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

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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

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO CINCO – THE SOUND OF POLITICS TO COME | 2017-10-30

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

———- NFB

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!

———- 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

NFB_Rocksound

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO CUATRO – RIDING THE SIDECAR | 2017-09-29

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

———- NFB

September 2017 is a crucial month for the city of Barcelona. It’s not only the first time folks get to enjoy more liveable temperatures after the heavy heat of the Spanish Summer, but it’s also the month preceding the historical independence referendum vote for the Catalonia region, planned for Sunday October 1.

On that day the peoples of Catalonia will be asked to visit the ballots for a vote on a – still, at the time of this writing – unconstitutional and legally non-binding motion pledging for the sovereignty of the North-Eastern region from the Madrid-steered national government of Spain.

It was very much in this type of socio-political climate during a showery early September evening, incidentally just a couple of days before the National Day of Catalonia (September 11), that two big promises of the Iberian punk rock scene were due to perform at one of the most well-known venues for underground and alternative music in town, called Sidecar Factory Club.

The edgy, tight and claret-red 300-capacity bar/club resides in one of the four corners of the gorgeous and heavily touristic Plaça Reial (the Ramblas are only a mere two minute walk away), deep in the core of the historical Barri Gòtic in the centre of town.

In contrast to the other establishments found by the palm tree-filled square, offering various dining options, popular dancing destinations, and tourist traps of all sorts, the 35-year old club is instead known for its intense and prolific event calendar of DJ sets, theme parties and, of course, live music shows. Sidecar has hosted more than 5,000 concerts and is known for “rock, punk, indie, experimental music and all the styles that don’t fit in the mainstream.”

The two young and upcoming Spanish bands on the bill that Saturday September 9 were headliners Camellos and support act Medalla. It was interesting to find out that – in the midst of growing tensions between Catalonia and Madrid – Camellos were born and bred in the Spanish capital, whereas Medalla are Barcelona-based, creating an interesting thread between the two metropolitan poles for the evening. Yet at the same time, both bands are part of the same national underground scene, and both are among the most talked about alternative outfits in the country.

Medalla are still a young group and describe their sound as the perfect union of heavy metal, krautrock, pop and romantic epicness. The Barcelonian four-piece are composed of two guitarists (one of them doubling as periodical keyboardist), a bassist, and a drummer, with each one of them lending voices and harmonies to the finished product. The local rockers began their powerful set at around 21:45 for a little less than an hour. Sidecar’s internal structure and tiny basement concert hall helped the group funnel a potent and heavily reverberated sound throughout, with mighty guitar sounds and stomping bass lines as principal reference points.

Medalla’s set brought to mind sporadic stoner rock and noise-y influences, with their tight and raucous guitar sound that often took centre stage, and the multiple vocal harmony lines layered onto each other, resulting in a pleasant and surprisingly refreshing echo-y vibe. Furthermore, Marc Lòpez on drums stood out for his catchy and precise grooves and riveting patterns, frequently leading whole songs even from a riff-perspective despite a wide variety of song structures. The band are for sure a reliable Spanish reference for fans of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Royal Blood, and The Enemy.

Also worth mentioning was the excellent sonic production of their live show, and more generally the sound engineering in the room that night, contrary to what one might think when first getting to Sidecar’s minuscule underground concert space. This was a merit of the main control room, although in my opinion just as much thanks to an effective instrumental set up on the part of the band itself.

The Barcelonian youngsters’ debut is imminent, due for release at the end of September through Primavera Sound’s talent incubator record label El Segell de Primavera, founded in 2013 to help nurture the local music scene. Medalla are currently playing a restricted string of dates throughout autumn and will perform a highly-anticipated (and already sold out) hometown record release show on September 22 at local cultural association hub El Pumajero. Listeners can already get a taste of their new LP by checking out two of their extracts on their Bandcamp page.

Camellos were that night’s main course and punctually took to Sidecar’s carved stage at 23:00. The Madrileños immediately distinguished themselves for their peculiar, dirtier and more straightforward sound, showcasing much faster and shorter tracks in comparison to their support band, all very much in line with classic fringes of indie-garage or even surf punk. Think of a sound blending early The Strokes and Weezer with the attitude of Mac DeMarco, just with more ska texture embedded into it.

Displaying the same group formation as their fellow musicians on the line-up – albeit vocals only being provided by the two guitarists in this case – Camellos clearly flirted with fun and slacker-ish elements whenever they got the chance. This meant not neglecting their visual impact either, with one of two guitarists and the bass player wearing oversized and outdated football jerseys (Liverpool’s Gerrard and Boca Juniors, for those of you who want to ask).

Such an approach helped the Madrid band receive an even warmer and friendlier reception to the disputed Catalan capital, something that even a month from that evening might look very different indeed, depending on the independence vote’s outcome.

Camellos’ live delivery was well-oiled and confident, with a full string of catchy and immediate tunes. Nevertheless, they left enough room for improvisation and interactive crowd participation, finding great enjoyment in their Barcelonian crowd (reaching about 200 people that night). The whole thing resulted in an amusing musical party, completed by intermezzo-jokes and frequent interactions with the audience.

The Spanish four-piece and its basic punk sound is often described as being humorous and politically-incorrect, and they already have a handful of standalone singles (check out ‘Siempre saludaba’ and ‘Becaria’) and a 15-track debut album entitled ‘Embajadores’ on the books, which came out earlier this year under Madrid-based Limbo Starr.

Sidecar is yet another exciting live music venue in Barcelona, and a totally different pair of shoes to the previously introduced Razzmatazz, which not only hosts much larger gigs but also offers a clearer cross-genre booking choice with more electronic dance influence.

This club is by contrast small, intimate and very stylish throughout, and represents an ideal destination for underground and alternative culture, bringing popular nightlife to the heart of touristic Barcelona. The crowd is inevitably composed of both locals and foreigners, which is regularly met by an event programming that is remarkably eclectic, catering to a wide array of alternative music genres with the club being open six nights a week.

But the most remarkable attribute of Sidecar, in light of the litigious relationship between Barcelona and Madrid, is that for one night everybody agreed with each other, an optimistic consensus that celebrated quality indigenous live music.

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

Sidecar_Main