'Madrid kills me'

Article published on April 25, 2007
Article published on April 25, 2007

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Three decades after the 'Movida Madrileña', Spain remembers how post-Franco society was transformed by ten years of punk rebellion in Madrid

'Dancing, dancing, all day long. And in between, the neighbours won't leave me alone.' The catchy lyrics by punk band Alaska and the Pegamoides (Alaska y los Pegamoides - think British seventies rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees), made 'Dancing' (Bailando) the hit summer tune in Spain in 1982. Shortly after the failed coup against democracy by leader Antonio Tejero in 1981, a revolutionary cultural movement was born in Madrid. The 'Movida Madrileña' (literally 'the Madrid movement') was to impact an entire generation of young Spaniards.

A Spanish ‘God Save the Queen’

La Movida sprang up in the seventies. Echoes of protest songs against the Franco regime - which ended in 1976, one year after the dictator's death - were still resounding. A group of young teenagers were focussing their attentions on tracing a new post-modern, creative thinking that was beginning to appear in the West. Three years after the example set by anarchistic British punk led by London-based Sex Pistols (formed 1975), the first Spanish punk group Kaka de Luxe came onto the scene.

Before long, painters, writers, designers, photographers and directors had joined a hedonistic new socio-cultural wave that seemed to have appeared out of thin air. Although their manifesto was far from specific, the advocates of this new trend had three things in common: living life to the max, breaking with convention and Madrid being the main forum of activity. One main meeting place was the house belonging to the painter couple Costus, in the densely populated Malasaña district of the city. In this house, the key figures of the Movida Madrileña would converge. Olvido Gara, (aka 'Alaska'), 44, Fabio McNamara, 50, and Pedro Almodóvar, 58,were regular visitors.

Eighties dadas

One of the many projects that emerged from this fiercely creative setting was Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón ('Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom', Almodóvar, 1980). A cocktail of kinky sex, drugs, music and a urination scene set the storyline of young Almodóvar's early work. The director was then a relative unknown to the general public. The film attempts to offend the bourgeoisie through a return to surrealist thinking. It comes close to the transgression demonstrated in the films of American director John Waters. The central characters of the film are the artists from La Movida. Together with photographers such as Pablo Pérez Mínguez and Alberto Garcia-Alix, Almodóvar became one of principal chroniclers of a trend that was spreading like wildfire to other Spanish cities.

The movement’s bands began to sell their records by the thousand. Works by the painter couple Costus, photographer Ouka Lele and designer Ceseepe were soon popping up on display in the capital’s most prestigious art galleries. When American pop-art guru Andy Warhol paid a visit to the Spanish capital, these artists knew they were approaching jet-setting status.

Felipe González's Socialist Party (PSOE) came to power in 1982 (until 1996), and the movement’s success soared to record heights. The blatant misdemeanour of these most irreverent artists was the perfect way to portray an image of modern Spain to the outside world. What better way to illustrate this than on TV? Programmes such as ‘La Edad de Oro' (The Golden Age) and ‘La Bola de Cristal'' (Crystal Ball) were aired on the Spanish public television channel TVE. ‘La Edad de Oro', a children’s programme presented by Alaska, traced the before and after of Iberian television. Its catchphrases Hooray for evil! and Hooray for Madrid!, coupled with an ideology that flitted between the sinister and the glam, were to mould an entire generation of Spanish youngsters to the point of no return.

Needless to say, Spanish traditionalism was not going to be eradicated that easily. The eighties broadcast of 'Me gusta ser una zorra' (‘I want to be a slut’) by the all-girl punk band from Bilbao, Vulpess ('foxes' or 'sluts') on TVE sparked huge political protest and media frenzy.

The morning after the night before

The protagonist in British director Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People (2002), a film about about Manchester's popular music community from 1977 to 1997, would be the first to admit that most trends reach a peak before falling to a bitter end. La Movida was to have fatal consequences. In the late eighties and early nineties, many of the movement’s infleuntial heroes found their deaths, having literally lived their lives to the very end of their limits. Many of the immortals became martyrs to their cause, including the Costus couple (Enrique Naya of AIDS and Juan Carrero committed suicide a month later, 1989), guitarist Carlos Berlanga, singer Tino Casal (car accident, 1987) and poet Eduardo Haro (drug overdose, 1988).

However figures like Alaska and Almodóvar brought their careers back on the tracks before it was too late. Almodóvar even managed a breakthrough to international audiences, garnering Oscar nominations and awards for his movies. Alaska formed a new electro-pop band called Fangoria with former bandmember Nacho Canut, that remains highly successful today.

During the nineties, the liberated and go-getting spirit of the eighties was buried and forgotten. Today, it is being remembered in a somewhat melancholy fashion. This year, Madrid City Council's exhibition plus a number of concerts and activities explored the movement’s various facets. A number of different documents from the period were republished. 30 years after its emergence, the hedonistic and innovative spirit of La Movida is still alive. The determination of its activists catapulted a monochromic country into the post-modern Spain that we all know and love today.

*'Madrid kills me' or 'Madrid me mata' - one of the key phrases of the Movida movement