Meet The Women Leading Spain’s Indie Music Scene

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“Women are at the forefront because naturally we had to be”

Lisasinson

Spanish garage rock is almost entirely synonymous with Hinds, the rambunctious, all-female band who took Madrid’s sounds to international ears in 2016 with their jangly debut Leave Me Alone. Formed in 2011 by Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote, the frontwomen joined forces with bassist Ade Martín and drummer Amber Grimbergen to become Spain’s most internationally successful indie export, sparking an interest in the Spanish capital’s thriving underground scene. For a country raised on the tontipop of Las Ketchup, Eurodisco acts like Baccara and hallmarks of tradition like Julio Iglesias, a new generation of bands were emerging who had always had to look abroad for the ramshackle rock ‘n’ roll sounds that their own country wasn’t making.

As the now well-documented Madrid scene came to light, it became clear that not since the countercultural Movida Madrileña movement in the 70s and 80s following Franco’s dictatorship had the city’s scene been so vibrant. Fellow garage rockers The Parrots and Los Nastys led the scene alongside Hinds, filling the capital’s hipster venues with their DIY brand of guitar music. Across the country, the ironically-named Mujeres (meaning ‘women’) served up fuzzy surf rock with a vintage flavour; Baywaves drenched audiences in their summery riffs and Futuro Terror’s urgent, unrelenting punk gained them a loyal fanbase. More recently, Carolina Durante’s cerebral garage sounds and high-profile collaborations boosted the mainstream appeal of the genre more than ever.

That’s not to say that successful Spanish indie groups were unheard of before this; Los Planetas are shoegaze favourites and female-fronted acts such as Los Punsetes are adored by Spanish-speaking audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. All-female bands are even less common, the most notable being elusive 90s indie pop quintet Nosoträsh (a self-deprecating pun on the Spanish feminine word for ‘us’). Put simply, Spanish women wanting to start a band didn’t have many role models to look to.

Apart from Cosials and co., Spain’s new indie movement seemed like a boys-only club. The genre had never before been making such noise at home, never mind across the world – and especially not with an all-female band spearheading it. Whilst Hinds dwarf their male counterparts in terms of global recognition and are the only Google result for ‘Spanish women garage rock’, they are far from the exception and have paved the way for many female bands to join them at the forefront of the country’s music scene today.

Too Pink to be Admired?

In Valencia, over 350 kilometres from the Spanish capital, pop punk band Lisasinson make catchy, upbeat and socially conscious tunes with colourful, thought-provoking visuals. Signed to cult Madrid label Elefant Records, also home to Spain’s most prominent acts like La Casa Azul and La Bien Querida, this promising group are determined to eliminate imposter syndrome for women in the industry: “We are asked a lot why we got together. Few male bands are asked that so repeatedly. In all the arts, women have to constantly demonstrate that they are worthwhile because you doubt yourself all the time.”

On the topic of sexism, they have a lot to say. “Sometimes guys can’t help behaving the way guys behave in the world,” the girls tell me over email, “And it has also happened to us with women. They speak to us with a bitter, patronising attitude, as if we don’t know how to hold the guitar neck.”

Taking their name from the Spanish phonetic pronunciation of Lisa Simpson, Míriam, Mar, María and Roser have much in common with their erudite namesake. “Lisasinson is exclusively made up of conscientious women. We sing about ourselves and the things that happen to us. We also speak about other women who identify with us, which is crucial for us. We are aware that we are four women on stage and that says a lot in itself.”

On their track ‘Barakaldo’, the Valencians sing about meeting people from the north of the Iberian Peninsula and going crazy for the music scene there, which, as luck would have it, is home to dreamy garage rockers Melenas.

Melenas by Dani Cantó

Hailing from the Navarrese city of Pamplona, Oihana, Leire, María and Laura released their appropriately-titled sophomore album Días Raros (Strange Days) last month. Their fuzzy guitar melodies, driving basslines and dazed vocals are the perfect recipe for deliciously hazy garage pop. The band’s delightful videos (think recreating 80s sitcoms, frolicking around an amusement park in matching denim) and their retro pastel aesthetic is as wistful as the C86 bands that inspired them. Having released their album via Chicago label Trouble in Mind, their touring schedule is gradually expanding beyond the Spanish geography: “It’s very exciting for us that fans write to us from across the world saying that we have cheered them up during quarantine, or that they have connected with the songs. The album has also received good reviews from national and international media and the public reception could not have been better.”

