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Things Learned At: Milhoes De Festa
Luke Turner , August 25th, 2015 12:45

Mat Colegate and Luke Turner brave the scorching heat of Barcelos for the brilliant Milhoes De Festa, where the likes of The Bug, Grumbling Fur, Perc and Thee Satisfaction entertain a roasting poolside crowd.

Photos by Bruna Amaral

Hail the ancient friendship!

Portugal and England have a long and mutually beneficial history of alliance, trade and cultural exchange. Indeed, the Anglo-Portuguese alliance, signed in 1386, is the oldest on the planet and was instrumental in the 19th century defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte. When the diminutive general and self-proclaimed Emperor had run roughshod over the rest of continental Europe, Portugal and England remained allied, and the country eventually provided the springboard for beak-nosed bastard the Duke Of Wellington to push Boney out of the Iberian peninsula.

This spirit of cooperation continues to this date with Milhoes De Festa, a three-day festival in the pleasant riverside town of Barcelos, situated a half hour's drive outside the city of Porto. Some of the bill is booked by Anthony Chalmers, promoter for London's Baba Yaga Hut, who's used TAP and Ryanair as a conduit to send some of the best in Quietus-approved noisy music over the Bay Of Biscay. Just as was the case at the brilliant Raw Power Festival earlier this year, as mainstream musical culture moves further away, the British noisy rock underground is a huge amount of fun and incredibly fertile in 2015. Judging for the evidence of Milhoes, the same goes for Portugal too. On the Sunday, on the small stage that sits on an old rampart above the river, we encounter mid-afternoon space rock blowing down the valley, a glorious dirge of sax, trumpet, drummer, percussionist hitting spoons on bottles, electronics conducted by a beardy man with a trombone. It sounds like a giant propeller-driven machine, sliced apart by the wires that hang just upstream over the river valley. Two of the band leave, and come back wearing wigs. Everyone else departs. The bewigged pair start playing synths, sounding like a weird John Shuttleworth take on house music. According to the programme this was a Favela Discos Blitzgig featuring Batsaykhantüül, Bezbog, Asfalto, Vive Les Cones and Milteto, and I've no idea which was which and when was who, but it suggests that Portugal's inventive underground is in healthy form right now. - LT

Yong Yong

It's cool in the pool

The main thing that makes Milhoes stand out from the pack of European festivals is it's commitment to Balearic bliss via its utilisation of Barcelos' outdoor swimming pool complex. Rounding the corner into the festival on the first afternoon is an intimidating experience for the pasty skinned English man, as he's immediately confronted with acre upon acre of tanned and limber Portuguese young person disporting themselves carelessly in the glistening pool. Further investigation reveals heartening clumps of pale Saxon flesh relaxing amongst the adonii, but nonetheless taking the plunge proved intimidating. However, once you're in – having utilised the classically demure and awkward technique of taking off your trousers and getting into your swimming shorts with a towel awkwardly perched around your waist - everything starts to make sense: plentiful cheap booze, the sun beating down, floating round the pool on a rubber ring listening to laid-back house classics - it's the perfect way to start the day (as well as get rid of any last lingering tendrils of hangover). It's also a brilliant environment for more surprising juxtapositions.

MMMOOONNNOOO's set on Saturday afternoon is a total hair-raiser as he chooses to kick off his grimy industrialised noise just as the sun is at its highest and I'm gently batting myself around the pool like Jay Gatsby's tipsy twin. The contrast is shocking – giant bleak boulders of sub-bass turn the afternoon air into cottage cheese while skimpily dressed fauns pat beach balls to each other carelessly – but the effect is extremely vivid: a sense of maddening, extremely enjoyable dislocation. That there isn't more of this kind of shock to the system on the menu is a shame – a poolside power electronics set would have been particularly revitalising - but when you're in an environment where 'Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen' sounds absolutely perfect then its probable that any attempts at in depth musical criticism are a bit pointless. Just go with it, eh? - MC

THEESatisfaction are effectively unstoppable

Milhoes De Festa is extremely well-run and all the stages sound fantastic over the course of the weekend. However even the best and most technically astute of festivals have to be plagued by some gremlins and so it goes with THEESatisfaction's set on Saturday night. Starting off strong with a mixture of material from awE NaturalE and latest album EarthEE, Stas and Cat prove an effortlessly engaging presence: pratting about, ribbing each other and the audience and singing some of the best and most effortlessly groovy tunes of the whole weekend. It's wonderfully weather appropriate and blissful. Then disaster strikes and their laptop – the single sound source for the whole show – dies unexpectedly, leaving them high and dry during a reading of their signature tune 'Queens'. However, not ones to be daunted, THEESatisfaction rise to the challenge of performing the rest of the set completely unaccompanied. It's a bold move – think about how many bands would have thrown wobblers and stormed off at the first sign of this kind of difficulty – so it's heartening to see them pull it off magnificently. Row by row, punter by punter the crowd are won over by a display of sheer charisma and the set finishes to a massive reception. - MC

Deerhoof

Golden Teacher's jazz hands kill our mojo

Perc could raise the dead

A decade or so ago Deerhoof's eccentricity seemed refreshing. Tonight all the wacky indie rock is cloying and kooky when tQ's assorted crew want to get on with the serious business of nocturnal doof. The same unfortunately goes for Golden Teacher who, though their releases for Optimo were run through with tough fun, tonight come across as some art school revue take on the history of dance music. This, coupled with the Milhoes way of things that involves moving from stage to stage between performances, makes energy levels drop. Despite this (and an airline cock-up that means half his gear is stuck at an airport) Ali Perc manages to stick his ludicrous kick drums and that still-killer remix of Daniel Avery's 'Reception' up our bottoms hard enough to make 4am fly by. - LT

