December 13, 2009

Article - Barcelona Bass

(Taken from

An interesting article on the current lack of musical identity in Barcelona.

For the majority of the electronic music-loving world, outside of one heady week in June, Barcelona only exists as an Adidas record bag bearing the industry code of honour – that little Sonar snowflake.

For the weeks following the festival, fellow owners of these souvenir bags smile knowingly as they pass each other in London streets; yep, they were all there, in the press area, musing on what comes after wonky. But what happens for the other 51 weeks of the year on the Barcelona club and music scene?

The reality is that, for a few years, Barcelona’s music scene has been suffering from an identity crisis. Barcelona The Party Town that hoards of graffing Swedes, German graphic designers and London DJs moved to five years ago has had to face some cold, hard practicalities. For every new club that opens, five are closed down due to noise restrictions. Some of the cities most legendary clubs, like Paloma, Café Royale and New York New York, have suffered deathblows. There is now no such thing as a bar with a licence for live music - this includes decks. Short-sighted club owners are happy to cram their spaces with thirsty tourists, who ask nothing more than to shake their sequins to the five-nights-a-week resident techno DJ.

"Barcelona’s music scene has been suffering from an identity crisis."

So, what does this mean to a city full of party-hardy heads, hungry for something new and with no place to go? As ever, the time has come to get creative...

After a couple of years in therapy, Barcelona is beginning to gain confidence. Two weeks ago, somewhere in a crazy sculpture studio-cum-club in Poble Nou, Meneo’s Rigo was heard whispering “I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think we might have a scene here”. The city is young and resilient and bursting with creative people who have the will, and are gradually finding the way.

Each time the police close down one party, another one crops up somewhere else. Puny soundsystems in central venues mean that people are heading for the outskirts – illegal warehouse venues like Pere IV and out of town clubs like Sala BeGood (home to the huge dubstep night B.LOW). The recent Su Casa Es Mi Casa saw a collective of artists and musicians take over painter Monty’s home and re-invent it as an exhibition space, for one day only.

"Puny soundsystems in central venues mean that people are heading for the outskirts."

Alternatively, scruffpots and pay-as-you-goers are turning to unlikely spots for inspiration. The city’s ‘pijo’ (read: ‘footballers' wives bling-a-ling’) venues have become an untapped source of merriment and mischief. Each month Mondo Club’s Studio 54-inspired, white banquette-filled terrace overlooking the yachts is flooded with caps and gold hoops – youths with hipflasks in their back pockets and a yearning to turn the place upside-down to dubstep, grime and booty. Shake & Bass had a stint in a privately owned gallery – DJ Face-Tic had people hanging from the rooftop bed and swinging from the sculptures.

So, what about the music itself?

What's emerging is a music scene that reflects the city’s unique and slightly bastard identity. It' a city that has only known immigration for 30 years, but it knows it very well. Much of Barcelona’s creative crowd can be found in studios and on terraces in higgledy piggledy Raval, an area where illegal immigrants from Morocco and Pakistan cuddle up to Senegalese bag sellers and Nigerian prostitutes. Barcelona City Council’s aggressive town-planning attempts to ‘clean up’ Raval have seen Philip Stark-designed hotels air-dropped into poor areas - the local residents have no hope of getting a job in these places, let alone staying in them. An air of menace and disquiet lies beneath the tourist hotspot and all of this is reflected in the music. If you are at Sonar this year, be sure not to miss two offerings from Barcelona’s Disboot CollectiveCauto who recently released on DJ/rupture's Dutty Artz and brings menacing dubstep to the dance, and anti-globalist Filastine whose dark soundscapes cover everything from trip-hop to Balkan.

"However bad the credit crunch (or ‘creeeeesis’ as they call it here in Spain), it’s hard to stay blue for long when there’s a parrot on your balcony and a five-man salsa band at the end of your street."

But the fact, whichever way you look at it, is that Barcelona is a chirpy city - there’s sunshine, there’s a beach, there’s palm trees for christ’s sake! And there’s no mistaking this in the parties and music that ooze out of every little uptown warehouse and downtown chiringuito. However bad the credit crunch (or ‘creeeeesis’ as they call it here in Spain), it’s hard to stay blue for long when there’s a parrot on your balcony and a five-man salsa band at the end of your street.

Nobody knows and shows this better than local legends, Meneo, a bouncy, colourful duo who play 8-bit cumbia music – their very own, self-coined ‘electropical’. Just listening to one Meneo track says everything there is to say about Barcelona – there’s spirit, there’s colour, there’s hints of darkness and lots and lots of noise. Meneo are crowned and naked kings of Barcelona’s party scene and they are slowly taking over the world, festival by festival. Friends with Toy Selectah and the Zizek crew, they are also part of an international Cumbia scene that is threatening to throw Hervé and Sinden from their fidget house thrones. And with upcoming remixes from Tomb Crew, Silverlink and Dead Robot and some serious love from Mad Decent these boys are proving themselves to be so much more than a niche 8-bit act.

Meneo also represent a sound that is undeniably a part of Barcelona’s heritage. Dare I say the word ‘fusion’? Dare I utter the name ‘Manu Chao’? Whatever your thoughts on this omnipresent local, his sound is representative of a city that takes its influences from all around the world. Barcelona is a port town. People from all corners come here for a week and end up staying five years. It is a transient city of come-ers and go-ers, who all bring and leave behind their influences and sounds. And because of this the fusion sound is progressing. Barcelona’s El Guincho may well be one of the most internationally recognised artists currently pioneering this movement. He plays techno for the sunshine – his sounds are hard and unrelenting, but somehow manage to remain cheery and decidedly tropical. A new world music.

"Barcelona cannot claim to have a sound that is all its own right now – it’s no Bristol or Baltimore."

Alongside the appreciation of other cultures, there is also a quiet and modest appreciation of the homegrown. K**O will be playing at Sonar by Day this year. He is a resident DJ for both Plat du Jour and Desparrame – an uber-cool night he organises with electro-rockers Delorean. The crew came together through a shared love of R Kelly and old-school Spanish dance music and are doing nights that cover everything from T Pain to El General. K**O’s Espanish Boogie mix was a homage to Spanish 80’s boogie music and it became a blog hit, snapped up by the likes of Discobelle. His production debut - Ximo XL - is packed with pure 90’s Bacalao samples. Kazey & Bulldog are among its fans.

Download: K**O - FACT Mix

Another new night that is currently making waves in Barcelona is our very own Plat du Jour. With a crew made up of Brits, Swedes and a Basque man, we can't claim the Spanish culture as our own, but we still take a certain pride in it. What we're trying to do is open up Barcelona once more as a destination for forward-thinking international DJs. One of the promoters, Tom Dodd, explains that the hope is to “take the best of what there is to offer locally and put it on an international stage. There is no international stage without international players.” The night has seen the likes of Meneo, K**O and DJ Face Tic billed alongside Joker, Mumdance, Yo Majesty, Drums of Death and Rustie. Our Off-Sonar party in association with FACT looks set to be one of this years highlights: with a Brainfeeder room featuring Flying Lotus and friends, and a Plat du Jour room billing local acts such as DJ Slick Dixx alongside Mumdance, Jackmaster, Oneman, Brackles and a few surprises.

What this city is undoubtedly steeped in is people who want to party. Forget self-conscious, ‘ironic’, people-watching parties. Barcelona is about unashamed, hands-to-the-ceiling fun - no wry smiles round here. Barcelona cannot claim to have a sound that is all its own right now – it’s no Bristol or Baltimore. But it will never be short of creative people doing creative things – open-minded and receptive to all number of influences. It’s only a matter of time.

Clare Considine

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