Amplifest 2016

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words: Elena Mara Reed, photo: Lais Pereira, 2016-09-23

They say Amplifest is not a festival, but an experience. And they are damn right. Situated in Porto, it offers the warmth of Mediterranean summer and smiles of metalheads, gathered from all around the world for riffs. Extra gigs on Friday and Monday, two fully scheduled days of music and activities such as a talk with Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till, The Melvins movie, listening sessions of unreleased albums and more… and we get infected with an incurable passion for Amplifest!

Friday welcomes with French trio, Aluk Todolo. Usually labelled as ‘occult rock’, imho, Aluk Todolo does not exactly fit the label. Don’t get me wrong, their far reaching meditative soundscapes of krautrock, psychedelic rock and black metal set the standard and get us all into a festive mode. 

On Saturday sweating the beers out we rush to see Minsk. The band is kicking around for over a decade now and like Portuguese fine wine gets better with age. Named after the capital of Belorussia, just like that city in Eastern Europe, Minsk sound exotic and unique. Having said that, the sound problems (don’t blame the band!) makes it harder for snobs such as myself to fully enjoy majestic voices and layers of big riffs of this top post-metal band.

The fest does not have many local bands on the list. But the ones included are truly worth it. Sinistro gets our attention for their theatrical performance. The singer Patricia Andrade wears a white shirt and moves psychotically on the stage mirroring the vibes of a mental institution. Yes, Sinitro are mental!

The star of the night is Anna von Hausswolff. Her high-pitched childish voice and gigantic organ clearly stand out from the rest of the line-up. The Swedish singer fills the room with dreamy, almost futuristic but at the same time folky melodies entering the dark where metal, folk and church music meets.

Amplifest is a brave festival (experience!!!) that is not afraid of crossing boundaries. Alike Anna, Kayo Dot challenges and throws us into the unmapped territory where the lines between synth-prog, post-rock and punk are blurred. Slightly flirting with metal, they smell the 80s. Weirdly dynamic, pleasantly danceable and… hardly describable. The underdogs of the scene due to their untrendy specific sound they simply blow our minds out. 

The live programme of the day ends with the heroes of post-rock Mono. Their cinematic, atmospheric music opens a gate to another (better!) world. One moment you are there in Porto, guitars kick in, and Japanese storytellers take you to a utopian fairyland. 

We finish ourselves with DJs Jose Carlos Santos VS Miguel Navarro. Knackered we are forced to end our love affair with Amplifest but just for a while.

On Sunday afternoon even the beauty of Porto cannot prevent us from seeing the opening band of Room 2 – Tesa. The trio, playing since 2005, are absolute icons of post-metal in Latvia. TESA toured with Neurosis twice and are strongly embraced by the veterans. However, the size and location of the faraway Eastern European country and the truly DIY approach to music resulted in TESA being a rather unknown band. We are thus extremely grateful to the promoters for bringing this hidden gem to Porto. We cannot hear the vocals of the drummer Janis very well (yes, we all adore bands with drummer-singers!!), but that does not impact on their sincere, energetic performance. 

The Black Heart Rebellion from Belgium is a band we can sing along with. Their melodramatic lyrics mixed with a shamanic, tribal, folkish tone and here you are, diving in psychedelia. Hypnotised by tambourines and a bell-stick, overpowered by the quintet’s youthful aggression, we let our inner beasts out.

Beasts continue to run wild with Portuguese band Névoa. Deathheaven and Alcest are reference points all over the place, but Portuguese definitely have something distinctive about their set.  The second percussionist is using a bunch of logs tied together to create some odd wooden sound. The bassist uses a cello bow, yeah, Névoa is a pleasant discovery!

Even if post-rock is not your cup of tea (or sea), Caspian is that exclusion with an asterisk.  Equally as The Caspian Sea (the largest inland body of water in the world) which lies majestically between Europe and Asia, Caspian feels grandiose of the stage. These tall Americans resemble titans, divine beings that once ruled the world. They end their show triumphantly with every member of the band drumming amok. 

Hope Drone drowns us, choke us and leave us staggered and shocked as Cloak of Ash sounds denser and noisier than on the record. Australians, however, complete with Oathbreaker timewise and we have to run to Room 1. Belgians play tracks from their new album (‘Rheia’ in stores September 30th). I immediately think of Julie Christmas with Cult of Luna but this is far more brutal, vitriolic, extreme. 

Downfall of Gaia take over the race. Bleak, mournful, grim, ruthless they keep the bar high. Our eardrums are bleeding. 

Luckily, soon after, Colin, the leader of Amenra, gets on the stage with his solo project CHVE. His soft, almost painfully beautiful voice is a shelter to our shattered eardrums and souls. Of all the shows that gave us goose bumps tonight, his set is one of the sincerest and most compelling. Colin is so meticulous, so thoroughly focussed on taking us on a spiritual journey that my feet get glued to the floor and we almost forget that Neurosis are about to start. Hypnotized till the last note of the hurdy-gurdy, we have to flee the room to see the legendary Americans. 

Neurosis don’t need an introduction. Their one and half hour set lifts us up and tears into pieces intermittently. After all day of riffs, our tired bodies ache so much that one moment we think we are going to die. We don’t care though. The transcendent, both apocalyptic and cathartic show leave us overwhelmed with emotions. 

It is hard to tune in on Prurient immediately after. Beat after beat, Prurient, however, manages to get those feet moving. Ian’s powerful raving set is the best end of the night we could possibly hope for. I wish he would play longer and metalheads (like Cinderella into a princess) would turn into ravers for a night. 



It is Monday but we are nowhere close to leave. Fortunately, Amplifest offers The Leaving and Steve Von Till for dessert. The Leaving is an acoustic outfit of Frederyk Rotter (Zatokrev). His gentle voice make wounds heal whereas the song performed with Noah Landis (Neurosis) get us high again. 

Steve Von Till is a storyteller. He talks about dog shopping, his favourite writers and sings about love. Quiet, but no less heavy, Steve provides us with a perfect example of how much can be achieved with an acoustic guitar. His charisma and gravely rising voice help us to reconnect with ourselves and fellow Amplifestians. What a triumphant finale!

Amplifest is over. The meticulous line-up puts me in the throes of withdrawal. We are prescribing ourselves a weekend in this magical city in 2017, the indulgence in Portuguese cuisine and famous Porto wines and most importantly, aurgasms of Amplifest. If Amplifest is not yet on your festival bucket list, make sure you add it!