This year I decided to boycott summer festivals. I’m done with massive lineups featuring every single hyped DJ, from the most obscure underground artist upwards, as long as it sells. I’m tired of running from stage to stage, cutting through crowds of kids boasting their fast-fashion festival looks, completely oblivious as to what’s playing; I’m too passionate about music to enjoy sets that are constantly peaking cause that’s what the crowd expects: fun, fun, fun. I’m done.
But Forte was different. More than a festival, this four-day weekender felt closer to an unpretentious rave for people who like proper techno. The line-up was mouth-watering this year, and the best thing about it is that nothing runs concurrently - each act gets undisputed airwaves, everyone under the influence of the same music.
So, when the Loose Lips crew was invited to Montemor-o-Velho to recount our perspective of the event, the decision to go was a no-brainer. I packed a few raving outfits and quite literally jumped on the train. No tent, no sleeping arrangement. Judging from my experience of the festival’s debut event, although there wouldn’t be many chances to sleep, I knew the campsite would offer the best accommodation for spontaneous, unprepared festival-goers. Set in Parque de Merendas, a picnic park in a small birch tree forest close to a stream, the campsite offers lots of shade, hammocks, mattresses, nets and many little corners to lay down and rest if one is too tired to join the official daytime party taking place down there.
On invitation from the lovely organisers of the campsite stage, Harris and Teresa, some of us stayed there in a simple tent in the backstage area. The rest of the crew stayed in an apartment 20km away in the coastal city of Figueira da Foz, while some of our Lisbon friends occupied a local lodge in the town, where we relaxed by the pool during the hottest hours of the day. By and large, we spent much of the time in the campsite listening to a host of national and international artists and DJs. To mention a few of the acts that we enjoyed, on Friday evening, Tiago Henriques and Jari Marjamaki of the Lisbon-collective Desterronics dropped an impromptu downtempo electro set; at around lunchtime on Saturday, Nuck Chorris (aka John-E), an old-school DJ from Lisbon, flooded the dancefloor with house, funk and disco classics; on Sunday morning, Japanese DJ Yumiko Watanabe delivered a beautiful early morning set filled with mystical ambient with groovy cosmic house and by the evening after-hours, Caroline Lethô, one of Portugal’s brightest emerging DJs, took to the decks to execute a fittingly bubbling, spaced-out techno set that gave a fitting closure to the three-day festival.
Art Attack © IG: @joaorapozo
Separating the campsite from the festival grounds is a short 15-minute walk through another festival site. Concurrently, in the small town of Montemor-o-Velho, a regional fair presented a snapshot of rural Portugal with its go-karts, rollercoasters, neon-lit shoot-to-win trucks, balloons, second-hand items, beer and local snacks. Passing through the feira, the local families would observe us curiously as we crossed them on our way up to the castle’s main stage. From where did these strange people emerge?
© IG: @iamjoaomourao
While having a protein-rich dinner in Casa Benfica — a friendly, local restaurant near the theatre, where some of the audio-visual performances took place, much-talked-about friends recounted their stories from the previous night, such as multi-disciplinary collective Art Attack's audio-visual extravaganza, which comprised multi-screen video and OHP projections, a group of dancers from Goa, and improvised sound design by Jari Marjamaki. Though we hadn’t yet arrived, everyone went on about how good Umwelt, Electric Indigo and Oscar Mulero had been. For some, Stanislav Tolkachev might have felt a bit overly aggressive, but those into his music said he played a great live set.
© IG: @florence.to
Friday’s schedule was tantalizing to say the least. The entrées included José Macabra’s incredible theatrical performance 'Reigning After Death', the world premier of Drew McDowell and Florence To’s Time Machine, Anastasia Kristensen and Raster Noton’s Alva Noto, who premiered his a cutting-edge audiovisual performance. As night fell, in lieu of Planetary Assault Systems’ cancellation, Marum, a young, Berlin-based Portuguese DJ and co-founder of Lisbon’s most subversive techno party, Mina, gave an extended set. Hearing the set from a secluded platform next to one of the castle’s rustic side walls, sonic streaks lit up the midnight in synth-led bliss. High frequencies rattled across the castle walls, sub-bass pulsations escaping over the ramparts and down into the village below.
One of the most magical stories from the Friday came from lots of the Loose Lips crew who delved deep into Jose Macabra's re-telling of a famous Portugese tale, that of Inês de Castro - a story of love and revenge. The sheer visual intensity of what Jose and all performers put themselves through started the crew's weekend in a way no other festival has ever managed to. Amazement, shock, lack of breath, erections, tears...all in the space of 40 minutes. This colourful yet haunted journey on show was accompanied by an inspired soundtrack, produced by Jose himself. This hybrid of performance art and engaging sound design grabbed the ethos behind the weekend's musical curation, and flipped into a truly fucked up, experimental escapade - incredible stuff!
Jose Macabra photographs by Filipe Pinto.
By 5am, HRH King Surgeon had already set up an arsenal of machines, which he used to full effect in a pumping, improvised set. “Isn’t it weird that when he plays, you just feel like you’re in Birmingham,” Fred commented some way through. Rolling kicks, off-kilter rhythms, and churning hi-hats, Surgeon’s modular maelstrom imploded under the weight of his transitions. This was cyclical techno at its most captivating, the dancers caught in a progressive trance.
