Castelo Santiago da Barra, Viana do Castelo
For the first time in 13 years at Neopop Festival, it rained. In Viana do Castelo, a port city on the wild coastlines of Portugal’s Costa Verde where the four-day techno event took place, precipitation during high summer usually hovers below three centimetres. Quick-on-their-feet organisers confronted the stroke of bad luck (in the form of improbable inclement weather and whipping winds) with gusto, erecting aircraft hangar-like tents over the two Neo and Anti stages. The crowd uniform may have been a free rain poncho that fluttered like a flag of surrender in the Atlantic breeze, but, even in spite of this, morale seemed high.
At the opening concert, British duo Underworld performed with enough zeal to rouse any dampened spirits. The jumbo screens, arranged in triptych on the stage, depicted singer Karl Hyde earnestly head bobbing in real time to dance classics Rez flowing into track Cowgirl through a kaleidoscopic filter. By the time their famed Trainspotting anthem Born Slippy .NUXX rang out its first iconic chords, punters were already clutching their hearts in nostalgia. This, in combination with the green light illuminating the layers of rain just outside the Neo stage, was no short of an MDMA rush moment.
Highlights from the remaining days included live sets by Dasha Rush, a lesson on stripped back four-to-the-floor mesmerism; Wata Igarashi, whose twisted-out techno psychedelia provided a welcome break from the more industrial fare; and KiNK, no doubt the most enthusiastic of the bunch. The Bulgarian performer brought his synthesiser out to the front of the Neo stage like a kid at classroom show-and-tell, and amused the 8AM crowd with his exaggerated facial expressions and key fiddling.
Ever-artful DJ sets from the American Midwest caucus – Minneapolis’ genre purist DVS1 and Detroit’s gold standard Jeff Mills – served as the proverbial cherry on top of Neopop’s all-star billing, which also included acts as Ben Klock, Richie Hawtin and Laurent Garnier, who refused to step down from his 12PM closing slot and led audiences into a last-call frenzy of festival calisthenics late into the afternoon hours.
While the line-up consisted of some of the mightiest of techno titans it was also a bill you could arguably find anywhere along Europe’s summer circuit. What makes Neopop sui generis is undoubtedly its surrounding location. A 15-minute walk from the main grounds along narrow, cobbled streets leads to the Teatro Municipal Sá de Miranda. For two days, this charming neoclassical venue, painted rosy pink on the outside, played host to duo Nonotak’s light/sound manipulations and Aïsha Devi’s tribute to a full throttle DMT trip on the inside.
Neopop Festival warmly welcomes distant travellers into their “capital of techno,” an admittedly shaky claim when compared to other Portuguese cities in the running, but make no mistake; it’s the bill that draws them in and Viana do Castelo’s Old World appeal that keeps them captivated – rain or shine.