FESTIVAL REPORT: Reverence Festival
, October 8th, 2014 12:09
Jimmy Martin heads to Valada, Portugal to witness sets from the likes of Psychic TV, Electric Wizard, and Hawkwind, as well finding time to sit down with festival organiser Nick Allport. Photos by Jorge Pereira
It's 6:30am in this Portugese idyll, and in a lakeside glade, Glasgow's The Cosmic Dead are taking off into the stratosphere, sparks flying in their wake of their collision of propulsive rhythm and feverish high-end abstraction. Heads are nodding, not just in sympathy to the interstellar onslaught, but through sheer exhaustion, as they're the last of twenty-nine bands to grace the outskirts of the sleepy village of Valada this Friday. Yet all the diehards present would agree that Reverence, a festival that manages to combine a laidback atmosphere with come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you're-hard-enough programming, is a place very hard to retreat from at this ungodly hour.
As isolated outposts of outlaw culture and heavy amplification go, this is quite the diamond in the rough. Valada may be forty miles from Lisbon, but the sleepiness of these surroundings and the isolation of the village itself make it feel like a place genuinely estranged from everyday life, and the booking of Electric Wizard and Hawkwind - no less than twin totems of deadbeat nirvana - as headliners only underlines its status as a mecca for those on the lookout for new perspectives for their third eye. What's more, this being the first ever festival of this heavyweight demeanour in Portugal (a nation whose relationship with rock music may have been affected by it entirely missing out on the 60's counterculture owing to a right-wing dictatorship that installed vigilant cultural censorship until 1974) a genuine excitement lingers amidst the greenery.
Moreover, in a boundary-avoiding move that betrays an apparent desire on the part of the organisers (headed up by a British ex-pat, Club AC30's Nick Allport, interviewed below) to make the festival open-ended and adventurous, the bill is admirably diverse, and despite being regularly haunted by the sonic spectres of Spacemen 3 and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Friday is notably metal-heavy. Portugal's own Killimanjaro, one of many local bands to impress this weekend, are the first such outfit to make their mark, hammering out a formidable set that traces out a collision course between Nebula riffage and hardcore intensity, before Sweden's Bombus enliven the sunny afternoon with a blistering showing of death & roll riffage and zesty elan.
Much debate has been had lately as to the validity or otherwise of the "psych" tag, and droning two-chord workouts, delayed vocals, Ray-Bans onstage and shaken tambourines are certainly very much in abundance, yet both the surroundings and an almost complete absence of the lairy, tense atmosphere that occasionally makes its presence felt at UK festivals serve to keep all or any cynicism or weariness at bay. Even Sleepy Sun, whose omnipresence on festival bills in the last five years has rendered attitudes a little blasé to their serviceable classic-rock, are on surprising form today, whilst the JAMC-drone of Ringo Deathstarr and the earthy, waistcoasted Kraut-Velvets of The Asteroid No. 4 (who cause palpitations for a few veterans by even deigning to cover shoegaze where-are-they-now-file inhabitants Catherine Wheel) can't help but impress. Yet not as much as today's underdog standouts Sunflare, a spectacular and abrasive Lisbon noise-rock trio who deploy acidic, paint-stripping six-string scree worthy of transgressors the like of Les Rallizes Denudes and late-'80s Skullflower.
Later, as functions switch from the two smaller stages to the alarmingly huge main arena, which lies on a field legendarily the former haunt of Eusebio, new ingenues in town The Wytches have even cynics raising their eyebrows favourably at their zero-originality but maximum-gung-ho blast of Nirvana-meets-Sonics energy, whilst Swervedriver, on the other hand, sound as reliably half-asleep as ever they did, with slacker gems like 'Son Of Mustang Ford' and 'Duel' deploying heavy-lidded satisfaction for the early evening.
