Live Review: Portals Festival Day 2 ft. iLiKETRAiNS, Vodun, Codes in the Clouds, Poly-Math, Land Wars, A. A. Williams + Death & The Penguin

Having been wooed some way towards the ways of post-rock at day one of Tufnell Park fest Portals (review here), we arrive bleary-eyed and just about recovered from the previous night’s tinnitus in time to catch Death & The Penguin opening day two of the festival in the downstairs Boston Music Room stage.  Their sound puts me in mind of nineties alt-rockers Three Colours Red, which brings a nostalgic smile to my face, but despite the mix of mathy guitar lines and brooding bombast that characterise much of the set, it’s the punchy carnival parade drums of ‘Colour In Me’ that really shake the hangovers out of the fuzzy heads of those who’ve managed to drag themselves out of bed in time for the early afternoon start.


Having been shaken into life by our opening act it’s left to A. A. Williams on The Dome stage to lull us back into the world of dreams with a set of expansive, woozy Americana.  At times it’s beautiful, all open countryside and big starry skies, tinged with an aching melancholy, but as a set it becomes a little one-paced and we fall gently out of our initial reverie.


Over the road in the close confines of Aces & Eights, Land Wars couldn’t provide a greater contrast to the sedate majesty of the prior performance if they’d busted out a set of banging happy hardcore.  It’s perhaps for the best though they instead opt for half an hour of frantic math-rock instrumentals packed to the gills with stops and starts, twists and turns and a good dollop of humour from drummer Seán.  This is music with the complexity of jazz played with the energy of punk and Land Wars stand out as our favourite new discovery of the festival so far.

Back in The Dome we arrive to find black-clad Brighton quartet Poly-Math laying down a deep, undulating psych-prog groove with so much bottom end that the floor has started to vibrate.  The hypnotic drone is laced with squealing organ and a sea of entranced heads is bobbing along in time, mine included.  However, similarly to A. A. Williams’ earlier performance I find my attention wandering after one extended jam too many for a brain that’s been raised on 2 minute nosebleed punk and we head out through the double doors and down to the courtyard to grab some air.


Next on the agenda are Codes In The Clouds, who are celebrating the tenth anniversary of their debut album Paper Canyon with a vinyl re-release.  They play the album in its entirety, and it’s very much the sound that I’d been expecting to be the norm throughout this weekend; epic guitar-led post-rock instrumentals that gradually evolve from minimal twinkling to crashing crescendos.  It’s backed by video projections but I find the best way to enjoy it is to close my eyes and allow the sounds to lap at edge of my consciousness like an incoming tide.  I’m starting to think I might be getting the hang of this whole post-rock thing.


But then Vodun stride onto stage in full face paint, feathers and colourful prints and launch into a set that blows absolutely everything we’ve heard so far today out of the water.  Huge great big rock guitar, drumming that is tight and powerful and intricate without ever becoming invasive, and the earth shaking howl of frontwoman Chantal transport the packed Boston Music Rooms to another plane.  These are songs imbued with the spirits of their forebears but utterly of the moment, mixing equal parts heavy rock, psych, soul and West African rhythms.  They speak of struggle, of oppression and of revolution, and everyone’s invited to be part of it with a school music cupboard’s worth of percussive instruments shared amongst the front rows and everyone up on their feet and dancing, actually dancing, rather than the shuffly head nodding that usually passes for it at London gigs.

It takes a while to come down from that higher plane, and by the time I regain full control of my faculties epic indie favourites iLiKETRAiNS have already built up a head of steam, driving on with a set of laser-focussed metronomic post-punk that implores us to question everything and to expect better than the political classes are currently providing.  Their trip-wire tight sound is perfectly positioned at the intersection of the Venn diagram representing Portals’ expansive post-rock perambulations and the economy of movement favoured within my indie/punk comfort zone.  And as David Martin preaches a hundred definitions of “the truth”, casting each on a prompt card into the grasping hands of the crowd, I realise that far from the epic quest into an unknown wilderness that I’d braced myself for on setting out on Saturday morning, Portals had felt more like popping round to the neighbours for a cup of tea and a catch up, and on balance, that was a very good thing indeed.

Review and photography by Paul Maps


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