In partnership with MEO Kalorama
It’s 1am at Portugal’s first-ever MEO Kalorama festival, where the hypnotic refrain of The Chemical Brothers’ ‘Swoon’ is swirling above the crowd at the main stage: “Just remember to fall in love / There’s nothing else.” It’s a blissful, fleeting moment of perspective in an otherwise relentlessly high-energy rave with a crowd that’s raring for a massive end of summer party.
The electronic music duo’s set is wildly liberating in Lisbon’s Bella Vista Park (which translates to “beautiful view”), where the main stage crowd is positioned in the lowest point of the site. Its a bowl-shaped dip – which feels like you’re in the centre of a natural amphitheatre – is flanked by gentle slopes that are peppered with neon bars.
At night, the festival feels neatly compact, where a 360 degree swivel from the higher points shows you everything going on at each of the three stages. There’s also notably no towering buildings around the site – despite its urban surroundings – that might disrupt the view. Instead, a row of dense trees and suspended lights surround the outskirts, making you feel truly secluded in a sanctuary that’s especially intimate for the calibre of acts on this festival’s lineup.
Despite the slightly reserved modesty that punters enter with, unaware of what to expect from a totally new festival experience, The Chemical Brothers set the tone for the next two days. Their unrelenting basslines are exceptionally crisp in a sound system that has been faultless today, elevated by the acoustics of the natural landscape.
The duo relish in the crowd’s full-body experience, occasionally stepping away from the decks to raise their hands to the sky and take a better look at the party. Other immersive moments come in ‘Eve of Destruction’, as a clip of futuristic Norwegian star Aurora is projected on the screen, before the urgent ‘Under the Influence’ and the razor sharp ‘Galvanize’ both strike later on.
The visceral nature of the DJs’ live energy can sometimes verge on the gently sinister, as their sound effects hop between harsh screeches and piercing whistles, in tandem with unsettling digital imagery like a Blair Witch-style forest or an anonymous masked man. But there’s also a wild light show, confetti, wacky on-screen dancers, huge suspended robots and chaotic bouncing balls, one of which bonks NME right on the head.
Just before The Chemical Brothers, Kraftwerk warm up the crowd on a stage higher up in the park, as the electronic music veterans stand like four stoic pillars in matching geometric outfits. The crowd don wonky 3D glasses for the interactive background visuals, from space satellites to static soundwaves. The breathless gasps and nimble synths of 1983 hit ‘Tour de France’ makes for a set highlight as bikes race on the screen behind them, while the stuttering beat of ‘Computer Liebe’, and woozy pulse of ‘Die Roboter’ offer a slick range of textures.
Years & Years, meanwhile, brings the pop factor, as Olly Alexander steps out of a telephone box that becomes his second stage. “It’s so good to be here!” he tells the crowd during the feel-good ‘Sweet Talker’, before diving into the thumping ‘Consequences’, featuring some ‘Thriller’ inspired dance moves from his leather-clad entourage. The brightest moments come in ‘Shine’ and ‘Sunlight’, the warmest of songs that were made for balmy summer nights. There’s also a moment to show off raw vocals with a Pet Shop Boys cover of ‘It’s a Sin’, before rounding up with fan favourite ‘King’.
James Blake offers a more subdued energy. His vocals are lush and powerful on songs like ‘Life Round Here’ and ‘Love Me In Whatever Way’. “I appreciate all your support all this time that we’ve not been here, I missed you,” the singer endearingly tells the Portuguese crowd. He raises the energy with the powerful ‘CMYK’, forcing the tempo further with the stacked beats of ‘Voyeur’. ‘Say What You Will’ draws a huge cheer as he encourages the crowd to sing with him, while ‘Godspeed’ makes for an emotional ending.
Day one of MEO Kalorama doesn’t miss a beat, already offering huge potential for next year’s edition to reach bigger crowds, with three stages – including the Futura stage for local and rising talent – offering a spectrum of music throughout the day. You can’t help but feel like MEO Kalorama might just be the unsuspecting hidden gem of this summer’s festival season.