NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO DOS – CATALAN INTERSECTIONS | 18th July, MMXVII

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

———- NFB

We all know that summer equals festival season and Barcelona is no exception. Kicking off with the prestigious and world-renowned Primavera Sound, the city’s warmest season punctually fills with a number of big and small live music events throughout its urban web.

Barcelona’s extremely favourable climate conditions, as well as its spectacular natural landscapes, combining a wealth of greeneries with hills and sea, do indeed allow for perfect festival settings. So it’s no surprise that during the whole late spring/summer period your agenda could easily get full with live open air music appointments, marked in red every week.

Obviously not all festivals in the heart of Catalonia are as grandiose and well-known as Primavera, yet you might be surprised by the global attraction of some of the other events too, such as Rockfest Barcelona, Cruïlla Barcelona Summer Festival, Be Prog! My Friend, or Barna ‘n’ Roll. This is without considering the even smaller, local, and neighborhood-bound ones that heavily contribute towards the construction of this region’s musical identity.

These smaller happenings normally take place in the surroundings of the ramblas of each barrio – i.e. the iconic main streets cutting each major neighborhood of the city in two – bringing substantial crowds together outdoors to enjoy live music, local food, flea markets, pop up installations, and much more.

My neighborhood alone for instance, the post-industrial Poblenou, has already hosted three major local cultural events since I moved here a couple months back. An absolute highlight so far, and Barcelona’s most heartfelt event, was the loud and chaotic Revetlla de Sant Joan, which takes place every year at the end of June celebrating summer Solstice. The amount of public artistic displays, street performers, and firecrackers was one I’d never seen in my life before.

That said, one the most highly anticipated festivals each year is Sónar, a pioneering cultural event launched in 1994 combining a deep creative technology focus, avantgarde programming, and heavy experimentation with newest trends in electronic and hip hop music. Its conference arm, Sónar+D, left me very impressed. The tradeshow deals with the relationship between creativity and technology through the showcase of cutting-edge discoveries in the realms of AI, VR and machine learning.

The four-day offering included workshops, market fairs, labs, and live performances, looking at pushing boundaries of interdisciplinarity. An unmissable event for anyone interested in arts and new technologies, at the same time crafting a big part of Barcelona’s artistic identity, regardless of the specific genre-focus of the festival’s musical programming.

Things got way more serious at Cruïlla, a multi-genre music festival now in its eighth edition that took place from 7–9 July on the seaside East of the Catalan city centre. This year’s headliners were The Prodigy, Two Door Cinema Club, Pet Shop Boys, Jamiroquai, and Die Antwoord, and more generally the overall lineup spanned a wealth of genres ranging from ska-punk to reggae and electronica. The clue is actually in its name, as cruïlla means ‘intersection’ in the local Catalan language, hence its not-so-hidden mission to present as varied and mixed a programme as possible.

As usual, the most exciting musical discoveries didn’t come from the mainstream acts headlining the bill, but rather from smaller, lesser-known bands that got to warm up the crowds from early afternoon onwards.

One of them are Murcia-natives Neuman, a post-rock/shoegazey band founded by charismatic frontman Paco Román about 20 years ago. Their minimalistic yet thoroughly catchy live delivery, accompanied by Paco’s hoarse vocals and an hypnotic rhythm section, truly stood out to me as one of the freshest sets of the whole festival.

Neuman have a brand new album in the making, which is currently being previewed by first single ‘All That Matters’ and is expected to drop later in the year. In fact, the English-singing trio have over time become a cult act in the whole of Southern Europe and can already count on three albums – among which the critically acclaimed ‘The Family Plot (2011)’ – and as many EPs in their discography.

Another fun one is La Raíz, an impressive 11-piece ska/rock/reggae band from Valencia who got to virtually pull the curtains of Cruïlla late into the night on the last day. The ensemble is considered to be an international leader in musical fusion and has just recently celebrated its first decade as career band with more than respectful numbers, for both their following and their music.

Their newest release ‘Entre poetas y presos’, out last year, follows four other records, with their debut ‘El Aire Muerto’ dating back to 2007. As one might imagine when a band counts 11 permanent members, their live appearance is widely colourful and energetic, alternating pure ska-moments with faster and more crunchy shades, throwing in Spanish-sung old-school rap verses more often than not. Check out their 2011 LP ‘El Lado de los Rebeldes’ as it’s a rather solid and representative introduction to their overall sound.

Holding a primetime live slot on the smaller Movistar+ stage on Saturday was Viva Suecia, another Spanish post-rock group bearing heavy, self-acclaimed Nordics influences in their wide dark soundscapes. Signed to eccentric national indie label Subterfuge Records, the Murcian four piece is fresh from releasing their sophomore full-length ‘Otros principios fundamentales’ in February (produced by Neuman’s Paco Román), and are now gaining increasing traction on both a regional and national level.