Yet whilst the cheerful stoner-bellow of Red Fang and the 1972-timewarp real-ale-boogie of Graveyard are diverting enough, they function as mere warm-ups to the spectacle of Electric Wizard, who following a somewhat turbulent year involving the departure of returning drummer Mark Greening along with still more opprobrium from all corners than they've become accustomed to, appear to have settled admirably into their role as modern rock's foremost biker-chic brimstone-and-sulphur machine. The monolithic spite and thunderous power with which this rum bunch hammer out oppressive diatribes like 'Return Trip', 'Dopethrone' and 'Supercoven', with the new rhythm section particularly monolithic, temporarily transforms the football pitch into an enormous nocturnal den of iniquity, the sheer fortitude of delivery summoning an intimidating mood of bleak celebration.
By the time Wizard have finished with us, there are still five hours of Friday's proceedings left, and whilst the apocalyptic and intense post-metal of Process Of Guilt, White Hills' premium-grade kosmische-glam speaker-destruction, The Telescopes' nihilistic improv-racket, Naam's arresting virtuoso spacerock inferno and particularly Black Bombaim's mightily impressive and fiery power-trio monomania all impress, it's a punchdrunk gathering that finally gets their head down at the culmination of the day's frolics.
Carrying over, Saturday starts slowly, and with no fewer sunglasses onstage and no less effects pedal shimmer on display, yet the slacker charm of the youthful, Barcelona-birthed Celestial Bums and the formidable intensity of Italian fuzzed-out powerhouse Sonic Jesus are more than enough to make one forgive either of their names. Liverpool's Mugstar are also on incendiary form, their motorik bearing both a forceful grit and an elevational pull, but the afternoon's highlights is a transcendent showing by scene vets Bardo Pond, whose very potent metaphysical transmission, spread across a mere three slow, narcotically beguiling tunes, makes it quite clear why their slow, honeyed drones and angelic grace has survived two decades plus on the fringes of the underground. Meanwhile, it's A Place To Bury Strangers who kick off the main stage this evening, and they're on acidic form; dispensing equal parts noise-punk nihilism and Rollercoaster-tour-burnout, it's only a dash of decidedly petulant equipment-trashing that stops them from stealing the evening altogether.
Instead, in something of a turn-up for the books, it's Psychic TV who fill the breach. There are no shortages of legendary figures at Reverence this weekend, and many a bleary-eyed muso on the bill had earlier been surprised by turning up for breakfast in the nearby hotel to be greeted at the buffet by not only Steve Hillage, and Miquette Giraudy (later to perform as System 7) but Hawkwind's Dave Brock and Genesis Breyer P.Orridge. Yet of all the respected figures here, it's Gen who commands the most affection, not only because of h/er disarming candour and friendliness with punters and other musicians alike, but an alien charisma undimmed by nearly half a century as a countercultural figurehead. Clad in an oddly similar biker-style to the Wizard, h/er band operate on a strange wavelength, part cover-version-heavy psychedelic revue and part unearthly communion, their luminous and strangely devotional space-rock mantras lapped up by the buzzing throng.
Alas, it's a buzz that Hawkwind struggle to maintain, with Brock's line-up - incredibly playing the first ever show by any incarnation of Hawkwind in Portugal - struggling manfully yet ultimately failing to distinguish themselves from the many other Hawkwinds currently treading the boards. Despite a laudable setlist that includes beauts like 'Assault And Battery' and 'Orgone Accumulator', the charisma Breyer P.Orridge brought to proceedings is notably absent from de facto Hawkwind frontman Mr. Dibs, who - with the best will in the world - remains an ex-roadie who looks, acts and sings like one. Their outer-space sprawl was always an unruly and wayward tonic, but after the devastation of Electric Wizard the night before, this particular sonic attack sounds in need of a spray of cosmic WD-40.
Dark Portugese avant-rock scene legends Mao Morta, whose appeal lies somewhere on the Bad Seeds/latterday Swans ley-line, and a solid showing by The Black Angels that underlines their status as the most stadium-friendly of those exploring the '60s-tinged, tambourine-and-organ-abusing stripe of modern-day psychedelia, send us off into the night once again, with the UK's The Oscillation and Portugal's Jiboia conspiring to hurry on sunrise.
Yet for all the exhaustion of the longhairs and wide-eyed, it'd be a churlish wreckhead indeed who didn't warm to this psychic archipelago, which, bolstered by a generosity of spirit and raw beauty of location exists on an entirely different wavelength to many a festival we're more familiar with, and moreover at a fraction of the cost. Transforming an intimidating onslaught of sound and fury into beatific bliss, Reverence is a consciousness-shifter in more ways than one.
