Sunday 8 December 2019

Post Punk Strikes Back Again 3 (Bragolin / Okandi / Nerves / Ist Ist / Hotel Lux) - Porto Hard Club - 7th December 2019

The third edition of At The Rollercoaster's Post Punk Strikes Back Festival took place in Sala 2 of Porto's impressive Hard Club venue, sat close to the old town of the beautiful Portuguese city. We caught a flight over and got a hotel for less than a return train ticket to Edinburgh cost us the weekend before and spent less than twenty-four hours watching five of the six bands and soaking in as much of the culture as we could.

There is something magical about Portuguese gig crowds, an attentiveness, an appreciation of the music and a recognition that they're there to see and listen to the artist rather than each other and the six bands were fortunate enough to have this experience with a Porto crowd that gave rapturous responses to each of the six very different bands on the bill.

The line-up was chosen by Jorge and Xana Coelho and their team at At The Rollercoaster on one proviso, that they love the bands and to give them an opportunity to come and play to a wider audience. Many of the UK indoor events could take a leaf out of their book in how well everything was organised, the sound and lighting crew were there to support the bands rather than them being an inconvenience and everything ran like clockwork, the tight schedule was adhered to and while the six acts could loosely be labelled together under the post punk label they provided considerable variety of style and approach.

Bragolin open up proceedings, the Dutch duo describing themselves as Dark Wave, an amalgam of guitars and synths that very much lives up to the dark part of the description, a wall of robust imposing music to which the vocals are married to impressive effect. They start with material from their debut album I Saw Nothing Good So I Left before inviting Adam Tristar, with whom they collaborated on this year's Let The Noise Outside Inside, onto the stage to perform half the set of tracks that were taken from that album before going back to their debut at the end of the set.

It's the songs from the more recent album that strike more of a chord with us, although the whole set has made us want to go and discover the two albums in more detail. No One Ever Speaks In This House was a particular stand out, whilst I Go With You is sung by Edwin rather than the female guest vocalist on the record, but if he hadn't told us no one would have been any the wiser as it twists and turns and takes us on a journey through their minds. It might only be five in the afternoon, but like every band on the bill tonight, they make it feel like a headline set.

Next up is Okandi, and we very quickly realise we recognise him from O Children who produced two criminally underrated albums - O Children and Apnea - back at the start of the decade. There's a few songs in the set from those albums - Ruins, Dead Disco Dancer and Radio Waves - for those who recall them, but as he tells us a couple of times this is a new project with "new energy and a new soul."

It genuinely feels like a rebirth as we're encouraged to "move, shake it, dance and feel free" as the combination of the hypnotic intoxicating vocals, Darrell's guitar and the backing tracks provide the bait to draw us into the new songs such as Blessed, the debut single Devil I Know which was released to coincide with this show, and Christine. And draw us in those songs do, fixating us on a voice that's full of rich deep emotion that's living every single word he's singing, using music as a vehicle to express himself, explore his own thoughts and to focus both himself and us. The least "post-punk" act on the bill gets a huge response from the crowd at the end of a wonderful set. 

Nerves are up next and there's no shortage of brash energy and anger from the South London band, nor is there any lack of swearing, although Jack does tell us at one point that "there's no fucking swearing" before launching into another three minute fireball of pent-up frustration, vitriol and passion that has him shirtless and biting the mic stand by the end of the first song. By the time they hit their new single Bruxism, a few songs in, they've got the crowd eating out of their hands.

It's tough to keep that level of energy and intensity up through a forty-five minute set but Nerves succeed, violently wrapped up in what they're doing and not leaving anything left behind when they depart the stage. They're just eighteen months into their existence as a band and this is their first overseas show and they come here with the confidence and bravado of a band you'd imagine selling out big shows back home and deliver like one. The Portuguese crowd are blown away by them, demanding an encore which they give them to end the impressive first half of the day's events.

Ist Ist open up the second half of proceedings, not very fresh from an overnight journey from London (where they supported Embrace at Alexandra Palace) via Manchester and air traffic strike delays to Porto. They start with the dark brooding menace of Preacher's Warning and take us for a forty-five minute trip through early singles (Night's Arm, Silence) and tracks from their two EPs (I'm Not Here, Emily, Exist, Jennifer's Lips, Son Is The Father) and two new songs (Black and You're Mine) from their forthcoming debut album, now at a point where they leave out more than they have time for yet still getting exhilarating responses from crowds experiencing them for the first time.

They sound better every time they play, the intuition between the four of them down to hard work and having taken the time to develop their sound to this level. The songs nod to many of the bands they're tediously compared to, but they have their own life and character and stories behind them, delivered by Adam's deep baritone which conveys the importance of the words he's singing whilst their fuller emboldened sound has both power, but subtlety where you hear the separation. They connect automatically with the crowd tonight in a place that has a real feel for music from Manchester and the love in the room is palpable as their triumphant set draws to a close.

Hotel Lux are the evening's penultimate band, are another who have taken their time to develop their sound with their Barstool Preaching EP due out early next year and it feels an apt title for a band with a new single called Tabloid Newspaper and whose songs make references to the Berlin Wall, Mark E Smith during the course of their set and who finish with an extended version of a song called The Last Hangman.

Front man Lewis's vocal delivery is very much that of a story-teller rather than a traditional singer, half-sung, half-spoken narratives are the order of the day even when they share out vocal responsibilities as the set progresses. A new song called The Ballad Of You And I and this year's single English Disease are two of the stand-out tracks of a set that hits the ground running rather than building and which, like all of the acts today starts with an appreciative response that grows as they move through their set.

Exhaustion and fear of not being able to check into our hotel and being left out on the streets means we only catch the first twenty minutes of Esben And The Witch's set and they're powerful, potent and absorbing. Rachel and Thomas stand at either side of the stage with Daniel lost in a fog of smoke at the back. Dig Your Fingers In is epic and gripping, a huge sonic soundscape that they've made their trademark across five albums and which has the packed room that we leave behind us focused solely on the stage.

Bragolin are on Facebook and Twitter.

Okandi are on Facebook and Twitter.

Nerves are on Facebook and Twitter.

Ist Ist are on Facebook and Twitter.  The Sessions EP is available from the webstore.

Hotel Lux are on Facebook and Twitter.

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