15 Years of MADEIRADiG
The True Meaning of Luxury
At Estalagem da Ponta do Sol, Valeriu Borcos, from the band Karpov not Kasparov, is playing the piano; the laidback audience listens to and cherishes the experience. Outside, musicians and the crowd laxly look at the sunset.
When we get there, people stroll around the hotel, including the usual faces: the musicians accountable for owning the stage night after night, relishing in the anonymity provided by the fest, and also those who are there for the very first time and cannot mask their amazement. This time, the much-expected opening/sunset took place at Estalagem, rather than the usual Centro Cultural John dos Passos.
MADEIRADiG is something like a bubble, a utopian society like those that we only cross paths with in literature or cinema. In this society, where musicians hang out with their audience, everything seems perfect and unreal. And a story is unfolded, which, although dreamlike, is real and takes place over four days. As I mentioned in previous articles, MADEIRADiG happens in the first four days of December and is the outcome of an effort-laden partnership between four entities: APCA (Associação para a Promoção da Cultura Atlântica), Digital in Berlin, Estalagem da Ponta do Sol and MUDAS – the space where the shows take place.
It is a pleasant routine for most of the audience and, for those who experience it for the very first time; they already start planning next year’s routine. The programming co-curated by Rafael Biscoito (APCA) and Michael Rosen (Digital in Berlin) is devised way before time, but the names are only announced online when the festival is right around the corner. During a time when gender has a decisive role, this year the female presence was a predominant force: eleven female and nine male artists in a balanced and eclectic line-up in terms of sound, aesthetics and identity. This is the proper way to do things, according to Nuno Barcelos, responsible for the marketing and programming of Estalagem, “you need to challenge people’s minds. Fifteen years have passed already and the programmers cannot be afraid of taking risks and challenging themselves. I think they took more chances this year and things paid off in the end”.
The after-sessions at Estalagem also surpassed the previous editions, much due to the live acts of Karpov not Kasparov and Baby Dee (interview soon). If the Romanian duo managed to vibrate the audience with their eclectic sound “drenched with humour and gipsy influences”, in the words of André Diogo (co-owner and head of Estalagem da Ponta do Sol), the intense and visceral Baby Dee put on a remarkable performance. “I felt something increasingly rare in me. It happens when you listen to a specific song, or watch a specific movie, photograph or work of art. It’s not a new sensation to me, but it’s getting rarer and rarer, and that’s what I felt when I heard Baby Dee. That mishmash of joy and sadness, nostalgia and happiness”, Rafael Biscoito revealed. The overwhelming emotion acquired even greater proportions when Baby Dee revealed that the performance was one of his very last shows before retirement. We were definitely lucky; since this was the first time he played in Portugal. The world needs his music, but Baby Dee is tired of travelling, of airports and he senses that this is the right time to hang the boots. “I’m leaving now and don’t try to stop me”, he laughingly tells us while checking-out of the hotel.
As I wander through the Estalagem, cuddled by a morning chino (the Madeirans describe it as a big cup of coffee without much milk) or a glass of wine as the sunset unfurls, I talk to the artists. This year, among many other musicians, I had the chance to be with Ana da Silva and Phew (check the interview) and Maja Osojnik (check the interview). Both performances, emotional and intimate, were the festival highlights for many. Ana da Silva “for all reasons and then some”, Rafael said. She is from Madeira, the founder of The Raincoats and has played a major role in the punk scene. And then Phew, an artist I have admired and known for many years. Having them together under these circumstances, showcasing their new album Island, was extremely special for me”, Rafael revealed. The duo Rui P. Andrade & Aires (Vítor Bruno Pereira) from Coletivo Casa Amarela also made a comeback at the festival (check the interview), which ended up, in the words of Maria Fernandes, responsible for the festival’s PR, “an encounter of different generations and that is quite interesting and rewarding for us”. Maja’s show was underlined by the authenticity, the power of spoken word, and the way her hands “danced” on the instruments.
Let’s Play Chess?
