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The Bird Is The Word: Milhões De Festa Reviewed
The Quietus , August 8th, 2016 08:09

Do you want to run an amazing cross-genre, challenging festival? No problem. All you need is giant chickens, a swimming pool and fearless programming. Mat Colegate and John Doran reap the hairy caged whirlwind and report back with their findings

The Bug & Miss Red courtesy of Zita Moura

Celebrate Chicken. Celebrate Independence. Celebrate Barcelos.

I don’t have anything against Essex per se. I just had a grim time when I lived there two decades ago, due to some very bad lifestyle choices. Because of this I feel nervous every time I have cause to re-enter its borders. And to make matters worse Stansted Airport brings out the worst kind of Lada versus Skoda, upper working class snob in me. I’m outraged to be in an airport where I’m being offered a choice between Burger King and Wetherspoons when really what I want is Nandos.

So a lack of peri-peri sauce, a barely tolerable fear of flying and geographically sourced existential dread have me reaching for a potent dose of diazepam. Which is how I find myself a few hours later at midnight flowing off a Ryan Air 737, down the aircraft steps and onto the airstrip at Porto like the liquid metal T-1000 prototype terminator and straight into a taxi, where I struggle to reassemble myself back into human form. Pooled in the passenger seat I cruise through the torrid Portuguese night and, still heavily tranquilized, I keep on seeing, what looks like the Nandos chicken rearing up out of the darkness, pecking at the cab, 18 foot tall, its eyes ablaze as we speed past. I can see it chasing the car in the wing mirror, like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

Of course the next day, it turns out that Barcelos - one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting - is the home of the Nandos chicken. Or, to be more precise I am visiting the home of the Galo De Barcelos. This proud red and black fowl is celebrated locally not just in giant roadside statues but in a legend which combines the classic literary ingredients of crime, intrigue, capital punishment and a supernatural zombie rooster.

Do you like chicken? The author and Galo De Barcelos

Back in the day a pilgrim passing through Barcelos was wrongly accused of stealing a landowner’s silver and and ended up condemned to hang. The accused begged to be taken to see the magistrate, who was at home preparing his dinner. The pilgrim told the judge that his innocence would be proved when the chicken - which had already been roasted for the coming repast - would sit up and crow as he was hanged. And true enough, the next day as the trapdoor swung open, the cooked rooster sat up in the magistrate’s dish and started squawking. Realising his mistake the lawman rushed down to the gallows just in time to find out that the pilgrim had already been saved by a shoddily constructed noose which snapped when the trapdoor opened. What are the chances?

What’s my point, I hear you cry? Well, try and get a Nandos in Barcelos. Of course you can’t. Nandos is a South African chain restaurant which simply co-opted the proud image of the Barcelos cock - it has precious little to do with Portuguese cuisine. The town neither has nor needs a Nandos - or a Wetherspoons or a Burger King. Everything on offer in culinary terms probably only makes sense here and nowhere else. For example the francesinha - a wet ham, sausage and steak sandwich covered in melted cheese and beer sauce - or the bacalhau - a salted cod steak baked with potatoes and spinach* - are two dishes that no chain restaurant would ever bother trying to replicate for a mass international market.

Milhões de Festa is an independent venture which was set up by promoter friends from Porto a decade ago to satisfy their own twisted and purely personal whims - the only kind of artistic ambitions worth following if you ask me. It doesn’t make any logical or financial sense mixing Afrobeat with grindcore with acid house with big band cumbia with The Fall but it simply works as Milhões is one of the most enjoyable and nourishing European festivals there is. Talking of The Fall, co-founder Joaquim Durães - a very affable, laid back dude with “taco life” tattooed on his knuckles - told me that it was a lifelong ambition of his to get Mark E Smith and band to play his home town. He tells me that his nibs kept himself to himself and simply ensconced himself on the terrace bar of a local hostelry and spent his days there drinking Super Bock beer in the blazing sun, like a true local. So most people simply adapt to the Barcelos pace of life. Speaking as a whey-faced, panic ridden anxiety case, I immediately adapted to wandering round town in a happy swelter looking at Rosicrucian designs on old local buildings, visiting ornately decorated churches, sun-beaten into happy submission, simply pausing every so often to eat chicken or cod.
John Doran

*There are apparently 365 ways of cooking the bacalhau in Portugal - one for every day of the year, which is great as I’d like to come and live here for at least a year.

