Els Masturbadors Mongòlics Brought Punk to Fascist Spain
As the Franco's regime crumbled, the foursome introduced spitting and speed to the Spanish public.
Els Masturbadors Mongòlics (All archive images courtesy of Xavi Cot and Munster Records)
Barcelona's Masturbadors Mongòlics are Spanish punk's lost boys. The band were together for just a year, right around the time that democracy was making its first baby steps on the Iberian Peninsula after the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. The foursome liked alcohol, they liked amphetamines and they liked getting in fights; they only lasted a year and you can count their gigs on one hand, but the legacy of their antics still reverberates today.
When Franco died in 1975, Spain was sent into a state of commotion. After four decades of the dictator's iron rod making its way into every sphere of Spanish life, it was hardly surprising that, with freedom, came huge social, political and cultural upheavals. Many people had been slightly brainwashed by his regime and the dictatorship still had a bit of bite – five political dissidents were executed in 1975, two ETA militants and three from the antifascist group FRAP – but everyone knew it was on the back foot.
This allowed for the emergence of a nascent counterculture – a belated, disoriented version of what had happened in England and America during the previous decade: prog-rock, hippies, Mao's "little red book", Robert Crumb, weed and – if you were lucky – LSD. It probably felt progressive to the Spanish, but it showed Spain for exactly what it was during the mid 70s: a country at least a decade behind the rest of Western Europe.
Xavi Cot in his studio. (Photo by Alejandra Nunez)
Star, a zine set up in Barcelona in 1974, was probably the first publication to really start examining what was going on outside of Spain. It was consumed by a public that consisted of more than just your standard ban-the-bomb stoners, bringing its readers a generous array of overseas culture – stuff like the Freak Brothers, Ginsberg, Michael Moorcock, Lou Reed, The Stooges, Philippe Garrel, Harlan Ellison, S&M and, a little later – more or less at the same time the phenomenon popped up in England – punk.
Painter, photographer, filmmaker and walking archive of 70s and 80s ephemera Xavi Cot was in the right place at a turbulent time. "Nowadays, everyone knows what punk is, but at that time hardly anyone read the little that was written about it, which was often about how silly it seemed," he told me. “I remember an article saying punks were fascists! Eventually, everyone got their head around the fact it was the total opposite – it was anarchism, and that piece got amended."
As part of the Cuc Sonat collective, Cot put on a few punk nights in Barcelona, some of the first in the whole of Spain. "I'd already put on a few prog-rock nights and was travelling to London quite often, too," says Xavi. "I lived there for a year and a half at one point." This all fed into the 1977 Festival Punk de l’Aliança del Poble Nou; "I don’t know if it was the first [punk festival] in Spain, but definitely the first to use the actual word 'punk'," Xavi recounted.
Artwork by Lluis Miracle (1976).
One of the groups that was meant to be involved in the festival – though they couldn't in the end because they didn't have enough songs – had recently formed and given themselves the wilfully provocative moniker Els Masturbadors Mongòlics (The Mongol Masturbators). Their founder and singer knew all about provocation; Lluis Miracle, according to everyone who knew him at the time, was all hormones and aggression.
He worked mainly as a comic strip artist, and everything he did was hyperbolic and distorted. He'd come to prominence working for Star, and it was one of his comic strips that got them shut down for a year in 1976, a late victim of the dictatorship's censorship. Xavi remembers Miracle being "brutal", "savage" and "over the top", saying, "Things always ended badly. He struggled getting his work published. Editors wouldn't touch him with a bargepole."
In hindsight, the censorship is easy to understand; in the story in question, which starts out as a parody of A Clockwork Orange, ultra-violence, drugs, fascism and homosexuality are all mashed together, totally deadpan. And to top it off, there's a bit of father-son incest thrown into the mix. In the Spain of that era, "scandalous" doesn't come close to describing what Miracle dreamt up.
"Miracle was nothing if not an agent provocateur," says Xavi, "and, as such, went where he was most needed. Which is why punk pulled him in. He was one of the first to wear leather and chains in the street, and as soon as everyone else started doing it, he stopped. At Masturbadors Mongòlics' last concert, he came out in a white blouse, red stockings and knickers."
Els Masturbadors Mongòlics outside La Orquídea, with Miracle standing the third from the left.
