Spain can be an unusual location of curation for live music. The most prevalent trends are discotheques based around popular music (mostly American), hippie and rasta jam bands, or death metal. Anything else can be hard to come across unless you know where you’re looking. Even for a cosmopolitan contemporary cultural center like Barcelona, such places are pretty small, but there are indeed lesser-known pockets where similar musicians and friends gather.
Part of the reason why independent music isn’t flourishing in the city like one would think and why there aren’t a lot of live indie rock venues has to do with laws and police. Getting licenses is very difficult and expensive for small business owners already contending with the crisis. Because Barcelona is so thickly settled, noise complaints and violations become an issue, which can also end up being expensive. The difficulties associated with the live music scene have resulted in the closing of venues, and bands being forced to actually pay to play, which means that a lot of bands don’t ever end up playing live. There also aren’t ever any apartment shows for the same thickly settled reasons that cause venues problems.
For these reasons, it is useful to have some guidelines for visiting the musical corners of the city. One helpful tip is to find a band that you like and then find out where they usually play. If you can, talk to the bands and people at the shows about places that are interesting. Also, find out about record labels like Sones, Bcore, Bankrobber, Els Famèlics, and La Castanya to learn about more groups and where they play. You’ll probably discover a few places that are good to go to on any given night that you just want to grab a drink with friends and hear music that doesn’t suck.
This is probably the most accessible venue in Barcelona to see good music any given night of the week. It’s in Gràcia where for around 5 €, you can go in, have a drink, and listen to great local and small touring bands from all over. The place is little, and actually more like a bar where the musicians set up in a corner next to the bar, but it’s got a lot of charm. Heliogàbal is an essential place for Barcelona, because it’s really one of the only venues of its size and level that isn’t like the megalith concert hall/dance club Razzmatazz, which only hosts internationally touring musicians.
This club is a place that rivals Razzmatazz as an indie dance destination for Saturday night. They have more DJs than they do live bands, but they still have a considerable amount of shows each week. The best thing about Apollo is that you can avoid the 15 € entrance some nights if you comment on their Facebook page and get there before 1am. You’ll know the place, because there’ll be a long line down Paral-lel street on the outskirts of Raval. Be sure to get there before midnight, if you don’t want to wait in line for an hour, then get turned away.
This venue is nestled into the lovely Plaza Reial right off the Ramblas in the Gothic quarter. The network of venues and clubs in Barcelona is a bit mysterious. Sometimes Razzmatazz, Apollo, and Sidecar posters will bear the logo of San Miguel and Primavera Sound, which might indicate that only bands that the association approves of will appear at those places. It’s another indication of how hard it can be for new bands to break in. Nonetheless, Sidecar is an underground rock club that still hosts a lot of great Spanish acts.
Another place that is hidden in Plaza Reial that deserves to be mentioned is Club Pipa. Wander past some people eating out on a restaurant terrace in the square, up to this random door and buzz the second floor. They’ll let you up into a Sherlock Holmes themed apartment bar. Every once in a while the place will have various types of bands playing. Not really ever indie rock and mostly Spanish folk music, but still a very, very cool place.
A record store in Raval just past the contemporary art museum that is owned by Pol Rodellar, the bassist of the awesome garage band Mujeres. THE BOMBER JACKET did an interview with them a while ago. There’s a space in the back of the store past an old arcade game where they have shows, although not frequently enough, unfortunately. However, when they do host events, the place can be packed and overflowing onto the streets with interesting people that would otherwise be hidden somewhere in the city. The little white back room becomes a sweaty mess and people even try to crowdsurf. It’s worth following the band and record store on your social media of choice to find out about happenings.
If you’re feeling adventurous, hop on a train and go to a little town outside of Barcelona called Vic. There’s a place there called La Jazz Cava that is frequented by bands from the collective Els Famèlics. It’s a bunch of D.I.Y. artists recently covered by TBJ who have found that basing their operations out of their hometown is a good way to avoid all the complicated venue nonsense in Barcelona.
This is literally a beach club that has DJs spinning and people dancing right on the beach. The most surprising thing about the place is that the music there sounds good enough rival to the electronic musicians who play at Berlin’s Berghain. It can be hard to find, because it’s very far away from the center of the city and is actually just a little bit past El Parc del Forum, where Primavera Sound is held each year. It was one of the most fun nights to be had in Barcelona.
There are also some events that can’t be missed if you’re interested in live music. Primavera Sound might be really pricey, but it’s probably the best music festival in all of Europe. Not only do they have well known international bands, but right after entering, everyone has to walk past the tents for local record labels in Barcelona and the local Spanish bands are highlighted fairly well. The festival even started branching out last year to include Primavera Club in December, just to have a festival every half year. The other international event that’s embraced in the city is Record Store Day. Record stores all over Barcelona showcase bands all day long. Last year, Luchador Records was the place to be and the night thankfully went way later than it was supposed to.
Hunting for music to see can be annoying homework sometimes in Barcelona, but it’s worth it, because there’s a lot of great stuff to hear.