Optimus Alive

Lisbon, Portugal Friday, July 13 – Sunday, July 15

Optimus Alive exists in a parallel universe to UK festivals. Rain is basically an alien concept, people wait until after it’s dark to get drunk, and rather than the British phenomenon of branding everything so aggressively you feel like you’ve had the O2 symbol burnt on your forehead with a flat iron, there are dudes dressed as mermaids handing out scarves. Yes, amazing. Here’s how it went down…

Buraka Som Sistema are not very famous in England because, save for MIA-featuring track ‘Sound Of Kuduro’, their African-infused breed
of party-starting hasn’t really crossed over. Not so in Portugal. As one of the country’s most beloved local acts, the all-dancing, all-gyrating quartet draw the kind of crowd that’s still desperately trying to party hard even though they’re stuck tens of metres outside the tent. Like a more forceful, more aggressive, more, er, better Bonde Do Rolê, Buraka Som Sistema only make sense in the sweaty liberation of night, but even without the tropical heat to set the scene, the UK could certainly take some lessons in hedonistic abandonment from this lot.

You know what’s missing from religion these days? Volume. Luckily the two tiny preachers in Justice have set up their makeshift, glowing church atop
a speaker stack so huge you could probably hear it from the heavens. Rounding off Friday’s line-up, they’ve substituted organs and choirs for Total Party Bangers, but peering out from above their customary neon cross, with thousands upon thousands of faithful followers worshipping their arses off in front of them, the French duo sure know how to whip up some pretty loyal devotees. And when the familiarly sweet beats of ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ finally
kick in, everyone in the whole place T.O.T.A.L.L.Y. O.B.E.Y.S.

Staring languidly into the middle-distance, caressing the microphone like a lost lover, Peter Silberman’s stage schtick shoots straight for the ovaries. But, while The Antlers’ niche of The National-meets-Grizzly Bear atmospherics are a delightfully lush proposition for a balmy Saturday evening, there’s more than enough clout there to ensure their delicacies still pack a punch. Probably. To be honest, we were too busy gawping.

And so to Saturday, which cements the fact that, no matter which country you end up in these days, Mumford & Sons are fucking huge. Against the dusky backdrop, bathed in glowing red lights, ‘Thistle & Weeds’ sounds genuinely majestic, while an early outing of ‘Little Lion Man’ and a final, rousing ‘The Cave’ gets everyone doing a pseudo-hoedown like the weirdest farmers market in the world. Resistance is ultimately futile.

The Cure’s sets have slowly become known as something of a marathon effort, but the truth is they could do double the time and still tick all the right boxes. Like a wonderfully gentle giant, Robert Smith’s vocal is so pure, so completely note-perfect that, though the crowd-pleasers only come thick and fast near the end (with a final, third encore of ‘10:15 Saturday Night’ and ‘Killing An Arab’ providing the ultimate cherry on top), each track sounds like a total dream. It’s emotional, it’s lovelorn, it makes your heart hurt and your feet dance at exactly the same time. And that’s kind of exactly what music’s about, right?

It may only have been a year, but it feels like Warpaint have been gone for ages. Portugal clearly agrees, since their early evening slot is rammed with the kind of devoted fans festivals are all too often thin on. New material is sadly lacking, with the band drawing more heavily from first EP ‘Exquisite Corpse’ than usual. Even without much insight into where they’re headed, though, where Warpaint remain is still a tantalising enough proposition to satiate the appetite. “Your energy is palpable,” purrs vocalist Emily Kokal as the quartet leave the stage. Right back at ya, sister.

It’s the ultimate lucky break. As Caribou take to the stage to warm up for Radiohead, the crowd are practically eyeball-to-eyeball. Nothing against Canadian boffin Dan Snaith, whose hypnotic glitches and swirls sound absolutely incredible in the Sunday dusk, but you get the feeling this is the biggest throng he and his band will ever play to. Still, ‘Odessa’ slinks along with just the right amount of bass-led groove, while ‘Sun’ rounds off proceedings in ecstatic, ambient fashion.

Sunday may as well have been billed as Radiohead plus support. The rest of the festival has been put on pause for their slot, and it’s as though the whole country is here just for them. And rightly so. Backed by twitching video screens and a space-age lightshow, the quintet are, from beginning to end, beyond belief. Much has been made of their slightly self-indulgent, new-material heavy show but, as Yorke twists and jerks, cooing around ‘Lotus Flower’ and ‘Separator’, there’s nothing here except total crowd-pleasers. Of course, when they dip their toes into older waters with the heart-stopping ‘Lucky’ and ‘Paranoid Android’, the reaction is nothing short of ecstatic. It’s rare to get a set that feels like this much of a moment, but it’s even rarer that you get a band like Radiohead.

Lisa Wright

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