ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): A$AP ROCKY – “TESTING” | 2018-06-10

Yeezy season is not only approaching, but is in full-floating production and execution mode at this very minute, with a one-two-three G.O.O.D. Music-projects released Friday after Friday across May and June, packaged and delivered to us all mere mortals in form of excellent 7-track albums by Pusha T (Daytona), Kanye West (ye), as well as the most recent Ye and Kid Cudi’s hip-hop duo Kids See Ghosts eponymous debut record. In parallel, a mildly progressively heating Southern European late Spring period brought yours truly to the mighty international (but actually very British) fashion show that is Barcelona’s Primavera Sound. Whilst live music was nonchalantly put to the side in favour of Instagram selfies and enhanced drug use, I did manage to find some of the hidden stages and check out astonishing and enthralling live performances by artists such as the garçon Tyler, The Creator, baroque rock and roll monsieurs Arctic Monkeys, mega cat Thundercat, dangerously honest hood minstrel Vince Staples, and Swiss black metal primordial chanters Zeal & Ardor. Most importantly though, and way more prominently tied to the present music review piece, I got to catch the closing headline bill set by New York rapper A$AP Rocky, which followed the release of the A$AP Mob member’s third studio album Testing mere days before on 25th May. These two events combined made for quite the relevant alignment between Lord Flacko’s artistic manifestation and myself, so much so that it officially triggered an ARM alert and so here we are taking a closer scrutiny of this star-studded and featured record.

Quite similarly to what the preconditions were going into ARM’s recent effort on J. Cole’s last LP KOD, there is a little PSA/full disclosure statement that needs to be outlined, so as to better contextualise the present review of Testing: I secretly never liked A$AP Rocky and everything he represented, and almost never listened to anything coming from him nor A$AP Mob to be completely honest. After all, I come from a completely different background involving primarily alternative rock, hardcore, and punk, so I guess this mustn’t come as an unbelievable surprise. With that being said, as trap and cloud rap started to steal rock’s scene, both at live gigs’ mosh pits and in the charts, I too inevitably got caught in the current mainstream hip-hop fever, up to a point where now some of my favourite artists are prima donna MCs. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s delve into Rocky’s new studio LP, released under RCA Records and composed of 15 tracks, for almost 55 minutes of running time made of freshly baked new material. For Testing, the Harlem rapper-producer lined up a wealth of collaborators and contributors, ranging from the aforementioned Kid Cudi to Frank Ocean, to Skepta and Snoop Dogg. But spoiler alert, no one truly ever managed to take the full spotlight away from Rocky on this one, as he finds himself venturing into vastly experimental fields of industrial-trap hip-hop, while at the same time distilling pure moments of superior melodic craft.

The otherworldly and subterranean bass frequencies accompanying savage and fiery opener “Distorted Records” are something very rarely heard on mainstream projects, yet A$AP Rocky manages to pull it off in a very slick and contextual manner, whereby the inherent nature of the cut couldn’t be better epitomised by the literal name of the song. Such an opening high-note is well maintained throughout track number two, the album’s lead single “A$AP Forever“, sampling Moby’s pop crown jewel “Porcelain” and pairing a tastily belligerent flow with aspirational and tongue-in-cheeky bars (“I put A$AP on my tat / I put New York on the map / I put the gang on the flames / They gon’ remember the name“). “Tony Tone” at number three is a definite grower that showcases one of Rocky’s standout solo performances on this project, firing an abrasive warped groove filled with hooky sections and leveraging repetitions to make its way into the listeners’ psyches. The 101 on contemporary mumble rap/trap that follows, “Fukk Sleep”, enlisting the help of an extinguished FKA twigs, fails to leave a proper permanent mark, both as a standalone cut and as when placed in context with the full album, ending up being a pretty forgettable track overall. Second single “Praise the Lord (Da Shine)” featuring British grime don Skepta closes the first third of Testing with what seems like a fairly safe choice, both collaboration-wise and with respect to greater melody and harmonic textures, wrapping up an album section that promised so much after its first two teasers but that actually faded a little bit in quality as the tracklist progressed.

Sadly, “CALLDROPS” at number six does nothing in the way of uplifting the downward momentum of the album at this point, boldly continuing a pretty irritating trend pertaining to mainstream hip-hop records consisting of randomly including (real or staged) phone voicemail messages and turning them into actual tracks through a dubious genius spark of inspiration, not even remotely tied to the growing instinct of strategically increasing the number of album tracks so as to leverage modern streaming payout rate counts by dominant services like Spotify and Apple Music. Fortunately, the excellently produced and experimental “Buck Shots” delivers one of the highest and most fortunate moments on the album, driven by addictive and fun lyrical motifs (“Homeboy you ain’t know (ends where they buck shot) / Had a bitch suckin’ on a lollipop at the bus stop / Green Glock, red Glock (buck shot) / They ain’t really ready for me when I— (buck shot) / They ain’t really ready for me when I— (buck shot)”) as well as fitting beat switches and in-composition transitions that make the song go by in two shakes. The following set of three tracks (“Guns N Butter”, “Brotha Man”, and “OG Beeper”) ascribe some confusion and surging anonymity to the record’s mid-section that not even some A-list credited and uncredited collabs (Juicy J, French Montana, Snoop Dogg) are able to salvage, only for said clumsiness to be overcome by another fantastic cut in the form of the beautifully harmonised and sung ballad  “Kids Turned Out Fine” (admittedly Rocky’s favourite song off Testing).

