From urban EDM stars to rural sister acts, here’s a playlist for the Catalan crown city.
Barcelona is a music city. Not just because it hosts two of the world’s great music festivals (Primavera Sound and Sónar). Not just because currently-exiled President Carles Puigdemont used to play in a Beatles cover band and could probably hold his weight in an argument about Big Star or The Jam. It’s also the ubiquity of underground sounds playing throughout the city, from the neighborhood supermarket chain to your local hardware store. Elsewhere in Spain, you’ll often hear tacky flamenco pop or a wave of mass-market Reggaeton, but the music in Barcelona’s public spaces always seems curated by a Pitchfork journalist. Here is my soundtrack to the city, a song to match some of my favorite sites.
Site: Poble Nou Song: Bombay by El Guincho, 2010
The industrial district of Poble Nou has become a haven for young professionals and startups. From the outside it looks like a quiet area full of warehouses, but beyond the open loading docks lie some of the city’s top media companies, culture promoters, and design hubs.
El Guincho’s tropical anthem, Bombay, strikes me as a good match for the emerging spirit of the area. When Pablo Diaz Reixa (El Guincho himself) appeared on the scene ten years ago, some of his earliest shows were at Razzmatazz, the venue that attracted many of the younger set to this neighborhood. The music video for the song—directed by the Poble Nou-based, award-winning film production company Canadá—became a trendsetter, and the company has since gone on to work with some of the planet´s hottest acts, including Phoenix, Beck, Tame Impala, and Cut Copy.
Site: Poble Nou Song: Awake by AWWZ, 2015
Gemma, the DJ and producer better known as AWWZ, was a bartender at Razzmattazz venue until that day she and a co-worker named Sara decided that what the “push right fader up, left fader down” work that the visiting DJs were doing didn’t look so difficult. They formed Thug Ladies and started gaining attention for their electropop DJ sets, but then Gemma, taken in by slow R&B and footwork beats, began asking her producer friends to show her how to program music. A quick learner, she started uploading her own productions online under the moniker AWWZ and immediately found an enthusiastic audience. Currently, she’s signed to Mexican label Finesse Records, tours central America frequently and is one of Spain’s few practitioners of futurist downtempo electronica.
Site: Sant Feliu De Guixols Song: Enmienda a la Totalidad by Joan Colomo, 2016
The quiet seaside town of Sant Feliu de Guixols about 100km south of Barcelona is not just a place for drinking vermouth in the summer and taking your small boat out for a cruise, though it is certainly that. Many of the region’s punk and alternative guitar bands signed to Barcelona’s long-standing BCore label come to record at Ultramarinos Studios located a quick bike ride away from the beach. The studio has acted as a sort of catalyst for the local Atzavara hardcore punk collective, which has built up a summer festival and opened the stage to bands who share its DIY principles and ethics. Joan Colomo has been a part of several bands—most notably The Unfinished Sympathy—as well as pursuing a solo career since 2009. The video for this summery rock song looks like it was filmed at Aiguablava, one of the many typical gorgeous coves you can find all along the Costa Brava.
Site: Parc del Fòrum Song: Le Fou by Pedro Vian, 2016
The beauty of the Fòrum lies in the clean architectural lines against the horizon, the futuristic buildings and the feeling of emptiness and pleasant isolation right by the sea. The sunset when Primavera Sound Festival opens its gates each year at the park is as iconic to a certain set of locals as Sagrada Familia is. Local DJ and producer Pedro Vian and his cerebral electronica is just the right tone for that festival, and for that place.
Site: Raval Song: Te Quiero Pero Por Otro Lado… by Savath & Savalas, 2004
The chaotic multicultural neighborhood right off Las Ramblas known as El Raval, where kebab corners and telecom shops share sidewalks with the hippest bars and clothing stores, is a constant source of energy and inspiration. There’s even a distinct term for music with its genesis in that energy: Raval Sound, which usually involves a lot of broken beats and Middle Eastern or Bollywood samples.
