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Semibreve Festival 2012: Part I

December 30, 2012

Originally posted on the 405

Semibreve_Festival_Portugal

Photos by Adriano Ferreira Borges

There’s a delightfully easy-going pace of life to Braga that is evident almost immediately, even before you get to explore the undulating ancient city in full. As we make the relatively short, yet bucolic trip from Porto to Braga, we pick the brains of our driver and festival runner Thiago over matters relating to the city, and of course Semibreve Festival – now in year two of its existence after last years successful debut.

Thiago elaborates on how he got involved with the festival, that runs from 2nd-6th October, and shrugs casually in between shards of sunshine, ‘I sometimes play football with them on week nights’. This is a whole world away from the busy, shouting-in-your-face 24/7 of London-life and music scene to which I have become accustomed to. Yes, I’m going to enjoy my time here.

Despite Braga’s history-rich background (having existed since Neolithic times), it’s conversely also one of the youngest in Europe in terms of it’s population; and partly the reason for being awarded the European Capital of Culture title, with neighbouring Guimarães awarded the title of European Youth Capital, where Semibreve also takes place. Promised by the organisers is a “universe of electronic music and digital art”, and this is very much reflected in the line-up; the artists themselves are of the avant-garde electronica variety, and most come with a visual artist next to their name on the bill. This is not going to be your average British sweaty-tent, sing-a-long, stuck-in-a-field-in-Hampshire experience that’s for sure.

Thursday

We pass by a gargantuan, graphic depiction of Jesus Christ in the lobby of our Hotel (Christ gets about everywhere in this city) and head off to experience the first evening of entertainment in Centro Cultural Vila Flor a few kilometers away in Guimarães. The complex, opened in 2005, is a cultural centre of Portugal surrounded by luxurious gardens and adjacent to a former palace; imagine the Southbank Centre, but in an actually nice location.

Our first act is Dusseldorf-born Stefan Betke who flies under the name of Pole – his live sets in recent years have seen him grace clubs such as Fabric (London) and The Bunker (NYC), not to mention Bestival and Bloc; this evening however will be a wholly different experience, as we make our way into a pristine, brand new sit-down theatre inside of CC Vila Flor. In the past year he’s created three EP’s on his own self-titled label as part of his Waldgeschichten series, though he’s a chap that has been around since 1996.

The theatre darkens and for the first 20 minutes or so, personally, are partly an act of learning how to experience and to absorb what’s in front of me – from a sensory perceptive. A huge screen behind Pole projects work by visual artist pm.a, and given that it’s a strictly sit-down affair with music on a stupendous sound system, I’m able to give the visuals my full, undying attention. This isn’t time for chitchat with your friends in regards to who’s getting the next beers in.

Two hazy, overlayed landscapes slide incongruous to each other laterally, flickering throughout with the whole thing possessing a diaphanous feel; generally tones are muted but bursts of vibrant colour seep into the frame. At times, as the continuous bass-driven rhythm adds to the hypnotic nature of proceedings, it’s all pretty darn intense. Tunnel vision commences in this blacked-out theatre, I sometimes keep thinking I’m seeing erratic movement in my peripheral vision but it’s just the paranoia getting to me. It’s almost akin to a magic eye painting; once you get ‘it’, you really see everything.

‘Lurch’ opened his set with a series of abrasive ‘challenging’ noises as a cyclical squawk threatened to irritate, however Pole pulls it back in time, with the set morphing slowly into a nuanced dance floor journey through idm realms spliced with some welcoming, blissful dub grooves.

Vladislav Delay follows after the interval (yes, I’m calling it an interval), and the most noticeable thing from the off is the visuals from AGF; having become so accustomed to the particular visuals of the previous act. Sight really is a dominant sense huh? A mostly black screen stares down the silent audience, as skeletal white lines grow in volume and structure; intermittently throughout the set the image jarringly switches to a single-tone coloured backdrop.

Delay himself is on a mission to traverse through a Detroit/techno landscape, in a set that is far more disparate than Pole’s steady journey, with frequent changes of mood and tone. In between being in a state of mesmeric stasis, I become engrossed in thought and ponder the metaphysical experience. I’m switching from almost a classical response, to a romantic response (see Robert M. Pirsig) in the same set; classical in the sense of analysing what I’m experiencing, which senses are being stimulated, what I’m actually seeing. But then conversely, allowing myself to be wholly taken away by any thought process and allowing the senses to become overcome without analytical thought (the ‘romantic’ experience), to simply be, and go with it. Now this, you could argue, is the same of any live music experience, bit it seems so much more acute here.

As a whole the set is more disjointed than Pole – which it of course supposed to be, but it’s somewhat less satisfying; the visuals of p.ma seems more in tune with the audio. Both are remarkable however, and set the tone for the rest of the festival superbly. The vinyl stall is completely empty, much to my irritant, which is a good yardstick of a contented audience.

It’s far gone midnight though we still have one act to go in the shape of Grisch Lictehnberger, not before a change of setting and heading down to the basement bar of the centre. The environment is wildly different from the previous two acts; the ceiling’s low, the bar is full of chatter, the espresso machine hisses spritely. Lictehnberger is on the low stage, sitting cross-legged, smoking nonchalantly (indoors? Well this is a throw back) languidly residing over two laptops. To be honest, it’s the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.

The conceptual Berlin-based artist found on German electronic-music label Raster-Noton, oft-focuses on the process of creating art, alongside the end result naturally – which is a glitch-ridden, beat-driven eclectic outing. In terms of visuals, lines run perpendicular at an x/y axis, and it’s all very sharp, crisp – much like the sound he creates. Though the idea of this set I guess, this setting, is not an intense visual feast as with the others, more of a nightcap to unwind.

Part II to come tomorrow

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