The latter record also doubles as introduction to the last third of the album, and boy oh boy, was this worth the wait as well as a couple bumpy and subpar listens on the way of getting here. Every single track wrapping up this project in its latter section is a spectacular, handsomely crafted trap gem in its own peculiar way: from the dreamy, cloudy, chorus-y, and gigantically bigger-than-life “Hun43rd” (where I’ll go as far to say it might be one of the best songs this rap genre has seen in recent memory), to the introspective and fully confessional sentimental opus “Changes” (look out for the staggering beat/mood switch at 2:55 on this one), passing through the social critique and cathartic, punching lyricism of “Black Tux, White Collar” (“I say motherfuck you ni**as for the hate that you investin’ (yeah) / Fuck police cause he probably wanna arrest me (check it out) / Fuck the prison system, this injustice was ingestive (slatt) / All black tuxes, get the white collars jealous like / All my role models either dead or in the pen’ / I had no choice to be the ni**a that I am / Stuck with bros, stuck the code (yeah) / ‘Cede emblem on the fender (yeah)“).

The Frank Ocean-featured “Purity” acts as emblematic curtains close to the 15-track Testing in form of a gently guitar-picking lick leading A$AP Rocky’s growling distorted vocals, before making way to some of the best rapping and flow Ocean has shown in a while, taking up much of the song’s compositional and delivery substance pushing Rocky (and rap goddess Lauryn Hill, who’s featured in multiple spots on this cut) to taking care of vocal harmonising in the background. To be fair, such laid-back, supporting role of Rocky is not representative of the best material found on this album, whereby overall, the sensation is rather that the tracks stuffed with notable third-party features overshadowing Lord Flacko end up leaving something to be wished for (see particularly “Fukk Sleep”, “Praise the Lord [Da Shine]”, and “Brotha Man”). Contrarily, this album leaves its strongest marks and is at its most convincing precisely in those moments and situations where the perception is that A$AP Rocky is fully and wholly himself, for good and bad, in all his flaws, excellences, and vulnerabilities (case in point, the visceral “Distorted Records”, or the gorgeous “Buck Shots”, or again the album’s best four minutes with “Hun43rd”). J. Cole has recently demonstrated how even huge mainstream rappers can put out a whole record without a single external collab – albeit with mixed success – and now that I’m thinking about it, by naming this album Testing Rocky perhaps wasn’t actually hinting at its sonic and thematic experimentation, but he rather wanted us listeners to test out his individual artistic craftsmanship finding its qualitative peak, at the same time creating a legitimate precedent for what could grow into an actual, truly solo LP as its next big follow-up.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

A$AP ROCKY

“TESTING”

2018, RCA Records

http://www.asapmob.com

asap-rocky-testing

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NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO ONCE – NASTY UPLOAD | 2018-06-07

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

Summer festivals are slowly but surely starting to appear around Europe, as the premiere annual season for open air gatherings kicks off its dances, to the appreciation of many music fans. Needless to say, Barcelona isn’t standing still, as outdoor gigs take over the urban cultural spotlight throughout May, June, and July.

In fact, our last instalment visited one of Catalonia’s largest annual musical events, Guitar BCN, which stretches over an impressive six months. Meanwhile, the second weekend of a very pleasant month of May saw the first edition of a brand new independent punk rock event taking the streets of Poblenou, a neighbourhood we’ve also already explored.

Appropriately named Poblenou Goes Punk, the debut of this all-Catalan free festival took place on Saturday 12 May at the Casal de Joves Can Ricart, a charity space right in the heart of the post-industrial district. It’s yet another great DIY initiative stemming from this productive musical hub, and the hope is for it to continue to evolve with new editions and creative discoveries in the years to come.

In this regard, a few of the bands booked on the Poblenou Goes Punk line-up have already generated quite some buzz in the regional punk scene, leaving us mouthwatering for more. They are very much worth delving into – we recommend you check out the Terrassian The Ramones-meet-Beach Boys Panellet and festival headliners The Demencials.

This month we made it to a highly-anticipated Friday night gig by Madrid-based up-and-coming punk rockers Los Nastys. Playing the flashy and stylish Poble Espanyol de Montjuïc nightclub venue Sala Upload on 18 May, the four-piece presented their new garage studio album ‘Música Para El Amor y La Guerra’ – out on their hometown imprint El Volcán Música last March – as part of a smaller Spanish tour.

Sala Upload was one of the few outstanding clubs on our list hosting underground live music in town, so the headlining gig by these Madrileños felt like the perfect occasion to go check it out first hand. The 500m2 multi-purpose venue sits on top of stunning mount Montjuïc, west of the main city center, as part of the Poble Espanyol open-air architectural museum, which recreates traditional Spanish villages through hundreds of building replicas.

Those of you unfamiliar with Los Nastys should know that they come from very much the same Madrid garage-punk revival scene of groups like Hinds, who are currently turning a lot of heads in the music industry. This group of punk rockers has been quite productive for the better part of the past five years, and is composed of brothers Luis and Fran Basilio (vocals and guitars), bassist Omar Montalvo, and Argentinian drummer Luli Acosta Quintas.

