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Portals FestivalThe Dome - Tufnell Park, London, UK
11th September 2021
Portals Festival 2021 with Jo Quail, Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster, Vasa, Luo, Big Lad, Hyena Kill

Portals is a festival that has been going for a few years now, since 2018 I think. Another music nugget within the fibres of the London music calendar that up until this year’s event I’d never heard of. What you get at a Portals event is a mixture of the weird, the experimental, the mathematical and last and by no means least, Post Punk. Events are put on at various events around London including The Black Heart Camden, The Olde Blue Last in Shoreditch and The Dome in Tufnell Park.

This festival is stretched out over the weekend and bands play on both the Dome main stage, the smaller stage at The Boston Music Room next door and at the Aces and Eights venue just over the road. So, at least you can leave the environs of the main venue, stretch your legs, do a bit of shopping, maybe go home for a change of clothes, if you live in the area that is. My experience of the festival was a short one. I attended the Saturday bill because many of the bands that played on Sunday I’d seen the previous weekend at The Wave Before The Kick In The Chest Festival in Leeds. And I didn’t stay until the end but there was a lot to see in the short space of time, so here goes...

Jo Quail

Her usual ebullient self. On top form. The room was near full for the set with more people trickling in as the set progressed. ‘Rex’, ‘Gold’, ‘Mandrel Cantus’, ‘South West Night’ and ‘Forge’ were included in the short set and as I walked around I saw many heads bobbing, backsides wiggling and feet tapping to the music as the layers were built up by Jo using her Boss Looper. Whether a connoisseur of her music or a newcomer, the crowd showed their appreciation for this humble performer throughout the set which ended with ‘Forge’. ‘Forge’ ended abruptly, she didn’t have an ending. Not to worry though, it was a good set, I just wish she’d play further up the billing, that’s all.

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Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster

The band is named after a bridge in Washington State that fell to bits in 1940 continued the Instrumental theme with rock in the vein of IF THESE TREES COULD TALK... It’s groovy, thoughtful and considered. Words don’t seem adequate to express what’s going on here. This is more of a “feel” experience for the audience. My first experience wasn’t bad, definitely going to check these guys out further...

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Next up is Glasgow four-piece, VASA. Well, these guys didn’t sink within minutes of launch. More Instrumental rock this time with 6-string bass played by a face contorting bassist. The bass gives the sound a bit more breadth and to me is heavy on the method, I don’t have any musical signposts to latch on to at the moment which is no bad thing, I’m not constantly going “This sounds like so n so”. You know that feeling when you have a thought on the tip of your tongue but it won’t come? This is what I feel when I listen to VASA. After a while I just let the music seep through me on its own merits. Not bad at all.

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Following on from Vasa we have a Brighton-Bristol based duo by the name of LUO. I wonder how they came upon that name? If you like to plunge into an exploration of mood with contrasts of textures suffused with proggy particles a la PINK FLOYD, TANGERINE DREAM or RICK WAKEMAN then this is the band for you. The sound is considered and thoughtful. I’m not sure what I think of them to be honest but in the moments in between taking photos where I could listen with more attention I found myself floating in the hot wax inside a lava lamp… I have nothing else to add at this juncture.

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Big Lad

BIG LAD was a Live drum techno with an early PRODIGY vibe to it. Very manic. Early 90s rave rejigged and fiddled with for the 21st century. Again, sans words, let the music do the talking. Hmmm, they were not really my cup of tea to be honest, nothing really connected. The packed in crowd liked them though. Many heads thrashed about facilitating Sunday morning aches and strains and legions of arms punched the air. Some sections of tracks did perk my interest, interesting drum patterns and fill interspersed with the synths but other than that, I’ll pass. Next?

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Hyena Kill

The HYENA KILL are the first band I’ve seen today with actual words. The sound is aggressive, especially in the drums. The guitar player is having a fit playing his guitar. He bends over and thrashes his instrument whilst contorting his face like he’s just stepped on a live cable. The sound is alternatively punchy and wiry and the sound gyrates in between the dark bases of trees whilst piercing strings of light poke holes in the shadows. They sound like THE CRAMPS near the end of the set. ‘Googoo Muck’? Also are they channelling THEATRE OF HATE and RADIOHEAD?

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That’s it for me, I’m aurally worn out as I’ve been pounded for over three hours now (Nudge Nudge Wink Wink). It’s time for a change of pace. In conclusion, I enjoyed that! The Dome is a great venue that is near to all forms of public transport and it’s near to where I live so suffice to say it’s convenient. The roster was choreographed to the second with no hiccups and tech problems. Manoeuvring oneself around the venue was an easy process. You had to have a Covid passport to get in which I reluctantly acquired. At least my paper based passport wasn’t scanned into a database. All around the venue there were sanitation stations and for the most part people used them. Even if there was not a Covid pandemic these stations should be permanent fixtures, why they weren’t beforehand I don’t know but that is a question for another day.

What else can I say? Oh yes, food, there was hot and cold food of the meaty and the veggie kind on sale in the open area. I didn’t try any but going by the aromas that wafted around I’m sure the taste was just as good. One gripe: I ordered a pint of coke with a dash of pale ale in it and I was charged £7. Seven bloody pounds for a pint of coke with a dash! I pint of lager was around five quid, how in the hell are they justifying seven quid for a coke? No wonder people drink! Non-alcoholic drink provisions in a lot of venues are dire, unimaginative or non-existent. But anyway, this was a good festival! Oh, and all the bands came from either Leeds, London, Bristol or Brighton.

All pictures by ©CimmerianPhotography

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