Sometimes it’s hard to be objective and unbiased when writing about a festival that is such a big part of your life. Except for two (very) unremarkable lineups that made me stay home, since I was old enough to go to college all my summers involved a trip to Paredes de Coura (and a painful trip back, too). When you’re a kid, they say you’ll eventually get older and boring, in a process they call “becoming an adult”. This usually comes with amazing perks such as ceasing to listen to any new music whatsoever, stopping seeing your (also ageing) friends, having great conversations about changing diapers with your remaining friends (yes, the other couple with kids you always go vacationing with to some shitty beach full of other couples with kids and the odd mother-in-law). Obviously, a multi-day, non-kid friendly, rural music festival such as Festival Paredes de Coura seems like one of those things that are amongst the first to drop from your newfound “adult life”. Except you don’t have to be that person; and is there anything better to remind you of that than going there and finding all your friends in the same place, same month, year after year, all over again? (Well, other than imagining the smell of those diapers.)
Vodafone Paredes de Coura 2018. Photo by Hugo Lima.
Another summer, another missed opportunity to have a vacation somewhere because there’s nowhere else we’d rather be other than at our little paradise of Paredes de Coura, in northwestern Portugal. The festival runs from the 14th to the 17th of August, but, like always, the fun begins way earlier than that, with four fun-packed, free entrance days with concerts and DJ sets right in the center of the small Minho village.
What can we put into a list of “things that do not happen often” when talking about a music festival? What about this: there’s this festival – our favorite festival, for reasons that extend beyond the lineup – that, faced with another cancelled Björk gig, decided to go for the jugular and announce, in her place, giant “stadium indie” act Arcade Fire, thirteen years after playing there in the 2005 edition while touring Funeral. Nothing could take the spotlight away from them, right? But imagine there was this kid from the Lisbon suburbs that self-produced his albums at home and played his first gig only six months before this festival. Could he relegate one of the most sought after bands of our world – whose show was quite spectacular, at times – to the footnotes of our festival review?
Playing for a completely packed Vodafone.fm stage on the first night of the festival, after a lukewarm, absolutely forgettable headlining The Blaze show in the main stage, Conan Osiris and dancer João Reis Moreira revealed themselves to really be a force of nature – although a divisive one, exactly as we expected to. Even those who watched from a distance as the bizarre show went on will remember, in ten years, that they witnessed the pinnacle (we think!) of the invulgar rise to fame of two complete outsiders that already inserted themselves – and rightfully so – into the mythology of the festival. Just check out Canal 180′s video of the happening. Earlier that afternoon, Conan Osiris had a huge opportunity to promote himself in a secret show organized by Vodafone, but decided to prop up his protegè Sreya instead to a room full of press and festival goers. That’s what a proper idol does, guys.
Marlon Williams. Picture: Hugo Lima / Festival Paredes de Coura.
But they were not the only highlight of the first night of Vodafone Paredes de Coura 2018. Earlier on, Marlon Williams was raising hell as he and his band threw hit after hit from the much lauded Make Way for Love – oftentimes with a ballad, with a more rock-ish number shaking up things every now and then – and we can tell this is the start of yet another loving relationship between a songwriter and the Portuguese public, following the footsteps of Kevin Morby who seems to play the country every single summer. He left the FC Porto shirt at home (maybe he thought fans of the local club would kick the shit out of him if he did), but a few of his fans didn’t. I might have been one of them, but don’t let SC Courense fans know about this.
Pussy Riot. Picture: Hugo Lima / Festival Paredes de Coura.