The band have released ten different efforts between singles, EPs, and albums. Their latest LP follows their 2016 surf rock full-length project ‘Noche de Fantasmas con Los Nastys’. They are generally known for their playful, slackerish, fuzzy, noisy, and lo-fi interpretation of modern garage-filled punk rock. For their headlining gig, Los Nastys chose to be accompanied by charismatic and controversial Barcelonian trap rapper Cecilio.G.

The support act-headliner pairing was without a doubt an interesting choice on the promoters’ side, and this appeared to be clear right from the initial moments of the show, with a huge scene and aesthetics cross-over, mixing young trappy kids embracing rap with streams of hipster-looking alternative wannabes.

While Cecilio.G’s set might not necessarily be of interest to our readers, it’s nonetheless worth noting how the Barcelona native’s opening show – started with significant delay – was actually quite ‘punk’ indeed, with the cloud-rap MC delivering a raucous and abrasive vocal performance over potent gnarly and splashy hi-hat beats, as well as a good chunk of the audience enjoying their moshing rituals over his tunes.

In a weird way, Cecilio.G as the opening act turned out to be a fitting premise to the main course, eagerly awaited by a half-empty Sala Upload main room, perhaps dissuaded from reaching an indoor space atop of a hill outside of town by an otherwise warm and pleasant Friday night. Yet, for those who were there, the vibe and atmosphere was thrilling and electric enough, as the four nicely-dressed members of Los Nastys took to the stage at around 11pm.

The punk rockers seemed at home from the very first notes – both artistically, as they connected so well with the fans in the audience, and physically, as they championed the restricted Sala Upload stage as if it were their usual practice space. Notwithstanding the long-lasting rivalry that still exists between Madrid and the Catalan metropolis, the youngsters tried to convey the impression of playing a hometown show, spearheaded by the humble and passionate guitarwork of the Basilio bros and their full, riveting delivery.

However, the overall reception of Los Nastys’s live performance revealed a somewhat subpar sound and aesthetic, barking a little too much up the noisy and overly reverbered/delayed tree. Song sections were at times unrecognisable, disguised as coarse lo-fi frying sonic mantels, infecting guitars and main vocals especially. Surprisingly enough, the Madrid quartet were at their best when hitting really hard, both instrumentally and vocally, with a special mention to bassist Omar’s outstanding job on background vocals.

Sala Upload’s amplification system and the general stepped layout of the main room didn’t help with transmitting a more distilled sound to the audience. To be fair, it didn’t appear very remediable at source, even though some might view this as a conscious stylistic choice. Yet for this night, it felt a bit too far-fetched to consider it as such, with Los Nastys’ entertainment saved by their passionate and energetic presence as musicians on stage, as well as their clever mix of faster, punchier cuts and slower ballads.

All things considered, this evening at Sala Upload represented a timely concert, simultaneously hip-hop and sub-culture, raw and authentic, transcending styles and scenes. It proved that open air events aren’t the only thing worth attending for live music fans in the summer festivals season.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

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.

AV

LosNastys_Upload

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO DIEZ – BIKINI ON STICKS | 2018-04-19

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

The warmer season is upon us in Barcelona. Marked by the official arrival of spring, the hotter and more pleasant temperatures accompany dreamy afternoons in the city. Like clockwork, this coincides with a flood of tourists invading Catalonia, particularly during the early April Easter weekend.

Another more positive consequence is the growth of outdoor events and festivals in and around town. With Sónar and Cruïlla joining Primavera Sound as premier summer choices for music fans in Barcelona, many smaller but equally intriguing open air music gatherings are being scheduled on a weekly basis.

One that caught our immediate attention is called Guitar BCN. A huge concert series with an eclectic line-up, it includes many renowned artists with a special flair for the world of the six strings.

The festival’s 2018 edition spans multiple venues throughout the city for an impressive six months (from 27 January to 26 June), and is being headlined by guitar giants such as Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, and Uli Jon Roth, alongside marquee heavyweights like Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr.

Besides placing a significant number of its shows in many venues already familiar to us, such as Razzmatazz, Sidecarand Sala Apolo, Guitar BCN was a great opportunity to visit some new and unexplored clubs.

For instance, BARTS and Luz de Gas have long been on our radar and are both key event spaces in the Guitar BCN festival. However, the one we chose this time was a pretty, mid-sized venue located in the North-Western part of town, called Bikini Barcelona.

Situated in the city’s ‘zona alta’, just off the infinite Avinguda Diagonal, at the intersection of the historical neighbourhoods of Eixample and Sants, the club has been a central part of Barcelonian nightlife since its opening in 1953.

Although it doesn’t specialise in a specific kind of music, the venue prides itself on its ever-changing and adapting nature, which has enabled it to remain relevant throughout the decades. On Thursday 29 March, as part of Guitar BCN, the club offered an exclusive live performance of US-German prog trio Stick Men, and we took our chance to attend.

The core of the group formed 12 years ago thanks to drummer Pat Mastelotto and chapman stick-virtuoso Tony Levin (both of influential UK prog veterans King Crimson fame), only to be later joined by German multi-instrumentalist Markus Reuter on guitars in 2010.

The outfit, famous for its characteristic and peculiar heavy sound, bordering hard rock and progressive metal with everything in-between, has so far released six studio albums. Their latest is a brilliant 10-track effort called ‘Prog Noir’ and was released in 2016.

