“Is there such thing as Spanish techno?”
That’s what we asked David Lopez, one half of the Spanish duo Lopezhouse and the newest addition to the Dirtybird record label family. His answer was a resounding “Que va!” (“No way!”)
Roi, DJ, producer, and co-owner of Fanzine, a Spanish promotion company and label, broke it down even further for us. Spain’s economy has suffered tremendously in the last 10 years, creating a financial situation that has adversely affected the growth of the music industry. Roi also cites the police crackdown on nightclubs, which has significantly cut down the number of active electronic venues in the Iberian peninsula. They call it La Caza de Brujas, or The Witch Hunt. “Ten years ago, in any corner of our [region], there was a club catering to the electronic music scene,” he remembers. “Once the crisis struck, the numbers got violently reduced.”
A subculture of ravers seeks new sounds and new religions.
Georgeous & Souldate, co-founders of the Depaart label and resident DJs at Goya Social Club in Madrid, point to the lack of infrastructure. “In Spain, the Latin music scene is like reggaeton, pop and rock. [Those genres] are the prevalent ones, which is not the case for the UK or Germany, known for creating and sustaining their own national brands of techno. Their scene has more contact and influences from electronic music. What we call ‘underground’ here is Top 40 over there.”
Spain is the land of extremes and contradictions. The Spanish spirit is as ambiguous as it is distinct, so thick it’s almost palpable, permeating every aspect of life in the Iberian sub-continent. Self-hating nationalists, hedonistic martyrs – Spaniards live in a mix-and-match universe where the past and future converge in a parallel reality, hidden in plain sight. Those contradictions come to life in the reverberations of the sound’s vanguard, on 800-year-old stone wall buildings, where some party until sunrise, boasting a devotion to excess matched only by their self-righteous discourse.
Out of that hyper-dense black hole emerges a subculture of ravers who seek new sounds and new religions, with a spirit that is both Spanish and universal.
“There is little investment in the up-and-coming acts, and promoters seem only to be interested in big names,” says David Lopez. Georgeous & Souldate also expanded on how promoters have hindered the progress of the scene in the last 30 years. “National promoters only put emphasis on whatever comes from outside…[There are] only very few promoters who don’t follow the take-the-money-and-run model.”
Spain is known for its joie du vivre, iconic, all-night party life, and wine and music culture, but the nation has seen some of its worst years in the last decade. 2012 was the lowest point of what seemed like a chronicle of a death foretold, with unemployment rising over 55 percent for people under 25, a real-estate bubble that burst, and debt that reached 100 billion euros. The country faced the possibility of bankruptcy and even separating from the European Union.
But there is hope. “There seems to be a new scene on the rise, with new promoters who bet on quality artists,” says Roi. David Lopez agrees. “Luckily, we have great young artists like Coyu, Uner, Affkt, Edu Imbernon, and others who have had to go elsewhere to expand their reach and develop their careers.” Though the new kids on the block are prospering, the leaders of the so-called third wave owe their success to the trailblazers who came before them.
The Birth of the First Wave
In the mid-1980s, Madrid was on the verge of a musical explosion, with clubbers from all over the world flocking to the ancient city looking for a new sound. In the midst of this turmoil, a first generation was brewing. One name stands out from that first wave: Oscar Mulero. He became one of the most recognizable faces of the movement as the resident DJ of the historic club The Omen.
The Rise of Sónar Festival and Ibiza
1994 brought the rise of Sónar Festival in Barcelona, now Spain’s preeminent electronic music festival and an industry landmark. The fest marked a new age for the Spanish scene and cemented its leadership role in a global movement. Mulero played the 1996 lineup, launching him onto the world stage. It was a giant step for Spanish techno artists and pointed to the DJ’s role in bringing visibility to the movement, creating the framework for what was to come. Musical giants like Undo, Marc Marzenit, Chus and Ceballos emerged during these years, along with many other names and labels who became key players in the European techno scene.
Brunetto, a long-time figure behind the decks and behind the scene, speaks about that decade. “At every major festival in the 90s, they had to put a techno stage – of which Mulero was the headliner.” He identifies a clear divide between what he calls the analog generation and the digital generation. “Before you had to send a CD or a cassette in the mail, or show up at a label’s door to even be considered. Now you can set up your own studio at home, make a website, upload mixes, and you already exist.”
Most producers agree that what happens on Ibiza is divorced from the industry on the mainland.
Brunetto is reluctant to identify an autonomous third wave after the 90s, as the DJs of the first wave – like Reeko (aka Juan Rico), Mulero, and himself – have gained their place in electronic music’s history precisely because of their ability to regenerate and evolve. Having recently attended Biolive, an audiovisual musical experiment created by Mulero and art collective FIUM, he “was blown away by his versatility and ability to transform.”
