The city of Marbella, nestled halfway down Spain’s Costa del Sol, is famous for being one of Europe’s most popular resort destinations, providing sun, sea, sand and cerveza to a large seasonal flow of wealthy foreign visitors. What it hasn’t generally been famous for is its music scene. Fortunately, Marbella’s Third Culture collective is flipping that impression on its head.
Comprised of producers, performers, promoters, DJs and a range of other creatives, Third Culture’s aim is to nurture a distinct, organic music scene that can make its mark beyond Marbella and compete with the big foreign acts that tour the region. By supporting some of Spain’s most exciting emerging artists, it seems they are starting to succeed. We got in touch with Alvaro Tobar, Third Culture’s ‘cultural agitator’, to find out why the Spanish hip-hop scene is finally fulfilling its potential, and how Marbella’s artists are providing alternative routes for itexpansion…
In ten words or less, how would you describe where you live?
A melting pot of international cultures with a unique lifestyle.
What got you involved in the local music scene, and what is your role within it?
What got me involved in the ‘scene’ was pretty much wanting to create one, a real one. We’ve had amazing venues & international superstars performing here for years – singers, DJs, rappers, etc – but that only happens in summer with the inflow of tourists. Other than that there’s no actual scene in the foundations. The venues, promoters, audience, they all just follow and copy each other based on what makes money. Nobody really cares about the actual music, its culture or what it’s spawning in the younger generations that soak it all up, in my eyes there’s a lot of raw talent here that keeps getting bypassed.
People just need inspiration, a sense of belonging to something bigger, let them know what they do is appreciated because it’s contagious, it spreads a message, it allows people to drop their fears, judgements, etc and to go for it, whatever it may be. It will push the next person to go out and do what they love, when you have a lot of people doing that, you have a healthy scene, a community and that’s when amazing things begin to happen.
I recently found out that the city of Atlanta (without the metropolitan area) has a smaller population than the city of Málaga which is the closest capital to Marbella. Now think about trap and all the music that has come out of the city of Atlanta in the past years that has shaped the sound of hip-hop and even pop music in the entire world: Outkast, T.I., Gucci Mane, Migos, Young Thug, 21 Savage, the list is endless. That is all because of the scene they had there, it’s been thriving for decades, people push one another to create and support each other, that’s when things flourish.
I started Third Culture as a monthly event that allowed all the creators here to gather in a relaxed atmosphere and experience something new; music (DJs and concerts), art, fashion, etc. A place to praise open-mindedness and creativity, something they couldn’t experience anywhere else locally and that actually made them feel like they were somewhere else, in an underground venue of a big city or metropolis for example. I’ve been told by people at our events that they feel like they’re in Shoreditch in London, or in Soho in NY, etc, anything but Marbella and that’s the biggest compliment.
My role within it is always through Third Culture. There I’m an MC, DJ, promoter, booking agent, designer, I do it all, so I wouldn’t really know what to call it. Recently in an interview with a local TV [station] they called me a ‘cultural agitator’ for the city, and I’m not mad at that, I’m here to shake the shit up until people realise, or at least until the right people do.
What are the dominant music styles in both Marbella and Spain as a whole, are there any exciting new music trends currently emerging?
In Spain the explosion in the modern hip-hop/trap scene has been insane, we’ve had hip-hop here for decades but it has always been marginalised and pushed aside, I think because it was never daring enough, it was just there to fulfil the ‘rap in Spain’ category. It never went mainstream aside from 2 or 3 acts unlike the UK or France that had a full scene with their own distinctive sound, but what’s happened here in the past 3-5 years is crazy. The level of artistry has gone through the roof, not only the acts and their music, but also visuals, merchandise, even marketing strategies, you see some very unique proposals that are already giving American & foreign artists huge competition, a lot of these Spanish acts have better numbers than established acts in the US (sales, YouTube views, followers, etc). This is mostly because Spanish acts are finally tapping majorly into Central and South America which are HUGE markets for them.
Marbella is different because this place is a bubble that is always ruled by international influence before Spanish influence. The ‘scene’ here is always looking at the international charts, but it’s better than ever in my opinion because every single venue now has at least one night a week dedicated to hip-hop, trap & urban beats, most of them with huge live performances. It’s definitely exciting to see how this is all developing considering there are more venues every year which allow for many more opportunities for the scene to grow and keep establishing itself.
Who are the key local acts we should be listening to right now?