The night was opened by Barcelonians On The Raw, an instrumental quintet incorporating elements of jazz, rock, and electronic music. Its members, all stemming from previous established prog rock projects, are Jordi Amela on keyboards, Jordi Prats on guitars, Pep Espasa on sax and flutes, bassist Toni Sànchez, and drummer Alex Ojea. The band released their debut LP ‘Big City Awakes’ last year to decent critical acclaim.

On The Raw took the stage punctually at 8pm, overlooking a mildly attended main parterre area, reached from the outside through a curious and eccentric swallowing metallic tunnel spiralling towards a couple floors underground. For sure, one of the most off the wall venue experiences you can find in Barcelona.

Throughout their 45-minute set, the Catalans displayed gorgeous virtuoso melodic textures, switching their instrumental driving seat mostly between Jordi Prats’ spacey and technical guitars and Pep Espasa’s warm and fuzzy sax lines.

The audience seemed to appreciate On The Raw’s sophisticated and layered compositions, wrapped in multi-dimensional ambient sounds, effectively amplified by Bikini’s excellent sound system and space layout.

The band performed amidst clear jazzy influences, moving their sonic journey through frequent rhythmic switches, ranging from Pink Floyd-esque moods to dirtier oriental influences, all without vocal melodies – simply letting the instruments speak for themselves.

Stick Men climbed the Bikini stage at around 9pm and immediately took off with an hypnotic and intricate sound, led by an evident guitar-heavy rendering and a superior drumming aesthetic, delivery by Pat Mastelotto.

The trio offered an impressingly heavy sound considering the rather thin formation, with Tony Levin’s 12-string stick and Markus Reuter’s custom self-built 8-string electric guitar continuously switching roles between lower and higher octaves, much like keyboards, effectively replicating a mesmerizing bass-to-guitar dialogue.

On a similar train of thought, some of the tracks had a surprisingly abrasive sound filled with quintessential prog textures, resulting from what appeared to be a very well thought-through amplification set up. And in conjunction to that, Stick Men made great utilisation of looped sonic themes, giving the impression of a quintet, rather than just three musicians.

Spoken word-pieces and melodic vocal lines were delivered in turns with mixed success between Levin and Reuter, often humorously, spoofing everything from planet Pluto to Tchaikovsky.

This all made for another quality musical evening in an underrated part of town, starring two interesting and talented alternative bands that, if it weren’t for fantastic initiatives such as Guitar BCN, would otherwise perhaps go unnoticed.

The evening also marked one of the first concerts of the Barcelona warmer season. A Bikini, some chapman sticks, raw experimental prog rock, and King Crimson enthusiasts were all a part of it; no doubt a delightful way to venture into springtime.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

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.

AV

OnTheRaw_Bikini

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO NUEVE – MONASTERY OF METAL | 2018-03-19

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

Barcelona and its live music supply are back at full speed in the first quarter of the new year after a period of rest and assessment between December and January. The excitement for the local music scene boosted significantly about a month ago, as mighty music festival Primavera Sound revealed the full line up for its 15th edition, held in the Catalan capital at the end of May.

Once again, besides praising the festival for its innovative and variegated bill, international fans of the heavier alternative scene have plenty of reasons to be excited. Acts like Dead Cross, Watain, Shellac, Zeal & Ardor, and Here Lies Man all represent excellent bookings for an otherwise extremely colourful genre programming, at the same time cementing the special sweet spot that the mainstream event holds for the more extreme genres.

Yet, Primavera Sound is still more than three months away, so to keep busy in the meantime, we continued the exploration of the local scene by diving into smaller underground venues and event spaces. Admittedly, after having dissected most of the metropole last year, there isn’t a wealth of options left anymore. However, besides more established clubs like Razzmatazz and Apolo, the city has already demonstrated in the past that there is no shortage of bars-turned-venues that offer interesting and compelling gigs.

It’s exactly from this smaller typology of venues that the local music discovery resumed from last year. It didn’t take too long to stumble upon Sala Monasterio, a rather small seafront club located in the iconic and very touristic Port Olímpic, surrounded by beaches on both sides, and bordering with the previously mentioned – and in numerous occasions explored – Poblenou neighbourhood.

The venue caters to a variety of shows and genres, hosting a high number of concerts almost all year round. In fact, Sala Monasterio states that it proudly collaborates with a variety of cultural and musical associations promoting regional artistic endeavours, and specialises in ethnic music such as Brazilian forró, Uruguayan candombe, Argentinian tango as well as traditional Senegalese compositions.

Amidst such a strong musical contrast, one of the gigs that stood out took place on Saturday 3rd March, championed by a trio of Catalan extreme-metal bands: headliners Arcanus and supporters Metalfetamina and Last Dissonance. The show seemed like the perfect occasion to not only experience the venue first hand, but also add another lot of local acts to the list of trademark discoveries made so far stemming from the prosperous Spanish region.

Before delving into what went down during said evening, it should be mentioned that the beginning of February saw the latest edition of Punkat, a DIY festival with only “100% Catalan punk rock”. Unfortunately, conflicting schedules made it impossible to attend in person. However, it does represent a praiseworthy endeavour of the local scene, and a quick listen to headliners Guspira and Paüra made it seem worth attending. One bookmarked for next year for sure.

