The first edition of Reverence Festival springs out of the sleepy sun-kissed village of Valada like a portal to another dimension, as foreboding to local residents as the Derweze ‘Door to Hell’ is to nearby townspeople of Turkmenistan. If you choose to walk to the festival from the village's ill-defined outskirts, as houses give way to farms that in turn give way to decaying shells of barns and cottages, some of the aged population greet you with stern looks and accusations, as if you are personally responsible for any disruption of peace that the festival may bring.
Such distrust is understandable, however. The population of Valada is less than half of the festival’s attendance, and until you reach the gates of the festival itself it does seem like a questionable choice for a host, being as it is devoid of hotels and situated miles away from the nearest city or major transport hub.
Yet once you are inside the grounds of the Parque De Merendas at the southeast side of Valada it feels like the perfect environment for such an event. The rolling fields, sense of isolation and feeling of unease that sweep across the village are a complement to the festival, and not a contrast to it.
When you consider the location and the line-up of Reverence it feels like a hugely ambitious project, although it is true that the same can be said of any festival starting in today’s climate. Such ambition doesn’t come without its faults, with a stacked bill leading to significant delays on the second day of the festival to the point that the final band doesn't finish until after 7am. There’s also a general under-staffing problem, and a peculiar queuing system that leads to long lines at certain bars as both days progress. But as a whole it should be considered an immense success.
Why? Most pertinently it is the festival’s refusal to compromise or market itself as a one-ring circus. Though containing a bill plucked mostly from the genres of psychedelica and metal it is an entirely different beast to domestic equivalents, and to your rehashed, over-priced sweatbox all-dayers. It also shuns some of the more typical, more fashionable artists that you may find on such line-ups and instead gives that space to bands that are strangers, or infrequent visitors, to the country, and combines these rare treats with a selection of local artists that deserve the exposure.
Headliners Hawkwind grace the festival with their first ever trip to Portugal, and there are few coups as impressive for such a modestly sized event as getting such a revered (pun definitely intended) and influential act to make their first appearance in a country for you, especially when you consider that they have existed as an entity for 45 years.
Many in the crowd that greets them look as if they have waited all those decades patiently for this performance, and the London sextet delivers a performance with a level of intensity that puts bands half, or even a third, of their age to shame. In a set that gives time to selections from every era of their existence, it is the 1970s sci-fi prog of ‘The Iron Dream’ and the drifting space-rock of the much newer ‘Prometheus’ that are the highlights, but the performance as a whole is one that you feel privileged to experience.
The same is true of cult doom-metal trio Electric Wizard, whose performance comes 12 hours into the first day of the festival's proceedings and is more pummelling than all that has come before it. In general it is the heavier offerings of the weekend that get the most rapturous responses from the audience, with the one-two punch of Red Fang and Graveyard whipping up circle pits and enticing many a crowd-surfer. A considerable number of attendees who may usually sneer at such unashamedly uncool acts behind their floppy fringes and sunglasses are instantly converted.
Which is not to say the flipside of the festival’s running order disappoints. A Place To Bury Strangers sound enormous on the main stage and so do Swervedriver, though both play at a significantly lower decibel level than is typical for them. Ringo Deathstarr, Exit Calm and Air Formation, the latter of whom perform their farewell set at the festival, do the AC30 label proud with their own unique takes on the shoegaze blueprint, while Sonic Jesus are the highlight of the roster from mainland Europe.
To some extent, however, individual highlights are moot. Equally worthy of comment is the friendly atmosphere of the festival and its general cleanliness, and it is the fact that all this can be enjoyed in such idyllic surroundings while consuming a drink and meal that comes to five euros that makes Reverence one of the most worthwhile additions to the festival calendar in recent years. The journey there may not be the easiest, but it is one that is worth making.
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Words: Jordan Dowling
Photos: Jorge Pereira