Photo by Julio Arboleda
Institut Fatima home
About 15 years ago, a bunch of guys got together and opened what became the cradle of Barcelona’s emergent music scene: the Nitsa club, located back then at the Plaça Joan Llongueras. The Nitsa is where indie rock kissed Catalan soil and coupled up with electronic music. DJs like the late Aleix Verges, alias Sideral, became the face of the Barcelona ‘scene’. Around the same time, three young music aficionados began scouting for the best emerging artists and styles from around the world and gathering them in Barcelona for the annual Sónar festival. Finally, the Catalan capital had an answer to Madrid’s Movida, the great explosion of art and music that followed Franco’s death.
Fast-forward to 2009. The Nitsa club night has moved into Sala Apolo and become one of the pillars of the musical establishment in Barcelona. Sónar has evolved into one of the world’s biggest festivals, shedding some of its edge along the way. Many of the former participants in the Barcelona scene have left the city in search of greener pastures. And with the death of Sideral, the movement lost not only its idol but also, it seems, its soul.
The lack of a viable underground music scene has been bemoaned and decried for years. There was a consensus that Barcelona hadn’t been able to produce artists or styles like London, New York or Berlin. But lately, something has been stirring under the surface. Where trend scouts would cringe at the mention of a Barcelona band, they will now ask for a demo tape. Local representatives at the big music festivals are not just electronic DJs anymore. We haven’t yet seen the birth of our own musical genre—but the buzz is definitely spreading. “Barcelona isn’t particularly ahead of its time, but it doesn’t lag behind other cities either,” said Joan Luna, editor of music magazine Mondo Sonoro. “There are many outstanding bands, from pop to experimental and hardcore music, but they don’t spearhead a particular movement.”
His counterpart at Go! magazine, Manu González, agreed. “The different bands, as well as the DJs, exercise a healthy ‘anything goes’ approach, with music ranging from the happiest pop to shoegazing [a subgenre of alternative rock] and hyper-accelerated electropop,” said González. “The good thing about the current generation of musicians and audience is that they don’t let themselves be limited by labels.”
Indeed, pop music, so vilified until a few years ago, has emerged as a major force in Barcelona. Local, more mainstream proponents like Sidonie, The Pinker Tones, Love of Lesbian, La Casa Azul and Dorian have excelled on the national and international stage. But Joan Luna contended that contrary to popular belief, Barcelona bands don’t need international recognition to make it at home. Moreover, he said that the best music in Barcelona comes from just those bands and musicians not signed by big international labels: the independent underground, ignored by big record labels because of their inability to generate mass record sales. Yet they draw enough support to produce albums on their own or with underground labels, and names like Joe Crepúsculo or The Requesters even attract large crowds at Sónar.
One of the strongest and most innovative scenes in Barcelona is arguably electronic music in all its incarnations. DJs of rank abound—El Guincho, for example—while bands like Delorean are starting to gain some real reputation in the US and UK. But it’s the sub-genres where it’s really happening. One movement where Barcelona has excelled internationally is ‘chiptune’: music created with the sound chip of a video game console. Artists have even created an association, microBCN, that represents bands such as Meneo and Yes, Robot. Both have performed at Blip, the world’s biggest chiptune festival, in New York City.
Not all of Barcelona’s cutting-edge electronic artists are so easily classified. Institut Fatima, a duo made up of two German residents of Barcelona, are particularly experimental in their approach. Creating music spontaneously, with the use of cameras that recognise objects and movements, they don’t mind when something goes terribly wrong on stage, quite the contrary. “In Spain, people love mistakes. That’s what life is like,” said Carsten Galle, one component of the duo.
Others in this species include Internet2, whose music can sound like a satirical and surrealistic take on kid’s television series. Mendetz call their highly danceable music “techno rock”. Burbuja sound a bit like Björk. And Barcelona Bakalao are actually trying to revive rave and look cool while doing it.
However, a problem for most of these bands, and an obstacle for the creation of more, continues to be the lack of venues. “There are no cheap rehearsal studios and no small concert venues where those bands can play,” said González. There are some exceptions, however. The cultural space Miscelänea has hosted pretty much all of the bands mentioned above, and keeps its finger firmly on the pulse when it comes to planning concerts. The ‘Club del Fumador’, set up by Lucky Strike, has developed as an unlikely venue for emerging bands.
A genre that has traditionally been so strong in Barcelona that they’ve got a good number of concert and rehearsal venues is hardcore, noise, punk and all their hairy, leather-clad offspring. Editor of the Spanish edition of Vice magazine, Toni Querol and one staff member together form the noise ensemble Sons of Bronson. Querol also plays in the sludge-doom band Lord of Bukkake, together with a member of Cuzo, an instrumental psychedelic rock band that has received a lot of attention lately. And Bèstia Ferida is made up of one band member of trance group Les Aus and one of the folk rock outfit Veracruz. And even darker members of that genre, like Patatas fritas por el culo or Foscor, are finding more listeners.
If there is an area of music that is going through a major revamp and rise, however, it is rock’n’roll, rockabilly, swing and everything that can be labelled ‘vintage’ and associated with scooters and Betty Page. This is a trend by no means limited to Barcelona; in fact, this city is a bit of a late arrival. Yet it is making up for that by embracing it to the full and producing not just girls with tattooed torsos and guys with quiffs, but also some outstanding bands. The epicentre of the purer forms of rock’n’roll music has long been Big Bang Bar, but a few months ago Apolo jumped on the bandwagon with nights such as Powder Room and, more recently, rockabilly and burlesque parties like Aces and Faces.
One of the hottest discoveries in that field, celebrated by the local music press, is Mujeres, a (so far unsigned) garage combo that nostalgically recalls the Sixties. But bands like Manny Rodríguez y Las Honky Tonkys or The Nu Niles, who both sing rockabilly in Castilian, are also rising stars.
The verdict is clear: despite the lack of venues, and even though it may not be the cradle of ground-breaking new movements, Barcelona’s musical scene is alive and kicking—and growing by the day. “The best of the Barcelona scene is that right now, everybody is very young, they’re friends, they support each other and they tend to organise a lot of parties,” is how Manu González summed up the issue. “Therefore, the buzz is assured.”