Somos de calle
These works sit, comfortably, in the cracks of representation; we could even say beyond representation. Architecture has been historically observed, like any cultural product, under a textual, symbolic and iconographic approach, defining an architecture-object or architecture-sign that acted in social terms. In other words, we have read the architectural work as a text with firm ideological suspicion, scrutinizing in its forms the most stable and persistent values of culture, understanding that the institutions symbolized these values in their monumental constructions. However, I would like to understand in this text the architectural material alien to its linguistic meaning or symbolism, to think of it as a notion of distributed agency that responds to the interrelationships between humans and non-humans. How can the MACBA ask us to face the camera of our mobile phones? What are the affections displayed by the Four Towers of Madrid, the Pelli Tower in Seville or the Agbar Tower in Barcelona towards a generation of urban artists? The material has not needed a constructivist narrative to make itself present on the scene.
Archtiecture, in the urban video clip, does not activate the space, it often acts as a front curtain designed to refine the lens of the camera and yet it is an assemblage of some kind, emotional in the way that object and subject are placed together and in their own way. Once a cult image of the browser marked by the autonomy of the feed. The post-internet art object, like most of the constructions encompassed in this research project, are consumed in the browser. The feed of our screens comprises a series of plans in a teleological way, denying their relationship with the text or its contextuality. The video clip is created partly conscious of this need: that of capturing, fragmenting and exposing the frames in an almost objectual way. This fusion of elements built mostly in the first decade of the 2000s and that we cannot yet call the past but neither does it fit with the present, evokes a kind of neo-romantic sense of vast millennia, suggesting the erosion of meaning in the face of inhuman technology inducing fascination or a kind of aesthetic hyper-contemporaneity.
We can observe, in general, low-angle shots, representing a situation where we can refer to both mental and physical spaces, images that ask for recognition by “seeing from below”. The locations refer to unbalanced and failed orientations. The bodies inhabit "non-ergonomic spaces", both alien to their forms. They use objects, in this case: Architecture. The protagonism varies from the body to the relations with the space and the decentralization of the point of view, resolving a dramaturgy that no longer responds to the idea of disembodied abstract gaze. This gives us a feeling of loss and disorientation from the linear perspective coordinate system and, in return, reveals images that make us feeling out of place in the most everyday, mobilized in uncertainty, present. Under this approach, the idea of affective atmospheres or architectures or, as we have mentioned before, architecture beyond representation, is not about a type of building but about the association between how to inhabit, visit or film the space with others.
These fragments of images, hotspots of urban aesthetics, problematise one of the contemporary musical conditions: the construction of a world as the dominant method for the construction of new music. A visual and conceptual imagery is often forcibly conferred on an artist to accumulate enough referential readability to allow listeners to "read" the music as an independent and isolated experience, in a unique way of experimentation. Music criticism has been confusing attempts to “build the world” (for example, among other artists, the novo-folkloric world of Rosalía or the industrialized world of Oneotrix Point Never or the material, embodied world of Arca) as a type of objectivity. References become synonymous with trade and yet, in these pieces, the references have never been exposed or hardly elaborated as analyses.
There is no reaction or strangeness to the forcefulness of those walls, stairs or towers but perhaps we can observe a volatile phantom of the aestheticized experience of "technological innovation and human dispossession", a futuristic combination where the organic is no longer defined as a clear negation of perceived inanity, but as a simulacrum.
In this model the autonomy of the built hardly exists. All the video clips present the subject while our own world collapses into a possible reality, evidencing our ecological crisis. They are probable images that deny escapism and creative genius, since reality is already an infinite game to create new projections. The land is not only who works it, but who dares to show it without resorting to humanistic fiction.
Uneven habitats; alienated coexistence between subject and construction; Displaced environments and schizophrenic relationships present us with pure bodies stripped of an aestheticizing tradition as an offering.
