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Photo by Lorna Palmer
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Photo by Lorna Palmer
It really all started the day the Berlin Wall fell. On November 9th, 1989, as Berliners started chiselling away at the wall separating their city, a new club opened in Mataró. We don’t know whether the people attending the opening party that night were aware of the historic events happening a few thousand kilometres north. However, they themselves were involved in something rather historic at the time: this new club, Xassís, would—together with others—lay the foundation for a new kind of club scene in and around Barcelona, lasting into the 2000s.
This club scene, which some describe as an offshoot of, others as a parallel scene to, Valencia’s ruta del bakalao, was based on merciless electronic music, drugs—and the assumption that the party never ended. It was the era of the after-hours club.
These clubs sprang up in and around Barcelona in the early Nineties. Places like Ocho, Psicódromo, Cholita, Chikita and KGB (which would rise to fame 10 years later with the residency of DJ Amable, who was then still playing at L’Hospitalet’s Depósito Legal and would become one of the faces of the Barcelona after-hours club scene) attracted people with their stomach-churning bass from dawn ‘til dusk.
Barcelona started to develop a reputation as a party capital, and revellers from all over the world moved in. The opening in 1997 of the after-hours Sala Matinée gave rise to the formation of the Matinée Group, which caught and channelled the spirit of the hedonistic (and gay) party scene—and became one of the driving forces of the Barcelona afters scene. In 1998, this group opened La Madame in what until then had been the club Luna Mora (and today is Catwalk). A year later, they opened Salvation in Ronda Sant Pere and, in 2000, Le Soleil in what is now Shoko. (In fact, many of what are now tourist-touting, posh lounge clubs around the Puerto Olímpico were once after-hours clubs; Fritz Mar was another popular one.)
In 2001, Matinée Group got a contract to run the Thursday morning sessions at Space in Ibiza. That same year, the group opened what for many years was to be Barcelona’s number one after-hours club: Souvenir, located in Viladecans and flanked by the Madness Group’s Merci.
Carlos García, a former employee at Discothèque in Poble Espanyol (now The One) and founder of a forum to commemorate Barcelona’s legendary clubs, nostalgically recalls the parties of those days. “When we got out of La Terrrazza or Discothèque, the Matinée Group coach would already be waiting. Entering Souvenir was like stepping into another dimension. It was like a big family, it was all about the good vibe and the music made you vibrate. It was impressive to see hundreds of people with their hands in the air singing along to ‘Searching for the Golden Eye’ or ‘Desert Rose’. It would give me goose bumps.”
In fact, you didn’t even have to travel out of town: after-hours clubs like Lokotron, República, Big Nau and Penélope were afters clubs located right in Barcelona, between the upper areas of Avinguda Diagonal and Poblenou.
Distrito Distinto used to be a legendary after hours club in El Clot, on Avinguda Meridiana—right next to a comisaría of the Guardia Urbana. “I have no idea how that could work,” said Christian Schärmer, an Austrian graphic designer, VJ and lover of electronic music, who moved to Barcelona in 2000 and immediately immersed himself in the after-hours club scene. “Distrito Distinto was like a Berlin club: four rooms, dark, run-down—I think one room even had a mud floor—and music so loud it would make your ears ring. It was also located in the middle of a residential area. And it closed down around 2001.”
Trying to explain the rise of afters clubs in Barcelona is to engage in chicken-and-egg reasoning. However, a few factors are obvious: a predilection for hard electronic music, the popularity of recreational drugs, speed and ecstasy, a hedonist mentality and the leniency of the authorities.
The demise of the after-hours clubs began when the Ayuntamiento started paying more attention to licences and neighbours’ complaints about noise. The current legal situation is unclear in issues concerning licences; there is no explicit licence for an after-hours club. Bars that open at 5 or 6am often (and sometimes unwillingly) turn into afters bars, like El Reloj or El Rincón del Artista. But in general, whoever wants to run a late night establishment these days face high fines and trouble with the law.
As a consequence, the afters scene has become a lot more subdued since 2005. You can still go out after clubs close at 5am—just don’t expect a big party. Today, it’s mainly after-hours bars instead of clubs. Pipa Club still stays opens until after sunrise; Papillon still sends its wired security guys into the little alleyways off Carrer Princesa to pick up party-goers looking for this mythical bar (and to make sure they don’t cause too much racket during their search). There are places like El Armario, Red Rocket, La Flor del Norte, and a nameless afters bar off Plaça George Orwell. What all these have in common is that the music is low (if there is any), the beer expensive—and that you can never count on them being open. Interestingly enough, the heavy fines don’t seem to discourage bar owners keeping their venues open longer than their license—or any licence—permits. A waitress at the club Sidecar in Plaça Reial tells that both Malpaso and the Pile 43 cocktail bar, located in the same area, now open after hours, too. “It’s the crisis,” she ventured. “Some bars now open late to attract more business.”
On the club side, Souvenir continues to operate as an after-hours club on Sunday and holiday mornings. However, it’s the only after-hours venue left in the Matinée Group, which now limits itself to organising parties that try to maintain the group’s original spirit—for example, at Row14, a huge and partly open-air club celebrating electronic music of the ravier kind (it’s run by the creators of the Monegros Desert Festival). Merci, also in Viladecans, and run by The Madness Group, continues to operate as an after-hours, too.
Surprisingly, there are still a couple of afters left in Eixample, namely Seven Crowns and 242. They, too, have had to turn the music down quite a bit, however, and now resemble bars rather than proper clubs. If you seek that party feeling at 9am, you’ll have to make a trip to Poblenou, where you’ll find the recently opened La Camara, which stays open until 11am, and La Nave, an old-school rave club on Pere IV, that remains open until about the same time. The latter, however, operates as a members-only club, so you’ll have to try your luck at the door.
Christian Schärmer, for one, has stopped going to after-hours clubs. “In part it’s because I now have regular working hours, but the main reason is that afters clubs have become boring. There are no afters clubs that allow you to calmly continue the party—all you can do is get really fucked.”
And now that even Ibiza has introduced legislation limiting its clubs’ opening hours, we may just be witnessing the end of it all.
El Reloj - Via Laietana 40
El Rincón del Artista - Nou de la Rambla 105, Tel. 93 442 1240
Pipa Club - Plaça Reial 3, Tel. 93 301 1165, www.bpipaclub.com
Papillon - Neu de Sant Cugat
El Armario - Riereta 11
Red Rocket - Codols 21
La Flor del Norte - Polígono Colom 10, Tel. 93 315 2659
Malpaso - Rauric 20, Tel. 93 412 6020
Pile 43 - Aglá 4,Tel. 93 302 8353
Souvenir - Noi del Sucre 75, Viladecans
Merci - Llobatona 50, Viladecans
Seven Crowns - Paris 192
242 Club - Entença 37
La Camara - Bolivia 319 (esq. Pere IV)
La Nave - www.nave910.com