Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On the Spanish music scene

I wrote this in response to an article published on the myspace of Brownswooder Olly. Feedback welcome...

'Interesting article. There's no-one I can think of either [doing new things on the Spanish music scene]. Everyone likes one, some or all of the same handful of Spanish groups - Amaral, Oreja De Van Gogh, El Canto Del Loco, Melendi, Estopa, the still fashionable Alaska. They get played on the radio all the time, and obviously don't alienate the older generation.
Because Spain is a very inclusive society in terms of age. Young people only have silly hair and fight because they are young - they will soon get the jobs and raise the families which their families expect them to. A very very crucial difference in society here is that becoming an adult does not mean leaving the family as it does in our society. Thus there is no serious attempt at alternative lifestyles here as there is no need for alienated generations to forge their own identities like hip hop or new wave - because they are never alienated.
There are, however, two alternative groups to the mullet and tight T-shirt mainstream and they are both ironically homogenous within themselves - hippies / artists... beards, glasses, Jamiroquai and Camden Town T shirts (as you said) or metallers.The former can develop, as thirtysomethings, into a mildly intellectual / cosmopolitan movement which doesn't really scratch the surface of what we perceive as global culture. It also involves the wearing of ridiculous designer glasses. (Though the designer frames phenomenon here has spread wider, to hands-on-hips housewives wearing chessboards on their faces. Elton John and Dame Edna fans should come over and marvel!)
Spanish people have never got into digging. Most people would find the idea of listening to a 60s rock or funk record extremely strange. Why are you listening to ''old''music?? Unless its a cultural landmark like James Brown or Bob Dylan. And an old Dylan record probably seems similar to them as, say, The West Coast Experimental Pop Band might feel to me. Something obscure, from another time. And me listening to the new Moodymann is like them listening to the new Fatboy Slim. The new shit!
Their mainstream is made up of only the incredibly famous (Madonna, Shakira) and alternative artists then need only constitute a handful - The Ramones, Bruce Springsteen and AC / DC are mentioned continuously as THE alternative. People talk excitedly about a new 'artist' like James Blunt or Michael Buble as if they heard it on a C90 of a John Peel show originally broadcast in Finland in 1987.
Though a lot of ex-pats here scorn the Spanish for their rigid lifestyles, lack of fashion sense, bland food tastes, lack of underground / alternative culture etc etc, I have become accustomed to the way things are here. Its not just a cliche - people here really are more laid back. And I feel a lot more relaxed wandering around in a T shirt from one of the half dozen clothes shops in the high street than I would panicking that I'm not wearing the right scarf or hat in Nathan Barley land.
Something quite exciting could still happen here musically. But they're going to take their time about it. And do it their way, of course.
The flamenco dancer in the picture is actually from Argentina.


Anonymous said...

I want to point out that although I agree with some of what you say, I get the impression that you have been dealing with a quite limited group of spaniards and this has prevented you from getting a lot of relevant information.

When you say "Everyone likes one, some or all of the same handful of Spanish groups - Amaral, Oreja De Van Gogh, El Canto Del Loco, Melendi, Estopa, the still fashionable Alaska", you are quite right (Except for Alaska. You must have been hanging out with a lot gay people to get the impression that everyone likes Alaska!). Most and mostly middle class culturally-Spanish-centred people in the mainland enjoy the rest of the bands. Although they represent a majority (or that is my impression), there are plenty of people who are not into that music.

There is a good share of Spaniards who are less "Spanish", these people will listen to Latin music, to Anglosaxon music and to whatnot music.

Regarding those who listen to Latin music, I can tell you that people in the Canaries are far more into Latin music -salsa, merengue, reageton (whatever way it is supposed to be written)- than into mainland pop music. Besides, there is a good share of mainland people who enjoy those genres too and you should probably take on account a lot of Latin American people who live in Spain too.

There are people who are into hip-hop in Spain too. I have not had much contact with this group (the only person I really know who is into hip-hop is my brother, the rest are just random acquaintances), but my general impression is that they listen to both English and Spanish speaking hip-hop (favouring the latter), and even some French hip-hop.

Regarding Anglosaxon music, there is quite a lot of people who listen to English speaking music. When I was living in Madrid Concerts by trendy bands like The Strokes, Interpol, Artic Monkeys and such were always sold out. Other mainstream English speaking acts enjoyed similar success -U2, Red Hot, Justin Timberlake...