But the highlight of the third night of the festival had to be the mythical …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, playing one of the essential indie rock albums of the 21st century in its entirety, Source Tags & Codes in the Vodafone.fm stage plus two straight to the point tracks off their back catalogue: Worlds Apart’s magnificent “Will You Smile Again?” and set closer “A Perfect Teenhood” off Madonna, igniting a riff-hungry packed tent. Earlier on, Lucy Dacus presented her sophomore album for the first time in the country with a more than competent early afternoon show, certainly collecting a few hundred new fans along the way – expect her to keep visiting us in the next few years. Imarhan were already killing it in the smaller stage as Dacus finished her set. I was lucky to see them alongside Blonde Redhead and Snail Mail at Paradiso Amsterdam a few days after Paredes de Coura, and what a show it was. Later on, Slowdive sounded, once again, crystal clear, but the magic of their first reunion tour seems to be wearing off; fortunately, the songs off their latest, self-titled album, are a breath of fresh air in an otherwise unremarkable show for such a late hour time slot. Fortunately, Skepta has turned up the volume (except during that 15 minute set interruption as overly enthusiastic people were allegedly throwing shit on stage) to set us up for the bizarre world of the umpteenth – and probably the most entertaining – coming of Russian activist collective Pussy Riot. Thank God they and their band seem to have sold their guitars and bought turntables, as their punk rock past was mostly a schadenfreude generator: this Slav-heavy hard bass suits them way better, and the projections were hilarious at times. Yes, this is what punk can be in 2018 and there’s nothing wrong with it: Internet memes can sometimes be more effective than meaningless shouted angry words.
Shame. Picture: Hugo Lima / Festival Paredes de Coura.
Back to Thursday. Shame were our top pick for the day, and although we would prefer them in the cozyness of a small stage, the main stage wasn’t certainly an obstacle to a young band that’s on their way of establishing themselves, alongside IDLES, as one of the British powerhouses of angry, anthemic, anti-establishment rock music. And, well, who doesn’t love a band that takes themselves so seriously to the point of taking the stage to the sound of the great Vengaboys? On the other hand, Japanese Breakfast was a bit too lukewarm for our taste. Another case of a good songwriter that cannot make it in the 20:30 time slot on the second stage at Paredes de Coura, our music festival equivalent of a decent football team having to play Stoke City away on a rainy Tuesday night (Frankie Cosmos would suffer the same fate the following day, as Waxahatchee, Algiers or Cigarettes After Sex did a few years back). At night, Surma tried to battle this history presenting her beautiful, intricate recent album Antwerpen, and we cannot say she failed, although her delicate music certainly fits a seated, proper theater instead. On the main stage, Fleet Foxes were competent, without shining too bright. But we can blame both the difficulty of capturing the complexities of the Seattle folk band and delivering a consistently good quality sound to a natural amphitheatre, and the usual troublemakers that think buying a festival ticket entitles them to having loud conversations ten rows from the stage. Jungle seem to be only a little more than a one hit wonder, but then we remember that one hit is the massive “Busy Earnin’” and everything’s alright with the world once again.
Dead Combo. Picture: Hugo Lima / Festival Paredes de Coura.
The most emotional moment of the festival had to be Dead Combo’s incredible show in the last night. A much deserved prime time show for the best band coming out of Portugal in the 21st century in a delicate time for one half of the founding duo, as Pedro Gonçalves appears to be struggling with disease; we really hope this is not the last we see of him. Mark Lanegan, who’s featured in their latest record Odeon Hotel, has joined the six-piece outfit for part of the gig, his contributions being way more interesting than anything he has done on his countless Portuguese shows over the past few years. A huge version of “Lisboa Mulata”, towards the end of the set, was the highlight of this show. It’s not like we merely want more of them in the future, we need Dead Combo alive and kicking. Just a couple of hours earlier, Big Thief have confirmed their status as the best indie band of the past couple of years. Yes, this is a big statement, but anyone who’s familiar with their work knows it’s the truth, even without main guitar player Buck Meek, who’s focusing on touring his solo debut album. Listening to their masterpiece “Masterpiece” should be enough, but as Adrianne Lenker et al. launch into tearjerker “Paul”, we know we’re witnessing something special. She’s surprised she’s playing for so many people; we’re certain they’ll be playing for a crowd like this daily on their next summer festival tour. Later on, Arcade Fire brought the big guns in the beginning of an euphoric show (“Everything Now”, “Neighbourhood #3″, “Rebellion (Lies)”, and “No Cars Go”) before dwelling into less interesting territory, interrupted here and there with well received incursions into less played material (pre-Funeral deep cut “Cars and Telephones” and Neon Bible’s “Intervention”). But we had to wait much later for a spectacular, ecstatic “Reflektor”, before going into an encore closed with the very first song they played, in that same stage, 13 years before: sing-along favorite “Wake Up”. Between hardcore fans and people they lost along the way through their journey from an unknown (but hot prospect) Canadian indie band into a huge outfit capable of filling up arenas and headlining massive festivals like Rock in Rio, few could say they were not entertained. But could they do it against an unknown 20-something kid from the suburbs in a cold, early evening 20:30 slot in Paredes de Coura?
