Portals Festival 2024 (Review)

This bank holiday weekend we made the trip down to London for the next math/post/prog rock meetup of the year: Portals Festival. Boasting a fantastic lineup reaching as far as Asia and the US for some real fan favourites, Portals promised a solid weekend for any musical mind that dips into the world of experimental rock. 

2024 marks the sixth Portals Festival and the second year that it’s been hosted at Evolutionary Arts Hackney (EartH) after the fest’s beginnings in Tufnell Park. Armed with the pre-released clashfinder we were ready to tackle the seemingly confusing but not actually  confusing one-way system across EartH’s three stages. 

SATURDAY 

Hidden Mothers were the first band of the day in the Hall and gave the fest a good screamo wake up. Powerful mic-less screams from the bassist and a particularly delicate intro to their  final track hit many of the stops on what this festival strives to deliver. Outcries were next  upstairs opening the intimate Bar stage. The 3-piece played chunky Biffy Clyro-esque riffs with cleanly delivered vocals sat on top of it all. 

Hidden Mothers by Estie Joy

Brighton-ers Orchards burst into life in the Hall and gave us the first singalongs of the day as vocalist, Lucy, bounced around the stage. They seem as comfortable as ever despite Portals  being their first show in a year; their playful guitar timbres and uplifting mathpop set them  apart from many of the other math-adjacent bands on the bill today. We’re treated to plenty  of material from their 2021 album Lovecore and the promise of new songs soon. 

After some good food and catching up with a few mates it was back up to the Bar for Billy Mahonie, who whilst jokingly stating how they “used to be kind of a big deal”, did nothing  but prove their claim by bringing a captivating set of janky guitars, pulse shifting drums and  occasional dual-bassists. With a distinctly 90’s feeling brand of postrock, absent of copious delays and reverbs, their dry yet energetic sound is realised live and testament to their 25+ years of existence. 

Following suit with the dual instrumentalist approach were Enemies, opening their set with two drum kits. Despite being only their third show since returning from an eight year long  hiatus, the Irish math/post rockers knew how much love the crowd had for them and  proceeded to blast through as many bangers as the time slot would allow. Catchy guitar melodies and repetitive vocal phrases that served a more musical than lyrical purpose kept the audience engaged and involved throughout the set before ending strong with Love Unlimited. 

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Town Portal make the trip over from Copenhagen so excitement was high for everyone as we saw the standing section of the Theatre at its fullest of the day. The uniquely heavy instrumental trio brought three new songs with them as they powered through complex rhythms and specifically the sluggish, droney outro of Vanitas. My only wish is that they had played the Hall as the Theatre made the drums very reflective and intrusive. 

Elephant Gym by Talie Eigeland

Japanese 4-piece LITE reminded the Hall why they’re here by blitzing through track after  track of loops, diddly riffs and sheer musicianship. As a staple in mathrock, their placement  as one of the bigger bands on the lineup was met energetically by the crowd who clearly lapped up every note.  

As the night drew in there became a divide in attendees, some looking for a gentler, in keeping approach into the night’s headliners, This Will Destroy You; whilst others still had  their sights set on mosh pits and the abrasive. The former would make their way to catch  Slow Crush who were soaking the Theatre in saturated shoegaze and dreamy vocals, while  the latter entered the Bar for an onslaught from Hammok who were dishing up a mathcore and post-hardcore blend for all. The bassist kindly ensured the bar staff could see by standing on top of the bar itself before re-entering the liveliest crowd that the stage had seen so far. 

This Will Destroy You set to the main stage as the Saturday headliner, playing a fan-voted setlist packed with tracks from their first two records, S/T and Young Mountain. They had some tech issues quite early on but overcame them quickly before delivering some of the prettiest post rock and massive crescendos around. 

Getting a little sleepy from TWDY I had to prepare myself for Luo who were closing the night. Live drums in electronic music is always an enticing approach and not many do it better than  Luo. Synth/guitar/everything-ist, Josh, excitedly flipped the set halfway through into a Final  Fantasy 7 cover set and I promptly lost my shit. Good gig thank you very much.

LUO by Talie Eigeland

SUNDAY 

As a treat for my achy-Sunday-morning-head we’re blessed with Qariaq opening the Bar, a loop heavy drum and guitar 2-piece from Bristol. Guitarist, Esther, danced across a  pedalboard rammed with gear and Kalimbas, creating densely textured, psychedelic backdrops while Ben drove each song with rhythmically exciting drums that only contributed to the soundscape the duo had built for us.  

Jaguar Throne took to the Hall next offering chunky breakdowns and shreddy solos to blow the cobwebs off anyone that still wasn’t awake. If that wasn’t your thing, Lawi Anywar  quickly followed in the Bar assisted by both Qariaq members for an alt-rock set full of funk.  They looked at home and weren’t afraid to take things in a more ambient or heavier direction when needed. 

Standards pulled a large crowd in the Hall to satisfy the widdliest of mathrock fans, performing very clean cut Invalids-like tapping and goofing off at every opportunity.  Currently touring with LITE across the UK and Europe and showcasing a new drummer,  Forrest Rice (ex Covet), they won the crowd over with American optimism and requests for a “wall of life” and “gentle, respectful” moshpits. 

I’d spent the last week checking out any bands on the roster I hadn’t heard yet, and Year Of No Light came up as a satisfying discovery. The French post-metallers came out with dual drums, pummelling riffs and constant crescendos that I vibed with for a few tracks but a growling stomach sent me in search of a seitan rice bowl from the in-house food vendor. 

Year Of No Light by Talie Eigeland

Unfortunately Dystopian Future Movies had to drop out last minute and their slot was replaced with a second showing from Canadians, Atsuko Chiba. Having missed yesterday’s  set clashing with Town Portal I was eager to catch them as nothing but praise had been  spoken of them and they delivered hard. Equipped with a projector and live fed visuals, the set became a hypnotic wave of prog, psych and enticing vocals; bridging the gap between  the likes of The Mars Volta and At The Drive-In. Atsuko Chiba stood strong as one of the most consistently captivating performances of the fest.

Elephant Gym of Taiwan were to be one of the day’s heavy hitters – bringing their dancey blend of jazz and mathrock to the main Hall. They were seemingly unable to place a foot  wrong as the crowd gushed over them; the breathy, whispery vocals of the bassist managing to turn such a large stage into an intimate setting. 

I consider the show we got from My Octopus Mind as my Portals headline set. Closing the Bar, coincidentally my favourite stage, and it being the psychedelic rockers’ penultimate show ever made for a special gig. Post-punk like drums and rambling vocals did nothing but add to the intensity they brought, as heavily octaved riffs were bounced between the guitarist and electric double-bass player. The guys will play their final show in Bristol on the  22nd June and will surely be missed. 

A massive cheers goes out to the Portals crew and volunteers that made and will continue to make this festival happen. Their wide scope for varied artists continues to draw people in and makes it a truly awesome event to stick in the calendar each year. Tickets for Portals 2025 are already on sale HERE

Words by Jack Hooley