In much of the world, being an indie-rock superstar still means keeping your day job. Take Madrid’s Rusos Blancos for example.
I mean, being in an indie band, it’s like being in the chess club as a hobby.
“We try to make it as professional as possible,” said Elisa Perez, who drums for Rusos Blancos, as well as the better-known band, Cosmen Adelaida. “But you cannot make a living out of it. I mean, most bands, even the more known bands they have their jobs and everything.”
That is, if they have jobs at all: Unemployment in Spain is running about 25 percent.
The economic downturn at times casts a hopeless, defeated shadow on parts of Spain, a feeling captured intensely in Cosmen Adelaida’s song “Miss Wisconsin”.
“It [the song] talks about resignation, I’d say,” Perez said. “It couldn’t happen, but it’s okay.”
Spain’s worsening economy hasn’t just affected people looking for work, but also governments -federal and local – that are drastically scaling back programs, including cultural ones.
And that is making it even harder for bands in Spain to get recognized. Victor Riba sings and plays guitar in Odio Paris, a melodic, noise-pop outfit from Barcelona.
“Before, there used to be money to put on the concerts but now this money doesn’t go to cultural events, “Riba said. “It goes to other things. The public concerts that they use to provide, they are gone now.”
The concerts he is referring to were government funded town festivals. Spain’s cultural budget, like its economy, used to be a lot healthier. Arts centers around the country got funding from the cajas (local savings banks). But now the cajas are in serious trouble.
“It has made things a bit difficult,” said Oscar Ferre, the other guitarist and singer for Odio Paris. “Basically, it costs us money to play a concert.”
Ferre said the average pay for a gig in Spain is about 300 euros, about $365. Divide that five ways for a five-member band like Odio Paris, subtract money for gas and accommodations and you are lucky to get $50 a piece.
To deal with the cultural cutbacks, many Spanish bands maintain a kind of collective, do-it-yourself spirit of the ’90s indie pop scene.
Ferre said that spirit helps them carry through the tough times.
“They aren’t competition,” he said. “We help each other to get concerts, we all call each other, ‘Hey we have a gig over here come to Teloneros,’ and another will get a concert in Barcelona, and we come. And we sleep at their houses and they sleep in ours. Because of the crisis, well, the scene is really good.”
The bands in Spain’s underground music scene have created a different style from what’s permeated American indie pop for the past few decades. They’ve combined the downcast, self-effacing style of shoegaze with the beautiful lyricism of the Spanish language. Though Rusos Blancos’ drummer Perez said that uniqueness might ultimately hold them back.
“Bands like us who sing in Spanish, some can tour in Latin America, but normally, no, we stay in Spain,” he said. “I think it’s difficult for other people to listen to music in languages they don’t speak.”
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