The contextual framework of the city and the urban music scene. Brief notes to deepen the relationship between contemporary architecture and urban music production
Selling bricks and exposing architectural avant-garde is a research project curated by Antonio Giráldez López and Pablo Ibáñez Ferrera (with the contribution of HJ Darger) that offers both in digital format (on the instagram account @kellycorbusier) and in its physical book, a first-rate audiovisual reflection on the relationships existing in Spain between avant-garde architecture and the musical production of the contemporary urban scene. Starting from the perspective formulated in the project, the following text will try to investigate a little more in a study path as fundamental as it is often forgotten, and that of course can help to understand in greater depth the reality of this artistic new wave that in recent years has shaked the structures of Spanish popular culture.
Although in our day-to-day life we do not pay it all the attention it deserves, it is undeniable that architecture continues to be radically important today in the process of building human reality within the contemporary habitat that the city represents. And it is that architecture not only embellishes and aestheticizes the urban environment in which human beings develop our lives, but above all it symbolically codifies it and fills it with a specific historical, social and political content that will be in one way or another depending of the geographical location. Thus, the layout of the streets, the arrangement of the elements and the presence of public furniture, for example, is not the same in the Salamanca district as in the Vallecas district, both areas still belonging to the city of Madrid. And in the same way, the cultural, artistic and existential practices associated with these neighborhoods will be very different from each other, despite sharing a town hall and supposedly common socio-economic policies. However, it is also very important to understand that these architectural dynamics that have just been pointed out cannot be conceived in a fixed and immovable way, and much less if we conceptualize them as biopolitical practices of a post-industrial capitalist system that needs novelty and fluidity as fuels that feed its form of spatial and temporal dominance. Serrano Street, for example, is today codified as a nerve centre of Madrid's high class and its elitist lifestyle. However, during the Civil War, that same street was codified as an enclave of the republican resistance in which, curiously, the headquarters of the Spanish Communist Party was located.
If we do a brief exercise of retrospection to try to place ourselves at the origin of the new urban layout of the cities, we inevitably have to turn our eyes to the United States of America. Without a doubt, the forms of biopolitical domination of urban space during contemporary times began to be applied on a large scale in the 1950s and 1960s in New York. At that time, and under the elongated and ambiguous figure of the architect Robert Moses, New York became the new cultural and economic capital of the Western world, taking over from the city of Paris that during the 19th and early 20th centuries had boasted the privilege of being the nerve centre of the Western avant-garde. But as Mike Davis points out in his work Dead Cities: And Other Tales (2002), these new urban practices, which rapidly expanded beyond the geographic limits of the skyscraper city, generated a series of economic and racial problems and an increase in crime and violence rates reached unprecedented levels in the following decades under the conservative governments of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. And it is precisely within that specific urban context, which took place in North American cities during the last three decades of the 20th century, where hip hop culture was born and developed.
Because hip hop, as we historically conceive it, originates from the Bronx —probably one of the areas of New York City that suffered the most from Moses' urban plans— as a form of working-class and racialized cultural resistance in the face of the institutional measures of those conservative governments that marginalized and segregated a good part of the black population, condemning them to the most absolute political and social oblivion. In this way, hip hop music, graffiti or break dance were codified during that time as rituals of resistance that found in certain artistic practices an unbeatable mode of expression to narrate the experiences that this population lived in their day to day, in where the new contemporary urban space represented by the ghetto appeared as an immovable backdrop. The architectural ruins of the neighbourhood, the almost discarded subway tracks, the semi-destroyed walls, the abandoned parks, the expropriated public lighting or the raised asphalt tracks became in those years improvised elements where the youth of the ghetto found certain conditions of possibility that allowed to carry out part of that old precept of the European avant-gardes that tried to bring institutionalized art to the plane of life, and that promised to transform those particular and collective experiences of the ghetto into an artistic expression that threatened the dominant status quo of American society. That promise of revolution and change arrived —although probably not as many would have wished— and in the following decades, hip hop culture will not stop transforming, in the same way that culture, the economy and the urban space were changing. But that's another story that we will perhaps address at another time.