Once arrived at Sala Monasterio – not without difficulties due to a less than perfect external signalling, all hail Google Maps – what stood out was its asymmetric interior design and various instrumental paraphernalia hung on the walls à la Hard Rock Cafe. The venue succeeds in emanating feelings of both evergreenness and uniqueness at the same time, with rustic brick walls merged with pitch black roof layers, arranging its pavement space so as to leave most of its surface portion to the audience. It also gives the impression of being slightly worn out, indicating a great amount of concerts and people turnover.

As stated above, all three bands on the bill that evening were regional prides, and this appeared to reflect strongly on to the audience in attendance, confirmed by a decently crowded merch booth. This feeling also got amplified by the evident and strong confraternity among the crowd members. All signs pointed to the evening becoming an all things extreme metal Saturday night feast.

The headliners, groove-death metallers Arcanus, go back four years to 2014, when founding members Pau Bonet (drums) and Javier Muriel (rhythm guitars) recruited the rest of the band, welcoming lead guitarist Victor Vallespir and frontman Oscar Gallardo in quick succession. Shortly thereafter, the five-piece got completed by the joining of bassist Denis Fernández.

The band released their first five-track EP ‘Ashes ’in their current formation two years ago, drawing heavily from influences like Lamb of God, Gojira, Kreator, and Sepultura. In their own words, “‘Ashes’ is a compendium that intertwines the primitive ideas of the groove metal of the 90s and the roots of a modern really dark death metal”.

For the occasion, they were supported by speed/thrash metal outfit Metalfetamina, hailing from Girona with a self-released EP titled ‘El Ritual’ that dropped in 2017, as well as Badalonian deathcore minstrels Last Dissonance, who came together three years ago and are still working on their debut effort to be released in early 2018.

Metalfetamina, who surprisingly appeared on stage only as a guitar-drums duo, kicked off their opening slot at 10:30pm after various delays. However, this did little to upset a quite amused and inebriated audience, ready to hit the ground running for their night of fun. Too bad this had to to be postponed for a little bit, as the thrash duo took some time before getting comfortable enough to appear remotely loose.

The lack of a second rhythm guitarist and, more importantly, pumping bass frequencies didn’t help rectify an overall sound resulting too dry and slim, despite praiseworthy percussions skills. Betrayed by the extra vocal duties that the sole guitarist had to provide, the songs appeared a little too samey and didn’t present much variation amidst run-of-the-mill hardcore vocal deliveries.

Last Dissonance followed up by bringing a wave of electricity as soon as they climbed the Monasterio stage just before midnight, kicking off their show with a convincing abrasive attitude in both motions and sound. Sitting somewhere in-between a mild melodic death metal flair and ugly, stomping thrash metal hammerings, the Catalan youngsters played virtually non-stop for the better part of 40 minutes, before handing over the reigns to the house’s main course. Special mentions are in order for their spectacular captivating guitar work as well as their ability to interact with the audience.

The venue was pretty much packed when Arcanus climbed the narrow Sala Monasterio stage. Right from the first notes, the headliners transmitted firm cohesiveness and a smooth sound orchestration across all five musicians. Bassist Denis was especially instrumental for maintaining a constant tightness in Arcanus’ aggressive and wholly produced sonic aesthetic, often flirting with a fitting sludge/southern attitude.

Led by a catalogue mostly comprised of the impressive cuts off their latest EP ‘Ashes’, the outfit channeled their intense inner groove throughout their set, spearheaded by laidback frontman Victor’s thick and juicy vocals, with much complacency from the better part of the crowd.

Once again, underground venturing in search of quality local bands in the Catalan capital turned out to be a success, with the discovery of yet another interesting urban club offering fine alternative music harvesting regional talent. An evening to remember both for the facility and the artistic output, with the enthralling realization that a club in a strongly commodified area, for one special night felt like turning into a monastery of metal glorification.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

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.

AV

Sala Monasterio_Signage

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO OCHO – NEW YEAR, OPEN MUSIC | 2018-01-24

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

Notes from Barcelona returns with a slightly different spin. With live gigs and music events in the city slowing down over the Christmas and New Year holiday break, January seemed like a good time to delve into one of the few grassroot initiatives fostering live music in the Catalan capital: meet the OpenMusic Project.

OpenMusic is a Barcelona-founded movement looking at enabling and discovering emerging music talents in unlikely places, primarily by organizing pop-up live concerts in alternative venues around the city. The initiative started in 2014 and has so far put up dozens of gigs almost everywhere around town, ranging from local bars and shops to reclusive underground venues. To achieve this, the organisation works hard all year round to enable variety and continuity for both gig-goers and the project itself.

We had the chance to speak to OpenMusic Project’s Juan Criollo, who co-founded the initiative alongside his friend Eneko, playing a pivotal role in developing it into a fully-fledged reference point for the local underground scene.

Our chat touched upon a wide variety of topics, from assessing Barcelona as a musical city, judging the quality of local talents, to discussing how to maintain a cultural hub embedded in a region that is trapped in a deep socio-political crisis.

Juan first realised there was a big opportunity for alternative live music venues and experiences in Barcelona after noticing similar movements in France and England. He didn’t have to wait long before setting up a working group, motivated by a similar, shared enthusiasm among his peers. “The initial excitement and great potential behind OpenMusic Project resulted in an increase of the working team to five people. Each member with a real passion and creative skills ready for contribution”.

