Portugal's Most Lust-Worthy Music Festival
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s not all about Coachella. Or SXSW. Or CMJ. Or ATP. Or Roadburn. Or MDF. Or …
By Eugene S. Robinson
Sitting at a waterside restaurant in Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city after Lisbon, André Mendes looks me steadily in the eye when he says, “If what you drink next is not the best port you’ve ever had, I’ll kill myself.” A little extreme for an après-dinner dessert wine, but Mendes, all calm exterior, is paradoxically prone to certain extremes. And if you can’t get good port in Porto, nothing in the world makes sense.
Like the fact that back in 2006, Mendes and a few friends who had gotten tired of making the jaunt into Spain or down to Lisbon for festivals featuring music that, like all good art, is decidedly challenging decided to put on their own festival, with a grand total of zero cash. Ten years later, with a back pocket full of sponsors, tickets going for between 37.50 and 89 euros (about $42.50–$100) and, in a stroke of right-time-genius, Porto being pegged as the best European destination as recently as 2014, Mendes is looking at another sold-out Amplificasom festival this summer and sitting pretty while doing so.
“This is not just a music festival, and it isn’t a hipster festival for whiskered guys,” says Gabriele Girolamini of Italy’s Drome magazine. “It’s a real, deep and cultural experience.” Standing backstage at the main stage of Porto’s Hard Club, a grand, stately manse right off of Palácio da Bolsa, watching the Canadian band Godspeed You Black Emperor and waiting to go on, I could see this. (Total disclosure: My band Oxbow has a stripped-down acoustic duo act that we peddled as a way to get a ticket to Amplificasom.) The almost 1,000 people in attendance pressed up against the stage as the atmospheric post-rock rumbling of the band started could also see this and were clued into the fact that for the nine-piece collective to have come all the way from Canada to do one show, large amounts of juice had to be brought to bear. And we’re not talking about just cash, necessarily.
“André is ultimately a committed man who never gives up,” says Scott Kelly, guitarist and founder of the masters of dark heavy Neurosis, which is playing Amplifest, a festival subset of Amplificasom, in August. “And he’s a pretty visionary promoter … [one] with ethics who totally believes his ears.” Ears that have pulled in a who’s who of modern music — free-jazz saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, the creepy-crawly Bohren & der Club of Gore, the more metallic Godflesh — along with way-beyond-edge films, talks, exhibitions and, in a special twist, actual records and recorded music in an open-air-bazaar-type deal.
“There was a lot of talk about failure when people were thinking about whether or not this would work,” Mendes says, spinning his SUV into Porto’s nighttime traffic as we head back to the hotel. “But I could not think of a single reason why it wouldn’t work.”
Possibly key No. 367 to why Mendes is where he is and why the rest of us are just trying to get tickets.