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Unveiling the Neoverse

Hugh Barton

A Conversation with NEOPOP Founder Gustavo Pereira

After celebrating their 15th anniversary, the NEOPOP Festival showed no signs of slowing down. In 2023, the festival welcomed music enthusiasts, dedicated staff, and esteemed artists into 'Neoverse', an abyss nestled in the town of Viana de Castelo, an hour north of Porto, Portugal. Here, the founders utilise the ancient walls of Forte de Santiago da Barra to act as a barricade between the two stages, ‘Anti-Stage’ and ‘Neo’, allowing them to harmoniously coexist without any sound overlap.

‘Anti-Stage’ could only be reached through a long, dark tunnel situated against the fort. Emanating the festival's forward-thinking curation, the stage offered a diverse array of techno sub-genres. On ‘Neo’, the grander of the two, festival goers were treated to an audio-visual spectacle, masterfully orchestrated by Dublab, that never ceased to mesmerise the crowd over the perfectly curated three-day music marathon.

On the final day of the festival, Hugh Barton sat down with NEOPOP’s visionary founder, Gustavo Pereira, just moments before he performed on the Neo stage. Their conversation delved deep into the festival’s vision and the kinship that binds the NEOPOP family together.

Neoverse stage at NEOPOP Festival 2023

Hugh Barton: Hey Gustavo, how’s today been?

Gustavo Pereira: Today I had to have a bit of a rest before my set. I'm missing my voice, which is normal on the last day. Maybe we should have a bit of sake?

HB: Perfect cure, I’d love a bit of sake.

GP: Have you been having a good time here?

HB: I’ve been loving it, it's certainly a festival where I feel like I’m part of the family. Thanks for having me!

GP: My pleasure! I feel that we’ve really formed into a family—it’s the energy, the vision, and the feeling we would pass on to the artists, staff, and crowd. Our company is called ‘Made of You’ and for one of the campaigns we did a few years ago, we included the tagline ‘Neopop is made of you’, which could mean anything. It could mean the crowd, the people who work with us every day, the ones that work with us once a year, the artists, or even the restaurants in Viana.

HB: Is everyone part of the festival more or less an ‘artist’?

GP: Yes, definitely! For me, it’s not just the headliners of the festival that are artists, they have the highlight, of course, but the dancers on the dance floor are a very important part of the festival, and they should be making art too. In 2017, we had a very special campaign called The Art of Techno’, where we had dancers produce art on canvases while they danced so people could understand that they were making art in a visual way as well.

Gustavo Pereira performing at NEOPOP Festival 2023

HB: For your campaign this year, you collaborated with Serafim Mendes to produce three-dimensional works. What inspired this?

GP: Well, after 15 years, we decided to go in a different direction in terms of communication. We thought we were a bit more ‘adult’ now and decided to work more with graphic art. It’s  important for us, and we must adapt to new forms of communication and language in order to reach the new generation. Serafim Mendes used to come to Neopop as a kid and was an aficionado of techno and electronic music. We connected naturally, and I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason. That's why we created a ‘Neoverse’ – it’s an emphasis a new way of communicating.

HB: What is different about this year in terms of the experience?

GP: If you look at the line-up, for example, it could be a random festival. It could be anywhere. It has a lot of headliners, and most of the artists are playing at most of the festivals. You could, as a patron, think, Oh, it's nothing special. But I think the whole experience is the most important aspect.  You arrive in the Neoverse, you enter this bubble, and it's a new world where you're protected from the outside.

HB: It's almost like everyone's got your back in a way.

GP: For me, it all started when I was going to raves in the 90s, which were my foundation. They felt pure and authentic all the time. I became fascinated and passionate about this time, especially because I came from a metal, punk rock, and SKA music background. I got into electronic music through jungle, big beat, drum and bass, trip hop, future jazz, and all the stuff playing at that time. Then, after a while, I began to like techno and house music. The umbrella idea connecting all this music was the feeling of unity, of union. How all these genres connected people. No boundaries, no religion, or wealth. Everyone was together on the dance floor, and the only important thing was the music. That's what I try to keep alive. Nowadays, it's hyped, and sometimes it's not easy to keep going and to keep this spirit alive. But luckily, with some hard work and, of course, with the background we have, we try to keep it alive, especially here at our events.

HB: Do you think there is a limit on the NEOPOP Festival?

GP: There’s no limit. Honestly, we never thought we’d get to 16 editions. I'm going to be here until I feel I don’t have the capacity to improve or bring something new to the scene. It’s also really important for me to expose new talent and the artists who usually play for smaller crowds. That is amazing for me. When I'm not adding anything new, I'll retire.

HB: How do you curate the festival? Is there a big focus on local Portuguese artists?

GP: We always try to balance the names that everyone wants to hear with the names that no one knows, which are usually the Portuguese artists. We want to project them and get them more attention. It’s happened in the past already: Vil and Switch Dance connected with ‘named’ artists and now collaborate, produce, and release music together. That makes me so proud. I love to see talent projected and get the attention that they deserve.

NEOPOP Festival 2023

HB: Is Viana de Castelo home for you? What makes it so special?

GP: This is the place. It’s perfect for us. We had a chance to change a few times in the past, but in the end, we decided this is our home. It's an amazing place because you have the fort, the lighthouse, and the church on the top of the hill. I don't need much in terms of scenery. And also, the walls of the fort provide a void and naturally break the stages. Hopefully, one day we can go inside the fort. That’s an idea!

HB: What can we expect from NEOPOP next year?

GP: I hope we can do much more. We did some pop-ups in the past in the city with artists that were playing at the festival. In the past, we also had a theatre where we presented amazing AV shows. I think that creating layers for the festival is super important. I would love to have more. Outside of the music, I want to focus on more sensorial experiences. Contributing is my main objective. But before that happens, I need to go play my set!

HB: Nice chatting with you, Gustavo, and all the best!

GP: Likewise! Catch you after!

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SEE ISSUE #06 HERE. The theme for this issue, Revelations, delves into the unfiltered aspects of life. It’s an appreciation and exploration of raw beauty, where authenticity reigns supreme; the unconventional is not just accepted but celebrated. In a world of manufactured perfection, this issue chooses to validate our quirks and idiosyncrasies. After all, they are what make us inimitable.

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