Despite the many potential obstacles, including inconvenient alternative spaces and venues, the goal of removing any separation between the artists and the public, both physically and metaphorically, keeps Juan motivated. “Big music festivals have you stand miles away from the stage with nothing but a giant TV screen videoing the performance. But to experience artists where you can nearly touch the guitar, that creates an entirely new way of experiencing, hearing and enjoying their music”.

After the success and traction of the first months, Juan was forced to reduce the team, primarily because of overlapping remits with venues’ catering and additional services. The team “has now returned to its original size of two people – myself and another friend, David from Xtrarradio Musicfest”.

“The collaboration with David has been monumental. Between him, myself and the various venue services, we are able to function and operate with great success and efficiency”. David’s scope includes booking and negotiations, leaving Juan to handle marketing and promotion. “This can range from posters, magazines, media, to deals and communications with agencies and sponsors. I also personally manage and cater for the bands once they arrive at Barcelona. Having bands crash on your couch is definitely one handy way of getting to know them”.

The conversation soon turns to musings about the notion of the Catalan capital as a recognised music city. Juan’s opinion is clear: he believes Barcelona portrays a strong image for being a music city internationally, yet at the same time it could do more to break away from its working leitmotiv only including the same handful of venues for all kinds of concerts and events.

In response to this perceived comfortable laziness on the part of the scene and its promoters, Juan counter argues that “the city actually offers endless potential spaces if utilised in the right way. Barcelona is full of aesthetically appealing abandoned spaces sitting idle and going to waste. The advantage of its amazing weather transforms public spaces such as rooftops and parks into perfect music venues”.

Whilst he figures that OpenMusic Project has only been able to explore a small portion of all that’s available in the city, the idea of Barcelona as a music hub is being leveraged by established stakeholders in order to reach out to the biggest and best players in the industry – not least hosting two of the biggest summer festivals in Europe (Primavera Sound and Sónar).

However, he also firmly believes that local underground artists aren’t being supported enough. “If it continues, they won’t ever see a local band headlining one of these big concerts. This is something OpenMusic Project is passionate about and influencing to change. No matter how big the band is headlining, we will always open with a local band”.

Almost inevitably, this stream of consciousness leads to the impact of the recent socio-political crisis – culminating in the unilateral declaration of independence of last October – and its effects on the scene. On this, he reveals that the sole noticeable change he observed when Catalonia’s secession challenge crisis first began, was that people were so consumed by political affairs that they weren’t wanting to go out and attend events as much.

In relation to such tumultuous times, he lets in that OpenMusic Project did receive a number of expressions of concern and insecurities on the part of foreign bands in regards to travelling to Barcelona. Luckily, this never had to lead to any cancellations or bigger changes in plans and now, “it’s just business as usual”.

We later touch upon some of his favourite moments since kickstarting the initiative, and while he admits that some of the project’s collaborations with “cool brands such as Kr3w, Obey, and Supra” were all highlights for him, it’s the creation of their own festival Mayday Mambo that holds his sweetest memory. The three-day, multi-venue event from last May gave OpenMusic the opportunity to gather and collect “all the bands we love from all over the world. We brought bands from Australia, Canada, UK and basically all Europe”.

It’s clear that punk rock, hardcore, and psychedelia all play pivotal roles as genres when it comes to OpenMusic’s concert programming and target audience. Some of the better musical discoveries made by the project have all come out of the broader alternative rock scene. Asked to handpick a few local artists to watch for the future, Juan is quick to select Los Nastys, The Parrots, Aliment, Biznaga, Futuro Terror, and La Plata.

We wrap up the conversation by looking at what’s next for OpenMusic this year: “Of course, the ultimate goal is to get bigger bands. However, this year we also want to work on further establishing a strong brand recognition for OpenMusic. We want to create a more solid local scene around the project whereby people value, respect, and trust the brand and the promoters behind it”.

It’s not hard to realise how this would translate in practice: a quest of achieving a transcendent awareness for the movement. Even if people don’t know the bands playing a given event organised by the project, by knowing that OpenMusic is behind said event, those people would still choose to attend, because they would be sure it’s going to be worthwhile as guaranteed by the OpenMusic stamp.

Why would this be such an important step forward for 2018? “Because ultimately”, Juan wraps up, “those would be the people who share the exact same passion we have for discovering new music unconditionally”.

Fins la pròxima vegada i bon any nou!

———- NFB

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.

AV

OMP_Hero

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO SIETE – SMOKING HOT HOLIDAYS | 2017-12-29

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

We all know that the Christmas holiday period is usually reserved for special treats and cheerful enjoyment, and this year should be no exception. In Barcelona you can do this by avoiding anything to do with the continuing sociopolitical crisis in Catalonia, and focussing instead on what the city is best for: discovering quality indigenous music.

However, this might be harder than you expect. December is another key month in the secession challenge, as the snap Catalan election invoked earlier this fall by Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy took place on December 21, after the regional government was removed from office.

Nonetheless, despite the undisputed political relevance of the month, the last one of 2017 was devoted to visiting what represents one of the most highly anticipated music venues of Barcelona: Sala Apolo.

Apolo is regarded as being among Barcelona’s coolest spots for the newest sounds, both local and foreign, as well as the most cutting edge musical styles. The club is a proper musical emblem of the city and has been for more than thirty years, comprising multiple concert halls and nightclub areas with a total capacity of around 1,000.

