipulating the instrument with hands like spiders and with breath-taking lightning precision the decibels levels are crushing but also crystal clear and it is special moment to view the wizard getting carried away in his own world.
Japan’s screamo turned post hardcore sextet Envy are over twenty-five years old and yet they are still a hurricane of massive guitar chords and a flurry of limbs all over the Bürostage. Peaceful, delicate lulls throughout the raging storm cause the crowd to sway along in a daze. Tetsuya Fukagawa who dances and throws himself around the stage with wild gestures has vocals that range from meandering and delicate clean singing to impassioned, strained screamo howls in his native tongue. With six members there is a lot going on and each intricate layer blends into a stunning and moving post metal masterpiece that ebbs and swells to an epic finale that makes the crowd go wild once again.
Each of the eight members of Canadian godfathers of post rock Godspeed You! Black Emperor quietly appear on the Bürostage in turn and tune their instruments before playing to create a delicate, increasing mélange of effect laden orchestral noise leading to the launch of ‘Hope Drone’ Though there is a lot of apocalyptic nihilism within their music the performance is a transformative experience, especially compared to most of their devastating cohorts. The word hope is projected on to the backdrop and it is a backlash against the ever-increasing trend of nihilistic despondency. The upbeat tone in the persistently repetitive but intricate layers that dive and soar to triumphant climaxes but there is a lot of discordancy in the off kilter looping riffs and shrieking feedback from the three guitarists. Crashing cymbals, complex drum rolls and the searing notes from the string section punctuate the reverb to create their signature post rock sound. It is a They conclude the two-hour session as they began, winding to a subtle close as each member humbly departs – having woven a tapestry of beautiful desolation that could also conjure the idea be a post-apocalyptic world – sans humans – and allowed to flourish and thrive anew.
Closing out the night is something a bit different and a good excuse to squeeze out the last drops of energy. First is the Cape Verdean/Portuguese act Scúru Fitchádu and the Beerfreaks is rammed to the rafters. Combining electronic punk metal with funaná music from the Cape Verde they get the whole crowd dancing to their furious beat with a political message.
London’s The Bug who is later joined by MC Flowdan and grime artist Miss Red close the proceedings with heavy hip hop with industrial vs/dancehall beats. They are presented by the Supersonic collective who are later embroiled in a DJ dual vs Amplifest. At this point it is a case of who is the last man standing so the Bürostage is pretty quiet, and the heavy hardcore beats are not as punishingly loud as anticipated, or maybe this reviewers ears have become desensitised. They still get the crowd jumping about and pulling some shapes, especially those in the hard-working crew who have finally been able to let their hair down. The DJ set is a ridiculous mish mash of metal and serious cheese, but it is a wonderful way to celebrate an absolutely stellar time that will down in history as one of the best kept secrets in the alternative music world.
Words and Photography : Abi Coulson – Darktones Photography