Monday, February 03, 2014

The Prussians Are Coming: Mallorcan indie

A couple of nights before this year's most traditional of all Mallorcan fiesta events - the La Beata procession in Santa Margalida - there was a night of wholly untraditional indie rock music in the town's Es Colomer pub, a venue which has gained something of a reputation for showcasing young local musical talent. On the bill that night was a Mallorcan group called The Prussians. A five-piece whose ages range from 18 to 26, they have just won the first prize for the Art Jove 2013 competition to find the best in contemporary youth music.

In a play-off against four other finalists at the Palma Arena, The Prussians were voted as the best act for an award that comes under the auspices of the regional government's youth institute. It is a notable achievement for a group that was formed in 2009 by two school friends - Dominic Massó (22, the group's singer, rhythm guitarist and principal writer) and Tino Lucena (21, the drummer) - but which didn't become a fully-fledged five-piece until the end of 2012.

Three days after appearing in Santa Margalida, the group released a new single. Called "Cold Trees", whether it has pulled up many trees is probably debatable. It's a good enough track, but life for the Mallorcan (indeed Spanish) indie act isn't that easy. There are plenty of such acts, but they struggle in a music scene dominated by the international dance and club colossi and the various derivatives of what might be styled as an undemanding and disposable Iglesias Junior/Operación Triunfo Spanish pop, while of leading Spanish indie groups, the better-known names tend to be acts that originated in the '90s, such as Los Planetas and La Habitación Roja. Of others, Vetsuta Morla have managed a mere two albums over a 15-year existence, the first of which was considered to have been the finest Spanish rock album ever made, while there are lesser-known but critically acclaimed bands like Nudozurdo, Triángulo de Amor Bizarro and the Basque group McEnroe.

But maybe, and thanks to a beer, the best known of all Spanish indie acts is now Love of Lesbian. They had a number one last year with "Fantastic Shine". It was the theme song for what has become a tradition in Spain to mark the start of summer - the Estrella Damm beer advert and, moreover, it wasn't sung in Spanish or in Catalan (the group come from Barcelona). It was in English.

It is this, singing in English, which might just prove to be a strong point for The Prussians, though one wonders if there wasn't some additional motive behind their being given the award by a governmental body at a time when English, for a totally different reason, is very much in vogue in Mallorca. As a group they are definitely bucking a trend for more and more indie in Mallorca to be in Catalan and to receive a certain amount of quasi-official support. A number of local groups were sponsored by the Ramon Llull Institute to perform in the US in 2012; a way of spreading the Catalan word as well as the indie-music culture of both Mallorca and Catalonia. Whether there was or wasn't a political motivation behind their receiving first prize, the fact that The Prussians perform in English can only assist in their hope to one day break into a wider European market.

But to break into any market and to enjoy real success and so rip up some trees requires music that has some broad appeal. Love of Lesbian have copped some flak for selling out. It has always been thus for groups whose origins are not those of the mainstream. However, accusations of being too commercial miss the point that much indie music, that from Britain, has not necessarily been that far removed from the pop mainstream. In The Prussians' music, there are definite echoes of current British groups which are dubbed indie but which sell by the bucket loads. Foals was one of the names which came to my mind on listening to them for the first time, and Foals are indeed cited by the group as an influence.

What The Prussians lack, at present, are real killer riffs or hooks, of the sort that have given other influences, e.g. The Arctic Monkeys, commercial success. But there's something there to work on. They deserve their award. As for breaking into foreign markets, though, they have a potential problem. Their name. There is already a French rock group called Les Prussians. There is an Australian indie outfit called Lars and the Prussians and a German one, Nadine and the Prussians (who are rather wonderful). So confusion might just be an issue, though for their sake, one can but hope they are never confused with Prussian Blue, the American twins Lynx and Lamb Gaede, who, before they were old enough to truly understand what they were singing about, were churning out moppet, white-supremacist nonsense that their mother wrote for them.

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