Live Report: Tremor2022

Strangely isolated, and still largely unknown, the Azores’ reputation as a desirable tourist destination continues to grow. One of the most isolated places on earth, the São Miguel Island in the Atlantic Ocean is the proud host of Tremor Festival, a multi-sensory, multiple-venue location event that vigorously celebrates art, music, and community with a fire in the belly.

While Ponta Delgada works as the base location, events happen across the island. The experimental nature of Tremor underpins a gentle resistance to genre convention and creative boundary. Positioning itself as an art event, truly embracing art for art’s sake, can make it seem an odd contender if placed in comparison with a wider, global festival market, but it also becomes a strength.

Visitors travel from other locations including Portugal mainland, Brazil, UK, France, and the US. By being the opposite pole to the large majority of UK and continental European setups, where the main focus tends to be on massive headliners and lucrative sponsorship deals, this is a genuine alternative. Not suggesting that big headliners is a bad idea, but there is something else, and in some ways more, to be said about the purity of Tremor’s cultural vision, and it creates a level of equality among the acts that seems humbling and beautiful.

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One major aspect of the event is Terra Incógnita, which is central to the festival’s raison d’etre. If São Miguel does not represent enough mystery as it is, the added layer of mystique makes it an extra-popular concept for all attendees. The translation as unexplored territory makes acute sense during the festival, when the territories scheduled for exploration begin to appear under the Tremor na estufa secret gigs umbrella, during which location and artist details are revealed a couple of hours prior to start time. The secrets performances take place daily, they are integral and add an extra dimension of secrecy to it all.

One of the secret performances unfolds in the village of Rabo de Peixe meaning fish tail. Situated in the municipality of Ribeira Grande, the lone fishing village has suffered enough, battled poverty, addiction, and unemployment, a journalist from Porto tells me. But credit where credit is due, the village shows us it knows how to seize an opportunity, there is real buzz, a determination to make the most of things. This performance tackles experimental jazz, from a collective made up of music students at the local music school – Escola de Musica de Rabo de Peixe. It is a zesty performance that surprises with each composition, an energetic set skilfully delivered, and led by intelligent improvisation. There are no vocals, but there is enough detail and colour to keep things interesting.

A standalone na estufa moment unfolds later in the week, however. This time the destination is the hot springs in Terra Nostra Park. The sight of the sizeable, thermal hot bath is riveting enough, and to know that the area around it will become a performance area makes it more exclusive. A dramatic setting, it turns out to be ideal for hosting an unimaginable music moment. The drive to its location in the Furnas Valley has taken about 45 minutes. Situated approximately 50 kilometres from Ponta Delgada, the previous volcanic crater erupted back in 1630, and even though it is dormant now, its past remains visible, a splendid addition to this rather dream-like festival experience.

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Cocanha, the surprise act on location, is due to perform. The Occitan duo is made up of multi-instrumentalists Lila Fraysse and Caroline Dufau, and they demonstrate how to master a poetic, natural delivery of music and lyrics. Their folk brand constitutes a concoction of harmonies of a polyphonic calibre, and their sound is built around a use of stringed tambourines, percussion, and vocals, creating a blend of sheer pop quality. If it is possible to imagine a Catalan version of Sweden’s First Aid Kit, then you have a hint of Cocanha’s sound. Musically, it is an extraordinary live performance, and to see hundreds of punters gather and enjoy a swim in the hot springs during that transforms the experience.

Heading to Ribeira Grande, the former punk singer and intellectual, turned singer songwriter Maria Reis is set to perform at Teatro Ribeiragrandense. The elegant venue is a suitable choice for her intimate set. Reis, a charismatic presence, is also a gripping performer, who cracks a few jokes on the night. When she addresses a member in the audience about mask wearing, her tone is one of support and sympathy, rather than disagreement. Performed acoustically with her sister is a well-chosen selection of folk songs, as poetic lyrics, cheers, and laughter evolve from all four corners of the venue. The simple use of instrumentation consists of an acoustic guitar, a tambourine, and vocal harmonisation, and as a blend, it really works, pleasing a crowd of fans and long-time supporters.

At a first glance, the running order looks modest, but it does not fall short on enthusiasm or determination to compete, when it comes to producing some cultural highlights. The passion of its organisers, artists, and everyone involved, is second to none. Uncompromising, there is ambition to give audiences something special to take away, and some of that ambition comes across in ‘Atlas’, an absorbing piece of theatre at Teatro Micaelense, where music also plays a part. The two performances scheduled indicate how important the play is for the festival, and on the first night, an impressively long queue to get in, is spotted.

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But Atlas is worth the wait. Coordinated by Ana Borralho and Joao Galante, the play has an original storyline that plays on ancient Greek mythology. Hosting a diverse range of voices, developed around current, everyday language, each actor represents an identity profile. Explored are different cultures, beliefs and backgrounds, gathered on stage are a 100 people, and the play seeks to map the human social structure, and the role each individual plays in society. It shows that art has a positive, active role to play in the process, and is a demonstration of how a balance between art and a societal reality can be achieved.

Other noteworthy activities include the off-road, sonorized electric bike tours known as Tremor Todo-o-Terreno. These outings are an eco-friendly way to see parts of the island, get some exercise, and experience a live performance in the process. With the artist or band, the idea is to keep details under wraps and not reveal until the end of the activity. The weather inevitably plays some part in this. Local advice is to arrive well-prepared for any weather conditions imaginable, several residents refer to the weather as “Four seasons in one day”, and they are not joking. The essential thing to note here is that there really is no catch, even when the weather acts with temperament, it is still a joy to venture out in participation.  

In a way, Tremor’s passionate art curation mimics the vibrancy of its mountain views, many acres of green, the fresh, irresistibly tasty fruit (the pineapples get top marks), seafood, and meat. I learn that the high sulphate levels present in the soil make everything grow better, and that it makes a huge difference. Channelling the concept of exotic, mysterious art display, the festival and its Terra Incógnita is an absorbing, experimental gateway to culture and community. As a combined experience, it delivers a fascinating treat for guests in the remote, picturesque setting.

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Words: Susan Hansen

Photo Credit: Vera Marmelo, Paulo Prata, Carlos Brum Melo

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Link to the source article – https://www.clashmusic.com/live/live-report-tremor2022

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