Viva Suecia’s live performance at Cruïlla turned out to be a very elegant, strings-driven one, with big sounds acting as sonic boundaries for sharp and biting Spanish lyrics. I highly suggest you give these guys a listen if you’re into bands like Interpol, Mando Diao, Editors and similar. Standout tracks to me are the below ‘Hemos Ganado Tiempo’, off their latest LP, and the album’s raw and emotive lead single, ‘A Dónde ir’. Don’t forget to check out their self-titled debut EP too, which is still up on Bandcamp and found widespread appreciation catapulting the band into the major national music circuit.

Thanks to the festival I also found out about one of the most successful Latin American bands to this day, called Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and an iconic ska/jazz/rock act formed back in 1985 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These guys are a pretty big deal and have won numerous prizes and accolades over their career, including the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album.

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, who since their formation have released 11 studio albums and sold almost three million copies worldwide, took to the stage on Friday night shortly before 1am and all hell broke loose. Quite clearly an established fan-favourite down here, the band played for over an hour and a half, pleasing the audience with fast-paced grooves as well as intense stage presence. Their newest concept album ‘La salvación de Solo y Juan’ came out in 2016 and has awarded them with two Latin Grammy Awards. Not necessarily something I’d prioritize in my own iPod, but without a doubt one to be aware of and a major international export of Spanish-swayed rock.

My last suggestion is Deco Pilot, who are actually a Liverpool-borne indie-rock band relocated to Barcelona. The band kicked off dances on day two of Cruïlla with an overdose of noughties-inspired synth/rock, think of something in-between The Killers and Vampire Weekend with a lot of delayed guitars. Their still humble and timid stage presence is sufficiently compensated by a big production on their debut album ‘Midnight Glory’ (2016), a 10-track collection filled with very catchy cuts (‘Lion’, ‘You Are My Voice’) alongside calmer moments (‘Midnight Glory’, ‘Open Your Eyes’). Also interesting to hear is their take on Spanish singing on the closing two tracks, presumably an ode to their new home.

It is very refreshing to see how even bigger – perhaps at times commodified – music festivals in Catalonia don’t just opt for easy mainstream acts or international artists, but actually retain an essential slice of their bill for local and regional musicians.

There’s so much musical variety that stems from this land that it would be a massive sin not to lend these musicians an appropriate platform to shine, so kudos to them for using their power with responsibility. And while the Catalan summer festival season might not last forever, the quantity and the quality of new music discoveries stands as reliable proof that excellent live music is without a doubt an all year round business.

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

NFB2

NOTES FROM BARCELONA: CAPÍTULO UNO – SPRING INDUCTION | 14th June, MMXVII

This is a start of something that will hopefully last for a long time, namely a multi-instalment column called Notes from Barcelona in partnership with mighty Punktastic, which for those of you unfamiliar with it is an alternative rock / punk / hardcore / metal website, with news, reviews and the best in international new music. The feature will try to bring you the best (and the worst) from the local live music scene in the Catalan capital, which since a couple months also doubles as the place I now call home, thanks to a new employment I recently began down here. I’ll try and come out with one new blogpost every month touching upon a variety of topics, which I will lazily re-post on here 48 hours after the original publication over on Punktastic, sometimes with additional commentary or context here and there, other times through shameless copy-and-paste procedures deriving from the original source. Below is the first instalment, which had me attending glorious music festival Primavera Sound and reporting some of the best moments I experienced, all through a trademark Catalan reading lens.

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.

———- NFB

Welcome to the first chapter of Notes from Barcelona, hosted by the Catalan capital’s newest expat: Alex Volonté. I’m honoured to be bringing you the most interesting and compelling aspects of the local alternative/punk music scene.

Since recently relocating here from London, I’ve been getting to know the musical pulse of the city and its region. Barcelona is in fact a rich and lively artistic hub. It has become increasingly attractive and forgiving to start ups and new creative businesses, especially in its modern, post-1992 Summer Olympics Diagonal Mar/22@ neighbourhood east of the city center. Furthermore, the city is home to major music festivals such as Sónar, Cruïlla, International Jazz Festival as well as global music trade conferences. It also lies just a short trip away from Cannes’ MIDEM, one of the world’s leading music industry events.

I couldn’t wait to explore Barcelona’s musical heritage first hand and find out for myself. That began with the most important live music festival in Spain, and one of the fastest-growing internationallyPrimavera Sound.

The event, generally considered a strong incubator for the indie scene, and leading widespread efforts in pushing artistic boundaries with cutting-edge content programming, such as last-minute, real-time show announcements, took place this year from 31 May to 4 June.

Spreading out to a multitude of locations across the city, the festival was accompanied by its international trade conference arm, Primavera Pro, as has now become custom for the past seven editions. The main event was set in the astonishing sea-adjacent Parc del Fòrum, surrounded by a variety of aesthetically pleasing ornaments such as massive solar panels, elegant rafts, and beach strips, wonderfully wrapped up by a long perimeter of Mediterranean waters.

This year’s bill was headlined by Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, The XX, and Aphex Twin, and from an alternative standpoint presented a very tasty line up of world-class punk-rock and metal bands including Slayer, Descendents, The Damned, Gojira, Converge, Death Grips, and Against Me!. I immediately knew Primavera was off to a good start when the first live rendition I heard was the visceral ‘Warning’ – third single from their 2014 album ‘LOSE’ – by festival openers Cymbals Eat Guitars, which made for a pretty beautiful induction into the whole experience. Speaking of which, I suggest you all take some time to revisit that whole LP as it’s one of 2014’s best ones and quite simply a sprawling and kaleidoscopic listen.

