Music: Spain’s best alt/indie bands

Zahara’s Koren Helbig does her homework on the best Spanish indie and alternative bands:

So you’ve moved to Spain, you’re desperate to grasp the language and you’ll listen to just about anything to boost your exposure to Spanish … but the music just seems to, well, suck a little.

Oh wait, I think that’s my life I’m describing.

Anyway. The point is good bands can be a tad tough to find here at first. But never fear amigos, I’ve done the hard yards for you and unearthed 10 of Spain’s best alt/indie bands to soothe those bleeding eardrums. Or maybe this is just a list my new housemate wrote for me the other day. Or maybe I took a quick straw poll at beach last weekend. Whatever.

Stick with me kids, because you sure as heck don’t want to commit social suicide by suggesting Melendi is any good. *coughspanishjustintimberlakecough*

1. Vetusta Morla
These guys named themselves after Morla, the giant turtle in The Neverending Story. Need I say more? Probably. They’re hardly prolific, with only two full-length albums to their name in 15 years. But it’s quality over quantity. Because their 2008 record was hailed as “the best debut album in the history of Spanish rock” by Madrid-based music journalist Santiago Alcanda, who is kind of big deal over here. Rather impressive considering the sextet, hailing from a town near Madrid, released both albums on their own independent record label, Pequeño Salto Mortal.

2. Pony Bravo
Rad doesn’t even begin to describe these Andalusian legends, led by Daniel Alonso. Prepare for your ears to be assaulted – in the best possible way – by an impossible flamenco-rock-jazz-electronic-blues-reggae blend. Even better, the four horsemen have released all their albums for freeeeeeeee under Creative Commons via their own label, El Rancho Casa de Discos (Ranch House Records). So you’re definitely going to want to scoot over to their website. Right now. And download them all. (Descarga means download, mmkay?)

3. The New Raemon
If you want to talk crazy genius with insane levels of motivation, Ramón Rodriguez is your guy. Rodriguez, the brainchild of The New Raemon, once laid down no less than 53 tracks in three years. He’s recorded albums every year since 2007 with one band or another. And in his spare time, he writes comics to keep himself from going “completely crazy”. Bad news is, he’s burnt out. Rodriguez announced in June that he’ll stop gigging “indefinitely” to pursue other projects. Hopefully that includes chilling out with a nice cup of tea. His last show is scheduled for September 28. But the Barcelonan has left us the gift of this borderline creepy film clip featuring his two pre-teen daughters painted with black beards. Bless.

Xoel López4. Xoel López/Deluxe
You’ve gotta admire the attitude of Xoel López, who hails from Spain’s northwest corner, Galicia. Between 2001 and 2008 López (pictured, left) released a bunch of well-received albums under the stage name Deluxe … but then decided the whole fame and fortune thing wasn’t for him. So he upped stumps and moved to Argentina in 2009, starting fresh and touring with local musos in small venues across Latin America. That eventually birthed his first album under his own name, last year’s Atlántico, which kinda ironically only served to heighten his stardom in fair España. At this year’s independent music awards López picked up Best Spanish Artist of 2012. There’s no escaping fame, I guess.

5. Supersubmarina
Behold the secret to rock stardom: damn good olive oil. It’s the only possible conclusion, considering the quality batch of bands, Superbmarina among them, emerging from Jaén in southern Spain, which just happens to be one of the largest olive oil producing regions in the world. The Supersubmarina twentysomethings are high school mates who thought about opening a restaurant together but decided to create a band instead – luckily. The five-piece’s second LP, named Santacruz and packed full of references to their Andalusian home, hit number three on the Spanish charts last year. The good news is they tour like demons so get yourself to any major independent shindig and you’re likely to catch them.

6. Zahara
Sweet songstress Zahara (pictured, top) is another of the exceptional bred-on-olive-oil musicians emerging from Jaén, although she now calls Barcelona home. Zahara broke onto the scene as a young teen with a protest ballad that won an Andulusian song contest and has since gone on to record three cracking albums. The most recent, La Pareja Tóxica (The Toxic Partner), is all about relationships ultimately doomed to death. Heavy. But Zahara, who turned 30 this month, is just so damn adorable that it’s a pleasant listen. If you want to get all giddy with fan love, head over to Zaharamanía, where she often answers questions and talks about things she likes, including cookies, How I Met Your Mother and Argan oil. Truly.

7. Jero Romero/The Sunday Drivers
Toledo’s The Sunday Drivers did rather well together over 11 years and four albums, singing their way into the heart of Spain’s indie-pop scene despite all-English lyrics. But in 2010 lead singer and songwriter Joel Romero split from the band and a year later decided to attempt a solo album … totally funded by fans. Roaring success doesn’t even begin to describe the reaction. Within 48 hours, 700 fans had chipped in more than 18,000€ and the crowd-funded album, which marked a return to Romero’s native Spanish, was born. Incidentally, the chilled acoustics of Cabeza de León (Lion Head) is perfect for Sunday arvo drives.

Lori Meyers8. Lori Meyers
Lori Meyers sound vaguely familiar? Congratulations, you’re officially a diehard punk fan. Because these guys somewhat inexplicably named themselves after NOFX’s1994 track about a porn actress. Maybe that’s why they swap band members about as often as porn stars change their underwear. The six-piece (at the moment) this year released their fifth studio album, a kind of kiss-and-tell affair all about breakups and past relationships. Ouch. The Granada group has been criticised for moving towards a more commercial pop sound with their later albums and perhaps can now rightly be labelled “mainstream”. Nonetheless, they’ve been darlings of the indie scene for nigh on a decade and deserve a mention.

9. Standstill
Want to watch a band completely reinvent itself over 15 years or so? Give Standstill’s seven-strong discography a spin. The band cut its teeth “spitting rage” in Barcelona’s mid-90s hardcore punk scene. But with 2004 came a switch from English to Spanish lyrics and the first of their increasingly theatrical audio-visual live performances. The critically acclaimed 2006 album, Vivalaguerra, marked an even huger change of style and Standstill have basically been baffling critics who attempt to pigeonhole them ever since. These days their sound is emotional, layered, poetic and unpredictable … essentially the polar opposite of where they began. Kudos.

10. Love of Lesbian
Has a band officially sold out when they pimp their beats and bodies to a Catalan brewer in the form of a sun-soaked summer anthem advertisement for beer? If so, sorry folks but Love of Lesbian crossed the line this year. Or perhaps it was just good old Catalan pride coming to the forefront from this Barcelona five-piece. Whatever their beer-drinking, out-selling preferences, Love of Lesbian deserve a mention for pushing themselves to the top over 16 years and seven albums. Their most recent offering, La Noche Eterna, Los Días No Vividos (The Eternal Night, the Unlived Days) reached #1 in Spain last year. It is rather a good listen.

Others worth checking: Niños Mutantes, Havalina, Maga, Los Planetas.

Or, if you prefer your Spanish indie bands crooning in English: Russian Red, LA.



Words by Koren Helbig