After releasing his set on Soundcloud hours later, I learned that this explosive and mean performance had been completely improvised; it was executed so skillfully that it could’ve only come from a monster like Surgeon. In the description of the recording, Anthony Child attached the following quote: “Here's a recording of my Live Set at Festival Forte made using modular synthesisers and hardware machines. It's a bit rough in places, but you can hear the music being created and destroyed as it's happening and I love that most about performing improvised live sets. So I wanted to share the recording with you.”
It was an unbelievable pleasure to listen and dance to this music as it was being created — a one-of-a-kind performance. I'd like to think the setting and our raving energy were somehow captured by the electricity feeding that modular system, or, at the very least, that it inspired Surgeon to perform this insane live set. Listening back to it again today, I'm sure it did.
Function then followed up with another hard-hitting live act that exuded control and competence, and as the sun came up, a highly-anticipated b2b set from Antigone and François X eased things up for the morning. After a well-deserved break, Saturday’s program would continue non-stop into Sunday night. For a 12-hr party, the extensive lineup mainly constituted a series of 1-hour live acts. Though this added diversity to the program, at times, it also interrupted the schedule’s continuity; namely, when Anastasia Kristensen was squeezed in between Drew McDowell and Alva Noto — a complete mismatch for her pumping music — or, for example, giving Surgeon a mere 60 minutes to deliver an outstanding improvised set. Owing to the tightly-packed bill, I was often left wanting more, even though the shorter performances made the whole event so fast and furious.
Sunrise during the close of Helena Hauff
Surrounded by the 800-year old medieval fortress walls, the Funktion One towers pumped out barbaric techno before an army of ravers, culminating in Helena Hauff’s exhilarating sunrise set on Sunday morning. Exuding confidence and agility, jacking her body passionately to her own music, Hauff demonstrated how she is, undisputedly, one of the best female DJs in the scene. Juggling electro, techno, jungle, trance and drum 'n' bass to close her hi-NRG set, the Hamburg-born DJ and producer greeted the audience with probably the most creative selection of the whole festival, and not to mention her flawless, vinyl-only mixing. Queen.
Following this, the transition between Saturday night and the Sunday daytime rave flowed through a vintage mixer and modular system controlled by the capable hands of another experienced Hamburg export — Extrawelt — whose live act gave room for a breather ahead of the heavy-hitting acts to follow. Chilled, trippy, and laced with warm, analog basslines and maximal synth leads, the duo’s music was so sweet that it could’ve been considered a little too sensational for some.
After some breakfast and a rest at the campsite, where I relaxed under the trees to Japanese artist Miu’s exquisite set, we soon headed back to the Castle under the blazing midday sun. Well above 30ºC, a few parasols had been set in the pit, giving the bravest ravers some protection, along with a hosepipe to spray us down. Understandably, most of the Sunday crowd stayed in a shaded section at the back, where the trees offered better shelter from the sweltering heat. We later regrouped back there, lounging on a grassy knoll, from where we spotted a steady stream of dehydrating dancers queueing up to get under a tap of cool running water. At night, the stone ruins away from the main stage, which made for a good meeting point/rest-stop, seemed to come alive with psychedelic video-mapped projections. On this occasion, however, those old stones kept a group of Berghain regulars safe from the sun.
Svreca playing on Sunday afternoon in the baking heat.
As the shadows grew longer, Spanish producer Svreca delivered a solid and metallic, swirling set that delved into the looping, minimal soniscapes of his Semantica label. Seamlessly, Neel — a close collaborator of Donato Dozzy as Voices From The Lake and co-owner of Spazio Disponibile label— then followed up with a consistent and driving live set centered around his Roland TR-909, which he subtly modulated through retuning the kicks, adjusting the groove, and overlaying a seemingly infinite series of subtle drum patterns. Then, after a slight pause, Donato Dozzy closed the festival with a golden key. Many stated this was their most anticipated act, which was duly saved until last. So, when word started to spread that he had cancelled and would not be playing the closing, we were left suspended. This rumour has since accompanied a few others concerning the festival's production standards and internal organisation - but, these, to us at least, remain as rumours and this review is written from the perspective of a punter, experiencing a festival that we will remember for a lifetime.
However, this specific Dozzy rumour was to be short-lived. As we approached the dusty ravers at the front, Dozzy’s slight appearance and rounded-specs gave me the shivers. After dropping the needle on the first vinyl, we knew it was going to be an incredible ride. For three hours, the Italian producer conducted a brilliant set of classic techno — percussive, metallic and with just the right amount of acid, claps, bleeps and bells. For three hours, we purged the manna in our bodies to the last drop. This was one of the best sets I’ve seen Donato Dozzy play, and alongside Helena Hauff earlier that morning, most likely the best set of the festival, in my opinion.
© IG: @pedrodteixeira
Back down at the campsite, Caroline Lethô launched a final assault from behind the decks. In firm command, the young DJ from Faro put together a fantastic set, keeping the dance floor packed and pumping into the early hours of Monday morning. After three consecutive days of noise, the silence became music itself. Here and there, portable speakers could be heard marking the spots where ravers were still not satiated. Slowly fading into sleep, I could make out fragments of sound — serotonin-depleted discussions of the festival’s highlights, people sorting out rides for the next day and excited lovers susurrating in their tents.
It’s time to go home. Yet again, smiling.
Til next year, Forte.