The 90s also saw the rise and fall of Ibiza. Once a landmark of the European hippie movement, where Salvador Dalí would party with Andy Warhol, Ibiza’s growth into a global destination marked a clear transformation for electronic music – a shift from a renegade urban phenomenon to a sustainable economic and cultural model for tourism around techno and clubbers. But despite Ibiza’s pivotal role in techno and Spanish history, most producers agree that what happens on the island is divorced from the development of the industry on the mainland. “Right now the business is only in Ibiza,” Lopezhouse told us in a characteristically passive-aggressive (but humorous) Spanish tone. “And you know who plays there!”
Spanish Techno After 9/11
The 2000s were the worst of times and the best of times for Spanish techno. On the one hand, the decade saw the release of quintessential EPs and performances, as well as the rise of massive festivals like Piknic Elektronik Barcelona, MUTEK, and DGTL Barcelona. Now-household names launched into the global electronic music scene, but those successes also coincided with the post-9/11 world crisis and severe political, financial, and social changes in Spain, which worsened longstanding animosity between the Spanish people and its government.
Despite these conditions, artists, producers, and entrepreneurs continued to tirelessly develop the electronic music scene and sound. In 2008, Roi and Pablo Cubeiro launched Fanzine as a club and label, later dedicating themselves to the production and promotion of artists like HD Substance, Santiago Salazar, Hoax Believers, and Basic Soul Unit full-time.
Is There Such a Thing as Spanish Techno?
“There’s not a Spanish brand of techno,” says Roi, “but we have a wide array of artists who input their own personal vision into their sound and are in high demand for the most important festivals and clubs around the world.”
Except Reeko, the aforementioned Asturian first waver, disagrees. “It may be not as exported and known as UK or German techno, but there is a Spanish sound that people recognize. Pole Group is a clear example of this.” Founded by Mulero at the turn of the 21st century, the Pole Group label has been the most prolific producer of the contemporary Spanish techno sound.
That Spanish sound was more clearly identified as part of the wave that swept Europe in the late 80s and 90s, which spawned a dark, industrial sound directly related to what was labeled as EBM (electronic body music, not to be confused with the wub-wubs of today’s EDM) by Kraftwerk’s own Ralf Hutter. This sound typically had a 4/4 beat and recognizable elements from rock and punk, like guitar riffs, looping samples, and syncopation. The rhythm gave due credit to Spanish rock and deeply impacted a whole generation of Spanish-speaking Gen-Xers, becoming part of the wider Ibero-American identity.
In Spain, the emergence of EBM coincided with the rise of La Ruta del Bakalao, a Valencian clubbing movement that mixed local styles with dark, gothic sounds coming out of the UK. That scene fostered the first wave of techno pioneers and helped Spanish nightlife blossom. A 1993 Canal Plus-produced documentary chronicled the rise of Bakalao:
“By the late 90s, techno gave way to more underground projects based around house music, like House of Devotion, Aquarius Club, and others that have been relevant for over 20 years,” recounts Gustavo Navedo, press officer for the Pole Group and a knowledgeable supporter of scene. “Spanish techno corresponds specifically to the early- to mid-90s.”
Even though the Spanish sound was later filtered through the wide array of electronic genres the Internet produced (especially minimal), a Spanish flair remained, even though the music was not exported or labeled as such. It’s morose but humorous – dark, tormented, and provocative. Always complaining but always partying. Undeniably influenced by German techno and European by birth, but Spaniard as fuck at heart. Its spirit radiates the urban, ultra-modern Spain that still curses Franco and the anarchists three generations later.
This is not an age of nationalism and isolated identities, especially in a language as universal as techno.
But this is not an age of nationalism and isolated identities, especially in a language as universal as techno. Spanish artists, whose musical concoction is as diverse as their national influences and as unique as each individual in the face of their seven billion counterparts, have garnered success in the global scene, cultivating a wide audience both on and offline. What the third wavers see as unfavorable has made Spanish techno a secret handshake between those with educated tastes – exclusive and elusive, almost boutique, thus elevating its acolytes from the swarm of nouveau ravers.
As the newest face on Claude VonStroke’s Dirtybird label, Lopezhouse aren’t just advancing their careers; they’re taking meaningful steps for this generation. “I think we bring a little of that European flavor to the American label,” Lopez says playfully about “Mude Tod,” the debut single on the label. “Dirtybird has given us wings and the fact that VonStroke believed in us is the greatest encouragement we could have gotten. We will be forever grateful to him and his team.”
“The challenge for new artists is to do something different; something that sounds fresh, to surprise,” rising star Ramiro Lopez told us. The newcomer is signed under Miracle Management and currently touring far and wide. “Today everyone has the same tools to be heard, but there is so much offer that is hard to get heard. The positive side is that if there is quality, something special, there will be recognition sooner or later.”
“The third generation is very positive for the national culture, since there is a palpable increase of electronic music artists,” concludes Reeko. “You can see them appearing both in the local scene and international market, and this benefits us all, since Spain has not yet been recognized for its amazing musical value. This is changing and each new producer does his part so that the scene keeps evolving.”