Oozing Wound courtesy of Telma Correia

Of Meat Snacks And Thrash

My tQ colleague John Doran may be able to find no time in his busy eating schedule for the local speciality, the francesinha, but I pride myself on scoffing anything that isn't nailed down or on fire and the gloopy delicacy satisfies all of my calorific requirements (probably for about a week afterwards). Eating francesinha is akin to experiencing the final, apocalyptic resolution of an age old battle between various animal products while watching a Stuart Gordon film. It's a sticky, unhealthy experience; a curious analogue to seeing the splatterpunk thrash of Oozing Wound hurl itself against the walls of the second stage on Sunday night like a hairy, caged whirlwind.

Oozing Wound's approach to thrash metal is a muscular and no-bullshit one. Despite the bass player's concerningly chest height guitar there's little in the way of frills and twiddles to their racket and I didn't notice anything that you'd call a guitar solo. Instead Oozing Wound go in for remorseless stretches of tension and relief. Riffs snapping round each other like hungry dragons as shirts are fought over and shin-barking chaos erupts in the crowd. Looking up I notice that the stars, clearly visible in the wine thick sky, have formed a massive middle finger and are pointing at heaven.
Mat Colegate


Night Business Is Right Business

What with it's relentless blue skies, beers for one Euro, poolside stage and steady processions of the bronzed and beautiful it's no surprise that a lot of Milhões De Festa's high spots come from acts with a fancy free take on things. Both Goat and Sons Of Kemet deliver frantically joyous sets and the show from the ever-reliable Dan Deacon hits such heights of ribaldry that it encourages one foolhardy sod to crowd surf despite his leg being in plaster. It's to the festival's credit then that they always make sure there's space to showcase some less friendly racket.

Very much holding up that end of the bargain this year is the collaboration between Marshstepper, HHY and Varg on the Friday night. All three artists are known in their own right as producers of hair-raising sonics, be it Varg's unsettling pummel, Marshstepper's murky take on ritual noise, or HHY's hops skips and jumps across practically every form of racket imaginable. The set takes the interesting form of a kind of noisemaker's circle, with the the group onstage playing through each other's compositions, one after the other. This approach, perhaps inevitably, leads to a bitty set. Just as the sound settles into an inviting gristly drone there's a lurch, a pop, a loss of concentration and a whomping beat arises from the brack, forcing a complete revaluation of your surroundings. This is very possibly deliberate, and given the set up there's every chance that was entirely the plan, but a more traditional collaboration between the three would probably have yielded results as well as making for a less frustrating listening experience.

Gaika, on the other hand, presents a show so unified in its presentation; so overpoweringly potent and intentional and strong that for a moment the whole of Barcelos disappears and we're all hanging somewhere much, much emptier. The black hole at the heart of Gaika's mix of thudding R&B, grime and industrial is practically visible hanging above him as he twists and turns his way round the stage. However, he's a master at that hard-to-pull off trick of making music that, despite how defeated it occasionally sounds, always has a tug at the emotions up its sleeve. Gaika is as in love with pop music as he is with everything else, and its his corrosions and re-weldings of pop form that give his music such a tangible air of exhausted elation.
Mat Colegate

Sons Of Kemet courtesy of Renato Cruz

Seize The Day

Recently, a lot of the post ATP-collapse chatter seems, from my POV at least, to have been locked into an all-too predictable binary debate. Either weepy-eyed souls in Neutral Milk Hotel T-shirts a-wailing and a-gnashing lamenting the death of the ‘important’ independent music live event or giddy, shark-eyed cynics dancing a gleeful I-told-you-so gavotte in the smoking ruins of a once proud and extremely useful institution. All Tomorrow’s Parties - over the decade and a half it ran for - was both good and bad for very varied and complex reasons.

Certainly, when they started ATP were unquestionably the good guys and musically they ended as much on "our side" as they were at the start - one look at the line-up for Stewart Lee's Nightmare Before Christmas event should confirm as much. From the first ATP weekender I attended (Easter 2003) to the last (December 2011), there wasn’t a single event that didn’t introduce me to the pleasures of watching at least one great new band or artist play live. (Although it has to be said that this hit rate lessened steadily over time as the curators on the whole became more conservative) While no one should countenance small businesses or musicians getting fucked over financially (and I use the phrase “fucked over” advisedly and for good reason) just so some pampered indie kids can say they have seen the brutally underwhelming Harvey Milk - there is of course great intrinsic worth to some of the cultural cross-pollinations that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred.