“We often find ourselves a bit nervous before the shows and I think it’s important to feel that anxiety, it helps us to connect with the audience and emotion is necessary”, Valeriu Borcos, from the aforementioned Karpov not Kasparov, revealed. We chatted on the afternoon that preceded the concert of the Romanian band. “We usually tell the audience that we will start to play badly if they don’t get closer to the stage and dance”, Eduard says, laughing. They hate laptops, saying that “using them on stage is unacceptable for us”. “From Bucharest not Budapest – as Valeriu said on the concert’s evening –, they are experts when it comes to combining drums and synthesizers, creating music based on the rules and strategies of chess, adding traditional music, eastern folklore, disco and 80s dance music. “First and foremost, our concept is related to chess, it has a pivotal role in our music and we combine stuff through that same game. Secondly, it has to do with our region and the territory where we grew up, Romania. We have this latent and extremely varied juxtaposition of western, eastern and Latin cultures and we also have a very strong tradition of gipsy music and folklore”, Eduard Gabia said. “Everything works like a chess table, where the melody is the starting point. The formula is not particularly strict and mathematical, but more philosophical”, he says. Their creative process is preceded by brainstorming sessions, sometimes they disagree with each other, but they like to see themselves as two hemispheres of the very same brain. Over the last four years, they have played extensively in Europe and MADEIRADiG was an unbelievable experience for them. “We didn’t know what to expect and things are going great, we would even say it has been unreal”.
Art Oriented Resort
MADEIRADiG forces us to think of live performances as a life experience. On the last night, the Danish duo Damien Dubrovnik rendered a noise concert with a strong visual display, which, in fact, is part of their identity as a band and label – Posh Isolation. On holiday with his parents, Christian Stadsgaard had already visited the island several times and, when he received the invitation to perform on the MUDAS stage, he automatically told Loke they would have to go for it. “Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that we flew from Argentina Madeira to play a show.” Before, they had played a major festival in Mexico, and then flew to Colombia, Chile and Argentina, where they were supposed to play, but the concert was cancelled due to the G20 summit. “Basically, Donald Trump cancelled us”, Christian said.
As label owners, Christian Stadsgaard and Loke Rahbek were decisive for the establishment of the noise and punk community, not only in Copenhagen, but also worldwide, with 220 releases over ten years. “We like to be closely in touch with those we work with. That’s why we are not a traditional label to which people hand out their demos. Maybe that’s because we come from a punk culture, where the whole idea of unity and community was imperative. We like people to take responsibility for their work, to feel part of a family and a label”, Christian says.
Although tired from the flight and the adjoining jet-lag, they hung out with DiG’s family and delved into their creative process and the way they are influenced by images. We live in an extremely visual culture and, for the duo, images and aesthetics are inherent to their creative process. Thus, the reason for their strong identity, which is reflected in the label’s merchandise. Christian has a master’s degree in visual culture and Loke wanted to be a visual artist when he was younger. “We come from a reality in which we were interested not only in music, but also in its visual presentation and representation. And that has also been one of our traits when we work together. We then witnessed the label’s growing into something more than just music, into a brand-new marketplace, of people who feel identified with Posh Isolation”, Christian said.
There is a structure that they follow both in terms of song writing and live performances, and it varies depending on where they play. They see MADEIRADiG as something completely unique. “I’ve played in many places around the world, but I’ve never seen anything like it. It resembles something like an artistic resort with unique features. It makes perfect sense”.
“Everything has a lot of Technicolor”
Nowadays, we are so disconnected from ourselves and from the human being in general, that culture, when presented to us in such a specific way, is able to unite us beyond any form of individualism. “And perhaps this is the reality that people are looking for when they come to the festival. To have the opportunity to connect themselves and to share this experience at a sensory and collective level”, Nuno Barcelos said. A community life-force is felt, in which different nationalities coexist and 50-60% of the audience repeats the experience for the next several years. Mette Johnsen is a Danish journalist who lives in London and she visited the festival to write a piece for the website Passive Aggressive. “I feel distant from the real world. Everything is staggering and intense: the mountains, the Atlantic Ocean, the histrionic landscape architecture, the music experience and the stage inside the contemporary art museum. Everything has a lot of Technicolor and is borderline holistic”. Mette found about MADEIRADiG through a friend, who played this year at Concertos L. These shows take place every year at Estalagem and the programming is in charge of Nuno Barcelos. It’s a thing since 2008 and they happen between July and September, with an average of 12 to 16 concerts per year. Music, for Nuno, means life, “it literally saved me and is a therapy. At twelve I listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall and it was an almost surreal experience. I was so addicted to that album that I listened to it on repeat. I’m a firm believer that music is emotion, it makes me feel part of the world”. Programming has become an addiction for Nuno, “I can say it was an immense pleasure to put the only Portuguese show of CocoRosie’s Bianca Casady, as well as to watch Sevdaliza’s first concert in Portugal last year”. Nuno also produced the festival Raízes do Atlântico for two years and is currently in the artistic, image and communication HQ of the Festival Aqui Acolá.
