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SPANISH TECHNO: A BRIEF HISTORY

Eduardo Pérez Waasdorp explores the origins of techno in Spain, from the experimental sounds that happened in the late 80s, the influence of EBM and European synth pop, the coming of the “makina” movement in Valencia, the introduction of techno from Birmingham to the north of Spain, and how it all affected the current techno sound that is being produced in the country.

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Spain is one of the main destinations for electronic music tourism in the world. Thanks to Ibiza, and strongholds for clubbing culture like Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, Spain has been a hotspot for artists and ravers alike since the early days. During all these years, there have been few genres in music that have found such a big following in the Mediterranean country as techno. Especially the stronger, darker and faster spectrum of the Detroit-born beats.

But, how did techno enter the Iberian Peninsula? How has it developed over the years? Who are the Spanish artists championing it and how is techno in Spain today? In this article we will try to shed a light on how techno has become a staple genre in Spain, and how the country is now producing some of its freshest and most interesting talents.

THE ORIGINS

Spain is now one of the main exporters of techno talents in the world. We’ve seen in recent years the rise of artists such as Regal, Andres Campo, Héctor Oaks, Óscar Mulero, Indira Paganotto, Fatima Hajji, Cristian Varela, or SNTS (just to name a few) in top tier festivals around the world. But, how did they get into techno? How did techno enter and dominate Spain’s electronic music landscape?

To understand the evolution, we have to go back to the late 80s. In that moment Spain was just leaving behind a 40-year-old dictatorship and the influences from across the continent were being soaked up by an avid crowd, eager to live new experiences and enjoy the newfound freedom.

One of the musical movements that was especially influential in future generations was the so called Movida, a counter cultural movement that rose in Madrid by the end of the 70s but ended being part of pop and mainstream. But that’s another story…

Meanwhile, those left aside by the Movida (who didn’t like that popish interpretation of the punk scene), started to develop a different kind of sound, closer to European synth wave, post punk, and later by ambient sounds, with a more experimental, psychedelic, industrial and avant garde take, influenced by movements across the continent. It was the time of proto-techno bands, closer to psychedelic rock, German Kraut and industrial music (Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, etc.), EBM or IDM. Bands such as Esplendor Geométrico, Aviador Dro, Mecánica Popular and other musical experiments.

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“Those guys were influenced by EBM, European synth pop and progressive trance. Also, Germany’s scene greatly affected what later became the Spanish techno sound”

DJ, producer and resident of clubbing temple Mondo Disko in Madrid, Victor Santana

As it is widely acknowledged, techno traveled first from its birthplace in Detroit, to the United Kingdom and Germany. Then it started to spread through Europe, taking different forms and adapting itself in each country.

In Spain, beside the aforementioned influences, the Mediterranean country had its own trademark sound: bakalao or makina. It rose in the early 90s, as the crowd (mainly from Valencia) that came from goth rock, post punk, British new wave and Belgian new beat demanded a music with more bpm, harder bass and shorter beats. That sound also became influenced by Belgian Eurodance and new beat, British happy hardcore and Dutch gabber, making it an impossible mixture do describe. That’s how makina was born.

Makina, although being almost just a local success, did cross the airwaves, reaching unlikely destinations such as Newcastle in England. DJ and producer Patrick Topping told DJ Mag Spain in his cover interview in 2018 how he grew up listening to that sound that local DJs like DJ Scott, brought from the Valencian and Levante regions, where they went on vacation. That music (played by local Valencian heroes including Fran Lenaers, Jose Conca, Kike Jaen or Julio Posadas, among many others) that they brought from Spain ended up being played in clubs like The New Monkey in Sunderland, creating a whole cult for makina music. But that is also another story…

Makina music was played in the so called Ruta del Bakalao: a tour of clubs which included lots of venues along El Saler highway, a road that connected the whole region in Valencia, and also to some clubs in the neighboring regions.

TECHNO’S DEVELOPMENT

When makina started to fade away, as the hunger for more “mature” rhythms started to arise for some genres (such as techno and hardcore), all those places either closed or converted themselves into techno temples.