Sandro Jeeawock: local producer who has collaborated with big names in Spain like Pimp Flaco, Kinder Malo and Dellafuente. Imagine if Atlanta’s 808 culture got all loved up and had a night of debauchery with the early Neptunes’ sound… His debut album Golden Boy was released early this summer via Ocean Club which he presented in a set at this year’s Sonar Festival. He will be back in BCN on the 26th of August playing in TRILL. Don’t miss it.
GXNZX: Picture a mysterious bearded cavalier majestically riding a Roland SP-404. Now you can listen to him. Lo-fi expert, dope sample choppa, if he gets on some pads, keep an extinguisher close. Shit will burn.
Olarte: A staple in the local scene, he has one of the most ample ’90s hip-hop libraries I’ve come across and you can tell on his production, the man is dipped in jazz (literally he has portraits of jazz greats tattooed all over his body) and his drums will make your neck snap, a deadly combo.
Rjay: In my opinion, the best male vocalist round these ends, London bred, Marbella based, with a great knack for songwriting. From trap to R&B, give him any beat and hell have a solid track in no time.
K:Miss: Powerful female vocalist, lead singer of soul band ‘Soulbelle’, she hasn’t left any genre untouched: house, jazz, rock & roll, and she keeps going. Her upcoming material with a modern hip-hop twist to it will definitely make heads turn.
Space Hammu: The out of town homies, hailing from the east-side of Malaga, this collective of MCs & producers is about to shake the scene in spain: Delaossa, Raggio & Carrion are 3 of the livest spitters I’ve heard come out the south, JMoods could flip a tank with his beats and Kas.Rules keeps it all sounding tight & crisp. Its a rap dream team and we can only help them push further, although they don’t need it.
What’s the live music scene/nightlife like in Marbella?
The majority of it is based in upmarket clubs, VIP bottles, etc, so whatever genre it’s always going to be somewhat commercial, but the appearances get bigger every year. So far the biggest acts we’ve had this year are: Lil Wayne, Tory Lanez, Tyga, Trey Songz, French Montana, Ja Rule, Fat Joe, etc. There’s also a very solid UK sounds scene, grime, garage, DnB, etc: Craig David, Tinie Tempah, J Hus, Giggs, Krept & Konan, Kano, So Solid Crew, DJ Luck & MC Neat, DJ EZ, etc, they’ve all been here this season. Now because of a sudden inflow of French tourism you also see huge names from the French scene stop by like Booba or Maitre Gims.
Other than that you can see full concerts in places like Starlite (Elton John, Ben Harper, etc.), Puente Romano Hotel for most of the oldies (George Benson, Billy Ocean, Chaka Khan, etc) or the brew pub La Catarina, the home of all the Third Culture events for the past two years where we’ve had the biggest names from the Spanish scene, like Bejo, BNMP, Nathy Peluso, Fanso, Jesse Baez & the list goes on.
For anyone visiting, what should they see and what should they eat and drink?
Marbella’s Old Town is beautiful with loads of tapas bars and great restaurants. If you want high end restaurants the square in Puente Romano has pretty much anything you could ask for. If you’re looking for something cheap & cheerful with a good vibe, I would definitely recommend Bao Garden, a relaxed hang-out spot with awesome Asian street food. Seafood here is a must, there’s plenty chiringuitos with espetos de sardinas, boquerones, pil-pil and all that good stuff.
The whole summer lifestyle here is what beomes the biggest sight if you ask me, but if you like the outdoors, the Paseo Maritimo that joins Marbella centre with Puerto Banus is an amazing walk by the beach, especially during sunset. Hike up La Concha mountain whenever it’s not too hot for the best views of the whole coast. El Chorro, Tarifa, El Palmar are also beautiful nature spots that are very close by.
What one song, past or present, sums up Marbella best?
If I had to chose a present track it would probably be Travis Scott’s ‘Butterfly Effect’ because the ambience of the track matches the setting, plus people here love to stunt. A lot of people come here JUST to stunt. You see them on Facebook working their butts off the rest of the year, looking all focused and then they come here to wile out & have fun, ‘for this life they cannot change’.
What are the biggest challenges faced by musicians in Marbella right now?
Without a doubt having work all year round, it becomes very alive in the holiday season, and some opportunities and openings arise, but after there’s simply not enough audience, so it’s down to the artists to move around and try find gigs. Other than that, during the holiday season most big venues have very very limited availability if any at all as they have most of their resident acts, DJs, etc, closed months in advance, there it’s simply a matter of having good connections and a good product.