The hills and valleys of Parque da Bela Vista were once again filled with music, dancing, and fun from August 31 to September 2 for the second edition of MEO’s Kalorama music festival. Despite marking the beginning of the end for Portugal’s festival season, an excellent park design and a line-up miles ahead of those of comparable festivals made Kalorama one of the best major events of the year.
Gifted with press accreditation and a free pass, Atlas Lisboa was able to experience Kalorama from the middle of the crowds and ends of beer lines. Heavy hitters and A-listers from all over the musical spectrum, sprinkled with some of the most interesting local and Lusophone acts working today, made every day and night of Kalorama exciting. By night, some of the most beloved – and elusive – acts attracted oceans of fans who, thanks to the hilly layout of the park, usually had a great view of the stage no matter where they were standing.
American alternative legends The Yeah Yeah Yeahs took us all back to the simpler, happier early 2000s with a set full of emotion and, of course, all the classics. This is a band who has honed their performances down to a perfect science, but has never sacrificed their joy of performing. As Karen O and company played through sunset, their excitement to be back in Lisbon for the first time in more than a decade was only matched by the mass of fans who had been waiting just as long to hear “Maps” in all its anthemic glory. Twenty years after their first album release, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs don’t seem to have slowed down one bit. All three members and their accompanying tour multi-instrumentalist worked through their set with genuine affection for their songs and vocal appreciation for their fans in Lisbon, of which there were many.
Kalorama’s impeccable sound engineering was especially notable during the set of the ever-evasive electronic music elder Aphex Twin. After not making a single appearance since 2019, the prolific producer has performed at a string of festivals in 2023 and was gracious enough to put Lisbon on his schedule. Hiding behind a grated half-cage covered in dizzying projected visuals, Aphex Twin unleashed a chaotic flurry of original, largely previously unheard material that was as thrilling as it was challenging. The three-hour set demanded a lot from the audience, oscillating between jungle-tinged dance marathons and dense extended walls of noise and sound. Around and above the stage, images of Portuguese icons flashed by, some of whom’s faces were replaced with Aphex Twin’s own face, generating roars of laughter, cheers, and boos from a crowd otherwise entirely focused on dancing. The intensity of the set and possibly the entire festival reached its apex in the final moments of the night, with Aphex Twin seeming to turn every knob in his booth all the way to the right, drowning the crowd in a black sea of noise that at once lifted the crowd to the heavens and crushed them underneath the stars.
These were only a few of the highlights of the 2023 edition of Kalorama. Acts like the hugely respected Brazilian rapper BK’ and the infectiously energetic Angolan-Portuguese artist Pongo energized the early hours of the festival as did other international acts like the Australian punk rockers Amyl and the Sniffers and North American singer-songwriter Ethel Cain. Venezuelan singer, producer, and queer fashion icon Arca utilized a giant sex swing on stage in her first Lisbon appearance in more than a year. Lisbon favorites Metronomy made another dazzling appearance that explained why exactly they keep coming back, and why the city keeps on turning out.
With an unbeatable line-up of international and local acts, and arguably the prettiest setting a festival could ask for in central Lisbon, the 2023 edition of Kalorama stood in fierce competition with similar festivals who have had years and years to hone their craft. If the festival shows even more growth in their coming editions, it will be well on its way to becoming Lisbon’s premiere music festival.