Live Review: Portals Festival Day 1 ft. Mclusky + Salt The Snail, Tayne, The Guru Guru, Theo, itoldyouiwouldeatyou

Post, Math and Experimental rock have always been genres that I’ve felt that I should like, that I’ve always wanted to like – after all I’ve fancied myself quite the deep-thinking, open-minded intellectual since my mid-teens – but I’d yet to find a way in; it’s always seemed too far from my preferred ends of the scale from punk to metal, from blues to jazz.  With that in mind the prospect of spending two days in a trio of Tufnell Park venues with more than 30 proponents of the genres filled me with equal measures of excitement and foreboding.

However as I make my way past the jocular security guard and down the stairs to the Boston Music Room things are looking promising.  For a start, opening act itoldyouiwouldeatyou are signed to uber-indie DIY heroes Alcopop! Records, which is almost invariably a good sign.  And true to form the exquisite complexities of their math-rock foundations are matched by an ear for a melody and a decent dollop of good humour, making them an ideal entry point for an anxious interloper such as myself.


Twin venues The Dome and Boston Music Rooms have recently been setting themselves up as North London’s top space for multi-stage all-dayers, with the likes of Loud Women Fest and Top of the Alcopops having made the trudge up and down the stairs that link them a familiar one, but Portals has added a third venue, Aces & Eights – just a quick jaunt across a spider-legged junction, into the mix and it’s here that we find our next act Theo crafting intricate layers of guitar through a loop pedal before shouldering his instrument and taking a seat at the drumkit, crashing out rhythms like miniature galaxies just a few feet from our entranced gazes in this intimate space.


Over in The Dome, Belgian art-punks The Guru Guru are thundering their way through a set of high energy garage-psych surrealism.  Frontman Tom Adriaenssens appears to be wearing a t-shirt with his own face on it and he holds us in the palm of his hand throughout, jabbering and gesticulating like he’s auditioning for Jack Nicholson’s role in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.  This is much more within my usual comfort zone than what’s come before, with traces of Half Japanese’s fantastical humour and Art Brut’s anecdotal songwriting far more pronounced than any faint echoes of Slint or Godspeed You Black Emperor.


Back over the road at Aces and Eights, Tayne are blasting our eardrums with industrial strength electro noise.  It’s a formidable torrent of sound, which is never going to be to everyone’s taste, but provides the most ferocious sonic assault of the day so far.


Following on at Aces & Eights, Cheshire quartet Salt The Snail are about as far as possible from the chin-stroking fifteen minute drone endurance tests that I’d feared before arriving today.  Two bubble machines fill the enclosed space with soapy blobs, the setlist is decided by throwing mushrooms with the song titles written in marker pen into the audience and one crowd member wins a pineapple.  Meanwhile the band crash through a set of frenetic post-hardcore rants, with the singer spending as much time in the crowd as onstage, disappearing sporadically to the adjacent bar, with each song brought to a sudden halt by the guitarist’s deadpan intonation “that’s all there is of that one”.  I expected to be challenged this weekend.  I expected to be intrigued, entranced, maybe even transported.  I did not expect to be having this much fun.


All of which provides the perfect lead-up to the moment that I’ve been waiting for since first laying eyes on the Portals line-up.  It’s been fifteen years since I last saw Mclusky, a band whose song gave this website its name and who are at least partially responsible for my having given up most of my spare time for the best part of two decades doing this.

Which of course, as with all reunions of much cherished bands of our youth, leaves massive potential for disappointment.  What if they’ve lost it?  Even worse, what if they weren’t ever as good as my over-excited twenty year old brain made them out to be?  Mclusky, made up in their current form of original frontman Andrew ‘Falco’ Falkous, drummer Jack Egglestone and Damian Sayell on loan from Saint Pierre Snake Invasion on bass and swearing duties, blow away any doubts within the first few bars.

The band are in the company of friends, with every satire-barbed lyric and Malcom Tucker-grade profanity screamed back at them from a tangle of flailing limb in the front rows.  We get songs from across their three albums, with the odd favourite b-side and non-album single thrown in for good measure.  Falco is every bit as scathingly misanthropic as ever between songs, proclaiming ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’ his Gran’s favourite Mclusky song, while new recruit Sayell hands his bass to Falco & Egglestone’s Future of the Left bandmate Julia Ruzicka (who I later realise is the first female musician we’ve seen onstage today), before walking out on to the outstretched hands of the crowd for a storming ‘Chases’.

They end with a triumphant ‘To Hell With Good Intentions’ echoing around the cavernous Dome, the 20 year old and 38 year old parts of my brain united in absolute joy at seeing a band who have become so integral to what I’ve come to expect from the music I love still absolutely smashing it live.


With my head still swimming with so many long-dormant memories it’s hardly fair to ask London indie-rockers Tellison to follow on, and after a few songs of what was most probably perfectly good indie punk rock that failed to dent the impermeable bubble that had formed around me, a quiet exit into the Tufnell Park evening seemed best for all involved.

My morning fears having been proven utterly misplaced and my head still swimming after Mclusky’s set, I take the lift down to the Northern Line wondering what tomorrow’s line-up will bring to push me further down the path of post-rock.

Review and Photography by Paul Maps


  1. there definitely weren’t enough women on the lineup but hypophora and slow crush were fronted by women tbf!

    1. Unfortunately I didn’t catch their sets – definitely more female musicians to come in part two of the review too.

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