Blah blah blah our favourite festival is back blah blah blah it’s the same intro every year, and you should know by now going to this festival is as important as spending Christmas with your family for us who live far away from home. No matter what or where we are, come the time, we’re purchasing expensive flights to Portugal just to make it. It doesn’t matter if we manage to see many of these artists on tour somewhere else in Europe before or after the festival, there’s something about enduring the daytime heat, the nighttime cold, and the antics of our perpetually drunken friends that always drives us there. Or maybe it’s just the beauty of the landscape. We don’t know and it doesn’t matter as long as we’re there.
The local gems: CONAN OSIRIS (Wed 15, 02:00), SURMA (Thu 16, 22:20), DEAD COMBO (Sat 18, 23:15), ERMO (Sat 18, 02:00)
We have limited ourselves a bit by only picking four artists for each category – especially in this one! There was enough local talent across all stages available for us to focus on Portuguese artists only. Conan Osiris is the hottest artist in Portugal right now, and his late addition to the lineup reads as “holy shit people still care about him 7 months after his album came out despite haters saying he would be forgotten come April”. Said album, ADORO BOLOS (literally I LOVE CAKES) is a graceful blend of fado, dancehall, reggaeton, Middle Eastern, gypsy and African sonorities enhanced with some of the most exquisite lyrics you can find in contemporary pop music – sometimes funny, sometimes nonsensical, sometimes dead serious and fatalistic as they can be. In other words, it’s hard to argue Conan Osiris’ work is not one of a kind, even if you think you can turn “list all of his influences” into a seasonal sport. It was quietly published on Bandcamp one day before the end of 2017, and hasn’t left our playlist ever since. We would have put half of the tracks of this diamond on our playlist, but it’s not on Spotify yet. Check it out here.
Arriving in the festival from the nearby city of Braga, Ermo sound similarly otherworldly. The duo makes contemporary glitchy electronic pop music – with the odd footwork nod here and there – with highly processed Portuguese vocals that ends up being more accessible and easy listening than you’d think. If Arcade Fire are being too corny, just escape the crowd and go wait in the smaller stage before it floods with beat-hungry clubbers. In theory, Surma’s music can sound a bit less weird than her two peers, but only in a world where Björk’s weirdness was normalised. 2017′s Antwerpen is the result of the one-woman-band we all want in our lives and, after missing her for a few times both home and abroad – her international touring included SXSW and Eurosonic Noorderslag, and she is already confirmed at next edition of Iceland Airwaves – we can’t wait to finally see her on stage. Finally, Dead Combo, one of our favourite Portuguese bands, is presenting their new album, Odeon Hotel. We’re ashamed of having missed it on our playlists, but it will surely be amongst our top albums of the 2018. Dead Combo are what Calexico would be if Arizona bordered the Portuguese-speaking world instead of Mexico. It’s something you didn’t know you needed until you were aware of it but of course you do now. Oh, and Mark Lanegan is apparently joining them on stage. If you needed an American artist to validate a local one, here he is.
