“Before Being Promoters, We’re Music Lovers First”: Gearing Up for Amplifest 2022 with André Mendes (Interview)
We'll soon be bringing you coverage of one of Europe's best extreme music festivals. Not Roadburn — that was in April — nor Wacken, which was last month. I'm talking about Amplifest, a gathering that will assemble not only metal heavyweights but post-rock, experimental music, and even hip hop for two weekends of sublime brutality.
As I covered last year, Porto punches far above its weight in music, populated as it is by artists pushing metal, jazz and other forms of music in exciting directions. Portugal's second city is not only a beautiful backdrop for ugly music, but a redoubt of DIY artistry. In small shops and repurposed vacant buildings, Porto's musicians, among them heavy hitters like Gaerea, are finding new ways forward for metal.
Meanwhile, promoters like André Mendes have kept a steady stream of pioneering musicians coming through the city. Amplifest is an outgrowth of Mendes' promotion venture Amplificasom, which this year alone brought bands like Wiegedood and Emma Ruth Rundle to town. Amplifest is a distillation of Amplificasom's work. This year's festival begins with a night featuring Amenra and ends with a well-rounded lineup sporting Lingua Ignota and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They'll all take the stage in Hard Club, a late 19th-century market building with ornate ironwork that's now given over to concerts and conventions. Small wonder that the festival is almost completely sold out.
I reached out to Mendes on the eve of Amplifest for a preview of the event and a peek behind the curtain. The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Amplifest is back after a COVID delay. What's the festival going to be like, and what are some of your personal highlights this year?
We all carry the silent weight of what the pandemic took from us. If the last few years have shown us anything, it's that life is very fickle, so we have to focus on the present moment and give the best possible response to these years without shows. We believe it's the most essential edition [of Amplifest] ever, and we're really looking forward to it. It's an ambitious and crazy two-weekend edition that will have, as always, a diverse line-up of bands that... well, I can't really choose one, can I?
What was the origin of the festival? How long has it been running?
We always had this idea of doing in a sole weekend what we've been doing since we first started: promote the bands we love. Back in 2010, I left Birmingham[, England] completely inspired by the unique Supersonic Festival, and once Hard Club reopened at a brand new location, I immediately thought: "it will be here." And here we are since October 2011.
Porto has its own unique metal scene, as well as lots of jazz, experimental and improvised music. What about the city do you think lends itself to so many artists pushing the boundaries of music?
Amplifest and Amplificasom is part of that scene as well. We're not musicians, but by doing what we've been doing for the last 15 years, I really believe that we're also part of that forward-thinking/independent cultural players of the city. Porto is full of people that, without anything, can make the best out of it; it's in our blood.
What makes Amplifest "uniquely Porto"? In which ways does it draw inspiration and atmosphere from the city? I understand the venue itself is architecturally special.
We're from here, [so] it's hard to answer this one without being suspicious. We walk in these streets, we smell the river, we smell the Atlantic, we've been living all of our lives in this utterly beautiful city and, like I mentioned before, Porto's people are very "wildcatters," go-getters, you know. Unlike the big cities and capitals of the world, nothing comes for free in this city — we've learned very quickly that either you make it happen yourself or you don't make it happen at all. It's a very old city, in a romantic way, you know. Utterly beautiful indeed, and so is the venue that used to be a market in the 19th century. [It's] easy to fall in love once you're there.
Outside of organizing this, which I'm sure is a lot of work, what else do you do involving music?
We're promoters all over the year, and even after what we all suffered in the past years, this one so far has been magical, with Russian Circles, BIG|BRAVE, Wiegedood, Emma Ruth Rundle, MONO, A.A. Williams, Sangre de Muerdago... Now [comes] Amplifest, then Kee Avil, Black Flag next year... We also represent the unique artists like Peter Broderick, indignu, Process of Guilt, HHY & The Macumbas — I suggest your readers listen to all of them, authentic Portuguese gems (well, not Broderick of course, but I bet you already knew that).
What do you expect in terms of audience size? Is this year's fest sold out?
[We have] 30 tickets to sell out while we have this interview. The first weekend has been sold out for months and months, and the second will sell out as well; it's a question of when. We'll be a family of at least 35 different countries, with people coming from Seattle to São Paulo, from Lisbon to Oslo… It's not an event for the masses, that's not the plan, but the ones who come really love these bands as much as we do - before being promoters, we're music lovers first.
What's the first thing you're going to do after Amplifest concludes?
Sleep (no, not the band).
For more information, visit Amplificasom's site.