Portola 2023 Recap and Review

text by digital-media

12 October, 2023

words by Yasmeen Tsipena
Photo courtesy of Portola Music Festival

Six months ago I let my roommate convince me to buy a 300 dollar ticket to a music festival I had never heard of. 

The 21+ electronic music festival took place the weekend of September 30th on the vast lot of Pier 80 in San Francisco. Portola, in its second year, housed an eclectic mix of artists on four stages well worthy of their greatness. 

Any qualms I had about attending my first American festival were quickly relieved. It was as though a vial of mutual respect was injected into each individual upon arrival. No matter the stage or artist of choice, there was an ease with which you could maneuver through crowds, each person leaving more than enough space for their neighbor’s head-banging and dance movements.

Although catered by a number of mouthwatering food vendors spanning a myriad of cuisines, guests were never met with wait times longer than fifteen minutes. A true blessing for ravenous ravers breaking a sweat after dancing and trekking across the 60 acre venue. A downfall however was the lack of seating and rest areas, often resulting in breaks taken on cold concrete floors. 

Portola was a festival for true music lovers. Relatively devoid of extravagant light fixtures and eponymous centerpieces for photo ops, the true heart was in the tangibly electric energy and masterful performances. 


Hot Chip

Frontman Alexis Taylor was a vision. Sporting a pink cowboy hat, sunglasses, and rainbow puffer, his rhapsodic tone leisurely made its way over the Pier stage crowd. The charismatic British synth-pop masters unintentionally triggered a collective swaying of the crowd, which spoke to the sweetness and serenity of their otherwise upbeat dance music. 

Dom Dolla

Dom Dolla and his mustache stole the top performance slot on Saturday. Each beat drop was a physical release, shaking both the ground of the Crane stage and any lingering stress out of the body. There is a particularly invigorating feeling that comes with screaming “San Francisco, where’s your disco” at the top of one’s lungs after being musically edged for fifteen minutes. In the city of San Francisco no less.

Photo courtesy of Portola Music Festival

Nelly Furtado

Nelly Furtado’s set was sonically disappointing. Her voice cracks and shaky tone were distracting, albeit saved by her endearing stage presence and iconic songs. One can not deny her cultural impact; a collective sense of childlike joy was secured due to the nostalgia evoked by the likes of songs such as “Promiscuous” and “Maneater.” 

Photo courtesy of Portola Music Festival

Chris Lake and Armand Van Helden 

The duo played a range of old and new, seamlessly transitioning from classic tech-house to more melodically infused EDM. A set worthy of the legends that graced it, it took place in Portola’s immense Warehouse stage, adorned with disco balls and accompanied by captivating laser light shows. 


Charlotte Adigery and Bolis Pupul

Charlotte Adigery naturally exudes the charisma and entertainment value that most artists spend a lifetime trying to achieve. A most notable moment was her infectious laugh which slowly grew into the bridge of a song about vanity and societal self obsession. Bolis Pupul was equally a fun watch, although underwhelming in the shadow of Charlotte’s dynamism. 

Photo courtesy of Portola Music Festival

Little Simz 

I went into Little Simz’s performance with nothing but curiosity and came out with nothing but veneration. Moments of great vulnerability and lyricism paired with intense vigor and an obvious love for her craft made her set as memorable as they come. One to watch. 

Charlotte de Witte 

Techno pioneer Charlotte de Witte appeals to the most carnal parts of the brain. As staccato as her sets may sound, it flows into the ear and through the body so swiftly that you have no choice but to let the music take you.


Thundercat is easily one of the most impressive musicians I have had the pleasure of experiencing live. The audience was privy to the jam session of true professionals, as if they were sitting on the couch outside his recording booth. It’s not a set you dance to but a set you admire with deep gratitude. Coupled with the psychedelic visuals, it was only a matter of time before I reached peak musical euphoria.

Photo courtesy of Portola Music Festival