Music

Conquest of Paradise: Spain at SXSW 2008

Pablo Amor
Dorian

With an ever growing sense of belonging to a certain international musical indie community and with better weapons than ever, Spanish acts of astonishing quality abound in this year’s SXSW.

From the land that gave birth to Julio Iglesias -- and, of course, his equally famous older son, Enrique (though he is more American than anything, living most of his life in Miami), here comes a modest but fierce division of new musical talents. The South by Southwest festival/convention might be full of interesting acts, may hide the next big thing, the band that's most likely to turn into a worldwide phenomenon in a few months. All that, you already know. What you may not be aware of is that it's also going to be the perfect cabinet for displaying (to anyone who wants to take notice, of course) the strength, appeal, and diversity of some more distant musical arenas, such as the Spanish scene.

SPANISH BANDS AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST

If you're in Austin for the festival, here are some of the notable Spanish music showcases:

Delorean

8 p.m. Wednesday

Maggie Mae's

Veracruz, Les Aus, Tokyo Sex Destruction, El Guincho and others

8 p.m. Thursday

Red Eyed Fly

Mala Rodríguez, Standard, Remate & Loco Band, Jet Lag, Dorian, Love of Lesbian and others

2:30 p.m. Thursday

Brush Square

Num9 and others

8 p.m. Friday

Habana Annex

The Right Ons

8 p.m. Friday

BD Rileys Club

In the southern European country, there is much more than flamenco-flavoured AOR music. And long ago were the days of the so-called Movida, the scene that provided the '80s with not only the soundtrack for a time of regained freedom -- following General Franco’s death and the end of his 40-year dictatorship -- but also a proper kind of musical star system. Today's young Spaniards have listened to much more music than their previous generations did, they play their instruments better, speak a much more decent English (although the discussion about which is the best language for rock -- English or Spanish -- is as hot as it has ever been), and take advantage of the Internet for promotion and distribution as much as other nations' bands do to reach audiences listening to music and/or discovering new acts.

OK, you say, but is their music any good? To hell if it isn’t. “I think the Right Ons (MySpace) is for anyone who just wants to have fun, dance, and forget trouble for a while,” says Rams, drummer and back-up singer for the latest Spanish indie hype -- if there is such a thing in a country were the best selling indie act, Los Planetas, though recording for a major, has never sold more than a couple of thousand copies of any of their albums. The difficult mission of reaching larger audiences, first begun with the Right Ons' debut album, 80.81, is being put to a real test in the States as they play a mixture of rock, soul, and funk that has made the opposite trip to the one they’re on right now: journeying from the original fountains of the Stax and Motown sanctuaries in the States, all the way through the Atlantic Ocean, and into their rehearsal space in the Spanish capital of Madrid. But the strange thing is that they've got it perfectly right, not only musically, but in terms of attitude, so they usually succeed in bringin’ the venue down.

The Right Ons

That's because, like all the bands in this article, they truly believe in what they’re doing, regardless of the little importance that music may seem to have in their country, or the mere few albums that are being sold. Nobody in Austin will doubt this commitment when Rams gets on stage again as lead vocalist for the band Jet Lag (MySpace) and starts singing songs from their new album, Forever in a completely different mood and register, this time closer to Wilco and other Americana luminaries (we’re talking of a band here whose third album gathered contributions from Steve Wynn, Gary Louris, and Stacy Earle); “Being able to play in the country where all this started is mind-blowing,” Rams cries.

