By Sophie Sadler
At the beginning of 2020, a band from the Algarve was touring Australia to sell-out venues of cheering fans. They arrived back in Portugal and one week later, they were in lockdown. At one point, they admit to “not being able to afford food”. Theirs is a story of triumph and adversity and a musician that never gave up.
I meet with two of the band members, Pedro and Miguel, in a café in Lagos, having watched some of their videos on Facebook – which seriously rock! Miguel is wearing a cap and shades and sports a heavy beard, which hints at his music background as he puffs on roll ups. Pedro arrives late; he has been putting his six-month-old baby down for a nap – not so rock n roll! He has a more studious air. A graduate of Évora University, he studied in the Erasmus programme in Bristol, so his English is perfect. His sleeve of tattoos suggests his new persona, a journey he could never have imagined when he worked in hotels.
Miguel always loved music and has played in bands for 20 years alongside a job as a designer. He and his friend Diogo were together in a band called Livin Paradies for eight years. By the time that project was coming to an end, they both found themselves wanting to create something with a different sound.
Ivo walked into one of the auditions – out of three songs, he performed one from Linkin Park. Miguel and Diogo looked at each other, thinking that this guy was crazy as the American rock band’s songs are notoriously difficult to sing.
“When he started to sing, we were amazed,” recounts Miguel, “he had the same voice as Chester – extremely similar in range and texture.”
Chester Bennington was the lead vocalist of Linkin Park. Hit Parader magazine placed Bennington at number 46 on their list of the “Top 100 Metal Vocalists of All Time”.
Ivo joined the new project and the band stayed together for two years, heavily influenced by Linkin Park. Lagos Câmara supported them with their Espaço Jovem scheme, which backs young people in the arts, and provided them with a rehearsing room.
“We composed our own songs, but we knew we had to invest to get any further and had no means to do so. Regrettably, in 2018, and after 20 years of getting nowhere, I decided to quit,” Miguel tells me. “We went to our rehearsal room and started taking everything out.
“Our last job was to strip out the carpet and give the key back to the câmara. I don’t know why but at that moment – perhaps because since listening to Ivo, we’d always played with the idea of doing a Linkin Park tribute – we had a small brainstorm on the subject.
“Because I used to record bands, I knew how difficult it was to replicate their sound, but the idea kept pinging back into my brain every time I dismissed it. So I went to the internet and found some backing tracks and began to think – maybe it is possible.”
They recorded one track and put it on the internet and received a lot of positive response so decided to do just one gig as it was so difficult and time-consuming to write the scores.
Pedro grew up in Lagos and had been friends with Miguel from the age of 16 before studying in Évora. They re-connected and he was invited to join the tribute. “I hadn’t done anything with music for a long time, so I wasn’t sure. Ironically I used to sing karaoke with friends in Lagos at a pub called The Irish Rover when I was a teenager and one of the first songs I sang was ‘In the End’, by Linkin Park. I had never tried that style before.” Pedro took on Mike Shinoda’s role in the tribute.
Bennington struggled with depression and substance abuse for most of his life, starting in his childhood. On 20 July 2017, he was found dead at his home in California; his death was ruled as suicide by hanging. Miguel’s band was formed two months afterwards. He remembers, “His death really hit me hard, I couldn’t stop thinking about it – but we didn’t form for that reason – maybe it was just fate.”
By September, Milton (later replaced by Daniel) and Ricardo (later replaced by André) had joined Miguel, Diogo, Ivo and Pedro to complete the Linkin Park lineup, which they named Hybrid Theory – the title of Linkin Park’s first album. The band are all aged between 27 and 40 and come from Lagos and Portimão. I am struggling to understand why a tribute band from Portugal would ever be in demand all over the world?
“I was always a Linkin Park fan; before this idea ever came about, they were so unique and appealed to a whole cross-section of the public. Their fan base is huge. They were different in that they organised the fans from all over the world into groups, each with an ambassador, so they have a very wide and loyal audience,” explains Miguel.
Bennington’s death led to collective grief and nostalgia, which fuelled the demand for a good tribute act. Hybrid Theory was invited to perform in Bafo de Baco – a live music venue in Loulé in January (after Chester passed), and “that was it, everything snowballed from there.”
In 2019, Miguel was contacted and received a proposal for the band to go on tour in Germany. They performed at gigs in Hamburg, Berlin, Munster and Bielefeld. They aim not to impersonate the band and definitely have their own style, but Miguel spends monotonous hours pouring over videos to produce the records with the right sound.
One day he woke up to an email from an agent in Australia who had seen them on YouTube and invited them to come and tour in Oz. Seeing the new opportunities open up, all band members had to make the necessary professional adjustments to make it happen – a brave move. They performed in February 2020 to sell-out crowds. “It was like a dream come true, as a musician, to have people paying to see you and cheering for you to come on stage.”
Then the dream came crashing down. “As we travelled to Australia, we were aware of the pandemic and when we stopped in Dubai, we had to wear a mask. Despite this we performed gigs in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to sell-out crowds of between 3,000 and 5,000 people – we had no idea how serious the situation would become.”
They returned to a lockdown, lay-offs – and in some cases no job – and the end of live music. Miguel tells me, “at times, it was hard to put food on the table.”
Dreams are hard to extinguish though, and all through lockdown, the band met to record all Linkin Park’s 100 songs, “It’s the only way to achieve their unique sound because they evolved, so we too have to move forward and learn new instruments. That’s how we will differentiate ourselves.” Indeed some of the Linkin Park songs were never performed live but Hybrid Theory dream of playing them at live venues in the future. Miguel, who also acts as the manager, watches hundreds of hours of footage to put together the music and get the right sounds. “It’s really tedious, but when everything comes together, that’s the best part.”
The band have just been able to make their return to the stage with their first post-lockdown gig on the 28 and 29 May, in Faro for two nights with an audience of around 100 at the invitation of the Associação Recreativa e Cultural de Músicos.
They will resume touring in November with a tour of Russia, currently including five venues, which will increase if they sell out. They are hoping for another tour of the antipodes and Europe. “Finally, we might be able to take this where we want to and reach our full potential.”
Touring will be lucrative for the band; the tour organisers pay the royalties and the band receive a percentage of the ticket sales. Emulating their idols, they gave money from their merchandise to WIRES (Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Services Inc.) when they were in Oz and hope to continue giving to local charities on their tours.
Their final dream come true would be for the remaining band members of Linkin Park to see their act. “I would love to see how they react to Ivo and for them to give us their blessing,” reflects Miguel.
Ironically their journey over the last year and a half is remarkably similar to Chester’s lyrics from ‘The End’.
Pedro and Miguel have been fantastic to interview: polite, smart, committed and effortlessly cool! Could they be one of the Algarve’s most successful exports? I certainly hope so.