The fledgling punk scene was a place where Lluis Miracle could go off the rails in public. He could channel his aggression and his love of provocation, and he could do it live on stage. None of the strictures that limited his cartoon making applied; he could get in people's faces and he quite often got into fights with the crowd and other bands. "It wasn't that Miracle was dangerous – in some ways he was actually really timid," says Xavi. "If he had to have it out with someone, fine, but it wasn't like he went around looking for trouble. The same happened with him as with a lot of people when they get up on stage – especially if you're wasted, you're something else once you get up there."
At the end of 1977, Masturbadors Mongòlics installed themselves in their local rehearsal space, the legendary (and now derelict) La Orquídea, a disco bar in Barcelona's Gràcia barrio. A lot of the local gangs used the bar as a meeting point, and when someone got shot it was shut down. But on the 21st of January, 1978, Masturbadors Mongòlics played at the reopening night and counted it as their first "official" gig. Apart from "a fair amount of chaos and noise", it was nothing out of the ordinary.
A review of a Masturbadors Mongòlics' show in Party.
The same couldn't be said for their next gig, also at La Orquídea, a few months later. Miracle came out on stage completely naked with a German Shepherd on a lead. The band managed to get through a few songs before he ended up on the floor after some kind of ruckus with someone in the audience. No one knows what started it. Party, Spain's first ever gay zine (homosexuality was still very much a crime under the gloriously named Social Dangerousness Act), ran a review entitled "Masturbadors Mongòlics sing with their willies out".
Their next gig, on the outskirts of Barcelona, turned into a full-on battle – they only got through two songs before everything descended into carnage. Paco Martínez, the band's guitarist, explains: "It was your average local bar – music to dance to with your chick and lots of macho dickheads making sure you didn't touch their chicks. Not exactly our kind of crowd. But the DJ finished and we were up next. We started playing, it was pretty tense and, before our second song, Miracle said there was a girl giving him funny looks and he was going to have her. When I started on the solo, he jumped down off the stage, went over and put a cigarette out on her cheek. It was nothing really, but then it kicked off."
Xavi Cot remembers the moment too: "The girl's boyfriend hit Miracle, his friend's piled in, then the band. Miracle ended up in the Modelo prison that night."
The band's next gig was at a campsite just outside Barcelona. Miracle, clearly keen on keeping up appearances, showed up at the last moment covered in blood. He'd been fighting in a bar around the corner.
By this point, there was a lot of tension within the band – enough that they were close to splitting. Only Miracle and Martínez were left, but they decided to hold out on parting ways when they were invited to play at Canet Rock, which was Catalonia's largest festival in those days. Unable to resist putting on one of their trademark shows on such a huge stage, they organised a press conference that – if it had turned out as planned – would surely have seen them both put in jail.
One of Miracle's cartoons, published in Star in 1976.
The idea was that they would invite a select group of journalists to a rehearsal space in the Chinese barrio, a dank cellar you could only access through a trapdoor. They would play a couple of songs and then leave, locking the journalists in for 24 hours with a spread of black pudding and vodka served on silver trays. "But none of the journalists showed up," says Martínez. "Blondie and Ultravox were having a press conference at the same time." At the festival itself, as Martínez remembers, "Alcohol and a lot of other stuff were in plentiful supply. It was a long night and a lot went on. I had a fight with Ultravox because they were hogging the rider. Security had to separate us."
Masturbadors Mongòlics weren't around much longer after their brawl with Midge Ure's new wave act. They had a few sessions in EMI's studios, then they split up and Miracle was called up for military service, which was still obligatory at the time. When he came back, he'd given up on punk. He dressed in robes and went on about the Mediterranean empire and the cradle of civilisation. "So obviously people stopped paying attention to him," says Xavi. "No one else gave a sit about punk any more, and then Lluis Miracle shows up wearing robes and spouting a load of crap about the structure of Roman society."
After a not very fruitful attempt at getting a new band – Olor a Tigre (Smell of the Tiger) – going, Miracle put music aside for good to concentrate on being a cartoonist. He worked for a number of different magazines, including the Spanish Hustler, and died in 2006 of hepatitis.
The Masturbadors Mongòlics' vinyl – made up of recordings taken from the EMI studio sessions – was put out recently by Munster Records, and it's actually pretty good for a bunch of people who seemed more concerned with causing trouble than making music. Nevertheless, while they go down as pioneers in Iberian punk's prehistory, it’s not because of their songs. The Mongòlics' true legacy is that they epitomised the euphoric outpouring of emotion – the massive release of tension – in post-Franco Spain. As Xavi says: "Masturbadors Mongòlics were right on time."
Translation by Thom Bunstead.
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