Situated in the culturally thriving neighbourhood of El Poble-sec – just West of the Gothic quarter in the city center – and residing at the feet of stunning mount Montjuïc, the venue is made up of two adjacent surfaces: Apolo 1 and Apolo 2.

Apolo 1 is the bigger of the two and has more of a classic vibe, notwithstanding some ancient theatrical flair: tall ceilings, a massive stage and vast amounts of red velvet. Apolo 2, on the other hand, represents the venue’s modern face, catering to club events. Its design is much darker and smaller, and it boasts an outstanding sound system and production.

Apolo’s cutting edge music programming, arguably best-in-breed for Barcelona, is fueled by established partnerships with numerous festivals and entertainment events, most notably a longstanding collaboration with the prestigious Primavera Sound.

Both Apolo 1 and Apolo 2 are open every single night of the week, as they function as live gig rooms until midnight, after which DJs usually hit the decks and take over the halls. The genres on offer tend to span everything from techno to punk rock, including, but not limited to, a wealth of hip-hop, dubstep, and burlesque.

The genre on offer tonight is an uncompromising throwback to rock and roll: the live show of Los Zigarros, a ’70s-indebted rock four-piece from Valencia. Taking their own spin on the word ‘cigarro’ (cigarette in Spanish), the band have so far put out two studio albums (2013’s self-titled debut and last year’s ‘A Todo Que Sí’) and are characterized by immediate, catchy, and fun proto-punk/rockabilly tunes.

Fresh from a prestigious exclusive supporting role for the mighty Rolling Stones in Spain, the Valencians are on tour in the Iberian peninsula throughout autumn/winter. Los Zigarros, who are signed to Universal Music and formed by brothers Ovidi (vocals and guitar) and Álvaro Tormo (guitars), Adrián Ribes (drums) and Nacho Tamarit (bass), had the whole evening for themselves, as no opening act was scheduled to play that night. Not a frequent occurrence these days, given the industry’s self-proclaimed emphasis on live performances in this age of falling traditional sales revenues.

Shortly after 9pm, the rockers appeared from backstage accompanied by police sirens to a nearly full-house audience averaging in their mid-thirties. Los Zigarros immediately took off with their direct and instigating dose of classic rock and roll, not without flirting with early ’77 punk elements.

Fitted with a lot of leather, tight shirts, and skinny trousers giving them the right dosage of bad boy look, the group seemed genuinely happy to be back in Barcelona and awarded the audience with their most catchy and thin sound driven by slick guitar riffs from the get go.

One of the things that stood out, as soon as Los Zigarros started their set, was the impressive sound production in Sala Apolo. Unlike some other venues in the city, Apolo is a venue specifically designed for and constructed around live music performances. That is, instead of leveraging the latter offering as a mere add-on to food and beverage catering to the public with obvious sub-par acoustic shortcomings, witnessing a gig at Apolo feels like an outstanding musical experience.

In addition to the infrastructure benefits, Los Zigarros did their part to contribute to a fabulous and sparkly show, led primarily by charming and riveting front-man Ovidi, as well as a commendable chemistry.

Bassist Nacho’s delivery was left a bit too much in the background, but the group’s sound was stomping, hard-hitting, and pleasantly reverberating. They wore their rock and punk influences clearly on their sleeves, feeling like a best-of selection of flashy retro vibes, delivered in constant fashion throughout the two-hour show.

Despite little familiarity with Los Zigarros’ catalogue, some of their cuts needed little time to stick to my ears, thanks to impressive hooks and effective songwriting found in most of their repertoire (but check ‘Dentro De La Ley’, ‘Baila Conmigo’, and ‘¿Qué Demonios Hago Yo Aquí?’ above all).

The band seem to have found a working formula for themselves, highlighted by placing either a lead guitar or bass lick earworm in most songs and sticking to it throughout their full set.

This formula proved to be an effective choice indeed, yet I’m not sure the audience could have sustained any longer of that ‘more-of-the-same’ approach when Los Zigarros pulled the curtains with a bombastic encore climax, closing a lengthy show with a series of popular and well-received cover songs (Nirvana, The Knack, The Kinks), as well as a successful audience marriage proposal on stage.

It was hard to avoid the surreal contrast of people lightheartedly enjoying their night out to ace rock and roll, while at the same time approaching one of the most crucial political weeks in their recent history. This felt even more so out of place at the dawn of the Christmas holidays.

Yet what better distraction from politics than some quality rock export from Valencia. The Spanish PM might have banned the whole Catalan government earlier this season, but tonight proved one thing: cigarettes won’t be banned for some time in this country.

Fins la pròxima vegada i bon Nadal!

———- NFB

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.

AV

SalaApolo

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO SEIS – BURIED IN SPANISH MUSICAL EXCELLENCE | 2017-11-30

Find here a Public Service Announcement relating to the present blogpiece.

———- NFB

While Catalonia’s secession demands exacerbate day by day, and no resolution is yet in sight, Barcelona is otherwise going strong, and continues to thrive even during the coldest months. This is particularly true for its culture and its music, two domains where both the city and the region have stood out for many years.

In this regard, yours truly’s main advantage, as a still relatively fresh expat with little to no prior experience with the region and its artistic artefacts, is how much can be discovered simply by speaking to insiders, staying up to date online – by being a little curious.

An ingenuous and light-hearted stroll around mighty Poblenou, the uprising sea-bordering neighborhood hosting a variety of exciting venues such as Razzmatazz and Rocksound BCN, led me to discover a rather concealed club called Sala Bóveda in early November.

