ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): SMASHING PUMPKINS – “SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT, VOL. 1” | 2018-11-18

It’s been a long and winding two months since the last ARM dissecting assessment found its way onto the ethereal airwaves of this site, although I’m not exactly sure this has anything to do with the fact that here is the next one instalment in the acclaimed series. What I’m sure about is that quite a few exhilarating and enthralling things have blossomed during this interval of time, such as for example Frank Ocean setting his infamously mysterious and controversially debated Instagram profile public for the rest time, going for full widespread collective visibility, or Frank Ocean heightening semiotic symbolism across a wider design constellation of epistemological meaning linking up a Swedish software monitoring company with a portion of his recent creative output. Also, since two days ago was a November Friday weekday, with reference to the time of writing of this very critical essay, among other things it also saw the release of a wide variety of rich and colourful new music, ranging from the heavily promoted and record industry-testosterone-fuelled Oxnard – Anderson .Paak’s follow up to his multivariate and brilliant Malibu (what a stinky and tacky disappointment…) –  to a surprise surprise Mr Grinch-meets-Christmas-music drop by contemporary holistic pop culture provocateur Tyler, The Creator, all the while importantly passing through one of this year’s most highly anticipated mainstream rock releases: Smashing Pumpkins’ ludicrously titled tenth studio album Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun.

It’s kind of a great and arousing feeling to be analysing a non-hip-hop/rap project again after so long, and truth be told this doesn’t come without dusting off some of the aggravatingly accumulated critiquing rustiness and outdatedness of late. At the same time, giving closer look and listen to this new Rick Rubin-produced Shangri-La-bound, Malibu-sun-soaked record by one of rock’s most influential yet popularly underrated acts was sort of inevitable at this point, not least having recently re-sunk into their biggest unsung masterpiece of an album that 2000’s Machina/The Machines of God is, spending proper time and reflection trying to understand and connect to all of the fibres and textures of the sound that Billy Corgan and his troupe were able to manufacture for that record for the shape of heavy alternative music to come. For as heretical and controversial as it sounds to purist and fundamentalist adorers of the group, to me Machina/The Machines of God remains Pumpkins’ definitive work across songwriting, performance, production, delivery, and concept, as well as the one with the heaviest and most long-standing influences and permeations to the modern rock and roll zeitgeist.

As if this ignition were not captivating enough, just a few weeks ago my all time favourite musical outfit covered the Chicago alternative rockers’ world-wide smash hit “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” from their 1995 double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, as part of the noble and praiseworthy Songs That Saved My Life initiative, an arts-fuelled mission centred around music that played a pivotal role in the lives of artists and fans that benefits mental health and suicide prevention charities. Also of course, the whole bonkers PR frenzy around the fact that this new Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. thing was the Pumpkins’ ‘reunion record’ par excellence, and the first one in so long with the full original line-up (except for outlier historical bassist D’arcy Wretzky), obviously made it a must-listen for anybody with any minimal vested interest in weaving into the current rock leitmotiv and so on.

So this project was fully overseen and executively produced by someone who to yours truly is sadly one of the most overrated and worshipped record industry influencer and opinion maker of the last two to three decades: American record produced and hard-rock/hip-hop industry executive Rick Rubin. Just so that everyone knows, Rubin is somebody who when it comes to commercially released albums left his last true quality mark in the space through Kanye West‘s gnarly and time-bending Yeezus in 2013, arguably quite a long time in a day and age where rap artists release sixty-nine new projects and mixtapes every other Friday. Hence why, this recent revivalist transition back into heavier rock and roll sonic meanders sounded suspiciously fascinating and potentially extremely error-prone for the bearded sound engineer, after having peaked and reached superior excellence heights with all sorts of popular acts such as Metallica, System of a Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Linkin Park a couple decades ago, back in an era where alternative rock was actually thriving and permeating the commercial music mainstream.

Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. is a peculiar LP – strictly not to be labelled as an album in accordance to Billy Corgan’s own artistic senses – especially so for a usually dense, sophisticated, sarcastic, and layered recording act such as the Smashing Pumpkins. This thing is the band’s first release after 2014’s dull and average Monuments to an Elegy and is just eights tracks long, although sporting a little over half and hour and change of running time. This has to be the band’s shortest album (I’m sorry, Billy) in a long while if not ever, and even though the chaptered annex at the title’s end leads into thinking that there will be a companion sister release following the chunk of material present on this first volume, it’s certainly an interesting and daring choice for a group as always lyrically and sonically eloquent as the Pumpkins are. Partly compensating for the thinner material length with the hilariously infinite album title, and partly through the release of first teasing meaty yet sporadically messy single “Solara” on 8th June earlier this year, Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 results in an overall successful and accomplished record for the Chicagoans, at least with respect to not sticking to a commercially washed out formula such as tapping into the nostalgia aura and trying to recreate the sound and aesthetics of their monumental early records, or even settling for run-of-the-mill contemporary overblown and sanitised rock production vibes, something of a legitimate risk with someone like Rubin at the steering wheel.

