Known for its boundless culture, fabled architecture, and world-class gastronomy, Spain's enchanting seaside city of Barcelona has recently become one of techno's foremost ports. Over the last five years, influential Barcelona-based imprint No.19 Music—originally established in Toronto—has risen to the forefront.
As the label primes the release of I Live in Barcelona—an eye-opening compilation showcasing exclusive tunes from the city's talent—co-founder Jonny White, better known under the acclaimed Art Department moniker, looks back on what initially brought him to the Catalan capital.
"I had already been spending most of my time outside of Canada when I first moved here," White tells THUMP, "so it wasn't exactly a direct move or choice." After all, Europe had caught onto what he and former collaborator Kenny Glasgow were doing in 2009 much quicker than North America. "We still had our apartments in Toronto, but we were basically living...or maybe couch-surfing is a better term...in London for nearly the first year. I desperately needed to find a proper place of my own and decided on Barcelona after an early tour."
Upon his arrival in the city, White quickly formed bonds with longtime residents like Anthony & Luca from Audiofly, Davide Squillace, and Dubfire, who all went out of their way to welcome him. "It was an amazing feeling after having been away so often," says White. "They had this really warm family vibe going on. One where everyone made an effort to make Barcelona a home for all of the expats. I loved that."
It took fellow Canadian Carlo Lio a bit more time to migrate. Like White, 2010 was also the year that heavy touring began for him, but Lio chose to stay put in Toronto and travel in and out of Europe almost weekly. Though after a year of nonstop travel, he felt a change was in order.
"I knew I had to make the move," remembers Lio. "Being close with Dubfire, he definitely educated me on why I should be in Barcelona specifically. It's a perfect hub to travel, and besides that, very unique in its music and culture. So, it was kind of a no-brainer."
Additional I Live in Barcelona contributors like South American instrumentalist Guti and his partner-in-crime, newcomer Morgan, took decidedly different paths to Barça. While the Australian-born Morgan landed there directly from Berlin in 2014, Guti was a well-documented nomad. His piano virtuoso childhood alone whisked him across his native Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica, France, and Russia.
"I was always on the move," Guti explains. "Barcelona will forever be an important part of my life. I think your transforms as your life does. So of course the city you live in influences you. The streets, the food, the people, your friends."
Following his Desolat stablemate Guti's lead, Mexico's Hector is the latest producer on the No.19 compilation to settle in Barcelona. Like Guti, Hector too had previously travelled to all corners of the map, with extended stints in London, Berlin, Brooklyn, Ibiza, Los Angeles, and around Japan. "I always kind of knew the other stops were going to be temporary; that I would be moving on," the Guadalajaran admits to THUMP. "Whereas now, I want to remain here and have a real base for my home life and my studio. Barcelona feels right at the moment."
Besides No.19's impressive roster of artists, Barcelona has become headquarters for several other big techno stars as well. Everyone from Marco Carola, Luciano, and Carl Craig to Joseph Capriati and Paco Osuna call Barça home. Perhaps there's something in the water. "I think people are pulled here because there are so many great parties and events going on with a lot of variety," Hector reveals to THUMP. "Since it's such a stunning city to live in and visit, it naturally draws creative minds."
"Just being in Barcelona has the potential to open many doors for you," notes Carlo Lio. "Networking is a massive part of this. There are so many artists, promoters, agencies, and great people connected to the music scene that could potentially help you along your way." Conversely, Jonny White attributes a number of his contemporaries relocating to Barça as more of a lifestyle choice than career move. "It's one of the most attractive cities in the world," he states, "it's relatively cheap if you're comparing it to London or Switzerland, and the quality of life in terms of food and weather is second to none in Europe. Barcelona has a lot going for it regardless of whether or not the music scene is thriving, which it happens to be."
Barcelona's growing electronic music scene has also developed its own unique sound. Having set the base of his prolific firm's European operations in town, Bullitt Agency partner Ryan Saltzman dubs it a much "darker, dirtier, grimier sound" than you would find in Ibiza, yet still a little more "tropical, light, and fun" than you'd get in Berlin. "In a way, it's a mixture of the two."
"I hadn't really acknowledged the different styles of music that everyone here is writing as making up a collective sound which embody the city," Jonny White admits. "My take is actually more on the side of the sound being quite broad and representative of so many different methods. I like to think that you can find a lot of really talented artists epitomizing Barcelona across the board."
Morgan credits Barcelona's international artists for adding their own spices to the pot. "You can find a jam in just about any part of the city and get that energy you are looking for. It could seem dark and dirty in one place, then tropical and light in another... yet it's part of the same family. Plus, we've got exquisite outdoor venues and also basement-style haunts. That's why Barcelona is a good vessel for all these flavours."
In terms of doing things as a collective and creating a community, Jonny White hails the family feel in Barcelona as especially singular. "Everyone has keys to each other's places and looks after one another, since the majority of us are part of the travelling circus and on the road most of the time. When we're here, we make it a home. I don't think I would find this anywhere else." For Carlo Lio, the city has also become very tight-knit. "You call one guy, who calls another and another, and next thing you know, there's 15 of you shoulder to shoulder," says Lio. "It's a great feeling to know you have so many peers around you that are not only friends, but share your biggest passion."
Taking into account its destination status, heavy DJ presence, and collegial spirit, should Barcelona be crowned the "next Berlin"? Having lived in both, Hector doesn't care for the analogy. "They are two different worlds to me that can't be compared," he insists. "Whether it's the music, clubs, or just general everyday life... Berlin and Barcelona are totally different cultures."
"Everyone is always trying to compare something with another," Carlo Lio laments. "Barcelona is its own beast. It has earned the right to be in its own category. "Guti and Morgan concur, with Morgan reasoning that it's not so much a case of the city being the "next Berlin" as it is it taking shape as the "first Barcelona."
'I Live in Barcelona' will be released by No.19 Music on December 12.
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