In the case of Spain, the circumstances of this process have been very different, but even so there are multiple points in common that allow us to reflect on the same underlying approach. In the 70s Spain was still mired in a Francoist biopolitical model where the tradition of national-Catholicism continued to be the cornerstone of the patriotic government project. At the urban level, the Spanish geography continued to be fundamentally rural, and folk still constituted the basis of the majority popular culture. It is from the 80s, and especially from the 90s, when modern urbanization processes begin to accelerate in the Spanish territory. In this sense, two models stand out that largely exemplify the dynamics of this transformation of urban space: the Bilbao of the Guggenheim Museum (1997), and the Barcelona of the Olympics (1992). But beyond the novel architectural forms that these projects entailed, both phenomena represent paradigmatic examples of how the economic, social and political reality that Spain will experience once the new millennium begins to be configured at that time. Paradoxically, this period coincides with the arrival of hip hop culture in Spain (around the end of the 80s and early 90s), which allows establishing a theoretical basis solid enough to propose a serious thesis that relates urban space and hip hop music within the particular context of the Spanish state. In the same way, this thesis also seems to marry —without the need to fall into any type of forced comparison— with a perspective that links the set of changes in Spanish urban space in the 21st century, as well as the respective modifications of the economic, social and political fabric, with the gradual process of transformation that the production, distribution and consumption of hip hop music in Spain has undergone during the last 15 years.
Taking into account what has been outlined so far, it seems difficult to deny that hip hop music has been in recent times one of the artistic avant-gardes that has best known how to interpret and express the new realities that shaped the postindustrial capitalist world. And in most musical productions of this genre, direct or indirect references to symbolic elements related to the architectural form of the city are constant: the neighbourhood as a place of belonging to a social group where it develops its existence, the square as a space for political life through which we relate and create ties with the rest of the beings that surround us, the street as an indefinite space through which the different political bodies move and interact, the asphalt as a means of communication that separates us and brings us closer to each other and the centres of the city, the corner as a job outlet in the face of a precarious and collapsed market —or the corner as a point of death where many people without resources slowly consume themselves and fall into oblivion— are just some of the many themes present in the musical productions related to the tradition of hip hop and whose contextual framework is the contemporary city and its territorial, political and economic issues.
With what has been said so far, I have tried to generate a series of brief notes that could offer a solid theoretical framework on which to think about the relationship between architecture and urban music production. Undoubtedly, many things are missing that have not been mentioned, and most of the notes that I have offered would deserve some clarifications. But even assuming this inevitable deficit, I believe that the argumentative thread woven in this text clearly indicates a good part of the key aspects to understand more and better the link between urban space and “Urban Music”. To end and complement this article, I think it would be very pertinent to offer a small sample of representative examples of the Spanish music scene. But I must point out that the musical selection made will follow a criterion marked above all by my personal and particular taste. So, for this reason, I invite the reading public to carry out this reflection exercise from their own person, to seek and interpret this connection between the urban space that the city represents and the musical production of its artists and fetish sounds.
First of all, I would like to make a special mention of one of the fundamental groups to understand how hip hop music began to transform in Spain during the first decade of the 2000s, and how literary figures in the symbolic imagery of this transformation process that make explicit reference to the city and its shape take on a new dimension. The group in question to which I refer is none other than Hermanos Herméticos, made up of Aarón Baliti, Supra a.k.a Jordán Donaire and Dj Volo. And in their musical hymn “Vamos otra vez”, which belongs to the “Leyendas Legales” album (Hermanos Herméticos, 2005), the authors offer a sublime description of the importance of the street as a spatial context in which the narrative action that takes place.
In the lyrics of this song, as well as in the video made by Dramma, Grax, Paok and Parton, there are multiple thematic elements and architectural plans that have the street and the urban space of Madrid Centro as the main narrative axis where the life of the individual in contemporary times, and which in turn are fundamental to understand hip hop music made in Madrid that in the following years people such as Perros Callejeros, GP Boys, Madrid Pimps, Chinatown, Yako Muñoz, Ziontifik or Corredores de Bloque , among others, will lead to a new level of interpretation.
