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La Movida Madrileña

A brief history of the late 1970s / early 1980s artistic and socio-cultural movement that occurred in the aftermath of Spain’s ‘Transition’.


During the long rule of the dictator Francisco Franco both public laws and church regulations had enforced a rigid set of social structures aimed at preserving the traditional role of the family, formal relations between the sexes, and control over expression in the press, other media and other important social institutions. Following the death of ‘El Caudillo’ in 1975 and the restoration of democracy in the late 1970s, Spain then underwent a series of radical changes in politics and society, which was called the ‘Transition’. Even before Franco’s departure its people had come increasingly into contact with the outside world and changes were starting to wrench at the fabric of traditional society, but once state censorship was relaxed there was a kind of mini explosion – at least in urban areas.


Madrid Me Mata

In parts of Madrid the changes were profound and certain parts of the city erupted into a hedonistic and cultural wave of events. Things got wild. Pornography exploded, gays and prostitution, both previously brutally repressed, began to become very visible and there was widespread use of recreational drugs by the youth.

“It’s difficult to speak of La movida and explain it to those who didn’t live those years. We weren’t a generation; we weren’t an artistic movement; we weren’t a group with a concrete ideology. We were simply a bunch of people that coincided in one of the most explosive moments in the country.” – Pedro Almodóvar

While new clubs opened up in dirty basements and squatters took over abandoned tenement buildings and started hosting all-night parties, the city’s mayor Enrique Tierno Galván turned a blind-eye in a deliberate attempt to promote an España Moderna that would help decisively break from its Francoist past. Spaniards who had left the country to find work in the 1960s began to return home and brought with them their teenage kids who had imbibed the more relaxed cultures of France, Germany and Switzerland, while foreigners also started to rediscover El Foro (the modish nickname used at that  time for Spain’s capital city) and added to the eclectic mix. Madrid was pushing the limits on sexuality, drugs, gender and aesthetics and began spewing out a stream of punk and new wave-influenced music, modernistic inspired design and Warholesque films whose plots were thin but featured outrageous excess and mad characters. The newly liberated media also spread the news to other Spanish cities, notably Barcelona and Vigo.

De Madrid al Cielo

The movement was focused on, but not exclusive to, the centrally located barrio of Malasaña (jokingly referred to as the Republica Independiente de Malasaña). Young Madrilenians started to gather at places like Rock Ola ( el ‘Templo de la Movida’), El Sol, La Via Lactea, Carolina and La Penta where live concerts took place and DJs played the latest fresh new songs and short films and paintings were displayed. In moods, looks and attitudes it resembled the British New Wave and Neue Deutsche Welle, mimicking and mixing styles such as Punk with New Romantic.

“Our outlook was in London: we had been cut off from everything and there we saw a full effervescence of the New Wave.” – Pedro Almodovar

Independent record labels were set up to record and distribute the music (Dro, TicTac, Tres Cipreses) and fanzines and comics like La Luna and Factori helped to spread the word. There was also a form of slang known as cheli used amongst those who participated which added to the counter-culture / underground feel, e.g. ‘Dabuti’, which means ‘cool’ or ‘wicked!’ or just very ‘funky’ indeed.


The Major Protagonists

Bands and Musicians

Olvido Gara Jova – aka, Alaska. Undoubtedly it was the music that most defined the movement and is what most locals remember from those times, if they can remember anything that is, although it is also fair to say that the international impact was small, with only the band Mecano garnering any significant audience outside of Spain.

Punk and rock were the main influences plus a strong element of new wave synth pop. Bands like Aviador Dro produced electronic tunes and made heavy use of synthesisers aping groups like Kraftwerk and there was a specifically Spanish form of techno called bacalao (lit. cod – sort of equivalent to what we might call ‘cheese’) that also grew from the scene.

The list of acts is long and here we provide names of the main bands and singers with links to YouTube vids:

– Alaska
– Aviador Dro
– Burning
– Hombres G
– Derribos Arias
– Gabinete Caligari
– Golpes Bajos
– Kaka de Luxe
– Leño
– Las Vulpes
– Loquillo y los Trogloditas
– Los Nikis
– Los Secretos
– Los Toreros Muertos
– La Unión
– Mecano
– Nacha Pop
– Parálisis Permanente
– Radio Futura
– Siniestro Total
– Tino Casal

Film, TV and Photography

Outside of Spain, the best known artist from that period is Pedro Almodóvar, whose first films, such as Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980), reflected the freedom of the moment as Spaniards rushed to catch up with the lifestyle enjoyed by other countries in the west. Fernando Trueba, Fernando Colomo and Iván Zulueta also built their reputations from this time.

Influential photographers who captured many of the iconic images of the Movida included Ouka Leele, García Alix, Pablo Perez Minguez and Miguel Trillo.

Television programs from that time that helped publicise the artists were La Edad de Oro, presented by Pilar Chamorro, Carlos Tena’s Caja de Ritmos and Alaska hosted a TV show aimed at teenagers called La Bola de Cristal!


Artists and Writers

The famous Muelle signature. Graffiti artist Muelle (real name Juan Carlos Argüello), who died only 29 years of age, started his first tagging in the Barrio de Campamento, where he lived, but as his fame grew his signature tag was imitated throughout the city. There were various run-ins with the local authorities and several court appearnces and fines. Tales of his exploits grew in legend as Muelle’s night excursions got more and more daring. One famous encounter with the police was meant to have happened in Embajadores barrio when he got disturbed during a painting and was chased by undercover cops. He tried to esacpe on his moped but got held up by a red traffic light (he respected the laws of the road you see but felt that graffiti should not be unlawful) and the following conversation took place:


      – Was that you doing the painting?
– What painting?
– Come on man!
– Yeah, it was me.
– Are you ‘Muelle’?
– Yes, why?
– Would you mind giving us your autograph?

The most celebrated painters during this epoch were Ceesepe, Mariscal, Guillermo Perez-Villalta, Costus and El Hortelano.

Another important figure outside the artistic world of la movida was Francisco Umbral, a writer for El País who documented the movement for the intellectual classes.

The Movida Remembered

The impact of the Movida can still be felt today in Madrid’s streets and art and theatre and music. Many of the artists and musicians are nowadays part of the establishment and the Malasaña district still retains its bohemian feel with bars like La Via Lactea and La Penta still plying their trade. In other bars and small clubs DJs can still be found mixing old tunes from the early 80s and punky / goth-tinged type rock is still popular here, as opposed to say Chueca barrio where you’ll hear more electronic / club style stuff. Unfortunately Rock-Ola Club didn’t survive and is now a supermarket!

A popular musical called Hoy No Me Puedo Levantar (I Just Can’t Get Up Today), created by Nacho Cano, a former member of Mecano, has La Movida as its cultural background and follows a group of young people living and loving in Madrid under the shadow of drugs and AIDS. It has been running since 2004 and has also transferred to Mexico City.

The poet Luis Antonio de Villena immortalised the scene in his book Madrid Ha Muerto as did novelist Gregorio Morales in his work La Individuación

A fairly recent film called El Calentito from director Chus Gutiérrez calls upon her own experiences as a member of girl band Las Xoxonees during La Movida in this engaging exploration of the other side of Transition. An older film, made just after those years, called Bajarse Al Moro by Fernando Colomo is a comedy that completely captures its spirit.


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