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Arts + CultureMusicCan't-miss acts on a wild Portola Festival lineup

Can’t-miss acts on a wild Portola Festival lineup

We're abuzz with the possibilities: Rina Sawayama, Little Simz (finally)—and will DJ Koze and Roísín Murphy deliver a surprise crossover?

While last year’s inaugural edition of the Portola Music Festival on Pier 80 was mostly remembered for some network TV hacks pearl clutching at minor crowd control issues and East Bay residents “complaining” about hearing the music across the Bay, it was nonetheless a glorious affair. The shipyard made for an excellent venue, albeit one that could have used some more visual and artistic bells and whistles. 

On Wednesday we found out that Goldenvoice’s 21+ electronic music-focused festival and megarave is returning to the Pier 80 site on September 30 and October 1 with a lineup that’s just as unbelievable as last year’s. I have to say, I had my doubts about the return of Portola, because I was on the fence about whether this was a one-off, impulsive production by one our corporate promoter overlords, or if there was genuine interest in building out a new festival property in San Francisco. Well they sure showed me.

Note: tickets for the 2023 edition go on sale Mon/22—and pre-registration is already live. 

The newly-announced lineup will feature headlining sets from Skrillex and Eric Prydz’s trippy HOLO performance. And yes, while these top-billed acts definitely appeal to straightforward EDM heads, there’s soooo much more on this stacked lineup. Let your friends desperately search for a Spotify playlist sponsored by Gatorade of who’s-who on the festival bill—we’ve done the dirty work for you in running down the can’t-miss acts on the lineup. Check it out!


The French multi-instrumentalist put out his second full length album last year with the spectacular Vincent, featuring appearances from Toro y Moi, Little Dragon, and even Carlos Santana. While FKJ is behind some of the best focus-oriented mixes of the past five years, he’s a musical chameleon who’ll be there to provide a gorgeous breath of fresh air during a weekend of headbanging. 


The enigmatic UK producer is touring for the first time since the world was introduced to the mysterious sounds of his “BTSTU” in 2013; one of the most perfect songs you’ll ever hear. A nearly decade-long existential crisis caused by the theft of his music led to the proper release of his album Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) in 2021—and it was even sequenced in the same way the thief did when it originally leaked on to the internet 10 years ago. This one’s a long time coming. 


For everyone who was blown away by how incredible The Chemical Brothers were last year at Portola, Underworld is one of those OG acts that scratches the same itch. This is nothing short of a headline-worthy act. 


Like a fine wine, the electro rock staples just keep getting better. I had the great pleasure of seeing them last weekend at LA’s Just Like Heaven festival and holy shit, there is no better band to dance to with your friends. “Over And Over” still totally hits and their new album Freakout/Release is another banger. 


The Dominican rapper’s set could take many forms. For one, this promises to be the brightest música latina moment of the weekend. Along with the Weeknd, Tokischa was one of only two guests on Rosalía’s world-smashing album Motomamí. But Tokischa also fronted the wildly popular track “Kilo,” and subsequent remixes with Bronx DJ’s The Martinez Brothers. This is a smart way for the fest to incorporate a dembow set into the lineup’s overarching EDM umbrella. 


Ok, so while Austrian producer and god-level remixer DJ Koze plays Friday, Irish dance pop diva Róisín Murphy plays on Saturday. This is significant, because Murphy just announced that her new album Hit Parade (out September 8), is entirely produced by Koze. Both new singles from the album are stellar, especially “CooCool,” which shows the unique symbiotic nature of this creative partnership. 


Just like the Koze and Murphy kind-of alignment, SBTRKT plays Saturday and Little Dragon plays Sunday. Both have new albums for 2023—The Rat Road for SBTRKT, Slugs Of Love (out July 8) for Little Dragon—and they have a history of memorable collaborations. I wouldn’t put it past Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano to hop on stage with SBTRKT to sing both their timeless “Wildfire” and the newly-released “I See A Stair.” 


The latest signees to the XL Recordings label, production duo Overmono are tailor-made for delivering their breakneck beats in one of Portola Fest’s tented stages. The entirety of their debut album, Good Lies, is a worthy journey for your ears, but the single “Is U,” is easily one of this year’s best tracks. 


There were nights during lockdown when I wished I could go out to a club and see a live show. On multiple occasions, my respite was eating a good canna-gummy and putting on one of the many visceral performances from Young Fathers on YouTube. Good lord does this Scottish trio bring the heat, merging see-saw vocals and furious instrumentals to create music that’s incredibly emotional and escapist. 


Speaking of lockdown, it feels like just yesterday when Thundercat was playing a drive-in concert at a driving range in Burlingame. The Grammy-winning LA bassist is at the forefront of a future funk movement and I can think of multiple times when I’ve seen him totally steal the show at a music festival over the years. Best part about this performance is you won’t have to watch it from a folding chair in the trunk of your hatchback. 


While the Japanese-British pop singer might not draw the same rabid crowds that her friend Charli XCX did at last year’s Portola Fest, Sawayama’s futuristic pop is in the same spirit. This will surely be the best opportunity of the weekend to dance your face off to a true gushy pop star. 


Little Simz was slated to play in SF at the Independent in May of last year to support her album, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. But the tour was canceled, with the Brit citing the mental and financial burden of such tours. In the year since then, the album went on to win the Mercury Music Prize as the best album in the UK, and Simz soon released the equally fantastic follow-up NO THANK YOU this past December. She’s one of the best rappers in the world, point blank. Don’t sleep on her. 


The San Francisco-born DJ and producer took a fascinating turn on her latest album, & the charm. Instead of the techno that’s made her a staple in clubs from the West Coast to Berlin, Emerson takes the mic on an album of dreamy, gazy, and introspective avant pop that works on every level. This should be an interesting homecoming set for Emerson as her palette continues to expand. 


I loves me some vocal-based electronic music and if you are too, then Jayda G is next in line to be your next fave. Her new album Guy comes out on June 9 (on Ninja Tune, which has a deep, deep presence at Portola.) Tracks like “Circle Back Around” and “Blue Lights” are a great place to enter her world. 


While this is tabbed as just a DJ set performance, Bassment Jaxx haven’t played in San Francisco since 2015. When you get an opportunity to hear era-defining jams like “Red Alert,” “Romeo,” and “Where’s Your Head At” played by their auteurs on a dance floor, you take whatever you can get. 


Before becoming a go-to hip-hop producer for rappers like Vince Staples, Freddie Gibbs, and Denzel Curry, Kenny Beats used to make EDM. This is just to say that the guy has a well-rounded arsenal, because I don’t necessarily expect him to deliver an EDM set at Portola. Instead, I am hoping we hear material from last year’s album Louie, one of the sweetest, most expressive and uncategorizable productions of 2022. His latest NPR Tiny Desk performance (featuring Palo Alto’s Remi Wolf) stays on repeat in my house. 

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Adrian Spinelli
Adrian Spinelli
Adrian is a Brazilian-born, SF-based writer covering music, booze, festivals, and culture. Follow him on Twitter @AGSpinelli.

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