The safe bets: FLEET FOXES (Thu 16, 23:15), SHAME (Thu 16, 19:40), …AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD (Fri 17, 22:20), KEVIN MORBY (Fri 17, 19:40)
You can design the lineup of a festival based on pure experimentation, but there’s nothing wrong with being a people pleaser. It might be odd to feature Shame in a list like this, given the fact that they have just put out their first record, while some of the ‘newcomers’ below already have a few albums in their name. But the truth is they’re returning after a very eventful poolside gig at last year’s Milhões de Festa. Having seen them a few months ago in an iconic Welsh venue, we’re absolutely sure we’ll be there as frontman Charlie Steen strolls through the audience and turns us into a sweaty mess. Kevin Morby is the #1 fan of Porto and Portugal in general, having played in the country every single year since we organised his first one back in 2014, including stops at Primavera Sound 2015, Paredes de Coura 2016 and Super Bock Super Rock 2017. 4 records into his career, we can’t wait to see how his band’s live show has improved.
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Fleet Foxes are two bands that may be past their peak, but it doesn’t mean 2018 is not the right time to see them again. 16 years after its release, the Austin indie rock band are playing their monument of a record Source Tags & Codes in its entirety and it doesn’t matter if they don’t sound as good as back then – just make sure you sing louder. Crack Up might not have been the record Fleet Foxes fans were wishing for after a six years wait, but it’s not mediocre either. Expect a career-spanning setlist, though – and the band does not disappoint on a stage. Especially in a setting like Coura, the place they deserved to after a few parking-lot-festival shows in previous years.
The newcomers: MARLON WILLIAMS (Wed 15, 19:40), IMARHAN (Fri 17, 19:00), LUCY DACUS (Fri 17, 18:30), BIG THIEF (Sat 18, 21:20)
Imarhan have played their first Portuguese show a couple of weeks ago in the amazing world music festival FMM Sines and it’s great to see them here too. The Tuareg band’s second record, Temet, came out last February and their desert blues has never strayed too far away from our headphones ever since. Half an hour earlier, American singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus opens the afternoon on the big stage with the heartfelt songs of her sophomore album, Historian. If you follow our playlists, you already know how much we like her music; the same can be said about the other two artists in this section, whose albums were featured as album of the week multiple times.
Marlon Williams might be doing his debut in the festival, but he’s already scheduled for a second round next November in Braga, which says enough about the popularity the songwriter from New Zealand currently enjoys in the country. Being witness to his band’s live show a couple of times already, it’s a safe bet to say these will not be his only two shows in the country in the near future. Big Thief, one of our favourite bands in the planet, has already secured a prime time time slot in the main stage after only two albums and we’d like to believe our spam has contributed a bit to the phenomenon. With or without lead guitarist Buck Meek, who’s doing a solo tour at the moment, Adrianne Lenker’s voice and guitar playing will be enough to make it memorable. Expect some new songs.
(At the Drive-In. Photo: Hugo Lima / Vodafone Paredes de Coura)
10. ALEX CAMERON
Pop music for “indie” audiences done right. Co-writing songs with Angel Olsen and Brandon Flowers? Check. Singer-songwriter-performer-dancer Alex Cameron and saxophonist Roy Molloy are two of the funniest guys in the circuit and of course it was physically impossible for us to leave early for Benjamin Clementine.
(Photo: Hugo Lima / Vodafone Paredes de Coura)
9. FUTURE ISLANDS
You’ve certainly overheard comments about how all their songs sound the same, right? What if their one song is actually great and you’re standing there hungry in the middle of the crowd, waiting for one boring song so you can go eat something, but somehow you cannot leave? Yes, they all sound the same, there’s only so much variety Samuel T. Herring can fit into his dance moves and growls, but guess what? It was one of the most entertaining concerts of the festival and we would totally see it again from start to finish (but probably having eaten something beforehand).
