How often do you get to listen to some of your favourite music – and music that could easily be your favourite music if you knew what it was – on a fantastic soundsystem without the distraction of people nearby talking shit, spilling drinks and/or vomiting on your shoes? And how often do you get that chance twice in one weekend? Not often; but this weekend (and I am including Thursday here since I’m now a freelance home-working hipster who has, like, you know, a flexible approach to working hours, this is 2015 after all guys) this weekend, I had three said experiences, each different and each enjoyable in its own way.
First, on Thursday, a night run by my ex-landlord Rodrigo called, fabulously, AQUARELLA, at one of my favourite bars in Lisbon: Brownie. Having up to that point thought that the friendly lady behind the bar was simply an employee, I was surprised and pleased to find out that she – Xana – actually set up and owns the place, having started it without any prior experience whatsoever – living the dream, in other words, though I get the impression in the current climate here it is not the best of ‘negócios’. I love it though: it’s essentially someone’s front room but with decks, a soundsystem and a bar, and they program a rota of local DJs playing to local bar-propper-uppers, including one slightly frazzled individual called Hugo whose acquaintance I had the pleasure of making this time round. Rodrigo, playing on a Rane rotary provided by one of Xana’s friends, treated the exclusive (read: sparse) crowd to a mixture of his own brand of disco, italo, slow house and odds and sods, in true professional DJ form, and I took advantage of the full 15 minutes of Moroder’s ‘Evolution’ to dance in front of the Martin Audio speaker, soaking in that liquid, cyclical, future-funk opera masterpiece as if I was in my own living room. Experience #1. When the music finished we sat round the bar drinking shots on the house and ensuring headaches for tomorrow.
Second, on Friday, I went to Ministerium, probably the shiniest club I’ve been to in Lisbon, even shinier than Lux Frágil and worse for it, since, unlike Lux, which attracts a chic hipster crowd who nonetheless like to get down, it simply attracts the wealthy. Following my last few times there I had almost lost hope with the place, and on reflection Friday’s experience doesn’t change my overall view, but I did have a wonderful time: almost two hours of uninterrupted dancing all by myself in the centre of the dancefloor, optimum speaker orientation for maximum enjoyment of the parade of favourites played by Gonçalo and Francisco of 808. I mean, of course I knew they would play records I like, I just didn’t know I’d be spoilt with a dancefloor and soundsystem all to myself. ‘Crying Black Man’, ‘Make It Hot’, ‘My Soul My Spirit’, ‘Phreaky MF’ with an inspired conversational mix into ‘Overcome’…it just went on and on. I actually felt some genuine disappointment when more people arrived at the club, especially as they then proceeded to stand on the side as if it was a school disco. Maybe I was that crazy guy dancing before the hour at which it’s socially acceptable…so shoot me. Sadly it couldn’t last, as 808 wrapped up their set and Black Coffee, SA’s foremost ‘deep house’ guru, took over and proceeded to play the kind of banal, insipid music that the kind of people who go to Ministerium fucking love.
Time to leave, then, and see how the Dekmantel label night was getting on at Lux. Having been let in past the main queue for the first time by the club’s fabulous (and cute) doorman – but not for free (more work to be done) – I caught the last 30 minutes or so of Juju & Jordash’s liveset, which they were coaxing out of racks upon racks of gear and wires. It sounded good, apart from the odd system fuckup causing the front stacks to cut out, and of course the fact that is true about any and all livesets: they’re really just one track after another, in a way that’s far less interesting than DJ sets. Actually, I’ve never seen a Steevio modular synthesis set, so maybe I should reserve judgement in that regard, but even with Bletchley Park-levels of hardware J&J were still hamstrung by the format.
When they finished there was some brief applause before Joey Anderson, obscured by the stage and equipment, let fly with the full PUMP of Machine’s ‘There But For The Grace Of God Go I’ – there could be no better omen, you might say, and for 5 blissful minutes I was imagining the forthcoming hours of uninhibited hands-in-the-air madness…only to be brought savagely down to earth by the realisation that Joey Anderson was playing B2B with one of the Dekmantel DJs who, in combination, would find it impossible to locate any semblance of flow at all. Yes, I like Sha-Lor, and yes, I like Liz Torres, but no, I don’t like cheesy Sven Weisemann-esque-but-with-vocals house tunes, and no, I don’t think in this day and age that ‘Walk Music’ is still worth listening to, and no, I don’t think Oni Ayhun OAR003B should ever by played ever again unless it’s the final record of a festival on top of a dormant volcano in Japan and everyone’s taken loads of acid. Sorry. Time to leave, again.
So on to Experience #3, on Saturday afternoon (still only Saturday?), when I walked half an hour north from my flat, past Amoreiras (monument to Portugal’s late-20th century fixation on outsized shopping centres, and designed by an architect who must surely also be one of the first sex-tape celebrities of the internet age) and into Campolide, traversing various highways in order to reach the Jardim Amnistia Nacional, where Rodrigo was once again playing, this time at the invitation of OUTJAZZ festival. When I arrived there was a smattering of people listening to a piano-saxophone duo noodling away needlessly in the blinding sunshine with a backdrop of the banks and insurance high-rises that line the avenue west of Praça de Espanha. After much torture-by-saxophone, and after locating one of the few spots of grass actually shaded by the infrequent trees dotted through the park, I could finally sit down and enjoy more of Rodrigo’s wonderful record collection, which continues to impress me by its diversity and appropriateness to every occasion – the sign not just of a good collection but of a very good DJ. And then, unexpectedly, there I was sitting with a beer in hand to all intents and purposes alone (despite the growing crowd on the hill behind me) and soaking in the jawdropping bass of ‘Aquarius’, the sky blue above, the grass green in front, the buildings stark white and airplanes descending close overhead (Lisbon being notable for the sometimes worryingly intimate relationship between the city and its principle flightpath), all of this mixture of the natural and the synthetic being translated for me palpably in the song itself, whose nonsense litany of numbers, giggling and ‘ORANGE’ made my grin, already wide from the bass, reach manic proportions.
‘We don’t really need a crowd to have a party’ they say. Well, it’s nice to have company, but sometimes you can’t beat a soundsystem and some good music, never mind how many other people are there to enjoy it with you.