Two months before the release of the LP the band revealed its second lead single in anticipation to the full length, titled “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)“, a song that even in retrospect, after hearing and digesting the full main sonic course, encapsulates perhaps the best variety of songwriting and production elements one could reasonably expect from 2018 Smashing Pumpkins. A three and a half minutes of linearly haunting and hypnotic guitar delivery, comprising of outstandingly superior lyricisms (“Stumbling before you speak / Stunning and stunning and stunning the black / You turn turncoat / Inward to seek out all your hopes / It’s your signals / That hurts me most“), hooky yet intelligent melody and harmonies, as well as that right and healthy amount of old Pumpkins spirit and rhythmic aesthetic pieces, with most people associating this tune with the band’s iconic melodramatic classic “1979“. Album opener “Knights of Malta” was unveiled as the unofficial third single a mere days before the full LP drop and joins “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)” in being hands down one the best moments on the project, while simultaneously conveying a particularly odd vocal-turned-riff motif by Corgan coupled by gorgeous choir-y singing that only grows catchier by the listen.

This record does however carry its unavoidable flaws quite explicitly too, as for instance with third song on the tracklist “Travels”, a very one-dimensional, hollow, lengthy, and lacklustre miscellaneous salad of rough ideas and half-baked melodies largely overstaying its welcome with an outrageous 5:23 of runtime (needless to say the longest cut on the LP). Albeit for different reasons, album closer “Seek and You Shall Destroy” too comes across as similarly underwhelming, with a song structure and rhythmic delivery trying way too hard and sounding like something that could have come out of a Muse album outtake, in addition to displaying a production style rocking all of those corny and overblown traits that one has grown to disdain in Rick Rubin over time. Luckily for any Pumpkins fan, the above two cuts emerge as controlled isolated incidents in an otherwise above-average and at times ingeniously inventive work of art by Corgan and co., perhaps best encapsulated by the feisty and powerful Machina-sound-funneling stunner “Marchin’ On”, or even semi-acoustic ballad beauty “With Sympathy”, showcasing the awe and brightness of some of the most quintessential Smashing Pumpkins lyrics ever (“For the love of irony / Let’s love, oh let’s love / For the love of irony / She’s laughing on, she’s laughing on / To stay confused / Disunion has its breaks / It’s ordinary aches and pains, I’ll take“).

There would be so much more to unpack and scrutinise with this – and for that matter any – Pumpkins album, starting from the whole idea of whether in the digital streaming era this ought to be considered a full length in and of itself to begin with (Kanye West says yes, while Billy Corgan calls it a collection of singles). Yet, with Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun., there is a strange feeling of sorts calling for a need to accept and perceive its full artistic demeanour as if at face value, as though they were to give us the impression that these are the first scattered and spontaneous renditions of the new Pumpkins era, whether we like it to be true or not. Either way, it’s a fantastic and a hugely warming pleasure to have them back, even if for now only in form of a lighthearted, concept-less, and instinctive set of tracks that nonetheless are already able to hint at the outfit’s artistic grandeur and gifted song crafting abilities. My advice is to continue to watch this space for when Billy is ready to jump back onto the bigger-than-life conceptual rock opera bandwagon again…

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

SMASHING PUMPKINS

“SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT, VOL. 1 / LP: NO PAST. NO FUTURE. NO SUN.”

2018, Napalm Records

http://smashingpumpkins.com

SP_OhSoBright

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NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO DOCE – BECAUSE SHE SAID SO | 2018-08-28

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

———- NFB

Notes from Barcelona is back one last time with a special instalment. This closing chapter revolves around a subject very close to Punktastic’s heart and mission.

Having reviewed much of Barcelona’s local and regional live underground scene over the last year – including a number of wonderful female-led acts – we thought we would bring you food for thought from a praiseworthy cause. One with a very unique tie to the city.

For this final feature we connected with shesaid.so, a global network of women who operate in the music industry, including a relatively small yet strong representation in the Catalan capital. Established in 2014, shesaid.so’s vision is to establish an environment that fuels collaboration, creativity, and positive values among female music industry practitioners and artists. Working on this goal, the project aims to provide a platform for discussion and community building around the world.

shesaid.so has been active ever since founder Andreea Magdalina toyed with the idea of consolidating an autonomous community for women fighting against the establishment’s structural discrimination.

From the beginning, one of its primary intents was to create interactive events for its members and their extended network, and to showcase talented female artists and their representatives. They do this by curating and speaking on panels aimed at promoting exceptional work by women in the industry, as well as offering partnership and networking opportunities to its members.

Today the community counts an active membership of almost 3,000 women around the world. Its headquarters are in London (where the movement originally began) and Los Angeles, while other key hubs are located in the Bay Area, NYC, Paris, Berlin, Mumbai and other musical poles around the globe, to a total of fourteen active cities. Barcelona is proudly one of them, as it quickly grew to host and coordinate more than 400 women across their professional and artistic endeavours.

