Porto, Portugal: We thought the first two days of NOS Primavera Sound had hit all the highs that the festival had to offer. But Day 3 took everything we thought we knew about music and galvanised it to a whole new level, from Malian desert punk to Brazilian samba art-rock, hardcore hip-hop to experimental techno.
Songhoy Blues, born and bred in Mali, could not have been more welcoming an act to start off the afternoon. Lead singer and frontman Garba Touré packed the show full of punchy and vibrant dance moves interjected with poignant reflections on equality across all races and barriers. The punk-blues group has come a long way: pushed out from the north of Mali by a jihadist group that banned cigarettes, alcohol and music, the group established itself in Mali’s capital Bamako as a band for the northern territory’s refugees, to ‘create the lost ambience of the north’. The band mates sizzle together on their instruments under Portugal’s smiling sun, the clustered field of spectators boogie for the whole sixty minutes, and Garba insists throughout his set that he hopes to see the crowd in Mali one day, as hospitable and genuine as if the crowd were guests in his own home.
Following this was Elza Soares, where unbridled and jocose frolicking was willingly traded in for total awe. Elevated ten feet above the stage, the 79-year-old Brazilian ‘singer of the millennium’ sits upon a throne, the appearance of an enormous and decadent silver dress cascading to the stage floor. Her husky vocals and abrupt samba-jazz style bears none of her unbelievably devastating back-story: born into Brazilian poverty and made to marry at the age of 12, she became a widow at the age of 21 with five children. Yet, continuing through her life with hopes of becoming a singer, the Tina Turner brasileira (Brazilian Tina Turner) met world football legend Garrincha when she was 32. Her troubles didn’t end there; she faced great prejudice from Brazilian society because of her new husband’s previous divorce, along with the great personal loss of her son and her mother-in-law through two separate car accidents. Through all this turbulence, the eminent queen of the festival poses a futuristic yet unassuming style. Her presence brings the most admiring and respectful crowds of any of the early evening sets from the past three days.
As the evening creeps into darkness, we’re treated to a spectrum of British and American talent. Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski (her music have been described, to her delight, as ‘like an aging racetrack greyhound; graceful, but still kind of sad’); British electronic soul artist Sampha, who plays his famous ‘No One Knows Me Like the Piano’ in an exquisite soft jazz style, although the rest of his performed debut album ‘Process’ shows a great deal of talent and versatility proving him well beyond one-hit wonder status. The duo Japandroids, chaotic as jolted horses, have easily enough intensity, volume and flair for a band twice their size. Death Grips are a tough chew but warmly satisfying to consume, the experimental and industrial hip hop an aggressive, uncompromising ride of absolutely unadulterated mayhem – happy-go-lucky populism he is not.
But the night, nay the festival, wouldn’t have quite been complete without Aphex Twin. Anyone who hadn’t seen him before will now feel like they have been dragged – whether willingly or not – into part of the ‘initiated’, a fetish of screaming and glitching bass and drums (sometimes it’s hard to distinguish which is which), warbling and garbling all bordering on a electronic techno cult. To give some idea of just how strongly received the Irish born electronic musician is, many NOS Primavera Sound attenders from around Europe bought a ticket for the festival just for his act alone – a two hour set which started at half midnight.
Certainly, it wasn’t for everyone; many left to seek the more easily obtainable highs of Operators or Against Me! (even a hardcore metal act would be more accessible than Aphex Twin). It is harsh, no doubt. The tension of his music never builds into a truly satisfying climax. It is music that positions the listener on the edge of a chasm, waiting for the music to break down into something at least vaguely discernible, something that is possible to dance to for more than ten seconds before a drum beat metamorphoses the music into a totally different direction.
And don’t even get me started on the visuals. The artist was invisible behind imposing screens of visuals, fragmented colours that merged into the faces of crowd members, ghoulish masks slowly superimposed for the effect of a horrifying acid trip. Enough dry ice was pumped into the atmosphere of Porto to bring the lasers well over the field’s height, an extraordinary emerald Northern Lights of twitching and merging phantasmagoria. If the processes of the body were to be translated into sound and if the tunnels of the brain and memory were translated into light and colour, you’d have something close to Aphex Twin. Disconcerting yet homely, at times rhythmic, often completely unfinished – if there was a genre for post-music, we’ve found a founding member. One of the oddest yet most incredible dishes in today’s music banquet, whether loved or hated, Aphex Twin should at the very least be sampled.
The crowd emerged like sewer rats blinking into the light (if 2.30 AM can be called any sort of dawn). Like a pre-ordered tonic, TYCHO began at 2.45. Blissful, smooth electronic pop, it was just the electronic restoration needed to soothe our brittle nerves. And with that gentle finale, NOS Primavera Sound wrapped up for another year – an amalgamation of global genres, artists and sounds, not just treating and pampering the senses but stretching them. Yet again, NOS Primavera Sound (and Primavera Sound as a whole) establishes itself as one of the most important European musical events of the year.