8. BRUNO PERNADAS
The Portuguese composer and guitar player opened the main stage on Friday and, unlike your typical festival opener acts, actually set the bar pretty high for what would be happening next. His ensemble, composed of nine musicians – including one of our favorite national songwriters, Minta – was certainly the biggest discovery of the festival for those who didn’t know his music before. No wonder the people in BadBadNotGood were amazed by the show.
(Photo: Hugo Lima / Vodafone Paredes de Coura)
7. MÃO MORTA
On Wednesday, the legendary Portuguese rock band revisited their 25 year old record Mutantes S.21 for a few thousand devotees who knew every word to every song. In a corny but sweet moment, near the end, there was still time for them to sing happy birthday to the festival.
6. LIGHTNING BOLT
Lightning Bolt’s only European date this summer and their first in Portugal since 2008 was everything everyone was waiting for: the last adrenalyn discharge of the festival in a huge pit far from the dust-covered main stage that was leaving everyone coughing (still dealing with it a week after it). No Dracula Mountain? No problem.
Some skeptics might have thought jazzy vibes wouldn’t fit a territory where big sound indie rock bands usually prevail, but those who watched Bruno Pernadas’ ensemble take over the main stage earlier on Friday quickly forgot about it. The Canadian outfit didn’t take long to win over the audience – although, frankly, judging by people’s reactions on social media when they were announced to the festival, we could have anticipated that this was one of the most celebrated concerts of the festival anyway – and, mid-concert, the crowd cheers were as loud as any headliner could get. The four musicians seemed to be having a blast. BBNG are a band on top of their game.
(Photo: Hugo Lima / Vodafone Paredes de Coura)
4. TIMBER TIMBRE
Tucked away in the Vodafone.FM stage and starting before the end of Car Seat Headrest’s lukewarm set, the Canadian outfit did not make as big as an impression as they could if the circumstances were different, but they were still one of the highlights of this years’ festival for the Bolachas crew. The dark, brooding melodies of Timber Timbre were good company to the beginning of the night, transforming the stage in a mini-batcave. (Seriously, where did those people around me come from? Did their goth-y clothing just appear from the middle of nowhere and vanished after the gig? I didn’t see them anywhere else during that day. Oh well.)
3. AT THE DRIVE-IN
Omar, Cedric & co would probably haven take the first place in an alternative dimension where 1) we weren’t too old for this shit; 2) their new record didn’t exist. Not that the new songs are particularly bad – they aren’t. They were also useful for the older folks in the audience, some of whom have waited 17+ years to finally see them live, to catch their breath before and after the classics. “Arcarsenal” provided everyone with their first energy bump of the night. Old farts and young kids smiling, shouting and hugging regardless of their past experiences with the band. Such a pretty sight to see. If only you could see anything, as dust was reigning supreme over the crowd. Set closer “One Armed Scissor” unleashed both the last moshpit and a collective sigh of relief brought to you by everyone’s lungs. It was fun, but can we new ask for a The Mars Volta 2018 De-Loused in the Comatorium 15th anniversary tour?
2. ANDY SHAUF
Everyone who reads us knows we’re all about songwriter music (whatever that is), so it’s no surprise Andy Shauf, the top songwriter music guy in the program is as high as it could be in this list. The surprise, instead, came from the little army of devotees in the first few rows who knew all the brass melodies from Shauf’s latest record, The Party, who seemed to melt the songwriter’s heart midway through the set. The sweetest show of the festival.
(Photo: Hugo Lima / Vodafone Paredes de Coura)
1. KATE TEMPEST
Come on, you knew this was coming. Kate Tempest is the finest artist of our times and that kid who was trying to take a nap during her set right in front of me will, one day, look back at his life and and tell his very disappointed children that he was lying down while KATE TEMPEST was performing right in front of him. KATE FUCKING TEMPEST