Stop, Look and Lisbon

Matt Charlton on why Lisbon’s music scene rocks

Put down your peri-peri chicken, save your sardines, vanquish your vinho verde to the back of your mind and place your pastel de nata to one side.  Do save them for later however…they’re all, really, very nice indeed.  

Food is, of course, what first comes to mind when thinking of Lisbon, Portugal’s beating heart…that and Cristiano Ronaldo, maybe…but the city doesn’t just march to a culinary beat, or to the overinflated ego of a footballer. Throughout every tumbledown medieval district, via the sprawling riverfront, and down to the regenerated once industrial wastelands of LX Factory, the lifeblood of Lisbon runs along a musical stave, whether it be the traditional sailor’s laments of Fado; the flourishing, shabby and energetic garage rock movement; or the pulsing club scene.  Lisbon…whisper it…may be about to become cooler than Berlin.

…or maybe just a Latina equivalent–fewer items of black clothing, and a touch warmer in the winter. The two cities have much in common, however–a more informal, DIY nature than you would find in most other European capitals; the feeling of once vacant spaces re-appropriated with a shabby-chic ‘make do and mend’ aesthetic; an open-minded spirit that says ‘you can be whoever you want to be; just don’t expect anyone to be impressed by it’; the feeling of a once-forgotten city now rediscovered.

But first to Fado, maybe one of the original reasons as to why the city is such a magnet for creatives.  A metropolis with melancholy always draws artists, and you can’t get melancholier than this uniquely Portuguese folk music, which can be traced back almost exactly two centuries to the alleys of Lisbon. It’s characterised by tunes of sorrow and wistfulness, often about the sea or poverty…what we’re saying is, don’t plan a birthday party around visiting one of Lisbon’s many Fado joints. A good Fado joint is worth searching out, however, and they’re mostly located in the bohemian district of Alfama. Walk past the ones trying to encourage you in–they’re for the tourists–instead, head to the likes of Tejo Bar (a favourite of Madonna’s, no less) and drink in the heavy atmosphere along with some vinho verde. There’s also the exciting development of mixing hip-hop with Fado, the results of which you will see in some of our playlist recommendations.

A great way of getting to see a lot of local acts without having to search too hard is to attend the NOS Alive festival, which takes place on Lisbon’s riverside on the first weekend of July every year.  Not only do they have major international acts (in 2022 they played host to Metallica, The Strokes, MIA, and St Vincent among others) but the line-up is stacked full of Portuguese and Lisboeta artists, including a tent dedicated exclusively to Fado.  If this gives you the taste, and you fancy staying on for a few days after the festival (we recommend the excellent Vintage Lisbon, or our friends at Mama Shelter for your accommodation), the bars, record shops, and clubs of the Portuguese capital will be sure to fill your time with every kind of beat and high note.

Lisbon is a city that dances hard. The clubbing scene is thriving, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Be sure to check out the likes of Lux Fragil or B.Leza to get a truly local twist on EDM or Hip-Hop, mixing in Latino rhythms, and playing with expectations of more conventional dance music. If guitars are more your thing, then you’re still spoilt for choice, with local institution Musicbox offering live music and DJs, and indie rock stalwart Incognito (an ‘alternative dance bar’) playing indie, synth, and New Wave…with a local celebrity doorman in the shape of ‘D’Artagnan’ welcoming you into the cosy space.

Lisbon is a city that dances hard.

For a laidback daytime groove, albeit a groove that might be played by the likes of DJ Peggy Gou, head to local institution LOUNGE, a friendly, intimate bar with a Berlin vibe. To really lean into that laidback feel, how about a bit of record shopping? Peekaboo, a chipboard-clad record store, focuses on disco, boogie, new wave, soul and world music, whilst Flur Discos, a mere jive away from Lux Fragil, stocks everything from Krautrock to Dubstep… the owners, Pedro and José, can give you some pretty amazing pointers for your Lisboa musical itinerary, too.

To finish taking Lisbon’s cultural pulse, head down to LXFactory. Once a sorry-looking abandoned inner city production plant, it has been converted into a vast space housing more than 200 independent businesses, including record shops, a stunning bookshop in the shape of Ler Devagar, and, from Landeau Chocolate, the best chocolate cake this writer has ever had. Nurse your Sunday morning head after a night of dancing by mooching along the cobbled walkways, the enormous 25th April Bridge towering over you, and drink in the people, sights, music…and some white port…with a codfish cake from Casa Portuguesa on the side. See? Told you we’d save the food for later.

Da Weasel

Don’t call it a comeback… well, do, actually. One of Portugal’s biggest international acts was originally formed in 1993 in Almada, a Lisbon suburb.  A hip-hop/rock hybrid known for relying on a full band over breaks and samples, they split in 2010, getting back together nine years later, headlining the NOS Alive Festival in 2022 in front of a huge crowd.

Listen to: ‘Re-Tratamento’

Da’s playlist

  • Dino D’Santiago
  • Kriolu
  • Ana Moura
  • Andorinhas
  • Nenny
  • Tequila
  • Coopero
  • Amaura
  • É Si Propi
  • Fogo Fogo

Having worked with the likes Santigold and Anik Khan, as well as M.I.A, this Lisbon born DJ has been truly prolific both as part of the highly regarded dance collective Buraka Som Sistema and, since 2015, as a solo artist. His debut album featured collaborations with Princess Nokia and DJ Sliink, and his most recent album, ‘Obg’, was released in May 2022.

Listen to: ‘Eta’

Branko’s playlist

  • Dino d’Santiago
  • Mbappé
  • Rita Vian
  • Trago 
  • Carla Prata
  • Nostalgia (Remix) 
  • PEDRO - Terra Treme
  • (feat. Pedro Mafama) 
  • EU.Clides
  • Tubarão Azul
Dino D’Santiago

A figurehead of Lisbon’s Afro-electronic scene, this Cape Verde-born artist blends traditional Morna, Batuku, and Funaná with electronic music to create a refreshing, timeless sound which took Portugal by storm. ‘Badiu’, his most recent album, was his new fatherhood and pandemic album, released to wide acclaim in 2021.

Listen to: ‘Kriolu’ 

Dino D’Santiago’s playlist

  • Fumaxa, Richie Campbell, Julinho Ksd
  • The City is a Jungle
  • Ana Moura
  • Andorinhas
  • EU.Clides
  • Desmancha-Prazeres
  • Branko & Sango
  • Hear from You (feat Cosmia)
  • Djodje
  • Bela

Mixing Frank Ocean-esque RnB vibes with a rich injection of Latino beats and instruments, this Portugal-based musical prodigy was born in Cape Verde, before moving to Portugal and attending the Averio Conservatory of music from the age of eight, later polishing his guitar skills in Paris. He released his first solo single in 2020 and his first EP ‘Reservado’ in 2021.

Listen to: ‘Ira Para Quê?’ 

EU.Clides’ playlist

  • Laura Cahen
  • Poussière 
  • Hnos Munos X Rusowsky
  • Solo Voy Voy 
  • Vanyfox
  • Kitana
  • Seu Jorge
  • Convite Para a Vida 
  • Maro
  • We’ve Been Loving in Silence

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