Your man from Helmdale should keep his kecks on

Just sayin'

Michael Rother has really sexy fingers

He does! They're long and limber and curl round his fretboard with effortless grace. They are undoubtedly the sexiest fingers of the entire festival. The former Neu! And Harmonia man's set is one of the best of the weekend as well. I didn't see any of Rother's recent shows with Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley on drums, but several of the folks I knew who went were disappointed and on this evidence I can see why. Shelley is a formidable time-keeper but the man is just a bit too steeped in heartland choogle for the kind of rigid swing that Rother and his cohorts summon so effortlessly on Saturday evening. Playing what basically constitutes a greatest hits set – 'Hallogallo', 'Dino' and everything – and dedicating the show to his recently passed Harmonia consort Dieter Moebius ensures that it's going to be an emotional affair, but it's still surprising to hear these peerless, timelessly inspirational pieces of music in the open air. They're lapped up by the young and the beautiful and still sound as timelessly, vividly POP as they must have done on first release – all clean lines and swooshing cumulus hurtling into inspirational futures. In a musical world where any old tugger can summon the ghosts of better men by hammering out the Dinger-beat and noodling endlessly over the top, Rother's set is a reminder of the economical drive and gossamer delicate tension it takes to make this stuff engaging, exciting and, most of all, danceable, and the crowd responds by jigging about like crazy under the setting late afternoon sun. - MC

Strange things will be seen over Barcelos

Shortly after Michael Rother's transcendent set people start pointing up at the sky. Our Mat Colegate has a look on his face that suggests he's just seen a comic manifest IRL. Following the fingers, I see hundreds of tiny blinking white lights coming from over yonder, perhaps a couple of thousand feet up. They nearly reach the Festival site, but turn and head off almost back whence they came. It's a genuinely weird feeling to see something that, at first, seems inexplicable. Alas nobody starts waving placards to welcome our future alien overlords, but it fits the otherworldly nature of many of the sets here.

Liverpool's All We Are on the Friday are Mike Oldfield's Hergest Ridge cover art glider looping overhead, while sprawling Portuguese collective HHY & The Macumbas unleash a track that's pure Pluto voodoo. Grumbling Fur open things up on Saturday evening with a freeform set that melds their more song-based work (including Front 242-in-an-ashram banger 'Protogenesis') with intense freeform journeys. In the past we've seen Grumbling Fur sat down playing, tonight their standing up gives the performance new vigour, Daniel O'Sullivan spiralling on one leg as he plays his violin or claws towards the heavens, Alexander Tucker unleashing bass low-end. A cloud formation drifts over, a white chalk horse against the darkening sky. - LT

Grumbling Fur

Cosmic Dead

More stadiums for stadium rock bands

One of the joys of Milhoes De Festa is the opportunity to see bands that you're more used to seeing playing grotty pubs getting the chance to flex their pecs on either of the outdoor stages in front of a – hopefully – large and eager crowd. This is an arrangement that works out particularly well for the more unashamedly foot-on-the-monitor bands on the bill. Take London's Bad Guys for example, their formidable ZZ Top-meets-Carry-On-Doctor riffage has been gaining momentum for some time now, and their latest album Bad Guynaecology is a triumph of confused-male lyricism, roared vocals and duelling guitar twiddle. But finally getting a chance to see them after night has fallen, searchlights picking out their silhouettes from behind while they growl out their tales of lust and woe to the heaving crowd is a real highlight. The sight of two double-necked guitars (yes, two double-necked guitars) being thrust into the air through a cloud of dry ice is one that harkens back to simpler times; when men were men, shorts were short and solos were long and tangled, but it's a thrilling place to visit when it's done with this much humour and raw-throated pizazz. The sense of occasion that the bigger stage brings feels entirely earned.

Hey Colossus

Slightly less unreconstructed but equally visceral are Hey Colossus, who play the main stage the night before. A big band in every respect, with three guitarists and an approach to riff construction that's more Cecil B. DeMille than local-oiks-in-the-garage, they turn in one of the most formidable performances of the entire weekend, highlighted by just how much can't-believe-their-eyes delight the band seem to be taking in the situation. From the moment a massive, steaming circle pit opens up during 'Hey, Dead Eyes, Up!' HC have the crowd against the turnbuckle and deliver a majestic stream of clanging, Amon Duul riffage and drunken-sailor howling. It quickly becomes extremely obvious that Hey Colossus were made for stages this size and they walk away with the festival in their back pockets. - MC

Drunk In Hell

Gum Takes Tooth

A Bug line-check is superior to 90% of all other sets

Kevin Martin has, as ever, not scrimped on the firepower for his climactic Sunday night set. Apparently there's a tacit agreement in Barcelos that the youth of Barcelos get to have their weekend of racket during Milhoes, and the elders at a more sedate festival. Even then, they must have been regretting this treaty when The Bug, Manga and Flowdan line-check with blasts of ODB's 'Shimmy Shimmy Ya' and snapped verses. It's nothing compared to the full wallop of the the main set, which starts dry ice from the stage mingling with the night mist starting to rise from the river below, Martin unleashing an absolutely flattening drone. It's a more direct set than the last pure Bug show I saw at Unsound last year, Manga and Flowdan switching verses, hyping, bounding over Martin's potent fusilades. At first the crowd seem perplexed - one wonders how far The Bug's music has made it over here - but you'd have to be one of the Rogério Timóteo sculptures that hover over the ruins of Barcelos' castle not to be moved by this. Anyway, one of the best aspects of Milhoes is this curious and open-minded crowd, so different from any you'd encounter in the UK. By the time Martin rips his dub plates off the turntable and waves them in farewell, the hundreds of Portuguese here present have definitely and defiantly got The Bug. - LT

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