Coque Yturriaga is another omnipresent name in the Spanish indie scene. For many years, he was the guitarist of Migala, a Madrid band so ambitious that they forced themselves to constantly elude any formal continuity between albums, or even between songs on the same album, and were keen on losing themselves in semi-instrumental pieces that were either a reminder of Pink Floyd, or Mogwai-esque, or a new appendix to the long and diverse tradition of American soundtracks. In the end, the band was so intrinsically intellectual that they couldn’t last forever. But after their last album, La Increíble Aventura, released in 2004, Yturriaga has pursued new and different musical goals, from the less abrasive but equally brainy Emak Bakia -- again with Abel Hernández, ex-singer for Migala -- and his very own solo project, under the name num9 (MySpace). He's already released an album, entitled The Glow-Worm’s Resistance, in which he has played almost every instrument, and that he will now play in Austin. “I think it will appeal to people interested in experimental, electronic, and pop songs,” he says. Acknowledging that he is not a very easy act, he considers SXSW the perfect place for him: “This is a festival for discovering. A place where you can point the stars of tomorrow out, from every different genre.”

Remate

The usual producer of Right Ons, Jet Lag, Migala, and many other indie spanish acts is coming to Austin as well, but in a very different role. His name is Paco Loco, and he has a famous studio in southern Spain -- in Puerto de Santa María, Cadiz -- where almost any band in the country has paid a visit at least once in their career, one that even attracts foreign acts in love with Spain, including Josh Rouse and Steve Wynn. Loco is now part of the Loco Band, the bunch of musicians that support Remate (MySpace) -- nickname of Fernando Martínez -- when he plays live the songs from his fourth and latest effort, the double-album No Land Recordings. Martinez says of Loco, “He is the real spirit of the band, the reason why I decided to call them ‘Loco Band.'” This bearded, classically-trained musician turn singer-songwriter so much in love with Dylan and Young has received much more praise from foreign media (Sunday Times, Uncut, NME) than from the press in his own country. "We will not only try to give two wonderful concerts while in Austin," he says, after their last rehearsal in their home country and just hours before they get on the plane, "but to meet with some American, Canadian, and English promoters who have already showed some interest in our music and may want to bring us back again soon."

Dorian (MySpace), from Barcelona, is a different kind of act. First because they sing in Spanish -- though their lyrics convey the kinds of feelings of love and despair that any youngster in the world would relate to, soft politics included -- and second because they have become a fan act. They produce a sort of danceable pop -- think of a Latin Postal Service -- dress up before they walk on stage, and have a hit song (“A Cualquier Otra Parte”, from their second album, El Futuro no es de Nadie) that their audience inevitably sing along like crazy to at the end of every show. They're that kind of band, and they know it. “We don’t exactly follow the ‘heavy guitar-laden’ profile,” acknowledges Belly, keyboardist, “but I’m sure that very exotic factor is precisely what will make us interesting for the people in Austin.”

With a similar name, Delorean (MySpace) has developed a sound even more disco-oriented, in the same vein that made !!! so famous: a thermo-mix of punk attitude, tribal rhythm, funky grooves, and lots of emotion. If globalization really worked, these guys from Zarautz, Guipúzcoa, would be signing to the DFA label anytime now, because they’re, without any doubt, a Spanish Rapture or a Latin LCD Soundsystem. “As we are at a musical crossroads, it’s possible that very different kinds of people liked us,” says Ekhi, who sings and plays bass in the band. He's right; if you listen to their latest album -- their third -- Into the Plateau, you'll only find one stable quality from beginning to end: you won’t stop dancing at any time.

Standard

Talking about crossroads, exactly in between Dorian and Delorean -- meaning they cultivate pop-structured songs like the former, but tend to develop a similar danceable feeling to all their material like the latter -- is where Standard (MySpace), a five-piece from Getxo, Bilbao stand. But that may be a much more complex presentation than people in Austin will need to enjoy them. “It’s an honour to have the chance to play in front of new people,” says Deu, singer and bassist for the band, “people that will help us to grow; which is exactly what we are always looking for.” Their visit to Austin is the only break they’re taking from recording their new album in London (with Gang of Four’s Andy Gill), the follow up to 3.000V-40.000W, an album that gained them comparisons to American bands like the Killers, and was distributed in the States by the famous-for-its-taste Rhino label.