Also located in the city of Madrid, but more than a decade apart, it is worth noting the work of “Los Chicos de Madriz” (C. Tangana, 2016) by Héctor Herce, Gonzalo Martín and Laura Requejo. In this production framed within the beef between C. Tangana and El Nega, the video shots try to play and interact with the political meaning of Madrid's architecture. For this they use two representative symbols of hegemonic political power, the KIO Towers (Philip Johnson and John Burgee, 1996) and the Monument to Calvo Sotelo (Manuel Manzano-Monís and Mancebo, 1960). Both architectural figures are presented as political symbols of financial capitalism and institutional Francoism, elements that directly confront the communist ideology that Los Chikos del Maíz carry as their flag. However, I do not think that the intention of Pucho in this work is to praise them as political symbols of reference, but rather to parody them from a cynical and spectacularized political stance. This could partly explain the narrative device in which the Madrid artist appears eating popcorn, in clear allusion to the world of entertainment that the beef culture represents, and in which possibly the thought of Guy Debord appears in the background.
Another audiovisual example where the political and social importance of the urban layout is thematized is found in “No lo ves” (La Zowi, 2019). In this production by PussyPoppin, some of the political and architectural contradictions that give meaning to the new hegemonic order of neoliberalism are illustrated. Within the territorial framework that the Salamanca neighbourhood represents for the city of Madrid, the audiovisual narration of this work runs through the network of luxury shops that give life to Calle Serrano. In this spatial context, the fact that La Zowi appears as the main protagonist of the story, a low-class hoe, a suburban choni dressed in top-notch brand clothes, who walks down such a distinguished street smoking "tate" and exhibiting without any kind of bourgeois modesty, it can be interpreted, at least, as an aesthetic irreverence. In the background we can find micropolitical questions necessary to understand the contemporary era: the aesthetic hybridization between high culture and low culture, the exoticization and fetishization of the political figures of the choni or the kinki by the cultural industries, the value of capital economic as the discursive axis of this music scene, are just some of those implications noted.
Abandoning the characteristic geography of the state capital a bit, another representative work on the importance of architecture in urban musical production can be found in “Como solía” (Cruz Cafuné, 2018). The video made by Flywus Studios takes place in Tenerife, specifically in the famous Ten-Bel urbanization (Díaz Llanos and Saavedra, 1970). The shots of the recording focus on capturing the abstract figures of the buildings and, above all, on portraying the dilapidated and desolate aesthetics of facilities that were once the envy of Spanish tourism. Because although it may not seem like it, the Ten-Bel urbanization was one of the architectural vanguards in terms of tourism in the 1970s, anticipating the “vacation city” model that at the beginning of the 21st century would become popular in the Mediterranean coast.
However, the passage of time, the death of the owner of the urban complex and the gradual abandonment of the project's investors ended up condemning this megalomaniac construction to maximum abandonment. A perfect aura to illustrate the lyrical content of the song in which Cruz Cafuné reviews and updates the comings and goings of the ghosts in his life, and which, as happens to the Ten-Bel urbanization, now “is very different from how used to". Within this work in which different top-level creative artists participate, I would like to highlight the direction of the video clip made by Dano, one of the most lucid minds within the Spanish scene, and for whom the question of architecture is very present in the Most of his musical productions (the fact that the official presentation of his latest work, “ISTMO”, took place at the Official Architects Association of Madrid says it all).
And to end this brief audiovisual sample, I would like to talk about the audiovisual production of “Tech.Love” (Chicoblanco, 2019). In this piece recorded by Rieleyhutchinson, Granada-born Chicoblanco flows with his particular style over a narrative in which, from a close-up that is maintained throughout the video, the action of the video takes place in different locations in the London city, that change scene by scene while Chicoblanco's foreground remains fixed. In this kind of contemporary musical adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses, the protagonist's action takes place as a constant repetition (“again, mommy again”) of different urban landscapes of the English capital that recreate the aura of an accelerated and strange space. Precisely, the effect resulting from this concatenation of different backgrounds that represent part of the architecture of the city fits perfectly with the feeling of estrangement and incomprehension present in the lyrical register of the song. That same aesthetic line based on the idea of an "existential estrangement" is complemented in turn by the electronic cadence of the music that makes up this work. It is interesting to observe in this regard how the urban space as a backdrop also allows us to link two conjunctural scenes such as electronics and hip hop. Because both scenes coincide temporally and spatially in many aspects, and for both of them the shape of the post-industrial city has been key in generating the different aesthetics in musical productions of these genres.
