Right now life is good for Ilidio Chaves and the Soniculture crew. Festival Forte has found itself sitting pretty in a recent piece on Resident Advisor’s best festivals this August, alongside heavy weight competition from Dimensions and Dekmantel. It’s not hard to see why; the stunning locale – the castle of Montemor-o-Velho in Portugul’s Coimbra region – provides a breathtaking backdrop to a keenly curated techno event. If the setting wasn’t enough to put Festival Forte on the Inverted Audio radar, then featuring performances from Robert Henke’s Lumiere II and industrial innovators Front 242 registered a particularly weighty blip.
It is an enviable position to be in, picking the finest in the contemporary techno scene and slotting into the line-up for a few days of hedonism – here, under his pseudonym of Expander. However, it is this event that is putting Portugal on the map as a clubbing destination. With a rich heritage from scene luminaries Underground Sound Of Lisbon and the Kaos collective, the country has probably slipped in visibility since those oh-so-trippy 90’s excursions.
With the launch of the festival looming, we took a chance to catch up with Ilidio and hear the story behind the festival and get a small window into the scene that is being set. This appears in tandem with an Expander mix, showcasing the scapel sharp techno you can expect to hear at the event.
"Music needs to be important again and people should be motivated by rich content, wanting to live new experiences and learn new things"
Tell us a little bit of history behind Festival Forte, how did this event come about?
Festival Forte came about as a response to a certain kind of emptiness that can be sensed around the dance culture of current days. A feeling of frustration combined with the obligation to comply with standards gave way to a very strong belief that it is time for a change.
Music needs to be important again and people should be motivated by rich content, wanting to live new experiences and learn new things, as opposed to watching the same headliners play at almost every festival, over and over again.
One of the most attractive things about Festival Forte is the pinpoint focus on techno. A lot of festivals fall into the trap of trying to pick every big name of every genre under the sun. Was this something that was at the forefront of your mind when setting up Festival Forte?
We want to build an event that focuses mainly on quality and promote emerging genres. It is a fact that having big names seems to be the only concern for many promoters, who are not willing to take risks and are not open to bet on new artists that deserve to be shown on the world’s biggest stages. They just book names, in a horizontal fashion, that they know will fill up dance arenas.
Festival Forte aims to strive away from this and is set to focus mainly on art, a principal that seems to have been lost over these years. Of course there are big names on the lineup, however the reason why they got there is due to their enormous talent and their passion that still endures, that put them in their well-deserved place in the spotlight.
I want to believe that people will come to the festival because of its boldness, its content and also the attention to fine details that at the end make all the difference. Many think that I am out of my mind in thinking this way…it does take a lot of courage, but at the end, the satisfaction of having it made possible and feeling a general appreciation for what has happened is way better than having my pockets full of money.
"Festival Forte aims to strive away from this and is set to focus mainly on art, a principal that seems to have been lost over these years."
The setting is obviously stunning, how did you end up deciding on the castle as a venue?
Well, apart from being a landmark in Portugal’s national heritage it has the right size for a festival with this kind of attitude, holding a maximum capacity of 5000 people. It is also extremely beautiful and geographically, it couldn’t be in a better place, sitting in the center of the country, close to land and to the sea (which is only 10 minutes away) and is directly connected to the highway, so there is no need to travel through secondary roads.
It is also equidistant from Lisbon and Porto airports which are only 2 hours away. On the other hand, it was the birthplace of the Portuguese dance scene, hosting the first raves that took place in the nineties. Now, decades have passed and we return as organizers in a whole new different context but with a similar goal, which is to enjoy music with enormous intensity. It looks like a pattern of life where one begins in a place and ends up being there again, many years after, thus closing the cycle.
"Preserving human values and having huge respect for everyone involved is without a doubt a strong characteristic of this Festival."
How have the locals received the event? It is quite the juxtaposition: cutting edge techno set against culture and history.
The locals are super excited. The maturity and civism of our crowd, helps a lot in their relationship with the community during the event. Also, they are actively working for the festival by contributing directly as part of the staff or indirectly providing commerce that is boosted a lot during the days when it takes place.
