Subculture Weekender: Lisbon

The best music hang-outs in Portugal's capital

Thursday 25th July 2019

Musicbox, Lisbon. Photo: Ana Viotti

Portugal's port capital, Lisbon has a unique history stretching back further than London and a lot of other big European cities, a global hub of trade and exploration. Influences have flowed into the city from Europe, The Atlantic and from Northern Africa along with the trade that made the city thrive. Present day Portugal still shows evidence of this history with its Afro-electro scene, in particular, displaying the city's ability to fuse cultures into something new, not to mention a strong reggae and jazz scene. We take a look at Portugal's best subcultural hang-outs.

"Lisbon has become a melting pot of talented musicians. You can go out and see a cavernous improvisation jazz band on one bar, but also the ravest ghetto kids doing live acts to hundreds of people a couple of miles away. If you look further you can find a synth-based jam close to a teen Garage band." - Eduardo, Sabotage

With one of the most characterful facades of any club you're likely to come across, Musicbox was founded in 2006, tucked away under an archway on Lisbon's Rua Nova do Carvalho in the former space used by Bar Texas, itself a famous Lisbon nightspot. The street was once a notorious red light district with a reputation for attracting visiting sailors and criminality but these days the road is not red, but bright pink.

Jonathan Bree performing at Musicbox. Photo: Ana Viotti 

An example of gentrification gone right, the initiative in 2011 saw brothels and dangerous dives replaced by a different type of clubs and bars, and saw the street physically painted pink, coining its new nickname of Pink Street. Musicbox's programming sets out to attract visiting touring artists as well as emerging artists, with a leaning towards Lisbon's thriving electronic scene. That said, Musicbox's set up makes it versatile enough to host intimate gigs as well as clubbing.

Another venue on Rua Nova do Carvalho owing some of its history to Lisbon's Atlantic port location, Jamaica got its name in 1971 in an effort to attract sailors from ships importing coffee from the Caribbean. By 1975 the resulting visitors had brought their music with them giving Jamaica a unique selling point for locals too and the bar eventually became a relaxed hang-out with a strong musical reputation. Years passed and while the original Caribbean mandate adopted by Jamaica is a distant memory, music remains at the centre of its appeal and the relaxed vibe is still persist to this day.

The go-to Lisbon venue for alternative and rock 'n' roll bands, Portuguese alternative bands especially, Sabotage is located in another area of the city that has been regenerated since its days as a shipyard and docking area. As strong as Lisbon's electronic scene is, its rock 'n' roll lovers are well catered for at Sabotage drawing in the psych-garage bands both local and international. It also has its own signature drink of gin, orange and coriander.

Sabotage, Lisbon. Photo: Louis Sousa

"Sabotage opened as a sequel to the work of Three "Amigos" who've been managing record stores, labels and music distributors since the '90s, so promoting music is the number one goal for all of us here. The "rock'n'roll" label we have attached to Sabotage is way wider than 12 bar blues music. Since the beginning, we easily jump from Boogaloo to Northern Soul, from Deep Funk to Post Punk, or from all forms of psychedelia to Free Jazz. All of them fit in our baggy concept of rock'n'roll... We can have a live show from the Brazilian legends Os Mutantes or Lydia Lunch or the young pimpled newcomer Portuguese bands, and all are treated equally." - Eduardo, Sabotage

Groove Bar
Located in Portugal's bohemian Bairro Alto district, Groove Bar is a laid back watering hole with a reputation for a backdrop of reggae and street art style decor. Swing jazz and funk feature in its make-up too. Despite the cocktails on sale, this is not a gentrified concept bar, rather a perfect example of how the blending of culture's in Lisbon also mixes up the cliques and clientele of its creative spaces.

A non-glitzy lounge-style club space with varied programming and long-held reputation for excellence in carefully curated grassroots dance music, electronic music and the early hours hospitality to go with it, but the intimate small room also lends itself to punk gigs and blues bands.

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