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As you’re no doubt aware, Barcelona and the whole Catalonia region are currently experiencing a pivotal socio-political crisis. After a controversial and illegal independence referendum vote on Sunday, October 1 amidst police violence, the relationship between the region’s capital and Spain’s central government in Madrid is still highly unstable. The tension and the political debate are hard to escape when out and about in the city.
Yet, perhaps a little surprisingly, such a political climate isn’t enough to stop this undefeatable and resilient metropolis from carrying on with its usual wealth of cultural and musical offerings, led by the 49th edition of the International Jazz Festival and the weekend-long Primavera Club 2017 festival spin-off. So it was with a special pinch of gratitude that I welcomed the opportunity to venture out for another live music exploration in the city.
The venue put under scrutiny this month is unimaginatively called Rocksound BCN – BCN being the conventional branded abbreviation for Barcelona, an acronym found all around the city – and is a medium-to-small club in the large post-industrial district of Poblenou, just East of the city centre. Having been recommended to me various times by both born and bred Barcelonians and expats with a flair for the local live music scene, the venue is one of the most popular clubs for alternative music and a next-door neighbour to the larger Razzmatazz.
The club, also known as Sala Rocksound, has a programming tinged with live and DJ’d rock music in all its variations, including but not limited to rockabilly, country rock, and blues. Moreover, every Thursday evening, Sala Rocksound transforms itself into the so-called Rude Club, where one can find Jamaican live music and local DJs mixing a wider variety of genres.
The live national debut of The Discussion on October 10 was the ideal occasion to assess the establishment first hand. The new post-punk/goth trio was formed by former Kylesa guitarist Laura Pleasants, after the Georgia-based sludge metallers announced their intentions to go on an indefinite hiatus last year. The Discussion’s stop in Catalonia was planned as part of a larger European tour extended throughout the fall that takes them across the continent from the UK to Greece.
To celebrate this string of live dates, the recently formed outfit – fronted by Laura herself now on lead vocals – even recorded a special EP of new material. Appropriately named ‘European Tour Ep 2017’, it was put out on Bandcamp alongside the following straightforward description: “5 song tour ep of all new original material. 300 CDs pressed for European tour. All are hand numbered on the back cover. Self Released.”
However, as if carefully planned so as to live up to the insecurity affecting the region, The Discussion’s show at Rocksound BCN got cancelled only hours before it was supposed to take place. A Facebook post on the same day of the concert accompanied the decision, stating that “because of the political uncertainty experienced the promoter decided to cancel the show”, implying in their messaging that public safety was their primary concern.
Nonetheless, Barcelona always does its best to rise above difficulties and offered to make up for the inconvenience with a thrilling substitute gig. The following Monday, US doom/death metal outfits Blood Incantation and Spectral Voice took the stage. This certainly speaks for Rocksound BCN’s quality concert programming, and represented a revitalising response following the previous week’s events. Furthermore, the hype was reasonably high for witnessing Blood Incarnation’s live delivery and the fact that both bands have a relatively short history with critical acclaim.
The bands are peers from Colorado, US, and embarked on a quick Spanish tour headlined by Blood Incantation, the more accomplished of the two outfits. The main performers released their debut album ‘Starspawn’ in 2016 on their homestate-based underground metal imprint Dark Descent, and also have a series of EP/splits/demos on their books. Fellow labelmates Spectral Voice have instead just put out their 5-track debut LP ’Eroded Corridors of Unbeing’, which their issuing label describe as “far more than just a sum of its parts, […] a unique and claustrophobic voyage, cavernous yet full of clarity”.
As soon as one gets to the venue – if at all, given that it’s quite hard to notice from the outside if not for a small wooden sign next to big billboard ads – one would immediately realize how small and bar-esque it is, triggering fantasies and excitement as to how unconventional a death metal gig would turn out to be (and this time not because of the potential disruption due to local political turmoil). The venue can’t fit more than 200 people, and witnessing such a loud, dark, and heavy bill in such a tiny and narrow space made for a unique experience from start to finish.
Shortly before Spectral Voice took the stage around 9:30pm, the main standing area of the room was already packed to what one would assume was its fullest capacity. Indeed, this got proven wrong by the attraction coefficient of the headliners, who managed to have almost the entirety of the surface taken up by amused and engaged audience members. As expected, the whole thing got very loud, moist, and sweaty very quickly.
Spectral Voice – translated on stage into a four-piece with a sole singing drummer – presented an uncompromising, no-frills 40-minute set of growling doom metal, at times brought to the canonical, extreme slow rhythmic pace with highly dosed vocals. Generally, the whole crowd seemed to enjoy the performance, although only a handful people at the front went for the whole headbanging ritual.
The club’s dimension and inconvenient shape didn’t help to achieve the best sonic results, especially when standing closer to the stage, and overall the biggest victims of this shortcoming ended up being the two undistinguished guitars, which dropped a couple tones for the occasion.
Blood Incantation were on shortly before 10:30pm and hit the ground running with fierce, brutal, and psychedelic intensity. The headliners were driven by their mighty, virtuoso guitars enhanced by a myriad of reverbing pedals and effects by both singer/rhythm guitarist Paul Riedl and lead guitarist Morris Kolontyrsky. Moreover, their impressive, barefeet drummer Isaac Faulk kept the whole delivery well-glued together and alternated sophisticated fills with potent blast beats. The audience liked their performance better than the openers, and sporadic singalongs were evidence of their familiarity with the material.
Overall, both shows suffered a little from the venue’s erratic sound set up as well as the limited size of the room, neither of them particularly catered to the loud and distorted wall of sound and layered instrumentation typical of heavier music. Yet, this is perfectly within the price to pay when attending gigs in this typology of bars-turned-impromptu-venues all around the world. Both bands’ live delivery was inevitably affected, whereby Spectral Voice seemed to have paid more of the consequences, and the headliners were better at making up for it thanks to both their technical ability and more audience participation.
At the same time, the concert turned out to be a very interesting and inspiring experience. Rocksound BCN has emerged as a key focal point for Barcelona’s alternative live music scene and helped fuel the underground support for lesser known bands with decently priced tickets and a wide variety of merchandising, not least being able to attract almost 200 passionate metallers on a regular Monday evening. Perhaps it’s about time the unstable world of politics turns to local music communities for inspiration.
Fins la pròxima vegada!
Still, I’d urge you all to check out the source feature article directly on Punktastic too, as it’s wonderfully wrapped in shiny and fancy designs as well as relevant music discovery embeds that massively elevate the final product. More generally, go show them some love and explore all the incredible articles and reviews they publish, as it’s by far a much better site than this one and you won’t be disappointed.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.