Despite this, Melenas share Lisasinon’s feeling of being underestimated: “We have experienced instances of male technicians thinking they know better than us or how we want to sound, or having members of the media taking comments out of context and putting their own slant on them, which may not exactly be positive or feminist.” The pamplonesas speak highly of the camaraderie on the Spanish scene, but note that women may feel they have to prove themselves more. “It’s not so much about working more, but having to show that you deserve to be where you are, something that normally doesn’t happen with male bands when they are successful. There is often a certain scepticism and a critical attitude that casts doubt on female bands who start to gain traction, questioning why they have got there, if they play well enough or there are other more twisted reasons that they appear at festivals and sell records.”

Hinds have often talked about their experiences of sexism in the music industry. In a world where the focus is often on gender rather than musical merit, female musicians being asked about their experiences as ‘women in music’ can get old. “It only gets tiring when the person doesn’t give a fuck (50% of time). It’s annoying to feel like they just had to ask it, and by asking it, they think are already doing something,” the band explains in a Reddit Q&A. Once wary of associating the word ‘feminist’ with their band, they are now more vocal about its importance: “But I really like talking about it, because it’s important for younger artists and girls to realise a lot of their problems come from the patriarchy and not them, and the patriarchy is what we have to change, not them!”

In true Hinds style, they feel that there is no better way to deal with critics than in a song and with a sense of humour. They address it explicitly on recent single ‘Just Like Kids (Miau)’, on which they sing about being told they’re too young, that they owe their success to their nice legs and that they’re “too pink to be admired / and too punk to be desired”.

“We don’t want to be an exception”

As the ethos of garage rock – and especially women making it – is unfamiliar territory for many Spaniards, it’s unsurprising that such bands sometimes receive comments online criticising their ability to sing or play their instruments, usually from men. Unapologetically feminist quartet Las Odio worship at the altar of the riotgrrrl movement. Their name means ‘I hate them’ in English, with the ‘them’ being feminine, but they don’t make the pounding punk rock that you might expect; their sound is fuelled by reverbed, surf-style basslines, varied instrumentation and melodies which often bloom into an impassioned refrain.

Las Odio by Gonzalo Cases

“At the time, there were few rock, garage or pop bands formed by women in Spain with the visibility that we had,” explains their vocalist Paula, “At the same time, there was great demand from the public, but people’s interest in women who make music had been systematically ignored by festivals and the press. Fortunately, this is changing little by little. Due to so much exposure, we have also had to deal with many haters, especially anonymous ones online. They’ve said horrible and very offensive things about us, but it’s still an anecdotal reaction compared to all the positive feedback we’ve received from fans.”

Melenas point to the lack of previous role models and visibility of women on the music scene, as well as overcoming fear of expressing themselves musically: “We don’t want to be an exception. We hope that our existence as a band is some small contribution to normalising the presence of women in the music industry. Nothing would make us happier than inspiring other women to start making music. If after seeing or listening to us, a girl decides to pick up a guitar or keyboard and try to write her own songs, that would be the best.”

For the members of Lisasinson, seeing other women succeed was inspirational. “You go to a concert and most likely the person who plays the guitar is a guy, and probably the one who plays the drums and bass too,” they lament, “Seeing women do what they want and taking their projects forward was crucial for us in realising that we could do it too. Naturally, we hope that others will see us and say ‘I want to do that!’”

Seeing women do what they want and taking their projects forward was crucial for us in realising that we could do it too.

Lisasinson

Las Odio have similar aspirations, but emphasise the need for more diversity. “While we believe that things are changing positively for these new generations of girls, there is still a long way to go,” says the band’s bassist, Sonsoles, “The presence of artists on stage needs to be much more varied than it is currently so that there are role models to pay attention to.”

