Review: Waking Life (Portugal)
Waking Life 2019 _ Anticipation for Waking Life grew in a stream of collective consciousness. The promise of an experience mirroring the concept of a better world had not yet dawned on us but we would later learn this eco-friendly and forward-thinking festival has much to offer those in search of more. Early on, dreams were filled with a scene of party euphoria full of friendly souls.
Conversely, a fear that the journey would devolve into a jigsaw puzzle of survival in the inhospitable Portuguese desert were stoked by tales from years gone by. From early on fear of the latter was strong. Stories of a lack of shade, the absence of ice for sale and the extolling of a survival like nature were abundant. We overheard one reveller describe their experience of Burning Man with a devotion to the prophetic: “What I really learned is that everyone just day parties when it’s hot and then just sleeps in the night. You’ve just gotta learn to be smart.” - Unknown Reveller We ruminated on this wisdom when we heard it but this would come far too late to matter. Following a raucous first night, in which Molly, Four Tet, Ben UFO and Raresh delivered in spades, an emphatic euphoria dragged us well past sunrise. Talk of a doubling in crowd size - some said 2500 into 5000 - and our arrival nearly a day into the festival on Thursday meant we were relegated to scramble for a campsite with minimal covering from the sun. Exposed until 4pm, we would learn this was an issue when it hit 30 degrees around 9am. Nevertheless, the lessons we would later learn from our Burning Man reveller would have absolutely no relevance at the height of that Thursday night. While all this is said, kudos must be given to the organisers. Much of the swelling crowd was indeed generously covered by the shades erected spanning nearly all of the camping area. Cold drinks were aplenty, shade around the festival size was abundant and the vegetarian food offerings were sufficient if not all to commonly a little undersized. Alas, however, there was no ice.
On Thursday night Four Tet belted out an absolutely eclectic set. In between the enormous Only Human, Daphni’s classic Ye Ye, and some well received Four Tet classics were a series of acapellas from Ariana Grande (No Tears) and Neyo (So Sick) which lead to must consternation. Cheesy or crowd pleasing? Much to later contemplate but the crowd showed zero signs of caring. A Friday morning meditation session solidified many a quickly deteriorating mind. Offering a sizeable tent for mediation, yoga and exercise throughout the day this space was a hugely important aspect of the experience and one plenty obviously come back for.
In addition, an adjoining tent ran a series of talks hosted by a panel of speakers. The topics included food sustainability, the refugee crisis facing Europe and climate change. The importance of bottom up human activism and the role of the individual was a hugely important aspect of Waking Life. These talks were seriously good, involved key figures in progressive Portuguese society and were full hour on end. Without preaching the need to create spaces like these in Australia more are certainly needed scene and will be vital for future social discourse in within the Australian party demographic.
By noon Friday a sleepless night was not an issue. Adjacent to the food stalls and only a stones throw from the nude beach sat Casa del Marmalade, the conspicuous cottage not listed on the set list but which would lay host to some of Waking Life 2019’s most memorable moments. It was near here we lay huddled in the shade, the sun a forgotten foe while listening to an anonymous dj spin classic Portuguese records. Pure bliss. The festival grounds were described by one insightful bohemian as an ‘adult playground’. As the sun reached its zenith and the mercury drifted past 35 the mischief certainly turned up a notch. The abundance of bodies floating adrift the vast and glimmering lake aboard floating galahs and repurposed inflatable mattresses demonstrated a hedonistic delight. This is why so many returned for a third year and had smiled when we asked if it was worth the journey. The lake, sizeable enough for a speed boat, resembled a water adventure park. The Waking Life crew have masterfully constructed a number of floating wooden boats operated by a pulley system. The rope spans the width of the lake and allows for a joyously fun method of crossing. You could of course walk but this was just a pure laugh and such a bloody delightful touch. Add to this the floating wooden light house in the middle of the lake adorned with decks at the top for the DIY dj and you have yourself a seriously good afternoon, or 5 if you please. These crafts along with the stages are all constructed with bio-degradable materials. Waking Life has placed significant emphasis on sustainability and their carbon footprint. It is notable that the site owners maintain a pine tree plantation on the festival grounds upon which they can draw from for future site upgrades. Friday evening was complemented by a delightful set from Port do Soul, a two man Portuguese acoustic group who provided the soundtrack to our calculated early morning demise. These guys live and breathe Portugal and we were delighted to hear them play to a packed Cachillo stage, colloquially known as the ‘chill stage’. Their mash up of The Cure’s ‘Lullaby’ and MGMT’s ‘Electric Feel’ was mind blowing.
Saturday morning was devoted to a refreshing sleep and a 6am rise to watch Rotterdam’s up and comer Mad Miran. A prodigy of Amsterdam’s De School, she carried on from the early morning drum and bass belted out by D-bridge in classy style. Her set was crafted and stylish and unforgettable. Tired minds were carried through the afternoon by an ambient keyboard set from Lefar Legov, his drawn out synths elevating and floating amongst the crowd. Proceedings were curated from 5pm by the ingenious Move D who brought those swimming in the lake onto the sandy shores with a genius one-two combination of classics followed by bangers. Slick stuff. Roman Flugel then banged it out and we were on for another round. Terrence Dixon’s much awaited set stirred confusion. The cacophony of sounds bleeding through the speakers evoked images of an orchestra raining down a staircase. The pace would later steady but one fears the damage was done. It was around the early hours of Sunday morning that the Casa began to pulsate. Inside those four walls free champagne was handed around as the ecstatic crowd that had stumbled upon this true gem crowd surfed with zero irony. This was true ecstasy. By the time Sunday came around our unknown Burning Man revellers wisdom was out the door and riding into the distance atop a cavalcade of Portuguese goats. Sleep occurred only briefly and frequently outside ones tent. Proceedings would take some time to resume but this was ok for we had freshly squeezed orange juice and vegetarian delights. Jmcee kicked things off around 9pm to a resoundingly proud Aussie contingent. His set weaved between hip hop and David August in a really enjoyable and upbeat fashion. The taste for more lingered ever so slightly. Efdemin’s set came round and the final night was in full flight. The energy and intensity of the music resembled Berghain in full flight and was real take it or leave it stuff. It was good stuff just you had to be in the mood. Plenty were. It is hard to say exactly when Waking Life genuinely ended. Rhadoo carried things well past the allotted 11am Monday finish. The music was heaving when we departed at 3pm. Those unfortunate souls who accidentally booked a Tuesday bus must have been sardonically smiling at our departure. So ended a remarkable foray into the harsh Portuguese desert. Thank you to the Waking Life crew. We will see you soon.
Words: Shahn Beasley