Yet, what attracted me even more was the rich Primavera offering of live shows by regional acts, most of which unsigned or simply championed by little or precarious local indie record labels. In retrospect, I’m so glad I did, as boy did I discover a variety of quality local outfits over the course of the festival.

In fact, a significant chunk of Primavera’s musical programming is intentionally devoted to delivering a spotlight on local Catalan musicians, an initiative brought forward by Catalan Arts, the Catalan Government’s Ministry of Culture umbrella term used to campaign in favour of local music. The Catalan Arts brand, besides working towards amplifying artistic outputs from the region of Catalonia internationally, with its overseas offices in Berlin, Brussels, London, and Paris, promotes and supports a big number of musicians throughout different markets on a regular basis. I thus made sure to pinpoint all those artists spanning genres from pop-punk to metalcore beforehand, trying my best not to miss them performing live within such an important platform for Barcelona’s prolific alternative movement as Primavera.

The festival’s scattered locations, as well as the unavoidable but still annoying line-up clashes, made it hard to catch everyone, however I came away from the festival with a juicy selection of a handful new music discoveries.

First on the list is the post-hardcore four-piece It’s Not Not, who delivered one of the most convincing live shows of the whole event with a direct, fun, and scintillating repertoire. Their live delivery blazed fierce emo influences and heavier moments, yet all minimalistically glued together by unpretentious and thin string sounds just sticking to bare bone basics. Their irresistibly catchy track ‘We’re Gonna Get Out’, for instance, from their latest effort ‘Fool the Wise’ (2016), could easily compete for major international hit status, although the highlights in their rollercoaster of a repertoire aren’t limited to that song alone.

Another one to bookmark, worthy of a proper listen, is About Leaving, a power alternative-emo quintet born and bred in the Catalan capital. Their live experience wasn’t helped by the fact that they got to play in a rather surreal setting of close to complete darkness whilst outside temperatures were on their way to hitting 30°C, all squeezed into a remote ballroom during the Primavera Pro conference. An early Jimmy Eat World meets Texas is the Reason, their set marched through long atmospheric bubbles and reigned by giant, skilled guitars (three in total in the band’s line up) and heavy-hitting drums. About Leaving’s debut album ‘An Echo’ came out last year, whilst elsewhere in their discography one also finds a rather pleasant Death Cab for Cutie tribute release track with a cover of ‘Passenger Seat’.

Yet there’s many more outfits worthy of closer attention, such as the fiery and vibrant Montseny-based Les Cruets, who released their debut LP ‘Pomes Agres’ through the  eclectic, multi-genre Barcelona label Bankrobber. They offer an explosive punk assembly crafted with Catalan flair from start to finish, so make sure to check out album opener ‘Creure’ as well as the wild and relentless combo ‘Instantània’ and ‘Anem Perdent’ for a biting taste of what they’re made of.

Then there’s a personal favourite in Rebuig, a sludge metal quartet from the Barcelona underground scene, currently achieving noise and recognition on a national level with their filthy and experimental sound, instigating sonic fireworks somewhere in-between Slayer and Black Sabbath. Their latest EP ‘Mort i Futur’ came out in spring last year, and despite the predictably limited tracklisting it actually averages at a surprising album-like length, with the two opening songs ‘Penjat i Empalmat’ and ‘After al Pati de Llums’ both nearing the 10-minute mark. An instant grower for sure.

Finally, my last recommendation is Les Sueques, a girl-powered, colourful and rather lo-fi post-punk group who have been very active in the past half-decade and have just released their newest record ‘Moviment’ this past February under local label El Genio Equivocado.

One of the leading exponents of national garage indie, the electric and artsy four piece is also one of Barcelona’s biggest prides. Their latest, fully Catalan-sung LP seems to reaffirm their subtle flirt with big poppy vibes and it sounds just like it could’ve come out of the same writing sessions as Paramore’s latest ‘After Laughter’, for one. Don’t forget to give their oldest material a try too (2013’s ‘Cremeu les perles’ and ‘Educació física’ from 2015), as there’s no shortage of crunchy, blistering, and potent songs on those collections.

My personal baptism in the local music scene in Barcelona far from a disappointing one, with a rollercoaster of genres and emotions experienced during my first attendance at Primavera Sound. The schedule consisted of extremely long days, starting mid mornings at Primavera Pro and its live showcase programming lasting all the way through the night with last sets finishing shortly before the next day’s sunrise.

Whilst I couldn’t resist some of the bigger shows by more renowned acts – Cymbals Eat Guitars, Death Grips, and Descendents all in flawless form as far as I’m concerned –  I quickly realized that Barcelona and its socio-cultural imprint is so much richer than just the Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí, and FC Barcelona.

Fins la pròxima vegada!

———- NFB

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

PrimaveraNet