Formed after a free punk concert in 1980, an influential accumulation of musicians, creators and film-makers including Pedro Almodavar exploded punk counterculture in Madrid and altered their nation for ever

General Franco had been dead for a while before those he repressed in Spain felt brave enough to celebrate in public. The dictator’s four-decade rule did not neatly expire in 1975, when he died. The country was still being effectively run by soldiers and priests when a rundown lineup of young punks staged a free concert at Madrid Polytechnic on 9 February 1980. Forty years later, that night is recollected as the happening that launched La Movida Madrilena, a countercultural rash in the city during the country’s volatile “transition” to democracy.

The show was put together as a rock’n’roll monumental for Jose Cano, a drummer in the band Tos, who had been killed in a vehicle disintegrate. His bandmates, soon to re-form as Los Secretos, invited friends and peers to play, including Nacha Pop, Mermelada, and Alaska y las Pegamoides- the latter fronted by a 17 -year-old girl. Alaska, AKA Maria Olvido Gara Jova, is increasingly becoming perhaps the biggest icon of La Movida. None of them looked like good Catholics. Their chants resounded presumptuou, anti-romantic, aggressively secular.

” They played poorly, but with fury ,” wrote DJ and music critic Diego Manrique, who added that their sheer loudness, both in volume and colour, contrasted wildly with” the greyness of the Franco regime .” The happening was similar in mythology to the fabled Sex Pistols gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976: everyone who wasn’t there would later claim they only, and anyone who was there would start a banding. And while Johnny Rotten asserted dubious lyrical licence in rhyming “Queen” with” totalitarian regiman”, to sing about anarchy in the realm of Spain was to risk being taken literally.

Servando Carballar says he was and still is an anarchist. His record label, DRO( Discos Radioactivos Organizados ), founded in 1982, came to represent” about 50%” of the bands is in relation to La Movida, commencing with his own sci-fi synthpop group Aviador Dro and His Specialised Workers.” None of the major names would even look at us ,” says Carballar.” Though we were pretty bad musicians back then .”

Sitting in a Madrid branch of Generation X, his Spanish chain of comic book and board game accumulates, Carballar remembers the concert as having an impact because it was broadcast on TV and radio- a signal that times had changed, in the capital at least. The first rouses, nonetheless, came a few years earlier, he says, in the city’s El Rastro flea market, where adolescents sold their own fanzines and dig out precious acquires on vinyl.

” Some records used to be like trophies. They were so hard to get here it was almost easier to go to London and “re coming back” .” Never Mind the Bollocks, and the DIY-ethos behind it,” was like a renaissance in all of our subconscious .” Taking additional influences from dadaism and futurism, Carballar modelled Aviador Dro in 1979, adopting the stage name Biovac-N and styling the band as techno-mutants behind analog keyboards. They were immediately arrested when they stepped outside for their first photo shoot, wearing aeronautic goggles and homemade hazmat suits.

Long live the counterculture … Aviador Dro in 2019. Photograph: A Ramirez De Arellano

People forget, he says, just how long the practices of church-sanctioned armed convention persisted, after Franco. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1979. Spanish maidens, including Carballar’s bandmate and future wife Marta Cervera( AKA Arcoiris ), had long been subject to a patrician curfew, which seen most streets and rails an alone male orbit by 9pm. The country’s Civil Guard could still break up any convene of more than three beings, and detain anyone whose robes, fuzz, or face gave them the flimsiest pretext for the purposes of the dominating law of” dangerousness and social rehabilitation “.

Guardsmen later raided an Aviador Dro gig, while the band were playing Anarchy in the Planet, their quasi-cover of the Sex Pistols single that had first fired them up. Their friend Ger Espada, vocalist of Oviformia Sci, was carried away for wearing makeup.

” We talk about the future ,” says Carballar,” but only in the abstract. An equal culture seemed a utopian fantasize, like Star Trek. In reality, we saw all of it could end any second. Maybe with a nuclear battle, maybe with a military coup .”

On 23 February 1981, 200 forearmed police tried and failed to force a return to Francoism by confiscate the Congress of Lieutenant building in Madrid. The transition process was too far along, and the city council was now led by Marxist mayor Enrique Tierno Galvan, whose culture plans been increasingly lenient. Galvan came to be known as” the Mayor of La Movida”, subsidising underground skill to promote a new paradigm at the former core of tyrant Spain.” Bless the chaos ,” he said,” because it is a sign of exemption .”

