Portals Festival 2024 review: a triumphant weekend of post-rock, black metal and everything in between

From post-rock idols If These Trees Could Talk to drone metal prospects Big|Brave, this year’s Portals was a consummate celebration of adventurous music

If These Trees Could Talk, Elephant Gym and Year Of No Light playing live at Portals Festival 2024
(Image: © If These Trees Could Talk and Elephant Gym by Estie Joy/@photoswotitook | Year Of No Light by Talie Eigeland/@shotbytalie)

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We’re not just spewing platitudes when we say Portals 2024 is the biggest edition of the festival yet. Being held in Hackney’s 1,200-capacity Earth venue for the second time (a stark upgrade from the 500-person The Dome in Tufnell Park), it’s the best-selling year in the math/post-rock weekender’s history, attendance being bolstered by some unique headline spectacles. Saturday will crescendo with This Will Destroy You playing a setlist voted on by their fans, then If These Trees Could Talk will close the entire event by playing their first-ever UK gig. With the remainder of the bill also stacked, not to mention surprisingly eclectic, Louder knew we had to spend two days in the capital and catch the action firsthand.


Opening the main stage, HIDDEN MOTHERS are instant proof that Portals is broadening its vision in 2024. Although the Northern quartet offer smatterings of post-rock ambience, they’re more indebted to the riffing of black metal and the melodic intricacy of Thrice. It’s a broad array of influences and, given that this lot haven’t even released their debut album, it’s not quite seamless yet. That said, they still get this weekend’s audience limber for DIN OF CELESTIAL BIRDS in the smaller theatre above. The post-rock instrumentalists are more in line with your typical Portals fare but impress regardless, thanks to a combination of dazzling lights, cacophonous mixing and the irrepressible energy of guitarist Tom Hazlehurst.

Downstairs, Norwegian post-punk pair ÅRABROT sound disappointingly thin, the anthemic strength of tracks like Kinks Of The Heart weakened by a wet guitar sound and a lack of low-end oomph. ENEMIES dial the energy levels back up, though, thanks to their supremely danceable post-rock songs. The uptempo collective recently reactivated and haven’t released an album in eight years, but Portals proves it hasn’t forgotten. The cheers for the Irishmen are passionate, while the repartee between the crowd and the band between songs feels continuously endearing.

LITE have been redefining math rock for 20 years now and their methodology goes down a treat on the main stage. The Japanese four-piece imbue their genre with a hefty dose of groove, the high-flying antics of the guitars grounded by sturdy, headbangable drums. That mixture of the progressive and the primal is as enthralling and at home as you’d expect, and the hour set feels barely half that length by the time it’s ending. Upstairs, SLOW CRUSH are more loyal to genre convention, blasting Portals with 55 minutes of shoegaze that’s engaging if never exactly surprising.

THIS WILL DESTROY YOU offer more unexpected delights with their headline performance. The Americans are playing a setlist elected entirely by their fans, meaning that they tap into their classic material far more than usual. First two albums Young Mountain and This Will Destroy You are almost performed in full, highlights like There Are Some Remedies Worse Than The Disease striking such cathartic crescendos that it’s easy to hear how this band became post-rock royalty. The payoffs are only strengthened by a frantic light show, and as the extravaganza’s wrapping up, the fleeting technical difficulties that sullied its outset have long been forgotten.

Extreme metal up-and-comers MØL close the upper theatre at midnight, yet they bring the most energy of any band today. Frontman Kim Song Sternkopf explores every inch of the stage and beyond, even setting up among the audience at times. All the while, he’s screaming, snarling and singing his way through a platter of eclectic and infectious blackgaze, the likes of Serf neatly adding pop prowess to the fold. The bar for Sunday has been set almost untouchably high.


“We’re STANDARDS from the United States Of America!” drummer Forrest Rice says in a grating faux-Southern accent to introduce the math rock duo. And their set only gets more annoying from there. Although Rice and guitarist Marcos Mena’s happy-go-lucky sounds seem ideal for a festival, the covers of video game music and the ‘wacky’ chatting feel forced and out of place on a more earnest bill like this.

Nobody has less time for that kind of ‘lol random’ bollocks than YEAR OF NO LIGHT. The six-piece’s lineup includes three guitarists and two drummers, and when they’re hitting you with sludge/post-metal as oppressive as Réalgar and Interdit Aux Vivants, Aux Morts Et Aux Chiens, the noise is as unsubtle and violent as running face-first into a wall. LOST IN KIEV immediately follow upstairs and are the perfect measure of similar but different. Like their predecessors, these Parisians are an instru-metal outfit with an unending supply of noise, yet their show is more upbeat and dynamic. They also bring the best visuals of the weekend by far, every shimmying guitar line, drum beat and crescendo being paired with a new pattern of spotlights and floodlights.

Back on the main stage, ELEPHANT GYM do ‘fun math rock’ the right way. The Taiwanese trio pair jovial patter with legitimately innovative music, bassist KT Chang often taking the lead with her fast-fingered four-string talents. Her guitarist brother Tell Chang can keep up when it comes to instrumental prowess, but KT is in a league of her own when it comes to talking. She wins Portals over with a kind-hearted if quietly mischievous personality, celebrating math and post-rock in between self-deprecating comments about how much she’s drunk throughout the day.

BIG|BRAVE begin the build-up to impending headliners If These Trees Could Talk, their upstairs auditorium crammed by the time they arrive. However, the three-piece’s drone metal detours are seemingly too esoteric for the post-rock diehards in the house, as the theatre sadly haemorrhages people throughout the set. Those that stay behind, though, are treated to a bath of texture: guitar feedback mixes with the gentle vocals of Robin Wattie to engulf everything in sight.

Like yesterday’s main event, IF THESE TREES COULD TALK’s set is tragically sullied by technical snafus after they take the stage. The American post-rock mavens likely didn’t want to make their UK debut with faulty equipment slowing them down, but their onlookers are so rapt that they stay on-side throughout the troubles. Once the night truly kicks into gear, that patience is rewarded 10 times over, the band bridging the ambient buildup of their genre with all-out heavy metal climaxes. The songs feel tight and purposeful throughout as well, the quiet parts manipulated to never be dull and always serve the catharsis of the next big riff to come. This finale’s a thrilling and special conclusion to Portals as a result, history having just been made in defiant, dramatic style.

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.