Braga is a relatively small city nestled among mountains in north Portugal. With an abundance of churches it has a quaint feel, but a large student population lends it a youthful energy. While the summer months see big name bands and DJs storm the European festival circuit, experimental acts seem to linger around the continent during the autumn months for events like Krakow’s Unsound, Gateshead’s Tusk festival or Le Guess Who? in Utrecht. For eight years, Braga has proudly hosted a key event in this alternative festival season with Semibreve.
The majority of the daytime performances take place at the seated Theatro Circo venue, which is all red carpets and golden furnishings. The programming is relaxed, with short intervals punctuating a few evening sets. Portuguese duo Telectu open Friday with a sound palette of beautifully bright synths and glassy, repetitive guitar melodies. William Basinski then submerges the theatre with tranquil ambience, as orange and deep blue lights illuminate clouds of smoke and reflect off his black PVC outfit.
On Saturday, Canadian composer Sarah Davachi’s delicate drones are paired with footage of Buddhist monks provided by Portuguese visual artist Laetitia Morais, and later Theatro Circo is hushed by the quiet, melancholic power of Grouper. Sunday’s epic finale in the Theatro Circo is provided by Robin Fox, who churns out satisfyingly aggressive bass gurgles with the persistence of a pneumatic drill while syncronised lasers of varying colours form shapes above our heads.
Aside from the Theatro Circo venue, talks and workshops take place in the antiquated Casa Rolão building, which hosts a cosy book shop, and on Saturday afternoon a crowd gathers in a local monastery where Italian, Berlin-based musician Caterina Barbieri conjures up a composition on the Buchla 200. At its most euphoric, her composition faintly recalls the ‘pointilist’ trance of Lorenzo Senni.
The night programme takes place at the white-walled arts venue gneration, which acts as a club space. This feels like an important aspect of Semibreve. While Theatro Circo concerts are pleasant, the brief intervals do little to facilitate social interaction among festival attendees. And although Semibreve’s audience are here primarily for slow and experimental music, a good chunk of its younger ticket holders are well up for a dance.
After Actress teases rave snippets during a minimal and left-field set, on Friday night RP Boo delivers the intensity the crowd is craving. The footwork genius ties himself up in rhythmic knots of palpating kick drums and fluttering hi-hats, occasionally unleashing ghetto house bangers. And for those riled up by RP Boo’s set, there are a few late license bars and clubs in Braga where you can continue to chase the night.
It’s probably worth noting that Semibreve is a comparatively affordable festival, particularly for those used to attending events in the UK. This year a weekend ticket was €39, while a beer in a regular cafe is around one euro and a small coffee will cost you even less. If you’re looking for that collective euphoria festival-feeling, then Semibreve might feel too low-key. But if you’re looking to combine a festival with the experience of a city break, and if you’d appreciate some space to breathe and let all the music sink in, then you’ll likely feel fully content as you wander the streets of Braga.