The last time I spent two summers in a row without making the yearly pilgrimage to Paredes de Coura was 2009–2010. This broke uni student had spent all his yearly savings by traveling to Barcelona for Primavera, looked very deep into the lineup, and couldn’t find any reason to do it. Fast forward to 2020. “It’s been 10 years since my last trip to Barcelona, I’m coming back”. For reasons, nobody did; for the same reasons, the little town of Paredes de Coura stood unusually empty during the summers of 2020 and 2021. And even though I ended up returning to Barcelona in 2022, there was no way I’d skip Vodafone Paredes de Coura ever again like in the previous decades. Better yet, the absolute chaos we endured in Primavera Sound ’22 only made me long for peaceful Coura even more. Even if there’s a (very likely) painful airport experience ahead of me.
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?