At first glance, the seaside port of Viana Do Castelo, in the Braga region of Portugal that kisses the Spanish border, seems an incongruous spot to host Portugal’s foremost techno festival. The sleepy town with its rows of restaurants that lead to the seafront from the station seems more suited to bus-loads of octogenarians than thousands of keyed up revellers, but the congregating masses are greeted with warmth by the locals and once the Neopop festival sparks into gear, the location begins to make sense. The site, which backs onto the sea and is penned in on one side by an old fort wall, strikes a harmonious balance between the industrial and the picturesque – cranes situated on the working harbour tower over the site, lit up in blues and pinks adding a mini- Melt festival vibe to proceedings; a statue of a sea goddess sits at the centre of the site and, continuing the harbour theme, shipping containers are stacked to make up a boundary wall between the site and the sea.
It’s a relatively small site, designed to hold a few thousand at a time, with the main ‘Neo’ stage placed at one end and the smaller ‘Anti’ stage at the other. Having missed the festival’s opening day on Thursday, we hit Neopop at midnight on Friday to catch the tail end of local duo RUUAR’s scene setting set of squelching techno and ambient interludes, showcasing an artful ear for providing a proper warm up - something that can often get lost at festivals with their big, disjointed line-ups. After that we cross over to the main stage to catch a bit of a nostalgia rush with Danny Tenaglia, who’s huge-room-house makes up for in fun what it loses in subtlety. Generally, the difference in mood between Tenaglia and RUUAR set the tone for the two stages’ differing identities over the weekend: The Neo stage pulsed to a more euphoric beat, whilst the Anti stage pushed out darker, more heads-down hues of techno. Being a miserable Londoner, the Anti stage became my base. A highlight on the Friday was Dr Rubenstein, who’s electro tinged set of techno tiptoed a deft line between forceful and playful and set the tone for the mighty DJ Stingray to follow up by shelling it down with his weapons grade Detroit techno. Paula Temple closed out the stage as the sun peaked out from behind the fort wall and drenched the site in glorious heat and light.
Having decided against the after party and chipped back to Porto (an hour and a bit on the train) and replenished with at least 45 minutes of quality sleep, we returned on the Saturday to catch the likes of Octave One, Dax J and Planetary Assault Systems as well as, of course, Kraftwerk, who brought their 2 hour live 3D show to the party. RBMA were presenting the Neo stage on the Saturday and brought some much-appreciated live shows to the roster, four of the eight acts were playing live. First up was Porto native Alex FX, who’s gently propulsive show grew into itself and intricately built to a twinkling arpeggiated peak and laid the ground nicely for Kraftwerk. Obviously, Kraftwerk are bonafide legends of electronic music and their whole 3D show is staggering but, but, but…in this particular setting, it just didn’t do it for me. The truth is, in the intervening three or four decades of dance music inspired by Kraftwerk’s paradigm-shifting proto-techno, the production has become harder, faster, more direct – to place Kraftwerk side by side with modern techno shows up the naiveté of the former and the brutalism of the latter. But there we are. As the night wore on, Octave One smashed holes in the fabric of the universe with their flawless, hardware-based live show while, having scooted back over to the Anti stage we caught the back to back live slots of Voiski and Zadig and were bathed in that beautiful Portuguese sunrise once more.
The vibe, setting and atmosphere of Neopop are pitch perfect and all of the festival essentials: low key security, easy access to bars and good sound were taken care of with great attention to detail. It’s a small and perfectly formed festival with a bright future and a solid, focussed vision. If you get a chance, go.
Visit the Neopop site HERE. Photo credits: Rui Soares