Nick Allport, the main Reverence organiser, speaks on the terrors and triumphs of the inaugural affair.
How did you first have the idea for the festival-Was there some kind of light-bulb moment when you saw the site, after you moved to near Valada, or was this something you always had as a kind of dream?
I guess it had always been at the back of my mind to do something like this. We've been doing shows in Cartaxo now for a couple of years and built up a bit of a reputation here for noisy/psych stuff. After we did a show with Psychic TV I was talking to local people about doing something bigger at the bullring in Cartaxo, but the opinion was quite negative, no one really wanted to spend a whole day sitting in a bullring, it's all concrete, no shade.
There had been festivals before in Valada, Festival do Tejo was held there three times between 2001 and 2005, so the area is kind of used to it. I was interested in the site, but only if we could also use the football field, which wasn't used before. When we spoke to the collective that own the football field RFC Valadense, they were really into it and supportive. And then it just kinda snowballed from there.
What was your initial vision of it, in terms of the booking of the festival? I noticed you avoided using the word 'psych' in the title. Was this deliberate?
We did some of these Reverence events at Club AC30 in London. Basically three nights in a venue like the ICA, with 12 or 16 bands. The idea is simply music that you love and respect. The booking was actually a collaboration between Cartaxo Sessions, Lovers & Lollypops, Sabotage Club, Club AC30 and my two partners Paul and Jason. And it was basically all about bands we love. We had a huge list, about 180 I think, with contributions from lots of people. And we just went out and started making offers to bands. The 'psych' thing didn't really come into it to be honest, it just happens that I had been booking some psych bands at Cartaxo, so it vaguely had that label. But we had a lot of different stuff, noisy, heavy stoner, etc.
It seems like there was a big desire in Portugal for something like this to happen; were you conscious there's been a groundswell of support for alternative music in Portugal of late?
It's difficult for me to see things with the same perspective because I've only lived here for five years and I'm not really aware of the history. It seems that there was a period years ago when there was a really great scene for alternative music in Portugal, but it started to taper off. And then you get into that vicious circle of promoters losing money, so they don't book shows, so bands stop coming, people stop going to shows, and it spirals into the situation you have now.
Because a lot of these bands haven't come here, there's not a huge awareness of them. It's insane to me that this was The Black Angels' first show in Portugal. Brian Jonestown Massacre have never been here either. Now you have a healthy scene building up again, Lovers & Lollypops and a bunch of small promoters in the North, and some guys down here in the Lisbon area too. Even collectives like Killer Mathilda sticking their necks out and booking some small shows. It's healthy and I hope people stick it out. The other thing that I've noticed is Portuguese underground bands starting to get out there too, which is really great. Black Bombaim in particular and becoming known in the psych scene, Dreamweapon, The Quartet of Woah...
Were there any moments in particular running the festival that you think you'll remember in years to come?
To be honest I wasn't really sure what I would actually be doing at the festival, I had this vague romantic notion that I might be wondering around with a beer watching bands. But in reality I saw about 20 minutes of music in total. I spent most of it running around like a blue-arsed fly between merch, my house, production and the supermarket. I guess my personal highlight was meeting Adolfo from Mao Morta, he's a bit of a legend here in Portugal, and a huge fan and supporter of underground music.
It seemed to be very ambitious for a first year; were there any moments when you found yourself questioning your own sanity for undertaking such a thing?
There were a few things that could have been better; more runners between the site and the hotel maybe. But the production which was done by Lovers & Lollypops was absolutely superb. We had a lot of bands, more than ever done here before, 30 minute sets and 20 minute changeovers. On Friday it ran like clock-work, on Saturday it ran an hour late because the fire department arrived late and we couldn't open the gates until they arrived. And we ran out of diesel on the main stage between A Place To Bury Strangers and Psychic TV. We know what to do next year to prepare for this sort of thing. A lot of the feedback has suggested; fewer bands, longer sets, start a bit later, end a bit earlier. It's looking good for next year.