Many international electronic artists who regularly came to perform at Sónar festival realized the city would make a fine base for them as they toured through Europe. Guillermo Scott Herren, aka Prefuse 73, was one of them. Herren’s return to his roots (he’s American, but his father is Catalan) also gave rise to Savath & Savalas, a more electro-acoustic project that somehow feels indebted to the Raval.
Site: Raval Song: Chained by The xx (John Talabot and Pional Blinded remix), 2012
Once the sun sets, even more people descend upon the Raval area looking for a drink and a dance. Hidden in one of the alleys you’ll find Moog, Barcelona’s answer to Berlin’s Panorama Bar, with a tight dance floor and lineups with renowned techno DJs. Its most revered champion is John Talabot, who hosts a memorable night each summer spinning slow disco from midnight to dawn, progressively upping the pitch over the course of six hours, working slowly toward the 120 beats-per-minute barrier. Talabot’s label Hivern Discs and its brand of slow, enthralling beats have been a huge influence on the city’s dance scene.
Site: MACBA Song: Mercadona by Bad Gyal, 2016
Trap and dancehall-infused rhythms form the soundtrack for many of Barcelona’s teenagers and twenty-somethings, with an endless flood of aspiring artists or scensters releasing new YouTube videos from around the city. The square in front of MACBA, Barcelona’s contemporary art museum—well established as one of the world’s great skateboarding meccas—is also the center of the local trap and dancehall scene. Key players come to hang out, film Instagram stories, celebrate the nihilism and cannabis clouds and everything else that makes being in your 20s so great. Among this fresh generation of Internet artists, Bad Gyal has made the biggest splash so far, getting a front-page feature on Pitchfork, touring the U.S. and drawing large crowds along the way.
Site: Rural Catalunya Song: Amen by Flos Mariae, 2015
This deeply religious and reclusive sister act represents, among other things, a very specific fashion sensibility you’ll find among Catalans: the garish overdressing. It may have to do with Catalan self-assuredness, the effect of so many bright days a year or the creative legacy of Salvador Dalí, but there’s no middle ground: it’s either dress-down casual or full-on wedding reception. Flos Mariae stand proudly among the rural and fabulous. Sure, the video for Amen seems homemade, and most of the sisters have a hard time holding a note steady, but with nearly 900k views on Amen alone, the sisters are clearly connecting to their people.
Site: Gracia Song: Mix of Rumbas by Chacho.
Barcelona was the breeding ground for a mutation of Flamenco known as the Rumba Catalana made by the Andalusian Roma people who settled on the Catalan coast in the mid-sixties. It is flamenco with a boogie, more lighthearted than the cathartic frenzy of a bulería. Naturally, Rumba rose from working-class neighborhoods like Raval, Hostalfrancs and Gracia, the city within the city above La Diagonal. The music where a lot of the daily customs celebrated in many if its songs, such as whiling away the hours drinking vermouth in Manolo bars and being unproductive in general, can still be enjoyed with a minimum amount of effort. Of all the prominent artists who paved the way for this genre, and still blare out of the many bodegas that have survived the trends, El Chacho was one of its most celebrated pioneers along with El Pescailla and Peret.
Site: La Barceloneta Song: No Me Des Guerra by Bambino
The fishermen’s neighborhood of Barceloneta leads to a promenade so crass and packed with people that it’s been referred to as the European Venice Beach. But you can still find the area dotted with many of these authentic grasa bars—pleasant dive bars where you can find cheap fried fish and trios of Roma rumberos making the rounds, treating people to an endless repertoire of classics and covers of the latest top 40 songs. These places, like Bar Leo, Maians, El Cheriff, Electricitat or El Vaso de Oro, are authentic enough to still attract locals, despite the devolving tourist scene around them. Bar Leo especially maintains its chaotic allure, where an innocent round of cañitas (small glasses of beer) on any given Sunday can melt into full debauchery with punks who didn’t go to bed from the previous night, fresh-faced Swedish students taking selfies and old men in tracksuit bottoms wearing shiny moccasins. Dame Leo will be there shouting to kick people out, despite having profited from this madness for decades. The bar, the scene, the proprietress—all are a perfect match for the music of the late Flamenco legend Bambino, for whom Bar Leo acts as something of a shrine.