(For me, it’s a thorny issue. I fell in love with my girlfriend at an ATP event, I saw some of the best gigs I will ever have the privilege of having witnessed because of them, I had some of the greatest of all times with my best friends and I made firm friendships there… But there’s no way a local PA hire firm should foot the bill for all this. And this is not a grey area. No one’s livelihood should have been ruined just for my music related memories and emotional enrichment. Even worse, no talented musician I admire should have ended up with a hole kicked in the side of their finances, with them remaining too afraid to speak out in public about what has happened for fear they’ll never receive even a fraction of what they are owed.)

Sure, some of those times were the best of all times and plenty of the former regular artists and curators are still very protective of ATP's reputation but a visionary, fiercely independent whopper who isn't fit to run an egg and spoon race let alone a large production company wearing a Deerhoof T-shirt is still a whopper who isn't fit to run a large production company at the end of the day.

What does seem clear cut to me however is that ATP’s annual Don’t Look Back concerts were really lame and lacking in artistic merit. Their only function was to make younger music fans who had bought into some spurious golden age mythology and the terminally nostalgic part with lots of cash. Even such titans as Public Enemy, Slayer and Sonic Youth put in relatively lacklustre and boring shows compared to their usual live performances when performing under that banner. It was embarrassing to see these heroes tethered to such a fucking mundane treadmill.

But the worst damage of all (and ATP are not the only ones to blame here simply the most prominent UK example I can currently think of) was wrecked by the extravagant purse offered to certain cult bands to reform, who otherwise simply wouldn't have.

We’re still counting the cost - in cultural terms at least - of musicians having idiotically over-inflated fees waved under their noses. A big wedge to trudge through material that they clearly no longer had much warmth for. You can shake your head and ask with all sincerity, “Where did it all go wrong?!” But if any promoter is in the habit of offering the kind of mid-ranking, plaid-wearing American indie rock bands who were used to sleeping on floors and touring in knackered old hatchbacks the first time round, five or six figure sums to reform, then I’d say it is perfectly obvious where it all went wrong.

This practice is what has done the real spiritual and financial damage to this kind of music and represents a more compromised threshold crossed, than the mainly performative idea of some low-level sponsorship or better thought out partnerships regarding catering and refreshments. But then the former is something hidden from view and the latter is something on show, which kind of speaks volumes to me.

Islam Chipsy

There is none of this retro, nostalgia bullshit at Milhões. Every single act, resonates loud and clear right now on their own terms - whether they’re fresh young faces playing in barely defined new electronic genres or knackered old geezers playing continuum rock music. Most acts are either Portuguese or European (one of the bookers is true mensch Anthony Chalmers of Baba Yaga’s Hut and Raw Power - which would explain the number of brilliant UK bands here), which, one would presume, also keeps the travel costs relatively low. So despite there being some utterly jaw dropping sets this weekend, I’d bet cash money that no one is walking away with a fee big enough to buy them a second home.

I don’t like being negative when I write about music any more. There is simply too much out there in 2016 to be positive about. However it’s been playing on my mind so much over the last few years, I feel like I have to spit it out; get it off my chest. If you’re the sort of person who sits at home daydreaming about getting to see Spacemen 3 live - or even worse, Spacemen 3 recreating Playing With Fire live with all the tracks played in sequential order - and yet you can’t be bothered to go and see The Heads in concert, then you are a fucking idiot and you are my enemy and the enemy of independent music in general. Sure, I feel vaguely sorry for you if you didn’t get to see S3 back in the day because you were too young or just didn’t get round to it but seriously, take it from me, they were alright but you didn’t miss that much. (Anyone who tells you otherwise should factor in their rose coloured specs; the fact they were 18 then and not yet crushed by life; and the fact they were probably simultaneously on acid, speed and poppers.) Spacemen 3 sometimes played to half empty halls because often people back then were sitting round at home all pissy-eyed, moping because they didn’t get to see the Velvet Underground, the Stooges and MC5 live, and so on and so forth. You probably understand what I’m getting at here but now that my blood’s up I’m going to carry on for a bit…

