On the last weekend of August, thousands of Brits boxed off summer at the annual Reading and Leeds Festivals – but those who got tickets for MEO Kalorama the following weekend may well feel they got a better deal.
Three-day tickets for the inaugural festival in Lisbon, Portugal, were up for grabs for as little as €130 (£112), you could get a San Miguel for €4 (£3.50 - as opposed to a Carlsberg for £6.50 at Reading and Leeds), and the only thing that was burnt were insufficiently sun-creamed necks (as opposed to tents targeted by highly-impressionable Woodstock ‘99 Netflix documentary viewers).
Oh, and there were no last-minute act replacements... and festival-goers got to see Arctic Monkeys too.
Set in the capital’s Parque da Bela Vista – meaning ‘beautiful view’ - the new festival’s moniker is an homage to this setting, with ‘kalorama’ the Greek term for beautiful view. Why exactly the organiser’s plumped for the Greek term is less clear, but what is plain for all to see is that the views are truly beautiful.
The shape of the park – which has also played host to Rock in Rio festival – creates a natural amphitheatre (another word of Greek derivation for you there), and from up high attendees were treated to stunning sunsets, glimpses of the distant River Tagus, and the sight of thousands of swaying torch lights during some of the more musically tender moments.
From a more practical perspective, the park’s bowl shape also aids the acoustics and means you can always get a view of the main stage.
The music kicked off at 4pm on Thursday 1 September and ran until 2am, following the same schedule for the next two days. The line-up for day one had an electro/dance bent to it, with James Blake getting things off to a cracking start on the main stage with his distinctive brand of lively yet gentle tunes.
He also kindly obliged when a fan held up a sign requesting that he donate his set list (and thankfully didn’t forget what he had left to play).
Colombian outfit Bomba Estéreo brought the energy next up on the Colina stage, with singer Li Saumet’s get-up as vibrant as their musical output, which had the crowd jumping. Kraftwerk were up next on the stage, appearing behind four podiums that temporarily evoked horrific flashbacks to the crushing Covid briefings that used to mire our daily existence.
Mercifully on the screen behind them there weren't any slides comprised of grim statistics, but rather immersive visuals of autobahns, robots and the like, which the crowd viewed through cartoonish 3D glasses.
Meanwhile, on the Futura stage, Jake Shears brought an upbeat pop offering surprisingly reminiscent to that of the Scissor Sisters (surprising, that is, to those who were unaware that he was the singer in Scissor Sisters). His clash with Kraftwerk was one of few throughout the festival that presented attendees with a difficult decision to make, with well-timed splits and the relatively close proximity of all three stages making it possible to catch at least a portion of just about everything.
The Chemical Brothers headlined the main stage, bringing with them instantly recognisable electronic anthems from across the decades, as well as trippy visuals that captivated the crowds. And while wellies were not necessary at Kalorama, the dust kicked up from the dancing masses gave revellers a valid excuse to wear sunglasses in the dark.
Day two felt like a different festival in many ways, with the line-up taking on more of an indie-rock feel and the crowd seemingly doubling in size.
Portuguese singer The Legendary Tigerman impressed a crowd estimated to be comprised of roughly 70 percent natives, before bands from the north of England took on the baton on the main stage.
Blossoms, of Stockport, delivered a set of joyful indie-pop, comprised of old songs and new – as well as a delightful cover of Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’.
After getting the crowd well and truly hyped up for Arctic Monkeys, a sense of anticipation rippled across the night sky as a vast crowd assembled below. It’s unclear which Arctic Monkeys will be in attendance at Kalorama, with some fans fearful of a mellow set heavy on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino tunes, and others expecting a large dose of new songs from their recently announced seventh album, The Car.
But from the off the much-loved Sheffield band set the tone for the show, getting the ball rolling with the unmistakable opening riff of ‘Do I Wanna Know?’. From there on, they delivered hit after hit from across their discography, with fans from Portugal, the UK, and beyond belting out every last idiosyncratic lyric (and even singing along to Alex Turner’s guitar with a jubilant 'duurrrhhh, durrrhhh, durrrhhh-durrrhhh').
The frontman has developed into one hell of a showman since bursting on to the scene as a teen, and he had fans in the palm of his hand as he popped his collar, flicked on his shades and charismatically paused for thought.
Somewhat surprisingly, ‘I’m Not Quite Where I Think I Am’ is the only new tune to make the set, and if the rest of the songs on The Car are of the same calibre then we should be in for a treat. As for Kalorama, there were few complaints about a lack of new tracks with a set so chock-a-block with classics.
As the show drew to a close, a naive young couple were forced to chuck a U-turn when a rapturous roar informed them that the band had made their way back to the stage for an encore, bringing down the house with ‘R U Mine?’.
Bonobo followed on the Colina stage at 12.45am, with a set that proved ideal for those still waiting for the dust to settle following AM – quite literally.
The third and final day came around all too quickly, and while the previous days appeared to have a vague musical theme for those wanting a day pass, day three was more of a rollercoaster.
One of the most memorable parts of the ride came in the form of Peaches, who arrived on the Colina stage at 8pm with an unapologetically sexual show that you have to think would come post-watershed in the UK. Then again, earlier in the day, there was a bloke in the Feira da Ladra market selling piles of hardcore porn and nobody seemed to bat an eyelid, so perhaps they aren’t as prudish in Portugal.
The Canadian gave everything in her performance, which featured lots of stripping, crowd-surfing, and a ‘Thank God For Abortion’ leotard. If you’ve never heard any of Peaches’ output, song titles such as ‘F**k the Pain Away’, ‘Vaginoplasty’ and ‘D**k in the Air’ should give you a steer as to what you can expect.
This was always going to be a tough act to follow, but final headliner Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gave it a good go with the longest set of the festival, with 64-year-old Aussie Cave commanding the stage for nearly two-and-a-half hours. Peaky Blinders theme song ‘Red Right Hand’ made the cut, while a touching rendition of ‘Into My Arms’ brought a brief still over the park in the last hours of the festival.
Cave’s compatriot Chet Faker ticked the inaugural Kalorama towards conclusion, donning a bucket hat as he performed crowd-pleasing tunes, such as ‘Gold’ and ‘Talk Is Cheap’.
With his race run, droves of fans headed to the main stage for one last blow out, as Disclosure closed the festival with a hit-heavy set that made dancing obligatory – even for the most beleaguered of Kaloramites (I’ve not actually heard this term used, but hopefully it catches on).
For now, the majority of Kaloramites (I’m gonna make it happen) will be consumed by the post-festival blues - but a considerable dollop of consolation has been served up with the confirmation of Kalorama’s return on 31 August next year.
The festival’s debut was fantastic value, both in terms of ticket and pint price, with camping available to those who didn’t fancy splashing out on a hotel (though there were also plenty of affordable Airbnbs available to those who fancied indulging in a proper wash and a decent mattress across the weekend).
The capital also has an abundance to offer during the days, whether it’s a bit of rest and recuperation on the beach, sightseeing in nearby Sintra, shopping at the LX Factory complex, or necking endless pastel de natas at Time Out Market. Picking the occasional black dust gobbet from a nostril really was a small price to pay.
So, if you like the sound of spending your days sunning it up in the gorgeous city of Lisbon, and your nights basking in an eclectic mix of music, then you should probably pencil in Kalorama to round off summer 2023.