Slightly further outside of the city center than the others, Sala Bóveda is close to the sea and made up of an imposing main vault. From an architectural standpoint, it inspires thrilling images of ancient catacombs – bóveda is the Spanish word for vault. And a terrific Spanish-bred metal line up was scheduled to play the club on Friday 10th November.

The gig was headlined by Catalan alternative metal sensation Ankor, with support provided by Girona-based melodic death metallers MorphiuM and alt-metal local promise Donuts Hole.

Ankor, fronted by Bristolian Jessie Williams, are one of the past decade’s most popular metal references in Spain, indeed really of the larger Spanish-speaking music market. Among a number of accolades, two years ago the outfit were named best newcomer band by the readers of the oldest and most prestigious rock magazine for Spain and South America, La Heavy.

Formed in Barcelona back in 2003, Ankor have so far released four studio albums plus an extended play, with their latest acclaimed LP ‘Beyond The Silence of These Years’ out in May earlier this year, promoted by singles ‘The Monster I Am’ and ‘Lost Soul’.

The album, mixed by Dan Korneff (Pierce the Veil, A Day To Remember, Paramore) and mastered by Ted Jensen (Avenged Sevenfold, Muse, Bring Me The Horizon), rapidly took them to a new level of notoriety and allowed them to embark on their first ever worldwide tour, taking them to Japan after this stop in Catalonia, with seven dates left to wrap up 2017.

However, the high anticipation for the show didn’t stop at the headliners, considering that both the other two opening acts are yet another quintessential example of the quality of local music. In fact, fellow Barcelona-mates Donuts Hole have swiftly become a favourite with a superb Spanish-sung LP on their backs, 2016’s ‘En Cada Hogar’.

The five-piece’s visceral amalgamation of djent, alternative, and nu metal is particularly fresh, forward-thinking, and well produced, at least as far as their recorded product is concerned.

What’s more, fellow opening act MorphiuM’s melodic death metal, infused with thick drops of goth and metalcore, is some of the best you might find from a non-USA or non-UK band. It’s most noticeable on their release from last year, ‘The Blackout’, which you can get as free download.

Entering the vault just in time to catch Donuts Hole’s drummer Sebastian A. Gonzalez counting in their first song on the set, the mid-sized main room was already well attended. Evidently, the appeal of supporting a local act opening in such an exciting occasion helped to fuel early arrivals.

Unfortunately, Donuts Hole’s forty minutes live set impressed less than their gorgeous recent LP, notwithstanding a decent tight sound and a dogged rhythmic groove. Drenched with additive elements of post-grunge – largely audible on ‘En Cada Hogar’ – and led by bassist Sergio Morales and frontman Ariel Placenti, the five-piece set the bar for the rest of the evening.

But it wasn’t without its hitches, with the band fighting technical difficulties and suboptimal guitars throughout. Nevertheless, the band landed  as one of the best musical discoveries of my time in Barcelona, alongside psych-sludgers Rebuig.

Given Donuts Hole’s struggles to get their sound right during their set, it wasn’t surprising to see a better outcome from MorphiuM. Led by a highly convincing angular and harmonic work by the two guitars, as well as an furious delivery from drummer Mori Kodax, the whole production rose to a peak when singer Alex Bace let his excellent clean voice shine.

At times there was a little too much happening at the same time, between two quasi-soloist guitar lines and a complicated intertwining of the rhythm section, wrapped up with a theatrical attitude and lots of horror/shock elements thrown on top of everything.

At that time into the show, one could realize how the unique formation and architecture of Sala Bóveda mainly benefitted the audience’s visual appreciation, rather than being an actual acoustic enhancement of the room, hence leaving the overall sonic output slightly suboptimal and surprisingly quiet. Despite this, the warm up section of the show offered more than enough encouraging sonic elements to look forward to Ankor’s main course.

After some delay, the headliners took the stage shortly before 11pm and right from the first bars confirmed their place as the main event, owning every single inch of the stage with frenetic and sparkly conveyance.

The crowd’s reception to the four-piece was one of the biggest and most convincing ones I’ve witnessed for a Spanish act down here, and the hype was tangible for being back in their hometown and hearing live cuts off ‘Beyond The Silence of These Years’ first hand.

Ankor’s concert brought back a wealth of fierce mid-noughties power-emo references, comprising all the essential and pitch perfect elements for a revitalising hybrid of early Paramore, From First to Last and Bullet for My Valentine. The group’s sonic execution and stage presence, amplified by heavy sound samples and a wealth of harmonies (partly to make up for the absence of a physical bass player), were both on point, resulting in a methodical and well-rehearsed show.

There was little to pick out and criticise from such a thorough and consolidated performance. It was nothing new in itself. Many of the song structures and segways might have appeared predictable to those more familiar with the genre. But this was nothing that seemed to bother the almost-full house that night, celebrating one of Spain’s most important alt-metal outfits on a rise to further fame.

Indeed, being sheltered in a remote Barcelonian vault on the Mediterranean Sea for a couple of hours, enjoying some of the best live metal music this country has to offer, made me realize how easy it can be to overlook foreign artistic excellence when you’re immersed in the major English-speaking music ecosystem. Burying yourself in a dungeon with an all-Spanish line up has its benefits.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

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.

AV

Boveda_MainEntrance