Villagers are also very warm and welcome visitors with huge hearts. At the end, I feel touched to see how they are so happy with what has happened and that it was the result of the contribution of all. Preserving human values and having huge respect for everyone involved is without a doubt a strong characteristic of this Festival.
"Decades have passed and we return as organizers in a whole new different context but with a similar goal, which is to enjoy music with enormous intensity."
Robert Henke hosted a lecture earlier in this year as part of the lead up to his Lumiere II debut, do you often do a lot of work within the community outside of the event?
I used to be a scientist in the University working a lot with technology, so I have always been tightly related to academics. Also, in our organization, we have SONICLAB, which is a creative electronic laboratory that is made out of researchers in several areas of sound and vision.
There are many interesting projects on our portfolio with very innovative ideas. Robert’s show is so advanced that we thought that it would be perfect to have him explain his concept at the University of Fine Arts. The result was astounding, a theatre filled with interested students eager to learn and that replied with a huge ovation at the end of his lecture.
Portugal was very well known for the Underground Sound Of Lisbon / KAOS vibe throughout the nineties but how is the scene nowadays
As stated above, the scene passed by the castle at that time and it was really special. Meanwhile, things changed not only in Portugal, but everywhere and I can say that what happened here stands in parallel to what happened in other countries such as England, Spain and Germany. Portugal has always been a kind of special place for these events and still is. The legacy still continues in the hearts of this generation.
"Portugal has always been a kind of special place for these events and still is. The legacy still continues in the hearts of this generation."
You’ve been featured recently as one of the top festivals worldwide to go to in August, do you feel that 2015 is the point where you’ve reached a tipping point?
I feel incredibly honoured about it, especially considering that this is only the second year. The fact that a festival of this nature has been so well received means that it can be possible to take all of these risks and assume such an alternative standpoint because there are interested people that are willing to support you. Now that the bar is high, we will have to meet our public’s expectations so our challenge now is to create an unbelievable atmosphere and this is what we work for, every day.
The wonderful thing about hosting a festival is getting to pick and choose from your favourite acts. It would obviously be a little like trying to pick a favourite child but who are you particularly looking forward to checking out once your set is done?
I am pleased to say that I favour all acts because they were chosen for a special reason. Being so passionate about music I keep on imagining the incredible things that we will see with this whole showcase of the past, present and future.
We have the debut of Front 242 in Portugal who were so important for the development of electronic dance music, then we will witness the state of the art with advanced audio visual shows such as the ones that will be presented by Gaiser, Planetary Assault Systems, Ellen Allien / Pfadfinderei and finally we will have a glimpse into the future with Robert Henke’s Lumière II that is so breathtaking that I have no words to describe it. Apart from this, we will display artists that we believe are in the forefront of the scene all of them with incredible talent.
"We will have a glimpse into the future with Robert Henke’s Lumière II that is so breathtaking that I have no words to describe it."
2016 – are the plans already in motion? Is there anything beyond the yearly event that you are now starting to look at.
Well, as Soniculture, our plan began 13 years ago with the mission of promoting what we believe was the path to the future. Festival Forte aims to go on, as it is based on very solid principles and become more and more irreverent with new ideas that we are eager to discover and explore. This spirit will continue to guide us as promoters, label and laboratory exploring technology and supporting art above all.
FESTIVAL FORTE LINEUP
27 – 29 August 2015
Acronym / Adam X / Adriana Lopez / Afonso Macedo / Amulador / Apart / Ben Klock / Developer / Donato Dozzy / Duodub / Ellen Allien / Expander / Extrawelt / Front 242 / Function / Gaiser / Headless Horseman / Manu / Marc Houle / Marcel Dettmann / Marcel Fengler / Nx1 / Paul Kalkbrenner / Planetary Assault Systems / Regis / Robert Henke / Rui Vargas / Subjected / Vatican Shadow / XnxExpanderTechnoFestival Forte