This is the unedited and unabridged version of a feature I originally wrote for Expedia.
Famed the world over for its exhilarating and dynamic nightlife, Barcelona is a dream destination for music lovers. From industrial super-venues that host international acts to candle-lit basement gigs and backstreet performances, it’s all here just waiting to be discovered. But you’ll need some insider advice on where to get started.
I spoke to my friend Etienne Le Meow from Barcelona-based band, Dead Parties, to talk more about Barcelona’s burgeoning live music scene and the best venues to experience it.
Where are you from and how did you end up in Barcelona?
Etienne: I hail from Melbourne and have been living in Barcelona for 3 and a half years. My intention was to come for a year, just for a change, but I ended up meeting some great people and my music started taking off. So I decided to extend my stay, a year at a time.
I’ve heard your music described as ‘bourgeoisie swagger’, ‘pop fuzz’ and ‘psychedelic shoe gaze’. How did the band come about?
Etienne: Dead Parties was born out of frustration that I was writing all these songs but it would take forever for my old band to get them into the set. So I bought a Mac and started using GarageBand. That changed everything – suddenly I could be the band, everything that I imagined for a song I could record. It was tremendously liberating.
I put together a demo and showed it around here in Barcelona and the response was overwhelming. I used the demos as a basis for what would be the first release, In Dreams Of Decadence. I’ve followed that model since – record everything at home, then take it to a studio for drums and mixing.
Along the way I’ve had the pleasure of playing live with many talented musicians, each of whom have added something to the sound. At the moment we are three, with Tony Laming on guitar and vox and Sarah Kost on keys, percussion and vox.
Where have you played in Barcelona and which venues have been the most memorable for you?
Etienne: We’ve been fortunate enough to play at some of Barcelona’s bigger venues, such as Apolo, Razzmatazz, Sidecar and Tarantos. I love Tarantos because it’s cosy and intimate.
In a nutshell, how would you describe Barcelona’s live music scene?
Etienne: Well, it’s small, but well formed. I’d love to see a lift on noise restrictions and more pubs offering live rock. I mean, acoustic gigs are ok but they’re not sexy are they? Bring on the noise. That said there are some good promoters about.
Ben: Yes, Barcelona’s noise restrictions are infamous. I’ve discovered that to hear live music in the centre of the city you often have to go underground, literally. I love the narrow, cave-like venue in the basement of Ryans Bar in Plaça Sant Jaume, where local bands play rock and funk. I also love the grungy basement venue at Manchester Bar in the Gothic Quarter, which is a popular venue for some of the more experimental bands and DJs in the city.
Where do you go to listen to live music and which places would you recommend to people visiting Barcelona for the first time?
Etienne: Apolo and Razzmatazz are two of the biggest live music venues in Barcelona and host some of the biggest names in the music industry. I also like Sala BeGood, Rocksound, Sidecar for live music from local bands and unsigned talent. Tarantos is also a good venue in a central location (Plaça Reial) – they have amazing Flamenco shows there too.
Other than that there’s a ton of bars to get lost in.
Ben: Barcelona rewards those who aren’t afraid of getting a little lost. One of my favourite little venues for blues and old school R&B is El Cafe Rock&Roll in Gracia. I also love Bodega Saltó for Spanish music on the uber cool street of Carrer Blai in Poble Sec. Are there any other hidden backstreet venues that you recommend?
Do you recommend any local publications/blogs that would be helpful for out-of-towners that want to experience Barcelona’s live music scene?
Etienne: I use Metropolitan Magazine, which is in English and has lots if good stuff. There’s Miniguide – they’ve got a great app that you can download and get daily suggestions. Mondo Sonoro is another really good music/arts street rag, but it’s in Spanish.