That chaos spread to street fashion and photography, cartoonists and muralists, the burgeoning fag community and the flourishing dope sell. The appoint “movida” itself was supposedly derived from a slang term for hash and heroin business, and a new accent known as cheli coopted words from prison inmates and prostitutes: “Cutre,” for example, signifying sleazy in a good way.

Pedro Almodovar’s early short films, and his 1980 entry feature Pepi, Luci, Bom( starring Alaska as lesbian rocker Bom) were shot dead in and in different regions of the hangouts of the epoch, against a backdrop of drag pictures and dick-measuring tournaments. Almodovar’s own fib was like a ballad of La Movida- country son comes out in the big city, trading his religious instruction for fornication and self-expression- but he never seemed sure how to define the context he emerged from.

” We weren’t an artistic movement, we weren’t a group with a concrete ideology ,” Almodovar said in retrospect.” We have only just a bunch of people who coincided with an explosive minute .” The photographer Ouka Leele requests to differ with her old-fashioned friend. Sitting in a quiet cafe in Madrid’s Malasana area, around the corner from El Penta and La Via Lactea, the stone rails that once hosted all the key players, Leele remembers feeling part of something that might have been as big as surrealism. The late painter and illustrator Carlos Sanchez Perez, better known as Ceesepe,” used to say we were the new Picassos”, she recalls.

Born Barbara Allende and raised in a cautiously liberal household, Leele was just starting art school when Franco died.” The cage entrance was opened and we all went out ,” says Leele.” So, we had this new sense of freedom but we too had Eta setting missiles off, police persecuting students, ultra-right radicals coming into rails with guns and singing[ fascist anthem] Cara Al Sol. We were sick of all that and we thought of art as medication, as a medication .” This was acutely the occasion for Leele herself.

Diagnosed with lymphoma in her early 20 s, she had her own view on the hedonism of those hours.” When you’re so young and suddenly extinction is there, the future disappears, which is not a bad thing. You live in the present, and every minute is a wonder .” Leele’s work became emblematic of La Movida – highly theatrical descriptions and tableaus on monochrome movie that she hand-painted over with lurid watercolours.

Peluqueria, 1979, by Ouka Leele. Photograph: 1996 -9 8 AccuSoft Inc ., All claims reserved/ Ouka Leele

She reaped on ancient superstitions, classic portraits of the Spanish Golden Age, and the mild subversions of her childhood, when kids would wear fluorescent dark-green, pink, or orange socks to set against the orthodox colors, whites and chocolate-browns of their grandparents. Later, she” rebelled against the rebels, more .”” When they all “re dressed like” punks, I dressed like a nun .”

As things turned out, Leele endured, while many others did not. By the mid-1 980 s, Malasana was a hot zone of Aids deaths and overdoses. Leele envisioned Mayor Galvan enormously irresponsible where reference is famously told a rock carnival crowd in 1984:” Whoever is not high, get high-pitched now .”

Galvan himself died two years later, and Leele felt her art was ” applied” by his heir, Juan Barranco. In 1987, he appropriated her masterpiece, a monumental work of photographic action skill around the Cibeles Fountain in the city, based on the myth of Hippomenes and Atalanta, to make a kind of campaign poster.” He thought it would help him prevail re-election ,” she says.” It didn’t. That photo differentiated the end of La Movida for me. It began with the artists and it was destroyed by the legislators .”

Today, Madrid is run by a rightwing bloc who be submitted to that period, if at all, as a brief spell of leftist debasement. Its prominent appoints have since become establishment people in their own practices- Ouka Leele is an master on commissioning for big-hearted pattern mansions, Alaska is a reality TV star, Almodovar is a beloved auteur of world cinema, and Carballar is a board-game entrepreneur, who peculiarity on a recent encompas of Forbes. “Strange place for an anarchist,” he admits.

Those now inclined toward nostalgia for Franco will too tend to minimise La Movida as a superstition- a nasty , boisterou defendant attended by a hardcore of no more than 100 people. They are not entirely wrong, says Carballar.” But that’s all it takes to make an avant garde. A few people doing the things they feel they must do. History decides if these things are significant. La Movida, or whatever you call it, felt like something then, and it feels like something now .”

* Aviador Dro and His Specialised Workers will act at The Lexington, London, on 9 May as part of their 40 th anniversary tour. Ouka Leele’s word-paintings from this period are included in the travelling exhibit La Movida: A Chronicle of Turmoil , now at Barcelona’s Foto Colectania.


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