If you’re planning a trip to Madrid and feel as if my “box of wine* and a half-assed Google search” approach to the city’s music scene just isn’t cutting it, The New York Times has a nice writeup of Madrid’s jazz/funk/fusion scene that provides a more well-rounded (and better-funded) report.
IT’S 11 p.m. in the Plaza del Ángel in Madrid, and the strains of a jazz sax solo can be heard seeping through the plate-glass windows of Café Central. Inside, couples and small groups huddle around the 20 or so tables set amid mirrored pillars that seem to multiply the ambience without blocking the view of the stage.
Just down the street at Populart a crowd of jazz aficionados sip gin and tonics from giant goblets. A few young Turks in leather jackets stick to beer at the far end of the bar as the West Africa-born Justin Tchatchoua and his Afro Group warm everyone up with selections from their new CD of African fusion beats.
Similar scenes — some rowdy, others refined — are replicated nightly all across the city. Within a 10-minute stroll from the Puerta del Sol, the center of historic Madrid, music lovers can take their pick of live jazz, rock, flamenco or folk-rock, or an ever-growing fusion of all the above by top Spanish artists like Manu Chao or the rising flamenco star Esperanza Fernández. Mixed in you might find international names like Busta Rhymes or the Strokes.
Hold the phone! Afro fusion beats? I’m so there, although Populart’s use of blackface on their Web site is disturbing (even if it’s just meant as a reference to The Jazz Singer). But in my experience Spain doesn’t entirely grasp the concept of American racism and all its accoutrements (i.e. blackface, etc.), so I’ll just assume it’s an ill-informed choice.
“Madrid is an easy place to get hooked on live music,” says Curro González, an owner of La Boca del Lobo, as the local band Funk Attack clears the stage after midnight on a recent Thursday evening, and the crowd of about 100 drifts toward the bar in this compact multilevel club. He says the live-music scene works because so many of the people involved are industry insiders — producers, agents, music critics and, of course, the artists themselves — and their enthusiasm doesn’t disappear when they leave the office. “People do this because they love the music,” says Mr. González.
It also doesn’t hurt that Madrileños love night life and being out among the masses, so with cover charges that are rarely more than 10 euros ($15 or so) and typically include a drink, a live performance from 10 p.m. to midnight gets people into the bars and into the mood. Many bars also serve relatively good and reasonably priced food, providing the possibility of a one-stop evening. The jazz club Café Berlin has a whole menu of “Bird” salads and “Stormy Weather” sandwiches and offers wine tastings of standout Spanish vintages.
See, the difference between my approach and the Times‘ approach to covering a music scene is that my entire drinks budget for an evening is about 10 euros. But I have been meaning to make an exception and pay the cover at El Sol, where the Times diligently slummed for an evening:
Around the corner is El Sol, a joint whose most commonly applied modifier is “mythic.” Open since 1979, it was the backdrop for much of the famous movida madrileña, the post-Franco punk-rock, pop-culture explosion that gave the world Pedro Almodóvar and Agatha Ruiz de la Prada. Even today, the large basement club — with it’s all-white décor glowing with pink neon tubes — still feels like an underground carnival. Nightly concerts can range from rock to pop to salsa or flamenco, and the place rocks to at least 4:30 (on weeknights).
And just to prove that they’re dedicated to providing coverage beyond the jazz-and-mojito scene, the Times even ventured up to the city’s residential/financial/not-so-guay El Viso neighborhood to report on where the bourgeois youth spend their Friday nights:
Yet another constellation of late-night revelry awaits north of the old center, near the Bernabéu Stadium, where Real Madrid plays its soccer. At Moby Dick, the sleek neon-lit facade conceals a rollicking nautical interior, complete with lighthouse next to the stage. With bands that rock and a youthful crowd that comes to move, it reads Jersey Shore, and is very likely the closest thing Madrid will ever have to the Stone Pony.
To be fair to the Times, a Spanish music blogger did recommend Moby Dick to me as a good venue. All in all it’s a fairly thorough report, though tragically lacking in suggestions for the budget crowd. They do offer up a tip on a quasi-flamenco bar where glasses of wine are “just 2 euros,” but come talk to me and I’ll tell you where you can get them for 60 cents; for just 6 euros you can get drunk enough to provide your own entertainment, musical or otherwise.
From Jazz to Fusion, Late and Live in Madrid [New York Times]
*Going this route in Spain is definitely not as wretched as in the U.S. There’s a brand of box wine called Don Simon usually sold for around 95 cents that’s surprisingly inoffensive and easy to drink.