Rafael and the guitar, 1985

Here’s a lil story about my friend Rafael Toral and how we first met. It was the Summer of 1985 and I’d just finished my first year as a Design undergraduate at U.Porto. Some friends organised a post-punk festival in Aveiro, “Agitarte”: nothing short of a miracle, given the inexperience of all involved… the idea was to bring all the up and coming music from Lisbon, Porto and Galicia into a relatively small town by the seaside – and hold parallel exhibitions, talks, performances by a broader set of young artists, yours truly included.

Days one and two went relatively smoothly… but all hell broke loose on day 3 as heavy rain came in and forced the organisers to move everything into an indoor pavilion. The program got heavily delayed, something like five hours… but hey, all of us, artists and audience, were patient and persistent, that’s how it went back then… We all just drank some more beer and tried to help in any way possible. The indoor acoustics were terrible, but we were just grateful to be experiencing “the avant-garde”.

A band called Pop dell’Arte came on stage it must have been 3AM, and right from the beginning, the mood changed dramatically. Most prior bands were either of the urban-depressive kind, or their set was structured enough not to alienate; Pop dell’Arte was different: total freakin improv, some members with no prior knowledge of their instruments, other musicians joining on the spot… a demented crescendo of dadaist-cabaret-post-everything we knew in our pre-European narrative, really. And the musicians were having such FUN. I remember punks in the audience getting really hostile towards João Peste, the singer, as he was dressed and danced in an extravagant fashion rather than look dark and anguished. Peste just kneeled down and took it all in with a big smile, as some sort of redemption ritual.

I watched in wonder as some epiphany was triggered in my brain, somehow a lesson in contemporary art and post-modernity more poignant than any class held at uni. Amongst the mayhem there was a kid banging away on a drum, and then he proceeded to grab a guitar. By 4AM (or whatever), the musicians started to fade out one by one… except for the kid with the guitar. He just went on this long, mind-blowing solo and showed no signs of abating. Security had to step in and literally grab the guitar from him, to rioting shouts from the audience.

That kid was Rafael. I spotted him afterwards by the bar and raised my glass to his band and his solo. I mentioned this episode to him in passing years later… I don’t think he remembered. But truth is, that night irreversibly changed my outlook on the creative act.

I have some photos of Agitarte somewhere: will dig them out at some point. Meanwhile, here’s the cover I designed for Rafael’s CD on Touch years later.

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