By that time, pioneers of the techno sound like Óscar Mulero, Cristian Varela, Ángel Molina, DJ Zero and Pepo, or more unknown but equally successful artists Elesbaan, Pelacha, Tony Verdi, DJ Fra, HD Substance or Exium, were already touring the whole country or making a name for themselves as residents of staple techno clubs and nights as Soma Experimental Club (Madrid), La Real (Asturias), Fabrik (Madrid), Overdrive (Madrid), Sala del Cel (Girona), Florida 135 (Fraga, Huesca), Sonora (Bilbao) Moog or Apolo/Nitsa/Astin (Barcelona). Another important elevator of the techno sound was Paco Osuna, in his early days in Cocoon and as owner of Club4. He documents that part of the story in the 2015 documentary made by Ballantines Stay True about the Spanish scene:

Those are just a few of the techno temples in Spain. Many came later, some have disappeared, and we could write a never-ending list, but techno in Spain wouldn’t be techno if it wasn’t for those venues. We all agree on that.

And the aforementioned acts (plus many more, we can’t name all in such a short space) were the ones that paved the way for the future generations, with a sound that was a mix from Germany and England’s take on techno. Specifically, from Berlin and Birmingham (plus all the previous references from Europe). That’s why in Spain, the harder, faster and darker spectrum of the techno sound was the one embraced by the crowds, instead of the more organic, funky beats that came out of Detroit in the early days.

That is something acknowledged by Detroit pioneering artists such as Kevin Saunderson, Juan Atkins or Jeff Mills in several interviews, when asked about their first visits to Spain. Many recognized that they were prepared for a more “Latin” and funky take, but when they came to their first gigs in the country the crowd demanded a harder, more percussive and physical techno.

By the start of 2000 and later (during the 2006-2012 period), there was a division between those who rather listened to minimal techno (check out Alex Under’s work in his CMYK label); and others, that preferred hard techno and schranz. Those sounds shaped the way many producers and DJs made music and played in the upcoming years, until the wave of American EDM and British tech house hit Spain, reaching the most popular festivals in the country. But even then, the harder techno sounds always have had a wide space to be expressed, both for national and international artists.

TECHNO IN SPAIN, TODAY

All of that has shaped the sounds that are being made in Spain today. Sounds influenced by the British acid and rave sounds, with a hard techno flavor of +145 bpm, touches taken from the progressive techno trance from the 90s, and some elements from French techno super stars (Vitalic, Laurent Garnier, The Hacker, Miss Kittin). Several names from that time are authentic heroes for a whole generation: Emmanuel Top, Westbam, Der Dritte Raum, Oliver Lieb and more were truly revered.

Besides that part, during the start of the 2010 decade, Spain was heavily influenced by Berlin. The German capital has been a reference in all aspects for the Spanish techno scene, being treated almost like a holy grail, with respect and veneration. That has made a lot of Spanish artists to travel and experience the Berlin scene, bringing back enormous influences that have helped diversify the sound, getting it into a more mental, experimental and atmospheric progression.

If you put all of this in a blender – with some extra ingredients, depending on each individual artist’s personal influences –, you get the sound of some of the Spanish techno champions of today. Andres Campo, Regal, Psyk, Héctor Oaks, Fatima Hajji, Cora Novoa, Paula Cazenave, Indira Paganotto, Reeko, Auriga, Pushmann, Kwartz, Tadeo, Ramiro Lopez, Alienata, Reka or Coyu, just to name a few. Plus, pioneering names who are still strong in the business, like Óscar Mulero, Cristian Varela, Ángel Molina or Tensal. (Listen to the Spanish Techno curated playlist to get a glimpse of what we’re talking about).

Some of them are more experimental, some more “purist” … and some have chosen a more “mainstream” techno path (if that’s even a thing?!). But they all represent the Spanish techno sound. And one thing is certain: they will be the ones shaping up the genre for the future generations of techno heads in the Mediterranean country.

Eduardo Pérez Waasdorp is Chief Editor for DJ Mag Spain

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