Semibreve Festival was to me, a revelatory three days. Semibreve is a boutique electronic music festival set in a magnificent early 20th century theatre in Braga, Portugal's third biggest city. Aside from its picturesque location and breathtaking backdrop that I spent an entire review pontificating on last year, Semibreve represents a festival dedicated to 'exploratory music'. This year was actually the first time I'd heard of such a genre. To the uninitiated, my closest philistine description would be 'the place where music meets art'.

While the festival showcased a variety of performers of numerous forms and from a handful of countries around the world, they were united by producing and performed work that I would describe as avant-guard and challenging. Here is what Semibreve taught me about Exploratory Music...

1) Is exploratory music enjoyable?

This was a question I kept coming back to over the weekend. In a world dominated by pop music, we are consumed by instant hooks, memorable choruses and traditional structures, all with the aim of creating enjoyment. Yet the aim and parameters of exploratory music are less obvious. On the whole, the music of Semibreve was more evocative and experimental. On the whole, the weekend was challenging. From the fractured, unrelenting beats of Mark Fell, to the intense low-pitch drones of Ryoichi Kurokawa, the weekend's music was a battle. Contemplative and thought-provoking at times, painful and frankly dull at others, the weekend's music was far from a traditional festival line-up. It was however a largely rewarding experience, thanked in part due to the counterpoint of the magnificent, ornate theatre setting which provided a welcome break when the experience became more difficult.

. Plaid by adriano ferreira borges


2) What does it mean to be 'live music'?

One theme I noticed was that many of the performances involved very little 'performance', in a traditional sense at least. The majority of artists seemed fixed to a laptop, largely motionless and, for the most part, shrouded in moody lighting. Sure, performers like British electronic pioneers Plaid incorporated a live guitarist, and fellow Warp label-mate patten was joined on stage by a live singer, but there was a very definite disconnection between the sounds I heard and the on-stage performance I saw, which at times was frustrating.

The most obvious disconnection I saw was the performance of British artist Mark Fell, usually known alongside Sheffield-based duo, SND. Fell's show was nothing short of painful to watch. The only movement his hunched-over profile offered was an apathetic effort either to remove his hand from his pocket, or to pick his nose (which he did three times). Granted the experience should always be about the music first, but he seemed disinterested, particularly during his final 5 minutes when he proceeded to frantically pack up his gear into a rucksack and walk off the stage before the music had ended.

patten by adriano ferreira borges


3) Audio-visual elements are important

The importance of audio-visuals goes back to the link between exploratory music and art. The most enjoyable performances of the week were undoubtedly those that were were accompanied by visuals. The majority of performer's sets incorporated impressive visuals that ranged from kaleidoscopic split screen of Roll The Dice to Ryoichi Kurokawa's perfectly synced warped, geometric world. Instrumental music after all by its very nature often has a cinematic quality. Not only did the more inventive and expressive visual displays purely enhance the music, they were necessary in maintaining interest.

Mark fell by adriano ferreira borges

Mark Fell

4) Semibreve is a wonderful festival and is the perfect location for exploratory music

The festival manages to gently and thoughtfully present exploratory music is such a way that does not overwhelm nor challenge. It is curated with obvious care and is undeniably welcoming, which is usually missing from the majority of festivals I have ever been to. Sure, Semibreve has the benefit of being smaller and having less pressure to provide for 1000s of audiences with varying musical interests, but that in itself is where its success lies. Semibreve is a true 'boutique festival' that provides the ideal environment for such music.

5) Portugal is a fantastic place for food. Especially cheap food.

Here is my embarrassing mini review of the food I ate"

  • Pastel De Nata and Chocolate Quente.
  • Price = €3
  • Verdict = 9.8/10 Best custard tart I've had. I ate 12 of these in the three days I was in Portugal. Chocolate Quente is like drinking tar. Delicious tar.
  • Francesinha, which apparently translates as "Little French Girl"
  • Price = €9
  • Verdict = 8.4/10. Forged from the jaws of calorie hell. Steak, ham, toasted, thick beery tomato sauce, smothered with cheese. I felt like the man from Man vs. Food. only less obnoxious and without the painfully ironic diabetes.
  • BBQ Chicken
  • Price = €9.60
  • Verdict = 9.3/10 Like the OG Nandos. No one in Portugal has heard of Nandos. Maybe no one has heard of pizza hut in Italy? The mind boggles.
  • Colossal steak dinner (for lunch)
  • Price = €11
  • Verdict = 7.2/10 Accidentally ordered this. Ate alone. Felt like a medieval king. It was wonderful. Also there was a fried egg on my steak - not recommended.