A Changing Scene

Lisasinson, Melenas and Las Odio join Madrilenian trio Cariño in singing in their mother tongue. Cariño’s campy synthpop explores everything from filling your hard drive with love songs to finding reasons to see your ex again. Adding to their ever-growing string of EPs, the band’s unofficial anthem ‘Bisexual’ puts a comic spin on the challenge of how to come out over cascading keys and punchy drum beats. The track embodies the trio’s irresistible likeability, as well as adding an important social aspect to one of Spain’s ever more popular girl groups.

At the other end of the musical spectrum, Ginebras also further the visibility of LGBT+ women in the Spanish music industry, especially on tracks like ‘Todas Mis Ex Tienen Novio’ (‘All My Ex-Girlfriends Have a Boyfriend’ in English). Blending melodic indie rock choruses and witty lyrics, the foursome have kept active during Spain’s lockdown working on their debut album and live streaming gigs for fans.

Even faced with a lack of female representation in music and its related sectors, the girls are no less confident in their place among Spanish indie’s finest. Lisasinson have never doubted women’s deservingness of their position at the vanguard of the scene. For them, the question is almost inane: “How could they not be? They are because they exist, because they are in the world just like men. It is shameful to make women invisible throughout history, growing up with only male role models and thinking that playing bass, or skateboarding, or whatever a man does is not for you. Women are at the forefront because naturally we had to be.”

Melenas see women’s involvement as necessary and revitalising: “They have certainly all provided a healthy dose of fresh air to a scene that urgently needed it. They are bands with a lot of personality who have been charting their own path essentially from the get-go.” For Melenas, the most feminist thing they can do is simply doing what they love as women: “Writing songs, forming a band, releasing albums, going on tour, playing and aspiring to the same things as any other band.”

Read more: Album Review: The Prettiest Curse // Hinds

Alongside Hinds’ success on the Spotify and UK vinyl charts with their latest release The Prettiest Curse, Spanish female solo acts like Rosalía are also shaking up Anglophone charts. In Spain, the male-dominated world of flamenco guitar is seeing increasing female participation and a new wave of feminist reggaetón – a genre often criticised for its sexist lyrics – is taking the form of neoperreo, led by its Chilean pioneer Tomasa del Real and Madrid-based Argentinian Ms Nina.

Women Making Themselves Heard

Given the events of recent years, female voices on the national scene in Spain are more important than ever. The country is facing a growing domestic violence problem, especially involving femicide, which has been heightened by the coronavirus lockdown. In 2016, the controversial verdict of a gang rape case involving a young victim in Pamplona sparked public outcry and nationwide protests. The perpetrators were charged with the lesser offence of sexual abuse rather than sexual aggression due to a nuance in Spanish law. The courts ruled that the victim was not subjected to violence and should have fought back, despite there being a video of the attack. The case set a dangerous precedent for sexual assault cases and called Spain’s sexual offences legislation into question. In the most recent Spanish election, increasingly popular far right party Vox made significant gains in Andalusia in the south of the country. The party wants to roll women’s rights back decades, scrapping anti-gender violence laws and promoting anti-feminist rhetoric that harks back to the Franco era.

Las Odio believe music is great way to amplify female voices. “I think that music, dance and festivity are wonderful tools to try to share and spread feminist ideas,” guitarist Ágata explains, “There’s an explicit intention to incorporate the feminist perspective in the group, both in our message, in interviews and in the lyrics of our songs.”

Bandmate Ali concurs: “Feminism is present not only in our music, but in all parts of our lives. It’s not that we strive for it to be present in our music, but it is just there naturally because our music is a reflection of our experiences and our way of seeing the world.”

Whilst positive discrimination is worth celebrating, Las Odio are wary of the term ‘girl band’ and its taking precedence over the natural evolution of the scene: “Our concern right now is for traditionally marginalised groups like racialized people, the LGTBQ+ community and migrants to join the music scene naturally in order to make it more diverse and inclusive,” Paula concludes, “We are interested in women who make music, not ‘girl bands’.”

Echoing their contemporaries’ views on why women in the music scene are rising to the top in Spain, trailblazers Hinds are short and sweet in their response as they chat with fans on Reddit: “[Because] they’re great!! Go girls playing music!”

Words by Kristen Sinclair

Featured image by Victoria Herranz

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