IRL Stories: Chatting with Ghetthoven
Since early 2020, the world has overcome long periods of isolation and social distancing measures imposed by governments in light of the global pandemic that, to date, has caused more than one million deaths. Cultural venues have indefinitely or even permanently closed down their stages, dance floors and exhibition spaces leaving an entire creative community at risk of survival.
What impact have the distancing measures had on the artist’s connection with their audience, their collective and, consequently, their Art? IRL Stories portrays how artists and creatives across Europe are using their creativity and resources to adapt to these times of radical change. Given the growing digitalisation of everything around us and the current global crisis of IRL (in real life) experiences, the series reflects on the resilient power of community in its many forms of connection, through an intimate look into new perspectives.
IRL Stories is written and photographed on medium-format film by visual artist Rita Couto, who shares a friendship or familiarity with the subjects, resulting in a participant observer approach to storytelling.
It’s late summer 2020 and Oporto city has been a real desert. I met Igor Ribeiro (Ghetthoven) at the outdoor area of the bar and cultural venue Maus Hábitos, who welcomed me by waving his hand two meters away. I have known Igor for over fifteen years. I had the privilege of living in Oporto’s bohemian environment, following the path of this artist marked by an indomitable stage presence. From the DIY shows Jungle Cabaret (2008) held at the now-defunct Altar bar in Rua de Cedofeita, to the countless times attending national music festivals in the front row, up to the era when a diversity of musical genres could be listened in a single night in alternative spaces such as Fábrica do Som (Factory of Sound), Os Mutantes or the underground Gare Clube. And also the ideas, dreams and personas that I got to know and later were materialized and matured in musical projects, as in the band CRISIS, in the Groove Ball parties, in the collaborations with the eclectic band Moullinex and in the artist’s solo project Ghetthoven.
All these emerging projects are a way to claim Oporto city’s creative potential. Despite the crisis, it continues to reveal a strong collective of independent artists, nurturers of social capital, artistic communities and cultural activity, not only for Oporto but also for society in general. Before starting his DJ set as Ghetthoven, this time at 4PM, we talked about the past and the future but, above all, about the current state of mind.
Rita Couto – Tell me about your artistic journey until March 2020 [start of the state of emergency] and how you have adapted to this climate of uncertainty.
Igor Ribeiro – In the last two years, I have collaborated a lot with Moullinex, both in the project and in the Hypersex tour, where I was frontman and performer. It was extremely rewarding, as it gave me plenty of experience. It was the first time I have worked with a more established band, followed by a great technical staff. However, after two and a half years working… boom! We went into a pandemic. Our last show was in January at Musicbox, in Lisbon. Then, from the beginning of March everything stopped: for us and thousands of other artists, especially those who live from dance and music, where the body is our main work tool. It was very odd! Suddenly, we ran out of means to survive.
The different media have helped a lot. Through the internet, I have been featured in live streams as a guest of other artists, for example. However, I don’t want to get too involved in that working logic. It’s something that doesn’t fascinate me so much. It’s a bit impersonal.
The times to come seem rather strange. It’s almost like learning to walk again, trying to find new solutions to maintain the physical and direct interaction I have with the audience. I believe music videos will stand out more and more. In the end, it has always been an inherent component of the creative process of producing music and passing on a message, since it has another kind of magic.
There needs to be more support, not only from the government, but also initiatives between collectives and creative niches. Oporto is a city with an incredible community of artists, but it is lacking alternatives of support, even by self-initiative. Recently, the label Mera held a three-week online festival where they invited several musicians to play from their homes or studios. It was a crowdfunding-based broadcast, fuelled by donations from fans. Cultural venues such as Hardclub, Passos and Maus Hábitos have also given opportunities to local DJs to perform, which is quite good. These are some of the few initiatives towards a new, more self-sufficient and less corporate movement. Above all, I think this pandemic is a great opportunity for us to unite more. Art is made of sharing – we shall never forget this. We need more unity and less ego.
On the other hand, people miss “going to the church”. I often say that this pandemic has cut us off from the ritual of being in a club dancing. I miss that a lot, it’s very therapeutic. And I understand that people are desperate to return to dance freely in contact with others. It’s like a marriage, a ritual in community. And music has that power.
But there’s always a stigma about going out at night, right? Truth is, we artists need the night. We need the dance floor because it is a catharsis, both for us and for the audience. When I go out at night, I often want to listen to music. I don’t like to be amidst the mess, like when we were teenagers and hanged out at Piolho [iconic Portuguese café strongly attended by students]. And it was wonderful! We met a lot of people at that time. The people from the art circles were very connected, the students from Árvore, Soares dos Reis and Belas-Artes [Fine Arts]. Then came the culture of clubbing, concerts, raves, it was an awakening… Brainstorming times, at least for me. I learned a lot, saw countless bands and played a lot, I grew up in an environment where I now identify myself as an artist.
RC – Full circle: you ended up in the same place, but on the other side of the limelight!
IR – Exactly!
RC – Tell me about your most special experiences on stage or backstage.
IR – For me, playing at NOS Primavera Sound in Oporto  and being the first Portuguese band [Moullinex] to close a main stage in prime time… It was a privilege, an enormous pride. And you see what it’s like to play for thousands of people… in your hometown? I’ve never felt anything like it. I’ve worked with several sound technicians, roadies, stage teams and they usually do their job and won’t congratulate the bands. However, this time it was different. There were some technicians who came to us at the end of the concert impressed with our performance – it was very rewarding.
The second experience that touched me the most was performing Hypersex in Turkey. The first time was in 2018 and then in 2019. Turkey lives in a very different political reality from ours regarding sexual and non-conforming gender diversity. Even in Portugal, we are still evolving; I am only now beginning to see more empathy and more respect for the LGBTQ+ community, although there is still a lot of work ahead. There are still people with a conservative and nostalgic mentality who live very much in the past, what ends up being a contradiction, since the queer universe is part of History.
Hypersex is a tribute to the LGBTQ+ community in which I embody several personas in honour of drag, Prince, George Clinton, in the fabulous, funky and cosmic style. Playing Hypersex in Turkey was having people come to me at the end of the concerts very touched. They hugged me and cried, because I was representing something they are not used to seeing. As an artist, it is one of the most pleasurable sensations in the universe, to feel this affinity with the audience and knowing that my work really has an impact.
RC – And what fruits have sprouted from the barren stages?
IR – I don’t think I’ve ever felt more creative than in the last five months. My record was on standby and I’ve been recording it for over a year now. However, we’re going back to the studio again and the visuals will be recorded soon. At home, alone and in quarantine, I picked the keyboard and ended up making an EP, self-written, together with my brother [Leonardo Rocha, from the band Don Pie Pie]. It was a completely different process from being in the studio with two producers and a band. Locked at home, in this global pandemic, I started to produce and compose everything from scratch, by myself. I embraced my demons through my creative side.