Viana do Castelo, Portugal
If you’re a techno fan, Neopop may just be the best festival you’ve never heard of. If you’re not a techno fan, Neopop is not for you.
Held in the port of the Portuguese town of Viana Do Castelo, Neopop is barely known in the UK – which, depending on how you feel about the British invasion of the European festival scene, is either a good thing, or a very good thing. Originally called Antipop, the festival’s been running since 2006, although only in its current incarnation since 2009.
Held across two stages, Neopop boasts a heavyweight lineup. With a 10,000 capacity, artists skew towards big room techno titans like Loco Dice, Chris Liebing and Rødhåd rather than more experimental offerings, although Neopop did offer some surprises.
Arriving in Viana Do Castelo on Thursday night, I’m surprised by how much the town embraces the festival — leaflets pepper all the bars and cafés, the mayor’s hosting a reception, and there’s even an Art of Techno exhibition in the town museum. Taxi drivers are friendly; drinks are cheap; the sun is shining.
The festival runs from Thursday to Sunday afternoon – and I mean afternoon: the programming for this festival runs late. When I leave at 10am on Saturday, it’s still as rammed as it was nearly 12 hours earlier. On Sunday, the music finishes at noon – headliners Tale of Us don’t even start playing until 9.30am.
Moderat played one of their final live performances on the main Neo Stage before their upcoming indefinite hiatus early Thursday night. Opening with Ghostmother, the set was a moment of relative calm before Neopop thundered into full swing. Unfortunately both Jane Fitz and Maceo Plex suffered technical issues, although Fitz in particular handled hers masterfully. (I heard a rumour that Maceo Plex spilled a drink on his mixer during his set.) If anything, the mishap improved his performance – when he came back he played a loopy, extended breakbeat-flecked techno track that was one of the highlights of the evening.
But everyone was there to see one woman – and Crack cover star Helena Hauff did not disappoint. Bolstered by exceptional visuals and rich, clear sound, Hauff stormed through a predictably-electro heavy set, with a few squelchy acid bangers thrown in for good measure. The crowd ate it up. Over on the smaller, less commercial Anti Stage, DJ Bone delivered a technical master-class with little more than a mixer and two turntables.
Dance music legend Danny Tenaglia put in a varied set that was anything but heritage on Friday night, playing the occasional 90s club classic or a loopy, distended remix of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. But for me, the standout performance of the entire festival was Dr. Rubinstein’s intelligent, layered performance on the Anti Stage. Playing mostly acid-influenced techno, when she dropped Regal’s recent release on Involve, Rem, the crowd erupted. It was the most packed I’d seen the Anti Stage all weekend, and she seemed to be having a great time. Euphoric and sweaty, I headed over to the main stage to watch Speedy J finish with BConstruct’s Bring It, before Chris Liebing played a characteristically high-energy set. The sun came up just as Liebing played Radio Slave’s The Reverse, and the weather was properly scorching by the time Loco Dice played a raucous, dopamine-heavy set of techno banger after techno banger (like junk food, it was fun at the time, but gave you a headache afterwards.)
Slightly dazed and confused, I enjoyed Kraftwerk’s solemn, occasionally uplifting 3D performance on the main stage on Saturday night. While energy levels felt a bit flat – by now, the crowd was used to faster tempos – there’s no denying Kraftwerk’s incredible contribution to dance music.
At one point, the 3D screen behind Kraftwerk showed a spaceship window opening and a portal revealing the turning earth as if from outer space. We zoom in and the earth stops spinning, projecting the image of a UFO landing on the Neopop festival site. A cheer went up from the crowd. It was a fitting end to a weekend that put Neopop firmly on the international festival map.