Sound investment 1
Edith Crash uses social networking to find musicians
Barcelona has become known for grand music spectacles such as Primavera Sound, Sónar, Crüilla, La Mercè, and the Voll-Damm International Jazz Festival. But there’s a lesser promoted yet thriving musical culture at work in the city’s music scene. While the economic downturn has had an effect on musicians, there remains a need for good, live, accessible music. For musicians new to Barcelona—or even those just touring through—where and how to begin can present special challenges that go beyond learning a new language.
I talked to six music professionals living and working here to get their take on getting started. A British songwriter and bandleader. An Italian drummer. A French booking agent and manager. An American lead guitarist. A Catalan studio owner and event planner. A French metal frontwoman turned solo artist. All part of Barcelona’s eclectic music mix, all making it work day by day.
Matt Monaghan is a singer-songwriter from Manchester, England. He came to Barcelona about eighteen months ago and founded folk-rock band Radiosepia. “It’s been hard work getting a new band up and running, but I feel satisfied with what we’ve been able to achieve here. We just released our first album, Digital Scars,” Matt said. He told me that the biggest challenge he initially faced was recruiting other band members. He found most of his fellow Radiosepians via an ad he placed on Loquo.com, and the rest through going to other musicians’ concerts “in bars in the dark forgotten corners of the Raval.”
The best way to book your first show in the city? “In person. Go speak to someone face to face if you can. You have to go into it with a big smile on your face, no matter what, or it won’t work,” Matt said.
If you’re new to the city, Matt suggests just walking around to get to know as many local barrio hangouts as possible. Read the local newspapers to find out where the popular venues are, offer to gig-swap with bands who already have an audience, and be prepared to start from the ground up—which might mean playing in a room that you might have said no to in your hometown. “Also, learn to say hello and thank you in Spanish and Catalan. It’s surprising how much people will open up to you if they see that you’re trying.”
Matt recommends Alfonsi on Carrer Peru (Poble Nou) for buying cheap strings and other gear, and Soterrani on Carrer de Còrsega (Clot) if your band is looking for a place to rehearse.
The owners of Soterrani are a trio of Spanish and Catalan friends who started the rehearsal space six years ago. Ramon Falgueras is one of the three owners. “The idea was to set up a place where musicians can just plug in and play. We have amplifiers, drum kits, a piano, microphones, and guitar stands, already set up. It isn’t cheap to maintain a place like ours, but we try to keep the prices low because we’re all musicians too. Even in times of crisis we want bands to be able to afford to rehearse.” They also have a small in-house recording studio, host percussion and guitar classes, provide sound equipment, and organise events in local clubs such as Sala Alfa (Gràcia) and Sidecar (Gótico).
Ramon says that the more than 350 bands that have come through Soterrani are composed of people originally from all over the world, including Brazil, the US, and China. “When we organise our live events, we do it to showcase our clients. It doesn’t make a difference if they’re expat bands or musicians who were born here. It seems like the Catalan and expat music scenes exist in two parallel universes, but there are good musicians in both worlds. We try to be a bridge between the two and support working musicians.”
One of the musicians who has rehearsed in Soterrani with various groups is Marco Bazzi, a rock drummer from Milan. He built a career in Italy as a session player and teacher, but moved to Barcelona one year ago in search of new musical opportunities. He recommends that musicians who move here should not necessarily abandon their contacts back home. “I still go back to Italy once a month to play or to teach. It’s a good balance.” He says he met many of the musicians he plays with here through word-of-mouth, including rock band Dirty Santos.
Marco says that the biggest challenge he ran into was not finding a place to play, but a place to play loud. “In Barcelona there are lots of places to play, but very few that have the space and the sound system to accommodate a full band with a drum kit. You can adapt your style and play acoustic if you want to get more gigs in small clubs and bars, but creatively that’s not very satisfying if you already have a vision for what you’re doing.”
A positive aspect of the local scene is that the music community is more “open” than in Milan, which makes it easier to book shows. “The best way to get started as a sideman who is new in town is to seek out jam sessions. For me that was a great way to show what I could do as a drummer and get connected to bands,” said Marco.
One of the other musicians involved in some of the same projects is Marc Curcio, a lead guitar player from San Francisco who has made his living in Barcelona playing music and teaching English for the past ten years. His other projects include Bannister Ride (female-fronted original rock a la PJ Harvey) and experimental jazz funk project The Near Death Ensemble.
Marc says that upon moving here, adjusting to the local professional culture was complicated. “On one hand you can find yourself being treated much better than in the States. On the other hand, things move much more slowly when it comes to confirming gigs, and it’s not uncommon for various details to fall through the cracks. It’s just how things work here. It’s important to confirm everything twice.”
One of his long-running projects is a cover band called the Lowdown. “In Spain there’s not as much of a culture to go out and discover new music as there is in, for example, the UK. So cover bands just make much more money.”
He has found that one good way to meet people is just to start going out, and hanging out, talking to people, going to jam sessions at clubs like Harlem Jazz or the Big Bang Club. Also, it helps to set up events of your own. “For example, every year we organise a holiday art exposition and concert called ‘Navidadaaaaaa’. It’s another way to expand your crowd,” Marc told me.
