Ugly scenes have penetrated the sunny vibe of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities in recent months. It’s easy to paint a portrait of doom and gloom when you see police batons raining down on fire-fighters in an attempt to viciously grasp the throat of independence until it chokes and dies. This is not true Barcelona. Those who hold the city close to their hearts know that.
The spirit of Barcelona can be found in its art, its music and its people. The city’s electronic music scene has rapidly risen since the creation of Phonos in 1974 – a concept conjured up by J.M. Mestres Quadreny, Andres Lewin-Richter and Luis Callejo in order to pioneer electro-acoustic music in Spain.
“It’s probably one of the most creative cities in Europe and has been considered this for many years”, explains Solar Distance label head UNER. “I am sure back in the 70’s it had a very hedonistic vibe to it, and to a certain extent is still does now.”
“We have many street vendors, artists, musicians all together in one very artistically beautiful city. The feeling you get here is to ‘chill’ and many people who come to visit and live here do just that. I heard some people say that it sucks you in too, a lot of people come here and learn the ‘good life’ and never leave.”
Nowadays, at first glance, the mainstream onlooker could be forgiven for feeling that the city’s electronic music scene revolves around big name DJ’s and flashy events, much like it’s rowdy Ibiza neighbour. However, this could not be further from the truth. Much has changed in the last forty three years. Scratch under the surface and you’ll find that the sound is varied. You can hear anything from the wavey vibes of Wooky to the banging techno sounds of Shall Ocin and the tribal, party atmospheres of UNER.
“There’s an endless exchange of cultures”, explains Argentinean born Shall Ocin. The Clash Lion label head re-located to Valencia in 2006 before heading to Barcelona shortly after. Now, he’s established himself as one of the finest techno composers residing in the city, and he’s keen to inform me of other artists that are also making some serious waves.
“Back in the days, Funk D’Void was a very big influence for me. There are also other cool DJs, labels and producers I’ve played with that are from the city, like Pablo Bolivar and Galaktika Records, but of course I have to mention Ellum and Maceo Plex, an incredible label and a good friend.”
You cannot speak about Barcelona’s electronic music community without mentioning Suara. The label was established in 2008 by ‘The Big Cat’, Coyu, and now houses some of the finest party music from the house and techno worlds. Their store even doubles as a charity with part of the benefits going towards the aid of the city’s hundreds of street cats.
UNER chimes in with his view on some of the finest work in the city. He tells me, “Mindshake, owned by Paco, has been here for a long time, and is one of the very best known Barcelona based labels with parties here and all over the world.”
“Elrow has to be one of the best loved parties in the world now and it all started here in Barcelona – at Row14. Their label is also based here, and I think that the concept has now become one of the most recognised electronic music brands in the world.”
Elrow certainly has become one of the biggest names in dance music, but I’m keen to look even further into the depths of Barcelona’s subterranean. “I still love the underground”, explains Shall Ocin. “The low key, the small venues, the street parties… The underground is where the future is, isn’t it?”.
“I’m a huge fan of Red58, Macarena and Moog. It’s always possible to see unexpected and fresh new talents there.”
Music heard throughout the venues of Barcelona had largely been imported before local artists started making their mark. The record stores of the city symbolise gold mines to the contemporary selector. Discos Paradiso, run by Catalan music enthusiasts Gerard Condemines and Arnau Farrés, opened its doors in 2007 and is now regarded as one of the finest record stores in Europe. It’s the hub of Barcelona’s music scene, promoting both local and far out releases.
The mention of a central hub meanders our conversation in the direction of Barcelona’s most beloved musical son, Sonar. The festival was founded in 1994 by music journalist Richard Robles alongside visual and musical artists Enric Palau and Sergio Caballero and has evolved from a concept attended by only six thousand people to one of the most culturally important and impactful projects that exists within today’s contemporary soundscape.
“I think that the Barcelona scene would be completely different without Sonar”, bluntly states Shall Ocin. “It has a very serious concept, looking at electronic music from the artistic until the scientific side. The artist selection is flawless, and the educational part is also really important. It’s always nice to remember that there’s a lot in the electronic scene that is just not partying.”
UNER echoes these views, explaining that the introduction of Sonar has also contributed massively to the economy of the city.
“Next year will be its 25th anniversary. It’s crazy to think it’s been going for so long and year after year things just keep getting bigger and better.”
“It’s important for the economy here too; there is a massive influx of tourists to the city during the week. I think with Sonar we have the +D events, which reminds me of the format of ADE in a way – it enables creative minds, and industry people to link together, learn from one another and teach people who want to enter this industry. This is important, as much as going to parties and seeing your favourite DJ’s play. Many people still just come for the party though, but it’s nice to think that they may go to a night and see a new artist play, who they find a new love for, and that’s all part of learning more.”
Sonar is a real reflection of Barcelona’s leftist attitude towards dance music, something that will feel alien to those residing in the UK. Here, the government seems to realise the pull that electronic music can bring. Millions are generated through tourism and exciting and culturally impactful ideas are given the chance to bloom and flourish.
Shall Ocin identifies the youth as having a direct, positive impact on gentrification within the city.
“Young people are really organized about their rights and, of course, the city knows the value of the club culture and festivals like Sonar for the city.”
“Of course there is gentrification here as well; especially because of the huge amount of tourists – this has been making the rent prices rise, but the mayor is already trying to take care of this situation. I really hope it does not affect the club culture.”
In Barcelona, open mindedness wins. A laid back attitude that ignores the traditional hustle and bustle of city life – in this opposite world, slow beats fast.
UNER points out that the city’s location has quite a lot to do with its residents care free aesthetic.
“Everyone is laid back, life is a slower pace here, and people enjoy and appreciate the arts – music included.”
“The city is unique in the sense that it has a very rich culture with its museums architecture and also deep connection with the arts, with Gaudi leaving his imprint all over the city, but its location – right on the coast, means that you can be in the middle of the city in a minute, and walk another fifteen to be on the beach. It has everything including mountains, and parks and so much scenery.”
It’s easy to see why people arrive and never leave.