In the case of Anglosaxon music there is a language barrier that alienates most of the previous generation. In many cases the barrier is probably more a matter of taste than of language. Maybe because some of these Anglosaxon bands are doing something that is new to our previous generation. I would say that there is a good share of "alienation" through music.

Regarding the "alternative groups", you will see the hippie kind all over Spain but there is a lot more than that. Those you name are probably the most common where you are, but visit other places and you will probably find out some kind of local flavoured alternative. For example, we do not have "old school metallers" on Tenerife (ok, maybe two or three), for some reason they disappeared during the nineties, but we do have quite a lot of "Nu-metallers" with a noticeable hip-hop twist. In the Basque Country you will probably will not be able to tell the difference between a typical nationalist youngling and a hippie (I find it hard myself. The traditional "basque mullet" helps, but you can find hippies who wear their hair in that fashion). In Tenerife we have the "changas, gorritas, jarcor (or whatever you want to call them)". This group appeared under the heavy influence of the British chavs. They only clue left of their origing is their favouring British club music and anti social behaviour including happy slapping, petty crimes, etc. I am sure that similar local "alternative groups" have appeared in other places of Spain in similar manner. Really, look around, pay attention and you will see what I mean.
Regarding digging and listening to old music. I know people who do listen to a lot of "old" music other than cultural landmarks like James Brown, Bob Dylan, Joy Division, The Beatles... They are few, but they are out there, most of them dig for music and go vinyl hunting on Sundays. I know bars where they only play "old" music that clearly does not belong to the "cultural landmark" category and to be true, my impression is usually that the music did not transcend for a reason, the same reason why a lot of the music being made today will not transcend. There are, of course, some hidden gems, some cool obscure band that was not noticed by anyone at their time, but these are few compared to the amount of crap that is continuously produced everywhere. I would say that there are very few real "diggers" anywhere you go. Then there are those who find out that there is a tacit canon for a concrete music genre in the concrete time and try to locate those albums, but that is, from my point of view, a completely different story.

Regarding people doing something "new" in Spain. I would like to point you to some bands (you might or might not like them, I do not like them at all, as I am more into Anglosaxon music, but I think they are worth checking if you want to know a little more about the music scene in Spain):


Check "Todos". This is one of the many "Mano Negra"-"Manu Chao"like bands in Spain. I am sure you will notice the jamaican style singing/rapping and the latin influenced music.

Ojos de Brujo

This band has a modern take on flamenco music. I utterly dislike them, but there is no denying that the fusion they have made is relatively original.

Los Planetas

(OK, I like this band, but they are not doing anything too Spanish and I do not think you will find them too original, but still worth checking) (check Nuevas Sensaciones)

Here they cover Joy Division

Violadores del verso

(Hip-hop, not original/Spanish centred, but still...)

There is a lot more, hip-hop with a very strong flamenco twist, basque nationalist punk, canarian funky, a lot of electronic projects (like anywhere in the world)...

Now, regarding society, you wrote "A very very crucial difference in society here is that becoming an adult does not mean leaving the family as it does in our society. Thus there is no serious attempt at alternative lifestyles here as there is no need for alienated generations to forge their own identities like hip hop or new wave - because they are never alienated". I am not completely sure of what you mean when you say "as it does in our society" but completely disagree that spaniards are never alienated. None, and I mean none at all of my friends lives in the Canaries anymore, they have either moved to the mainland (where their accent and manners point them as foreigners as most mainland people cannot tell the difference between latin american and canarian people) or abroad (where they are actually foreign). I dare to say that we leave the islands because we are alienated there, but . If by leaving the family you mean leaving your parents' home (you probably don't, but just in case), I would blame it on the high price of housing (be it bought or rented) and how very convenient staying at your parents' place is.



wooodenelephant said...

Hello Aram. Thanks for posting.

I probably should have specified that I am talking about the culture in Valencia and I largely stand by those statements based on my experiences and observations here. I absolutely do not see young generations being alienated by older ones in this city.

I suppose I forgot about the Anglosaxon angle. My approach to music comes from a basis in classical, folk and jazz moving onto electronic and dance. Musically I feel rock is a subgenre.

Of course I am aware I have made many generalisations and polemical statements, but I think both you and my internet friend Olly would agree that is in the spirit of the discussion.

Thankyou for your recommendations. I typically take a long time to get round to visiting websites but next time I download a batch of music gfrom EMule (which I do intermittently) I will be sure to tell you what I think.