And Mette then became aware of MADEIRADIG when her friend said: “I just came back from an incredible show at this James Bond-style hotel in Madeira”. He showed her the photographs, Mette noticed that there was a festival about to take place there in December, booked the whole trip and “now I cannot imagine the possibility of missing next year’s edition”.
From a financial standpoint, there was room to “breathe” this year and, among several other situations, the live-acts at the after–sessions were only possible due to the support provided by the Directorate-General for Arts’ grant program. In fact, the festival survived over the years. According to Rafael, “I think we haven’t had any State support for the last six or seven years, except the one provided by our partners. Everything else is paid by our activity as an association and by the revenue we get, which we then use to fuel the event. Often, Maurício Marques (Rafael’s partner) and I invest money from our own pocket”. The festival is not attached to any company or brand; it is an international and fully independent event. Tickets are far from a reliable source of income; since the room’s official attendance is 191 seats. “It has been something clearly insufficient in the last couple of years. This year, we managed to add a front row of 13 seats and the attendance has now room for 204 people”, Rafael said.
Estalagem – “Return to the essentials”
The majority of those who visit the Festival don’t want to leave Estalagem. Besides the evening program that includes a free buffet – that follows the concerts at MUDAS and precedes the after-sessions –, people can also swim at the 24-hour heated indoor pool. The whole area is quite pleasant and, in addition to the swimming pool that provides a panoramic view to the sea, the attendees have the possibility to visit the spa and join the famous levada or annual walk. This year’s choice was Caminhos Reais (Royal Roads), in the northern part of the island. “Caminho Real is not a levada, it’s something new that will be reborn in Madeira. They were access roads to localities, villages, but also to fountains. We are talking about one of the steepest cliffs, something like the Portuguese Alps. Caminho Real is a very narrow walk that descends that cliff and takes us to the beach. Coincidentally, this year there was a conference on how to recover Madeira’s Caminhos Reais”, Nuno said.
“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”, says the British entrepreneur Richard Branson. André Diogo follows this motto, and this is one of the reasons that makes us feel good there and something often mentioned by the “clients of” MADEIRADiG”. Actually, you feel that people share the festival with the employees. There is no apartheid. And those who attend the festival also cherish this relationship, it’s part of the overall harmony. Companies have a very important role in their communities and their main objective should be to improve everyone’s lives”, André says, adding that, notwithstanding the best conditions and the best design, “people is what really makes the environment, they make the difference and few festivals congregate in the same space the media, the audience, the artists and the organization”.
André has a rather unique philosophy of life and, when the subject is hotel management, not everything is related to the financial side of things, there are other factors involved. “Obviously, a company has to be viable and it’s important to keep it stable and strong. However; we cannot simply ignore the social responsibility, and we try to give as much as possible to the surroundings in which we operate, like the support we provide to students at a cultural level, either through travel or other relevant activities”. The local community is propelled, even from what they bought from the region’s farmers and producers. “Today’s social responsibility is quite extensive. No one can feel good in a high-end hotel in Asia while drinking a gin and tonic, where the gin itself is worth maybe a week’s salary from those who serve it. Companies must have this awareness, you cannot think about numbers only”.
André Diogo and Nuno Barcelos work like the island’s ambassadors as well. In addition to the aforementioned MADEIRADiG and Concertos L, they also promote the MMIFF (Madeira Micro International Film Festival) and artistic residencies with the Londoner Goldsmiths College. There is a website for the residence, which normally lasts two weeks, where several works are produced, to be then presented in different rooms. “The village is inspiring and has top-notch facilities, like the old art deco cinema, the outstanding John dos Passos hall and some houses that can be used for artistic residences in the future. Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, who also played at Estalagem, found the idea spectacular and he regularly asks us about the residencies. At a broader level, it’s something beyond us; it depends on other areas, like the City Hall and the property owners. We are three and a half hours from northern Europe, the weather is nice and the facilities are fine. I often say that Vila da Ponta do Sol is small but it may be the connection with someone from Tokyo. It’s the good part of globalization”, André said.
“Return to the essentials”; Estalagem’s motto, is, in André’s perspective, “the attempt to dodge the superfluous, to feel the nature, the mountain and the sea. What matters is outside, it is in nature. It’s the same with people, and I believe that Ponta do Sol is a nice place for people to meet and connect with each other. And maybe luxury is just that, the ease of finding people where everything flows naturally, where the artist doesn’t feel pressured”.