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AN ÖPERA FOR THE 21st CENTURY

 

By Eduardo Pérez Waasdorp
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Wrapping up everything that happened during Boiler Room x Ballantine’s True Music Studios Madrid, we wanted to put the spotlight over Öpera, the winning promoters of the 2019 True Music Fund. Hailing from the Canary Islands, the collective led by promoter Antonio Corral has created a unique oasis of urbano and creative freedom in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a city that despite having a thriving multicultural population, is still known for its conservative dress code and elite policies on the dance floor.

THE DAWN OF ÖPERA

Öpera’s story begins around three years ago, when Antonio Corral and likeminded individuals started exploring the necessity of having a space for more alternative crowds to party. “The most underground people in Las Palmas scene didn’t have a place to party”, Antonio tells us. “The city has always had a very conservative nightlife, with strict admission policies and certain type of dress codes still in place. Literally, if you don’t wear suit and expensive shoes you’re not allowed anywhere.”

Since the very start, Antonio did a thorough market research and treated everything related to Öpera as a startup business.

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“We explored the needs of Las Palmas nightlife, and the most common phrase that came up during the interviews was: ‘We don’t have a place to party’. That’s why Öpera’s first claim was ‘The party to stop complaining about not having anywhere to party’ ”

Öpera’s philosophy and music now spins around reggaetón, perreo, and urbano sounds. But it wasn’t always like that. At the beginning Antonio was reluctant to the style, due to his own early misconceptions. “We, in the Canary Islands, have a very special relationship with reggaetón. I learnt that later, because at first I didn’t understand how people with such different social backgrounds could be into reggaetón and perreo. I realized that the crowds grew with reggaetón being everywhere.”

We already explored how reggaetón and perreo developed in Spain in this article, and how the Canary Islands played a major role in the process, now giving some of the freshest new names in perreo.

Eventually one of his best friends managed to persuade him that the people wanted a place where they could be themselves and hear the music they loved. Finally, Highkili, Öpera’s resident DJ and curator, recommended Antonio to book one of his friends, a live reggaetón artist. That party was an enlightening, and spiritual moment for Antonio and everyone that went to it.

“I had prejudices towards the style, but as it was a live act, in my mind that had a creative value, so I ended up saying yes. I was very elitist and not very tolerant with reggaetón, but when I saw how the people were enjoying themselves at the party, the vibe… something clicked in my mind. Now, I listen to reggaetón every day!”

CREATING SAFE & INNOVATIVE SPACES

One wouldn’t say that creating a safe, inclusive and innovative space for expression in a place as open and culturally mixed as the Canary Islands was going to be a difficult task. But Öpera has had many struggles along the way. Specially with changing the mind of the industry about letting people dress as they wanted.

“Since the beginning, we wanted to be an inclusive space, as we always resisted the established strict dress code policy in the Canary’s nightlife scene. This is something deeply rooted, even with the security staff”, Antonio tells us, recalling one of the last parties Öpera did. “I was meeting the head of security of the new venue and he asked me what the dress code was. I told him that there wasn’t one and to guide himself by his gut. If someone seemed odd, he could take action. He told me: ‘Everyone here looks odd to me’. With those attitudes you start to understand that the work you need to do is thorough and that Öpera needs to be a safe space for everyone to express themselves as they want, with who they want”, Antonio concludes.

Other of Öpera’s core values is championing local, underground talents. They have provided the space for artists such as Highkili, Wood Hands, Don Peligro, Irtrap, Astroboi, Calypso, Luishøck, Dani Miranda, among many others, to develop. But they also want to turn the Canary Islands into a main destination for foreign talent to be showcased. “We normally don’t enter in many artists touring schedule. We want to change that”. And they were on the way of doing so, by bringing some of the freshest talent to their Öpera events in Las Palmas. Until…

THE PANDEMIC

Then the pandemic hit. “It tore us apart”, Antonio admits. “I remember we had the last party the same day lockdown was declared in Spain, on March 14th. We booked Alvva, we were starting to bring people from mainland Spain… we already booked Brava. But, we all know what happened after, with the pandemic. I almost thought it was over for Öpera…”.

But they came back from the ashes. “The thing is I fell too deep in love with Öpera. I can’t do anything else in my life, as when I found this I found my calling. For me, it has to do with what you can give back to others. Öpera does a service to the community and when I manage to make it happen, in the right way, it’s just everything to me. More than a comeback, it has been a reunion. This is my life, even though I had to go back to my day-job. Öpera is where I shine and give the best version of myself”, Antonio concludes.

THE FUTURE

The road for Öpera has been life changing, in Antonio’s own words. “It has been very personal, also for the people involved it has been very special. Luckily, our success was fast and people acknowledged us really quick. When we turned six months of doing parties, we decided to apply for the True Music Fund program and won. It has been overwhelming! I remember each and every detail!”.

All the work they put into making their proposal for the True Music Fund paid off after a long process and interviews. “After the interview, they told us they’d call us if we won. And we did! I was in the supermarket, and I didn’t know where to run! I called Kilian (Highkili) and asked him if he was sitting down… We just couldn’t believe it. I cried a lot!”.

That behemoths of the music industry as Ballantine’s and Boiler Room acknowledged a project like Öpera, being a perreo-oriented party, was just overwhelming for everyone in the team. As winners of the True Music Fund, Öpera just curated one of the nights of the Boiler Room x Ballantine’s True Music Studios in Madrid. The lineup for the occasion had many close friends, showcasing some of the most interesting talent in urbano music hailing from mainland Spain (as Juicy Bae) and the Canary Islands, with residents Highkili, Peligro, Irtrap and Astroboi on the bill. “It was just amazing. We’re really thankful for the opportunity to organize a party in such amazing space. The vibe was just on the next level”.

The fund will definitely help Öpera’s future, as the sixth wave of the pandemic slows down and the Canary Islands government eases the measures. “Here the restrictions have been hard, but we want to start again as soon as the authorities let us”. At the moment of writing this article, nightlife in the Islands is still restricted until midnight, and capacities are limited to 75% outdoors and just 33% indoors.

The next big objective is to take Öpera to other islands and mainland Spain. But specially, Antonio wants to go where a party like Öpera is really needed. “Beyond that, I don’t know where the future will take us, but eventually we’d like to organize bigger concerts and promote events with our inclusive philosophy”. But he reckons that before that, they need to get into more spaces in the islands. “We would love to go to Tenerife, because there is an incomprehensible lack of our kind of parties. There are venues, but the problem always is the misconception of the people owning the spaces”.

The owners of the spaces need to see the value of parties like Öpera, and the diversity and inclusion they give to nightlife in the cities. And that’s where their efforts are heading. “They see our collective as niche, so our mission is to make that niche grow, so more people want to come to the party. That eventually will make them change their minds, because the mainstream scene sometimes extremely demonizes people that are out of the norm”.

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That, and having the support of brands and promoters like the True Music Fund and Boiler Room, Antonio concludes. “Their support for our culture is vital for the scene to gain respect and thrive. It is something really unique and amazing that they support and trust emerging talent like they do.”

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True Music

True Music Fund

It’s time to take action. That’s why we have launched the True Music Fund. A £100,000 fund to support grassroots organisations actively working to achieve diversity and inclusion in music culture.

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