Love of Lesbian

The Catalans (they’re from Barcelona) Love of Lesbian (MySpace) -- whose fifth album, Cuentos Chinos Para Niños del Japón (translating to something like "Chinese Tales for Japanese Children") was chosen Best 2007 Spanish Album by some media -- represent one of the Spanish music world’s eternal debates: the aforementioned battle between English and Spanish as the most suitable language for rocking out. And they offer one of the most usual solutions to the debate: their first three albums were sung in English, while the latest two are in pure Spanish. It’s not a slight transformation, as every critic in their country has insisted in the greatness of their singer Santi Balmes's writing, prone as it is to surrealist humour. That aside, their sound still leaves clear how much they love the Cure, in a good way.

Mala Rodri­guez

One that would never sing in English is Mala Rodríguez (MySpace), the only Spanish artist in Austin who's signed to a major, Universal Music. The young Andalusian never had any doubt, because being understood counts for everything in the style she practices, which is, of course, hip-hop. But not the kind of hip-hop Americans are used to. Rodríguez's music is Latin-oriented, so to speak, and may include flamenco arrangements from time to time, but it shows also a more minimalistic approach compared to the excessive productions of the American stars. She's more famous than other rappers that may create better hip-hop or that may have been around longer, and that's certainly in part because of her natural beauty and due to the lingering oddity of being a woman in what used to be a man’s world. Her last album, Malamarismo, recorded between Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, New York, and Spain, included contributions from Mexican singer Julieta Venegas and gipsy guitarist Raimundo Amador.

As far as fusion goes, there’s a new star on the horizon: El Guincho (MySpace), the personal project of Pablo Díaz-Reixa. It has already been greeted as the next big thing and Spain’s response to Panda Bear. His only album, Alegranza, is a mixture of pop and electronics under the sign of tropical rythms -- imagine Manu Chao and the French duo Daft Punk working together, and you won’t be even be there yet.

The line-up of Spanish acts at SXSW is completed with a few other bands coming from Cataluña, the north-eastern region of the country. Les Aus (MySpace), a duo whose music can only be defined as a melting pot of instruments, sounds, and states of mind, Tokyo Sex Destruction (MySpace), whose music in a slightly similar vein to that of the Right Ons has already made international waves and is dependent on a vocalist who's a real showman, and Veracruz (MySpace), whose punk attitude permeates everything they do, from their eponymous debut album -- 10 songs in no more than 20 minutes -- to their intentions: “We hope to see some astonishing playing and bands going further than ever in terms of stage action,” Adrián desires.

For all of them, the trip will not only be worth the SXSW festival itself. There are always a lot of things to do when traveling. Imagine yourself going to Spain to play in a festival -- wouldn’t you try to pay a visit to Museo del Prado, or attend a Real Madrid or Barcelona soccer match, or eat an authentic paella? The same feelings here. “To tell you the truth,” Remate confesses, “the only cultural plans I have is to look for Daniel Johnston’s frog, the famous graffiti outside the McDonald’s where he used to work.” Freakism apart, all of those Spanish bands will surely take advantage of the extraordinary actual exchange between euros and dollars -- around 1€=$1.50 -- to buy some musical equipment: “We have already bought ourselves three guitars and a bass,” says Rams, “and we haven’t even got to Austin!”

Neither is Austin the end of the road in North America. Prior to their SXSW gigs, the Right Ons have played in NY, Baltimore, and Washington, and they’re not the only ones who have plans of world domination. “I’ll use my trip to the States,” says Adrián, from Veracruz, “to play with my other band, Bèstia Ferida, as well; we’re doing a couple of shows in NY and Philadelphia.” Says Ekhi of Delorean, “We won’t be in Austin for long, as we are playing in Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Mexico DF by the end of the week.” Dorian's Belly reveals, “Some of us will go to Mexico for a week in order to prepare for our forthcoming Mexican tour.”

After all, do you think anyone would undertake such an expensive trip if they were not sure it was worth it, if they didn’t really believe in what they’re doing, and that it may lead to something else, bigger and better? And for those audiences seeking the next big thing to rave about, the source may be coming from an entirely unexpected direction.


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