New Music From Portugal
There’s a beautiful noise coming out of Passos Manuel stage, a well known movie theatre in Oporto, Portugal’s second town. The Calhau! duo is playing their joyful mixture of noise and movie/cartoon references using a turntable, an amplified water recipient, cracked pianos and an old doll. Working together since April 2006, they’ve already got three CD-R and lots of live shows – they love the immediacy and the work-in-progress ethos.
Calhau! played in Passos Manuel in April, sharing the bill with Manta Rota, a band that shares members of numerous acts. Africa and krautrock are present in the group’s musical lexicon.
They’re two of the great acts Portuguese “outrock” (in lack of a better term) has generated in the past two years. Since 2005, the number of bands doing adventurous, noisy and/or free, improvised music has risen. This would be bollocks and worthless if the bands sucked. But they don’t. And some of them are creating music that should get out of this corner of Europe.
Julian Cope’s beloved Loosers are pioneers of this underground “movida”. They started in 2004 as a neo-post-punk band, in the vein of early Liars, but eventually evolved to a more personal and questioning trio, following the freedom lessons of bands like Sunburned Hand of the Man or Gang Gang Dance. Their ritualistic shows are never the same, even though they’re not your typical all-freak-out band – they don’t fear rocking to a stoner riff, for example. Expect some records from them this year on such great labels as Faderbyheadz, Eclipse, and Release the Bats.
Lots of these Portuguese bands recognize that seeing one of the Loosers shows made them want to do music and release it in DIY editions. It seemed that their example was the sparkle that made a certain number of people play adventurous music and, very important, show it. CD-R and internet labels (like Test Tube and Merzbau) helped, but I would point at Galeria Zé dos Bois as being the one responsible for presenting artists like Ben Chasny, No-Neck Blues Band, The Skaters, Chris Corsano and many others to Portuguese musicians.
Tiago Miranda from Loosers, who is also a DJ, also plays on Gala Drop, a trio he shares with Nelson Gomes (Manta Rota) and Afonso Simões (an enormous drummer, member of Phoebus, Manta Rota, Fish & Sheep, Curia, etc.). Spectral drones and dubby atmospheres are the “plat du jour” of this band – expect a CD on American Grizzly soon.
Besides Loosers and Gala Drop, there are some other bands that already were exposed to international audiences. One of them is Fish & Sheep, an incredible bass-drums duo that unites Afonso Simões and Jorge Martins. Imagine a mix between guitar walls of noise in Fushitsusha’s vein with Chris Corsano-style drums. Beautiful live shows.
Jorge Martins also plays in Frango. They were a trio but with Jorge’s moving to the USA, they’re now a duo. “Whole Hit Bloomer” (2005) is one of the best Portuguese records in the past years – it’s drone-y, ritualistic, a fire of noisy and textural sounds; it doesn’t sound like nothing else I know. They’re like an advanced, unique and spectral vision of space rock.
Rui Dâmaso, from Frango, also plays alone as PCF Moya, influenced by guitarists such as Loren Connors. Check out “Untitled/God Slot”
(free download). A really special acoustic guitar player is Norberto Lobo. He’ll have a record coming out soon on Bor Land, a cool Portuguese indie label, but you can already check his MySpace
to listen to his appropriation of Carlos Paredes (the greatest Portuguese guitar player of all time) and John Fahey guitar speeches.
The Frango guys are behind Searching Records, a great CD-R label, and Out.Fest, an annual festival in Barreiro, their hometown which is near Lisbon. This year Out.Fest’s featured bands were Wolf Eyes, Aki Onda, Samara Lubelski, among others. Another label to be followed is Ruby Red, run by Tiago from Loosers – they’ve just released a Foxy Digitalis favourite, Valerio Cosi’s CD-R and will release A Band (they’re back!), Michael Yonkers and other fabulous musicians.
Tropa Macaca has just released the Marfim LP at Ruby Red. They’re a duo from Santo Tirso, near Oporto that works with some electronics and guitar, building a sound that resembles Black Dice in their most aggressive form.
Caveira, another duo, will also have a Ruby Red record. They remind me of early Comets on Fire and Boris if they improvised on stage, despised structures and feared repeating a riff. It’s a hyperactive and deconstructed style of really loud blues that works really well live. And to end the “duos chapter”, I have to mention Osso (experimental black metal mixed with noise – check out their EP called “Solto”
) and Lobster, highly addictive math/noise rock that reminds me of Lightning Bolt with a hardcore edge (here, you can download their album, “Fast Seafood”
There are other artists that are also contributing to this nice ambience for adventurous music, like Josué O Salvador Em Busca da Perdição (like Acid Mothers Temple or Boris). And some of them have been in this for a long time, like Soopa –a free jazz/electronics/noisy collective that has connections with Radon and Steve Mackay—Sei Miguel and Rafael Toral, with their unique visions of jazz, and Manuel Mota, an inventive guitar player well known in other parts of the world.
The fact is that when this article gets published there will probably be some great new stuff happening – that’s the beauty of this fresh and young scene.
Pictures from top to bottom: 1- Loosers (no credit) 2- Gala Drop (Carlos Oliveira) 3- Frango (Ana Sofia Marques) 4- Lobster (Ana Sofia Marques) 5- Caveira (Ana Sofia Marques)
-- Pedro Rios (26 June, 2007)