Marc has often worked with a booking and management company called Danger Hill, run by Marc Perilhou, originally from Paris. The company has been around since 2010, and now has offices in Paris and Mexico City.
Danger Hill works with “folk, rock, pop… everything, even some children’s music, classical, and modern dance groups,” Perilhou said, adding that the only thing he’s still searching for is a great Barcelona-based hip-hop act. “We work with multiple styles because we look for good music. We don’t want to be known as the agency that books the best jazz or the best indie music, but as the company that books the best bands, period.”
This can be tricky when it comes to seeking support from the local government for his acts if they don’t sing in the local language. “This includes bands who are Catalan but who don’t happen to sing in Catalan, and who don’t get booked to play certain events, or don’t receive financial assistance. I don’t understand that. That’s like saying to a painter, ‘we’ll only put you in the gallery if you paint using the colour blue.’ There are lots of colours—lots of great music—that make up the very diverse culture of Barcelona, and of Catalunya.”
But there is a flipside. Marc has found that sometimes foreign bands have a better chance of making an impact in Barcelona, even though they might be playing the same music that a band originally from here is playing. They have the advantage of appearing more exotic. “If your mother is from Paris and your father is from Tokyo and you live here, you have a more interesting story to tell to booking agents and the press. It helps with promotion if you come up with a creative way to market yourself, and you can actually use being foreign to your advantage.”
One of the solo artists who was also booked and managed by Danger Hill is Edith Crash, though she’s now independent. She came to Barcelona thirteen years ago with her metal band The Cannibal Queen. Even though they achieved success supporting bands like Deep Purple and Avenged Sevenfold, she later broke away to record her own material.
“I did have some issues with the language when I first got here. It’s frustrating but the best way to learn is to start hanging out with people who don’t speak your language. It forces you to learn!” Edith cites the same issues that Marco mentioned regarding noise restrictions in Barcelona. “It’s hard if you play in a loud band. For that reason I also play in an acoustic format sometimes.”
She thinks there is a great alternative scene in Barcelona but also recommends looking outside of Barcelona’s city limits if you want to expand your audience. “Pentagrama Bar in Lleida, La Fabrica de Somnis in Vic and the Atmosphera Bar in Torello are all great places to play that aren’t on many people’s radar because they’re not in Barcelona capital. You have to look around for opportunities; sometimes that’s how you’ll find the best places and audiences.”
Edith uses social networking to her advantage. “To make contact with other musicians you can look for local bands with Barcelona tag in RevebNation, LastFm, Bandcamp, Google... contact them via internet or go to their concerts. The Atiza web page has a lot of classified ads, and a list of almost all of the concerts in the city. The Catalan Arts page is a good resource for festivals and more information about the music industry in Catalunya. And everyone is on Facebook of course.” She recommends that musicians new to town check out her favourite guitar shop in Gràcia, Tube Sound (C/ de Badia, 12). “The employees are passionate about their work and really skilled; they know what they’re talking about. There are also a lot of music stores on Carrer Tallers, next to Plaça Catalunya. Really, this city is just full of music if you look around!”
So, if you’re a guitarist who is new to town, tune up, and don’t fret (pun intended). Even in times of financial crisis, musicians are out there making it work. Your future bandmates await at a jam session near you.
Web addresses for bands and sites listed in the article:
Dirty Santos www.facebook.com/dirtysantos
Near Death Ensemble www.facebook.com/TheNearDeathEnsemble
Edith Crash www.edithcrash.com
Danger Hill www.dangerhill.wordpress.com
The Catalan Arts www.catalanarts.cat
I asked my six interviewees to list their favourite places to play live, or just catch a concert on their night off.
Marco Bazzi: El Paraiguas
Edith Crash: Niu - Espai Artístic, Fantastico Club, Theatre Apolo
Marc Curcio: L’Arco del Virgen, Heliogabal, Bar Ese Efe
Ramon Falgueras: Sidecar, Sala Mephisto
Matt Monahagn: Mutuo Centro de Arte
Marc Perilhou: Antic Teatre, Mutuo Centro de Arte
Antic Teatre: Verdaguer i Callís 12, 08003 T. 93 315 2354
Arco de la Virgen: La Verge 10, 08001 T. 93 181 4221
Bar Ese Efe: Les Carretes 48, 08002 T. 93 442 8232
Big Bang Club: Botella 7, 08001 T. 93 443 2813
Fantastico Club: Passatge dels Escudellers 3, 08002 T. 93 317 5411
Harlem Jazz Club: Comtessa de Sobradiel 8, 08002 T. 93 310 0755
Heliogabal: Ramón y Cajal 80, 08012 T. 93 676 3132
Mutuo Centro de Arte: Carrer de Julià Portet 5, 08004 T. 93 302 3943
Niu – Espai Artistic: Almogàvers 208, 08018 T. 93 356 8811
El Paraiguas: Carrer del Pas de l’Ensenyança 2, 08002 T. 93 302 1131
Sala Mephisto: Carrer Roc Boronat 33, 08005 T. 659 163 652
Rocksound: Almogavèrs 116, 08018 T. 93 317 5411
Sidecar: Plaça Reial 7, 08002 T. 93 302 1586
Soterrani: Còrsega 634, Bajos - 08025 T. 626 803 351
Teatre Apolo: Avinguda del Paral·lel 59, 08004 T. 93 441 9007