So, it’s now a week on from Portals Festival 2022, and there are still moments that are still sinking in. In part, because I’m in my forties, and it takes longer to process things these days, and in part, because I’m still coming to terms with some of the absolutely incredible performances I witnessed, during my two-day jaunt in ‘the big smoke’ (aka London).
For those of you who have no awareness of Portals Festival, then firstly, why not, and secondly, did you not read my review of last year’s Portals? I mean, its right here, on The Sleeping Shaman, in all it’s glory!
Ok, so here’s a quick recap, in case you are still oblivious…
Portals is a two-day event, a mix of math, post, doom, and sludge rock, but then its also so much more too. The home of experimental alternative music, it caters for such a wide demographic of the alternative music scene, that to truly list everything would probably take up the remainder of this review.
It is, in my experience, the most stress free, friendly, and welcoming event that I have been part of in my now thirty-plus years of attending live music. The environment is so laid back, that at times, it does leave you wondering if its an actual music event, or more just a massive group of friends, coming together to play some music, and have an incredible shared experience equally.
So, over the course of the two days, just as with any event with multiple bands and stages, there will be overlaps, and bands that you just won’t get time to see. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Doctor Strange, and be in multiple places all at the same time. With this in mind, prioritising ‘must see’ bands against ‘vaguely interested’ requires military precision, and so, armed with my pre planned list, I entered the doors, to start my second time at Portals.
Recognising some familiar faces, and a warm welcome will always win the day for me, so a chance to reconnect with event organisers Asher, Sam, and Arran was absolutely wonderful. It truly made it feel like coming home.
Knowing the industry, and the way events can be, the setup for this event is when one band finishes, five minutes later the next band starts. It gives you time to travel between venues, without missing any bands, and even leaves time to get prepared for each new band hitting the stage.
For me, this time, my list consisted of nine bands on Saturday, and ten on Sunday. It was a strong plan, times, venues, bands, all listed. What I didn’t prepare for was fate, and that familiar festival issue where you still need to stop to refresh, and sometimes you will miss a band, or catch an unexpected surprise, who aren’t on your list.
For me, this year threw up a couple of complete curveballs, and some real nice discoveries too.
After catching For Breakfast open proceedings, it was swiftly followed by Upcdownc setting The Dome alight. I caught a brief glimpse of FES bringing the party to the Boston Music Room, but Saturday afternoon my heart belonged to CLT DRP. The Brighton trio wasted no time in picking up where they left off last year’s Portals, and with the upgrade from Boston Music Room to The Dome, they were on fire. Every bit as visceral as last time, the energy in the room was electric. Confrontational and pummeling, CLT DRP are one of those bands you don’t dare turn away from.
Jardín De La Croix had the task of following CLT DRP on The Dome’s stage, and though completely different in style, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the musicianship and intensity of their set. Completely new to me, I’m so happy I caught them, as they left no doubt on just how phenomenal a band they are.
Codices were next on my list, and this was one of the absolute ‘must see’ on my list. The band, if you don’t know them, is two parts the event organisers, and the remainder are assistants for the event, who form the four-piece. Now, since last year’s Portals, and then reviewing the Codices album Vivid, I have developed a little space in my heart for this band, so to not have seen them would have been an absolute travesty. I’m so glad I was pretty much ‘front row seat’ for the set, as it was electric. Having only the album for reference, live Codices are equally as incredible. Technically wonderful, and entertaining as hell to watch, it was truly warming to see such a passionate performance.
After a break to eat, I picked up again with False Advertising. The three-piece were as entertaining as they were powerful to watch, and mid set there was a swap of instruments, and things took off again, with the minimum of fuss. Hard to really pigeonhole, elements of Riot Grrrl was in the mix, as too was some grunginess to keep things solid.
The rest of my evening was spent experiencing bands who were all out of my comfort zone, but hey, it was Saturday night, and Teeth Of The Sea really brought the party, in a way that just shows how diverse Portals really is. Dance infused prog and tech elements was as interesting to watch as it was to hear, and it left me on a real high for Sunday.
Sunday was the day that I was pumped for this time around. Many names on the list, a lot to see, and a real mixed bag of acts indeed. After catching In Violet open the day, I headed up to The Dome to see for myself a band that I had only really even known the name of. To say that this band blew my tiny mind is a bit of an understatement, as they were absolutely incredible to witness. That band is The St. Pierre Snake Invasion, and they literally tore the venue a new rear with their performance. Hardcore post-rock may not be everyone’s cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon, but mother of God were they on fire. A blistering performance, every moment like a kick in the face. For me, the absolute golden nugget of the whole festival.
Gilmore Trail were next up, and with my ears still ringing, I made a point of getting in on these guys as quickly as I could. In the front, watching them perform was an absolute joy. The set was geared up for the new release Impermanence, and as it was played through, the uber cool post-rock stylings, akin to God Is An Astronaut and Explosions In The Sky, calmed my soul after the previous set had set my blood racing.
Then came the performance I had been looking forward to, even before the festival started, and that was T.E. Morris and Jo Quail, performing a one-off set for their collaboration album For The Benefit Of All. I knew this was going to be something really special, and I wasn’t wrong at all. For the next forty minutes, I was taken away completely, by a performance so hypnotic, that it was breathtaking. The combination of the electronic soundscapes and soundbites, interlaced with Jo’s, as always, stellar cello performance felt like being part of watching art be created. Watching two musicians working at polar opposites of the musical spectrum, and yet coming together so eloquently was mind-blowing.
By the time the evening came round, after taking stock of what a day it had already been, I stepped into the world of Press To Meco. Like a post-rock Blink 182, their upbeat party time vibe was infectious, and it could be felt throughout the whole room. Not my usual go to, I embraced the adventure and went along for the ride.
Boss Keloid headlined the Boston Music Room, with what can only be described as the hardest rocking set of the whole of Portals Festival 2022. As a name I’ve seen posted about a lot in my time, I don’t know how I’ve missed them before, but now I’m firmly on the train, and it’s an absolute rollercoaster. As crushing as they are entertaining, the band wasted no time in throwing out their Clutch style grooves, and it was clear that the whole room was on fire. Interacting with the crowd, the band, and the audience feeling as one with each other, Boss Keloid did an absolutely marvelous job of bringing the stage to its rightful climax.
Then all that was left was to head back to The Dome to catch PG Lost bring Portals to its knees with an absolutely mind-numbing performance to close the show. The Swedish post-rock goliaths stormed through a blistering set, and they were the perfect end to an absolutely incredible couple of days at the nicest, most alternative little festival that’s out there in 2022.
Post covid, the fact that Portals, and more so its organisers, and equally its staff, can still be able to put this kind of event on is nothing short of a godsend. Hopefully, looking forward, Portals 2023 will take place, and be an even bigger triumph than the last two have already been.
In this time of uncertainty, with bands, venues, and festivals, struggling to move past the damage of the last couple of years, the success of Portals is a true testament to the music, the musicians, and people still willing to take a chance on live music. Long may it live, evolve, and provide an outlet for us to come together, and truly experience something wonderful that we can share with each other…
Jardín De La Croix
The St. Pierre Snake Invasion
T.E. Morris & Jo Quail
Press To Meco
Words & Photos by: Lee Beamish