Come to its sixth consecutive edition, Festival Forte took place from the 22nd to the 25th August at the spectacular Montemhor-o-Velho castle, a national heritage site and a cultural landmark in Portugal. 

Listed by 6AM as one of the world’s most unique festival locations, Forte’s setting really is something special: dominating the valley where the Mondego River runs, the castle, main fortress of Low Mondego during Medieval times, has a grandeur that’s austere and reassuring at the same time.

Arriving from the nearby Figuera da Voz village at night, you could see the castle embraced by a golden light, warmly anticipating the feeling that behind those walls something magical had to happen. Walking from the main square of the town and accessing the festival area by an external lift enhanced that sensation: a staircase to a secret world within the walls of the fortress. 

In the pitch-black night, the breezy air was illuminated by light shows different every night; the energy of ravers coming from all over the world and the strength of a sound-system giving you goosebumps at each step towards the entrance made the atmosphere really unique.

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Starting on Thursday around midnight, with a touching opening performance by Murcof & Malo Lacroix, the festival seemed unfortunately to experience a few issues from the very beginning. Introducing for drinks a new payment method with tokens, difficult to explain and manage for the staff and less than intuitive for the festival-goers, the result was a long and chaotic queue that seemed never-ending especially in the early hours.

On the dancefloor, the first highlight of the night was Luxor, freshly born project by French artists Shlømo and Antigone, bringing together elements of the producers’ personal style and creating a collaborative live with a particularly groovy sound, ideal to start the dances at Forte. 

At 2am sharp the “Baron of Techno”, Dave Clarke, arrived on stage. Known for the care and attention of his performances, he didn’t disappoint the crowd, playfully challenging the dancers with a pulsing selection of techno and electro.

Other absolute peak was signed by Kr!z, who closed the first day in style, carrying a bag full of Token gems, like Totem or Mantra. 

Friday was another great day, whose mood seemed to be all about exploring sonic galaxies. Starting with the preview of Pleiadas Key Tones, the new live project by Argentinian producer Jonas Kopp, followed by the perfection of Mulero’s 2h set, a magical and naughty Polar Inertia live and the Italian duo Boston 168: these artists took the crowd on techno and acid voyages, with their exceptional performances.

Unfortunately the first rumours of the festival having financial issues started spreading on Friday night, fomented by many artists who announced the cancellation of their shows for lack of payments. First was Sleeparchive, expected to play with Dj Pete as TR-101, then Freddy K, Reeko, Psyk and Anthony Linell, reducing Saturday and Sunday’s line-ups to a big question mark for all.

Social networks exacerbating the difficult situation, the nervousness was palpable and some comments on the festival’s Facebook page looked unnecessarily harsh. On Saturday at 6pm an official post from the organisers announced that the festival would go on as planned as they were “working on assuring the quality that the public deserves for the rest of the weekend”.

The post also promised an update, that eventually came around 8pm: a very reduced line-up still displaying some of the best names of techno, although definitely not what people had paid for. “The show must go on” seemed to be the thought of everyone who gathered with the same enthusiasm for the Sunday grand finale.

Perhaps on a lower tone, the last day was equally outstanding, especially when The Empire Line gifted the crowd with the wildest Sunday morning that they could have ever asked for. A little more than one hour of hard dancing, the trio’s own signature of techno mixed with their physical punk-rock made the ravers stomp and sweat in the dust, with big smiles on their faces. That dust created something chaotic and cathartic at the same time, a dancing ritual somehow dismissing the idea that the energy of the dance-floor could be affected by social media rumours and facts.

Closing Sunday’s acts was Paula Temple: with a 2h performance she gave no rest to the dancers as expected and saved the grand finale for most. 

What remains of this edition of Forte? The white noise of social media, the last-minute cancelations of 7 international artists (out of 35 playing), some little operational issues that could have been better managed (token payment method and long queues, toilets with no light nor paper at most times), a festival whose focus is electronic music and visual arts but that unfortunately gave little space to the latter.

What also remain though are the vibes of a place like no other, the amazing staff and the smiles all around, a perfect crowd coming from all over the world who danced until the very last hours of Sunday night, in a country that’s one of the most liberal and welcoming of Europe.

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What remains of Forte is that magic castle, the first lights of the morning and the darkness of the night, the dust everywhere on your body, dancing and turning around to see a smile and a beer offered by a stranger. 

What makes a festival great? Perhaps the answer is people, be it the crowd, the organisers or the musicians. Ultimately people are human and mistakes happen, especially when projects are run by small non-commercial organisations.

This is not absolving Forte for not paying musicians, something that should never happen in this industry, as anywhere else. This is trying to understand where the music economy is going and how we can all contribute better to it. Crowfunding, a concept adopted in the previous editions of the festival, might be an option, as well as more expensive tickets perhaps.

We are sure that Forte will learn from its mistakes. Until next year?

(pictures by Larry Jordan)