Desde principios de los 80, influenciada por una tendencia global y aprovechando la coyuntura política de la transición democrática, la ciudad de Barcelona, como muchas otras ciudades de tradición industrial, experimentó un proceso de desmantelamiento generalizado de las industrias y una importante ampliación del sector servicios. La ciudad como escenario inició entonces una gran transformación urbanística donde ubicar la nueva orientación económica. Con la intención de atraer capital extranjero en sus diferentes formas (turismo, sedes de compañías transnacionales, actividad financiera, construcción inmobiliaria, etc.) las políticas urbanísticas del Consistorio apostaron por revitalizar las zonas más degradadas del centro histórico y generar nuevos espacios públicos inspirándose en el discurso europeo en boga de organización urbana compacta, de tradición mediterránea.
La producción del espacio orientada por estas políticas dio lugar, a finales de los 90, a la extensión de un modelo de diseño urbano que internacionalizaba una imagen vanguardista de la ciudad. Para ello, se apostó por la renovación del paisaje urbano a partir de campañas de subvención para la restauración de fachadas de edificios, y la regulación y uniformización de los elementos urbanos de la ciudad tales como las señales, los bancos, papeleras, bordillos, pivotes, marquesinas, etc. Con la misma idea, se produjo una proliferaciónde las llamadas “plazas duras”: espacios libres de vegetación, diáfanos y muy amplios, con superficies muy lisas hechas, en los mejores casos, de piedra granítica, con rampas larguísimas, muros de granito o mármol de distintos tamaños y formas, perfectamente cortados en ángulo recto o configurando pequeñas inclinaciones en rampa, etc. Estas plazas desataron una intensa polémica, a mediados de los 80, entre un sector de la ciudadanía que las prefería verdes y los defensores del vanguardismo arquitectónico y del pragmatismo que aseguraban ofrecer en cuanto a mantenimiento y costes de producción.
Al margen de esta controversia, la innovación formal que representaron “las plazas duras” fue configurando, inesperadamente, espacios favorables para la conversión de usos y significados que cultivaron los skaters a lo largo de la década de los 90 en toda Barcelona: rampas y transiciones perfectas, grandes saltos o gaps, barandillas o handrails, slides, cajones y pirámides, es decir, auténticos skateplazas de gran calidad.
Extract from Xavi Camino Reinterpretando la ciudad: la cultura skater y las calles de Barcelona
En La Florida, cuna de futbolistas internacionales como Jordi Alba y Adama Traoré, el máximo referente actual es un chaval catalán de ascendencia marroquí convertido en la voz de la calle tras haber entrado y salido de centros de menores. A sus 21 años, el rapero Morad ha puesto en el mapa a los Bloques de La Florida, lugar icónico de la barriada más olvidada de L'Hospitalet de Llobregat. Jóvenes de otras barriadas de la gran Barcelona llegan en busca de Morad a la plaza de los Bloques, un espacio por el que los visitantes antes solo se dejaban caer para comprar drogas.
Su música suena en cualquier calle de La Florida, donde viven más de 30.000 vecinos en solo 0,38 kilómetros cuadrados. El éxito de Morad es el exponente de todos ellos: desde niños a adultos. «Lo hace desde abajo, sin la ayuda de nadie de arriba», expresa una vecina. Sus canciones reflejan el sentir de los jóvenes de su barrio, uno de los de mayor densidad poblacional de Europa. Ocurre lo mismo con sus videoclips, exentos de sobreactuación, reproducidos millones de veces. Los chavales que lo acompañan, todos migrados, son de los Bloques de la Florida, construidos hace 65 años para alojar en pisos de 40 metros cuadrados a familias barraquistas del Somorrostro. Sus letras dan la vuelta a la problemática de pobreza y marginalidad de los Bloques, un sector al que persigue un estigma asociado al trapicheo y la delincuencia.
Extract from Hector Marín, Precariedad, aglomeración y esperanza en La Florida