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The Anglophonic nature of the airwaves in the UK (and, for that matter, in Australia, New Zealand and a large part of the United States) means that sadly, very few artists singing in tongues other than English make it to our radio stations and into our eardrums.
In fact, if you asked 100 music aficionados on the streets of any British city to name a Spanish artist, they’d probably be struggling to get past the Iglesias father-son duo. Manu Chao (half-French) may well crop up; the cheekily-named I’m From Barcelona might even get a mention (they’re actually from Sweden, those tricksy scamps).
Of course, there will be diehard fans of all things alternative who have made it their life’s mission to seek out quality acts from Spanish shores – though I bet the majority of these are using the music to supplement their learning of the language. If you’re looking for a clutch of great Spanish alternative rock bands to wrap your ears around, look no further than the assembled list below. Ya esta listo! Buen provecho.
Sounds like: The Libertines, The Coral, The Maccabees
As Madrid’s answer to skinny jeans and hair-sprayed barnets, The Parrots deliver whiny but surprisingly pleasurable vocals along with catchy refrains and surf-style guitar riffs in a tightly-balled package of intoxicated energy.
Speaking to NME magazine, frontman Diego Garcia explains the decadent and debauched roots of their music: “These songs were written at a time when alcohol and weed were present in my life every day in huge quantities,” he says, referring to their latest EP. “Everything was confusing and kind of out of control followed by terrible hangover days that were surrounded by dirt, drinking sangria and eating Chinese noodles.” Sounds familiar.
Sounds like: Neutral Milk Hotel, Other Lives, Boy and Bear
Having only been together for a couple of years, Midnite Special are already making waves in the Spanish alt. rock scene with their two EPs – the most recent of which was released in May 2014.
With a sum total of only seven songs under their belt, the critical and popular acclaim they’ve received up until this point surely earmarks 2016 as an exciting year for the fledgling band.
Sounds like: Mogwai, The Mars Volta, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Do you like your music with a healthy dollop of hallucinogenics? Saubana’s trippy rhythms might just be up your alley.
And even if traversing different spatial dimensions via the use of artificial stimulants isn’t your thing, you’ll still be able to appreciate the powerful builds and intricate tapestries that Saubana weave with their musical wizardry.
Sounds like: The xx, The Album Leaf, Aereogramme
The city of Pamplona is best known for the Running of the Bulls festival – give it a few years, and La Red Bullet could well put it on the map for alternative rock bands. Spain has a whole host of progressive and post-rock acts to offer, but few with as much ambition and talent as this four-piece.
With two soundtracks and one album fit to burst with exciting, original tunes, La Red Bullet could be one to watch (and listen to!) in the coming 12 months.
Sounds like: Of Monsters and Men, Elbow, Doves
Izal exploded onto the Spanish music scene in 2012 with their debut LP, ‘Magia y Efectos especiales’ (‘Magic and Special Effects’), which sold out its first printing of 1,000 copies in a matter of months.
In the summer of 2013, the band hit an impressive 17 festivals – the energy and enthusiasm which they pour into each track and performance more than likely contributed to their winning a breakthrough award from Rolling Stone magazine in the same year.
They followed up their debut with last year’s ‘Copacabana’ – the title track has been linked below for your viewing pleasure.
Sounds like: The Subways, The Hives, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Though they first got together in 2005, the Sexy Zebras were apparently too busy admiring their stripes in the mirror to cobble together their first musical offering until 2011.
A second disc followed in 2013 – recorded in Madrid, mixed in San Diego and mastered in London, producing a pan-appealing raw and ruthless rock that attacks your ears with its jagged riffs and in-your-face-and-up-your-nose vocals. Fans of rabble-rousing rock bands like The Hives take note – Sexy Zebras are here to stay.
Sounds like: Gogol Bordello, Mates of State
Take six easy-going, open-minded musicians, add a sprinkling of 15 different instruments, throw in a custom-made record label and finish off with a crowdfunded album project and you have Ukulele Clan Band.
This delightfully offbeat troupe of musicians mix banjos with cajones, harmonicas with accordions – and, of course, where would they be without the eponymous ukulele. All of this is topped off with a Balkan-sounding frontman to give the band an injection of gypsy punk alongside their catchy folk rhythms.
Sounds like: Alvvays, Florence and the Machine, Crystal Castles
According to an interview she did with Revista Jaleo, lead songstress Cris got some of her musical influences from films like ‘High Fidelity’ and ‘24 Hour Party People’. Surely someone with such a great taste in film must produce enchanting music of her own?
The critics certainly seem to think so. Just like Izal, Belako scooped the breakthrough act gong from Rolling Stone in December 2014, as well as bagging a host of other awards since. See what all the fuss is about with perhaps their biggest hit below.
Sounds like: The Police, Andrew Bird, Bombay Bicycle Club
One of the older hands on deck in this rundown of Spanish alternative rock bands, Depedro is the project of Jairo Zavala, a native of Madrid who is hell-bent on musical world domination. Well, not quite – but his third album is certainly ambitious in its scope and intention.
After travelling all over the globe, Zavala has incorporated the local cultures and musical genres of places he has visited, addressing the topical issues of politics and lifestyle in his lyrics. What’s more, he’s managed to rope some big names from overseas music into collaborating on the album with him, including Nick Urata of DeVotchKa, John Convertino from Calexico and Powderfinger’s Bernard Fanning.
The result? An eclectic collection of powerful stand-alone songs that work even better together.
Sounds like: Amy Winehouse, Beth Ditto, Jungle
Pepa Solana – aka Lady Pepper – is fast rising as one of the brightest stars in Spanish music. Her powerful voice is only matched by her versatility… she’s equally at home singing blues, soul, funk or rock. It’s this ability to adapt which has seen Lady Pepper flit between musical acts over the past decade, ending up now in a marriage of funk rock and jazzy soul with the Cooltrance.
Though not exactly rock per se, the band certainly fuses elements of the genre with other styles to create a vehicle that is almost as formidable as Lady Pepper’s voice itself – almost.
As mentioned above, the Spanish alt rock scene is positively teeming with great acts, which makes it an even greater travesty that none of it reaches our shores. In addition to the 10 bands listed above, I also had the pleasure of discovering a plethora of other artists which sadly could not fit into this list, try as I might.
Among others, special mention should go to Rosy Finch, Mujeres, Supersubmarina, Mud Candies, Dingos & Flamingos, Funambulista, Natalia Clavier, Hinds, The Fire Tornadoes, Varry Brava, Opatov, El Guincho, Carlos Sadness, Mabu, Los Punsetes, Jero Romero, Negroazulado, A de Animal, Furioso, Clandestine Kings, La Doble Fila, Los Gatos del Gitano, Les Seques, Milk It, Playa Cuberris, The Electric Alley, Terrier and Suite Anhelo.
Can you recommend others that I’ve missed?
Whether you’re a Spaniard, an ex-pat living in Spain or simply an aficionado of damn good music, make your voice heard in the comments box below.
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