We took the chance to speak to Barcelona-based director Georgia Taglietti and shesaid.so’s founder Andreea, discussing the origins of the initiative, the importance of keeping the community connected, the role of Barcelona in the wider community, and their new mentoring scheme.

Los Angeles-based Andreea, with a background in the UK music technology space, tells us how the idea for shesaid.so first came her when she realised that “music and technology have always struggled with diversity, particularly as one went up the career ladder to roles with decision-making power”. She noticed that the issues she was experiencing weren’t isolated, which is why she decided to put together “a group of women to start sharing these frustrations, and opportunities that would help us grow in our careers”.

One of the key objectives of the movement is the abolishment of gender stereotypes within music, by encouraging future role models. Explains Andreea, “It was important to launch initiatives that would help bridge the gap between men and women.” Primarily this would be achieved “by increasing the number of women who enter the music industry workforce, but also increasing the number of those who stay and progress in their careers”.

The initial reception to the cause, as well as its subsequent growth, have been excellent. “I wasn’t really planning for shesaid.so to become as big of an initiative as it has become”, admits Andreea, who now feels like she has the responsibility to continue with her work improving diversity and positive actions, regardless of what’s trending in the media and how much of a momentum there is at any given time.

This is why, to counter systemic and ideological struggles – and in times when even the most powerful female artists are sometimes accused of failing the Bechdel test – the community strives to achieve concrete and career-related goals by connecting the network together. “shesaid.so is a place where women can share job opportunities, interesting articles, personal stories, call for contacts and so on”, explains Andreea. “It’s all just useful stuff that helps their careers get better”.

Georgia Taglietti, who heads up the Barcelona hub, and also doubles as Global Board Member, is quick to stress how the Catalan capital represented an ideal working environment for the movement, due to its historical and cultural context. “Barcelona is still a quite conservative work environment, so I wanted to give local women the hope that things can be as diverse and inclusive as in other international music cities”.

Georgia has a wealth of experience in the music space, not least spearheading PR and communications for Barcelona’s very own music festival Sónar (where, she notes, her bosses “are all men”). Her resume and expertise put her in an ideal role when it comes to guiding and mentoring younger women within the shesaid.so’s sisterhood. She explains that “being one of the oldest members in the community, I made it a clear mission of mine to help younger and upcoming female professionals and artists going up the ladder”.

Having lived in Catalonia for 33 years, she is no stranger to Barcelona’s social and cultural dynamics. “Barcelona is a small city, however too often isolated clusters are quick to form within it, both privately and professionally”, says Georgia. This results in groups made up of “foreigners with foreigners, locals with locals, and people from the music industry not even talking to each other”.

At the same time, the seasoned shesaid.so Barcelona director knows that the movement possesses a global network and reach, both online and in-person. Ultimately, says Georgia, her contribution is “about promoting the bigger picture”, inspired as she was by the realisation that “before shesaid.so, girls and women who live here didn’t feel like there was real community for music industry people, let alone women in the music space”.

Today, Barcelona’s hub within the wider initiative is becoming increasingly mature, funnelling tangible benefits for all the women involved. “shesaid.so in Barcelona is very focused on sharing hiring options for younger local girls”, says Georgia, as “hiring is the most important thing here”. Interestingly, however, “some of the strongest and most active members in Barcelona are artists. The artist is the most visible manifestation of the movement for the public”.

More recently, shesaid.so launched its first global mentorship scheme, dubbed she.grows, after a successful pilot programme last year when it paired up 22 members of the shesaid.so community. Andreea tells us how she.grows is “a very practical way in which one can help someone else in her career, by simply mentoring them”. She adds that as part of this year’s programme, the movement will be helping 100 different women by connecting 50 pairs of mentors and mentees around the world.

When asked about some of the movement’s similar milestones over the years, the founder openly reveals: “I feel like every time I receive an email from someone who is thanking the movement for impacting their career or their life in any small way, that’s a huge milestone every single time”. This results in a win-win situation, as she is quick to point out how “that’s the kind of attitude that helps us push forward with our mission”.

Both Andreea and Georgia hope for shesaid.so to become a long-lasting effort with long-lasting effects, and they agree that things are starting to change. People within and outside the music space are noticing. “[Men] are getting more and more conscious, and that’s important”, reveals Georgia, adding how oftentimes “it’s almost like a fear-effect. They don’t look scared, but they are”.

Our two interviewees aren’t shy to admit that there is still room for potential improvement. In the years to come, they want to grow the wider network sustainably, for instance by building business plans with appropriate trade partners. And they want to optimise the intersection between female industry people and performing artists, by involving more women performers at their live events and showcases.

The overall impression is that shesaid.so is a powerful movement that is eager to achieve more, with an impressive trajectory that has great potential for the future of women in the music industry. There are big decisions waiting to be made, as the core team is working on optimising their communication channels and deciding what is best for their members. Today, both Andreea and Georgia are sure of one thing: “shesaid.so is about feeling stronger, together. And this feeling is amazing.”

Gràcies per tot i viva Catalunya!

———- 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

IMG_7093

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