Simon Price of The Heads... wearing a Spacemen 3 T-shirt, yeah? Courtesy of Renato Cruz Santos

Let’s pretend that Spacemen 3 were about to get back together (by all accounts Jason Pierce won’t have it, even though a seven figure offer has been put to the band, so fair play to him for saying no) it simply wouldn’t be the same thing. That essential spark that made them exciting in the 80s has long since gone. The energy has not been destroyed but transferred to other projects and other pursuits. I should say at this juncture that last time I went to see Pete Kember’s Spectrum play live, they were amazing - it lifted my soul out of the doldrums like hearing Albert Ayler’s Greenwich Village recordings for the first time. It was about a tenner to get in. There were less than eighty people in the audience. I’m just throwing that out there.

Now you can accuse me of being an arrogant, lecturing, hectoring holier-than-thou, self-congratulating arsehole all you like - it's a fair cop - but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Long in the tooth, shambling and serotonin depleted the Bristol four piece known as The Heads may well be but there is still a fire in their collective bellies as they meld Stoogian riffs, Neu!-drum patterns and whooshing Hawkwind FX. They still have an unshakeable collective belief in the transcendent power of psychedelia and the curative energy of heavy amplified repetitive rock music... and not just a gnarly tax bill that needs to be paid off. They light up the night sky above Barcelos like aurora borealis and leave the crowd visibly stunned afterwards.

And what I’ve said above goes at least double-fold for Part Chimp who put in one of the best sets I’ve seen them do in the 15 years I’ve been watching them. (Apparently they actually did split up for a few months a while back but it was so low key that no one noticed. More to the point, I certainly doubt they were offered more than a few quid and some nice pizza to reform.) And tonight, in Portugal, they bestride the world like a damn eight-legged solid superabrasive Wurtzite Boron Nitride colossus detonated from the heart of an asteroid the size of New York City. They destroy the entire Cávado river valley down to trembling banks of scree with ‘Star Piss’, ‘War Machine’ and ‘30,000,000,000,000,000 People’. And right now I wouldn’t swap this glorious moment for a chance to see any other heavy rock band at any other point in history. Not Sabbath; not Kyuss; not Green River; not Dead Moon; not Big Black; not Spacemen 3.

Part Chimp courtesy of Telma Correia

As stated so rightly in the film Ghost Dog:

“It is said that what is called the Spirit of an Age is something to which one cannot return. That this spirit gradually dissipates is due to the world's coming to an end. In the same way, a single year does not have just spring or summer. A single day, too, is the same. For this reason, although one would like to change today's world back to the spirit of one hundred years or more ago, it cannot be done. Thus it is important to make the best out of every generation.”

Damn straight. Be like Ghost Dog - go and watch Part Chimp. Be like Ghost Dog - go and watch The Heads. Go and watch $hit & $hine. Go and watch Sly And The Family Drone. Go and watch Guttersnipe. Go and watch Sex Swing. Go and watch Nidia Minaj (also playing Milhões). Go and watch ILL. Go and watch Richard Dawson. Go and watch Hey Colossus. Go and watch Jambinai. Go and watch Gaika (also playing at Milhões). Go and watch EEK featuring Islam Chipsy (also playing at Milhões). Go and watch Sons Of Kemet (also playing at Milhões). Go and watch Senyawa. Go and watch The Bug and Miss Red (also playing Milhões). Go and watch Jlin. Go and watch Oranssi Pazuzu. Go and watch Gazelle Twin. Go and watch GNOD. Go and watch Selvhenter. Go and watch Bo Ningen. Go and watch SunnO))). Go and watch Circuit Des Yeux. This is your time. Seize the day. Don’t be a pissy-eyed whopper sat at home wearing a fucking Slint T-shirt pining after some godforsaken ‘golden age’ that wasn’t all that in the first place.
John Doran

Wrestling And Metal Are The Greatest Tag-Team Of All Time

Following the knife attack, the cheese grater attack, the choke hold, the barbed wire club and the mosh pit referee I was all ready to proclaim Eat The Turnbuckle the championship belt holders. Then they suplexed a guy in Donald Trump mask through a door wrapped in barbed wire and instantly joined the hall of fame.
Mat Colegate

You Should Probably Go And Watch Tomaga

Tomaga courtesy of Renato Cruz Santos

Tomaga are fast becoming one of my favourite live bands. Although I must admit I do keep on watching them in unusual circumstances. The first time I saw them was in the town square in Tilburg during the always excellent Incubate festival last year. They popped in to do a live session at the Black Impulse Radio show I was co-hosting with Kev Morpurgo of Casual Sect for NTS. (You can hear the live set here kicking off at about the 1 hr 30 min mark.) But since that mainly free and ambient outing, the pair (Valentina Magaletti and Tom Relleen, both of The Oscillation) have taken the project up a couple of gears.

