As much as we love summer, the depthless glut of limp-wristed terrace parties that go with it are bringing us down before the S.A.D’s even had a chance to work it’s bleak, wintery magic. So the opportunity to whizz off to Portugal, avoid the sun as much as possible and go in search of some dank industrial techno was a pretty appealing one.
Across three days in the spectacular venue of the Montemo-o-Velo castle (apparently older than Portugal itself) as well as opening and closing parties in a provincial club nearby, Forte Festival played host to some of the biggest and gnarliest names that techno has to offer.
The opening night in the club was something of a Pan-American showcase, as LA’s Developer and NYC’s Adam X got things started right, with Spain’s Adriana Lopez representing the Iberian contingent. Unfortunately our flight schedule meant we missed this one, but a member of the festival team went as far as to say that Lopez “kicked his ass” until 8am, which is as big-of-an-up as you can hope to get when talking techno.
Arriving on the first day of the festival proper, we headed straight to the site to catch the inaugural outdoor performance of Robert Henke’s pioneering Lumiere II laser-and-sound show. Shooting four unbelievably powerful lasers (like, Goldfinger powerful) over our heads and onto a screen spanning the width and height of the festival stage, what unfolded was a dizzying, dazzling, display of white-hot vector light, paralleling Henke’s musical accompaniment as it twisted from pensive ambientscapes to staccat(echn)o and back again. Probably the most complete, engrossing and overwhelming audio-visual performance we’ve seen to date.
Paul Kalkbrenner directly followed Lumiere, and highlighted the only real issue with the festival – that some of the booking choices seemed to contradict the overall vibe that Forte was trying (and more for the most part, succeeding) to foster. Kalkbrenner was overwhelmingly proggy, and while there were moments of melodic joyousness, he felt a little out of place among the headier acts.
Acts like Gaiser, and to an extent, Extrawelt (who started strongly before descending swiftly into posh-trance), seemed like odd and out of date choices compared to the daring, envelope-pushing artists that made up the majority of the festival. Listening to Gaiser’s set was what I imagine staring into a black hole would be like – hard to believe something still exists despite dying years ago. However, Forte’s one-stage approach forces you to listen to and engage with these artists, which, regardless of your feelings about the music is certainly an interesting exercise. It’s also a damning reminder that this music is still terrifyingly popular, and that just because it doesn’t fill the front page of RA / FACT like it used to, it still exists in its own enormous parallel universe.
As for our highlights, Dominick Fernow’s manifested his Vatican Shadow alias in a vicious, violent and joyous display of energy and ecstatic catharsis. It’s an AV performance of a different kind, with Fernow spending just as much time in front of his equipment writhing and thrashing and bellowing as he did ripping through his live set of surprisingly melodic (but still tough-as-fuck) techno constructions. Luke Slater’s Plantary Assault Systems show pummelled, Regis bought the trippy, heads-down vibes and Ellen Allien confounded with weird, acidic textures.
The inclusion of Ben Klock and Marcel Dettmann was an interesting one. By programming the King and King of techno on the same stage, at the same time, in the same weather, on consecutive nights made for an interesting comparison – who could do it better. Dettmann was up first, and as the grey dawn made it’s first festival appearance, his relentlessly monochromatic set, though certainly suiting the fuzzy 9am environment, did little to enliven the long-standing crowd. The following morning, Klock’s set was more urgent, playful and entertaining. Between wearing a sailor’s hat and signing a “BEN KLOCK #1” emblazoned football shirt for a super fan, his forays into lighter fare (Rob Hood’s now-classic Never Grow Old being the big one) leant a lighter, brighter edge to the coming day, and rebooted the still-heaving throng till the bitter end.
And then, obviously, there was Front 242. The seminal EBM band delivered a set that was in turns aggressive, pompous, political, kitsch and overwhelmingly camp. An impressive display from a band who seem to have lost little of the fire that fuelled them over two decades ago.
As an example of a festival that believes in its acts, its venue and its crowd, Forte is hard to beat. The one-stage policy, inviting attendees to embrace, or at least give a chance, to artists they may have otherwise overlooked was a great touch (the slamming live set from Barcelonians NX1 being a particularly strong case for something that may otherwise have gone unnoticed). And plonking that stage inside a monolithic castle, splaying consistently engaging, otherworldly visuals across its walls and not ripping anyone off in the process proves that belief goes a long way. Forte proved to be a unique event that showcased techno in the most effective of ways.