Wednesday, February 26, 2014

La Movida: A movement frozen in the 1980s

Assigning an exact time and place to the start of a "movement" is often simplistic. For a movement to start it needs to have had its antecedents, the stuff that had already happened which contributed to what might be taken as the defining moment in time of its commencement. In popular music there are various examples of these defining occasions, one of the most celebrated being the "gig that changed the world", the Sex Pistols at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976. Legend has it that in attendance at that gig were those who were to make up the first wave of the Manchester scene - future members of The Smiths, The Buzzcocks and Joy Division (later New Order). Whatever the truth of this legend, there is no disputing the fact that the Pistols launched not just a musical movement but an entire cultural movement, one that infiltrated literature, film, art and fashion.

On 23 May 1981, an event was staged in Madrid that was known as the "concierto de primavera" (the Spring Concert). It is taken as the defining moment for the start of La Movida, which was initially "la movida madrileña" (the Madrid move), but which became "la movida española", a 1980s cultural revolution in Spain, the importance of which might now be partly forgotten but which was fundamental in the transformation of the country. 

But as ever, there was the stuff which came before, including a tribute concert for Canito, a composer, singer and drummer, who had died in a road accident on New Year's Eve 1979. His brothers formed a new group, Los Secretos, who performed at the 1981 concert and who became associated and identifiable with La Movida.

Usually defined as a counter-cultural movement, La Movida was more a type of renaissance after the Franco years. It borrowed from punk culture up to a point, but it wasn't so much a tearing-down as an establishing of culture, a specifically innovative Spanish one no longer forced to cower in the face of repression. Among its more notable products was the film director/producer Pedro Almodóvar. If Julian Temple was British punk's film documentarist, then Almodóvar was La Movida's. And along with music and cinema, there was a cultural transformation in literature and publishing, television, photography and painting as well as an outburst of the satirical in the form of comic books and cartoons.

In what will sound like a worthy but extraordinarily dull paper, three sociologists have studied the "aesthetic canon of Spanish pop-rock". Published* in the "Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas", Fernán del Val, Javier Noya and Martín Pérez-Colman have taken the views of music critics and studied published lists of leading artists in order to arrive at a definitive list of the 50 most important musical acts who have contributed to this "canon". Of the first ten acts in the list, half of them were products of La Movida (Los Secretos aren't one of them; they are in 29th place).

The paper's authors find that this "canon" is heavily biased in favour of a kind of hybrid pop-rock, one which combines an essentially Anglo-American rock with Spanish elements; flamenco in particular. This is a pop-rock which dominates to the exclusion of many other genres - heavy metal, folk, jazz, dance are all but absent. And La Movida, despite being 30 years or so old, dominates, with even younger critics and journalists pointing to the importance of the music that came out of that cultural movement.

This in itself might not be surprising because of the significance of La Movida, but there are notable omissions from this "aesthetic canon". Folk is one, and Mallorca has offered a very good example of an act which might find its way onto a broader list - Els Valldemossa who, once they stopped appearing on Eurovision, rediscovered their Mallorcan folk roots. Another, most definitely, is the whole musical scene that broke out of Ibiza, also in the 1980s. Balearic beat - the house and electronic dance of Ibiza's clubs - and later the flamenco-infused chill and ambient of the Café del Mar might well lay claim to being the most important of all popular music to have come out of Spain, yet it doesn't get a look in. 

Three months before the Spring Concert, the failed coup took place. In the following year the first socialist government came to power in Spain. La Movida was itself identifiably socialist because many of its protagonists were socialists. But what was a counter-cultural movement became established. The authors conclude that "the middle classes (of today) have managed to impose their tastes on the production of the canon". It was an important movement but it ran out of steam and its protagonists became complacent. And kept listening to their 1980s' rock albums.

*; pages 147-180, click to see abstract and for PDF download of article in English and Spanish.

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