Today the dynamic duo play a set culled mainly from their new album for Hands In The Dark, called The Shape Of The Dance which will be out on September 19. The tracks are harder, more structured, more groove orientated. Lots of instrumental groups utilise a crunchy Kraut/ kosmische foundation but a lot of them never manage to step out from under the shadow of their influences. It simply becomes an exploration of the source material; little more than a groovy and pleasant genre exercise. However, Tomaga come at you from all kinds of unexpected angles, throwing in hyper EQ’d bongos that sound like Shackleton beats; there is caffeinated rooftop sniper funk that reminds you of Lalo Schifrin and groaning oscillations worthy of the Silver Apples, (not to mention a well-deployed xylophone).

Now, I don’t think you have to be chilling in the sparkling waters of a Portugeuse outdoor swimming pool under clear blue skies in 36 degree heat to enjoy Tomaga but it certainly helps. (You can hear new Tomaga track ‘Tuscan Metalwork’ on the most recent Quietus Hour at about the 18 minute mark.) But hats off to Milhoes for providing the perfect setting and having the sense to make the most of everything at their fingertips.

Who will speak for the rock journalists? courtesy of Tida Bradshaw

When Joaquim Durães realised that very close to the proposed festival site was the town’s municipal swimming pool, he simply asked them, “Er, do you mind if we use the pool as a festival ‘stage’?” And they said yes. So on each of the four days, from midday to eight, ticket holders get to swim, sunbathe and drink while being entertained by a succession of DJs (this year including the mighty Adrian Sherwood) and bands. Joaquim is at pains to say that they’re not interested in taking the easy route of just hiring balearic and dub DJs (although blissfully, this is how they kick each day off) and previous pool ‘stage’ acts have included a Brazilian grindcore group and GNOD.

This year's real round peg in the square hole is the Bristolian sludge metal duo Big Naturals, whose shorts wearing frontman, H.O. Morgan elects not to wear sunscreen, and slowly turns the colour of Admiral Ackbar during their 45 minute set. It is however brilliant and has given me a good idea for half-filling Camden Underworld with water and inflatables.
John Doran

Nan Kolè courtesy of Renato Cruz Santos

This Year's Incongruity Award Goes To...

Every Milhoes De Festa has an ultimate moment of incongruity. The setting, the types of music on offer and the mischievous and slightly bloody-minded nature of the promoters will come together to ensure that at some point you'll find yourself luxuriating round the pool to some inspired but - ehhh how to say? - unconventional choices of music. Industrial crunch from the serenity of a drifting rubber ring; the application of sunblock soundtracked by what sounds like a spaceship hitting a school; sipping ice-cold cider while your hair's blown back by scrap-metal Armageddon.

This year's winner of the Annual Incongruity Awards comes in the shape of Nan Kolè, part of the Gqom Oh! label responsible for putting out the compilation of the same name last year, and London's chronicler of the music coming out of Durban's thriving Gqom scene. For the uninitiated, Gqom is a form of South African dance music characterised by extreme repetition, droning sub-bass, distorted chanting, and a single-minded tunnel-vision approach to dancefloor ecstasy that has more in common with the focus demanded by ritual magic than any more conventional modes of uplift. It is, in short, as moody as fuck. Too moody, perhaps, for the good looking young of Barcelos, and certainly the previous DJ's sunnier set draws more people to the pool side for a 34 degree afternoon chug.

However, bobbing up and down in the deep end is a perfect position from which to assess Gqom's density; its mix of clattering, nigh-on industrial, stabs of percussion and township rhythms suggesting a virulent strain of apocalyptic afro-futurism. Gqom's relentless post-human march may be too strong for some, but it drops the temperature round the pool just enough for surrender to be inevitable.
Mat Colegate