Barcelona’s Live Music Scene
Where to shake, rattle and rumba in the city…
By Duncan Rhodes
As a city that boasts more artists than pigeons (at least according to our somewhat boozy and unofficial survey), it’s safe to say that Barcelona’s live music scene is – if you’ll forgive the pun – rockin’.
The Catalan capital has a rich musical heritage and has cultivated maestros such as the composers Josep Anselm Clavé and Enrique Granados in the 19th Century, the world famous opera singer Montserrat Caballé (who dueted with Freddie Mercury on ‘Barcelona’ theme to the 1992 Olympic Games), as well as the more contemporary talents of Ojos de Brujo, a nine-piece hip-hop/flamenco band, and Cabo San Roque – who play old washing machines and toy dogs as instruments. This is a city that loves to perform.
Music seems to spring from the very foundation stones of Barcelona, and whether you’re strolling down La Rambla, mooching around on the city beaches or exploring Gaudi’s Park Guell you’re bound to hear some artistic souls strike up a chord or beating a banjo, as often for the sheer joy of playing as for a copper or two. It goes without saying too that, in this decidedly Bohemian city, organised concerts of rock, jazz, blues, electro, flamenco, classical, folk and pretty much every genre in between take place in every barrio and district… and whereas cynics will point to a lost era of creativity in the late 90s and early 00s, when a greater permissiveness meant more freedom to play wherever you wanted (see below about noise restriction laws!) there’s still plenty going on in the city.
barely a weekend passes around here without a big name or two coming to town
The grander (and pricier) end of the city’s live music spectrum takes place in the major stadiums, concert halls and cavernous nightclubs, where international acts of world-renown are invited to shake the rafters down: barely a weekend passes around here without a big name or two coming to town, from rock legends like AC/DC to, erm, Justin Bieber (sorry about that). But there’s also a bevy of more intimate bars supporting local bands, so if its a casual gig for under a fiver you’re after you’ll be able to find it.
Back to the top acts and it’s well worth keeping an eye on the festival line-ups. Barcelona boasts a number of cutting edge music fests such as Primavera Sound (the biggest and best, with a focus on indie bands), Sonar (which is DJ and dance music orientated, but still invites a great deal of live electronic music acts), and Cruilla (a good mix of genres, from world music and rock, to rap and hip hop), and all of these events mean you can see an array of top acts at a decent price, all things considered.
La Merce is one of many festes majors that take place throughout the warmer months, and during these week-long street parties there’ll be musicians rocking out on every corner and square of the barrio.
If however you don’t have two pennies to rub together, then time your visit for the annual La Merce fiesta in September: this is the official festival of the city and a number of high profile artists play for free in open spaces around town, courtesy of the Barcelona city council (thanks guys!). La Merce is in fact one of many festes majors that take place throughout the warmer months, and during these week-long street parties there’ll be musicians rocking out on every corner and square of the barrio.
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Did you know?
World music legend Manu Chao calls Barcelona his home… he owns a bar in the city and wrote the classic Rumba de Barcelona track. Check it out! He sometimes plays at the La Merce festival and other events about town.
Live music lovers who loathe the idea of stadium-sized crowds, screaming teenagers and overpriced tickets will be pleased to know Barcelona also boasts a number of small and mid-sized venues where more intimate concerts take place. Laws enforcing noise restrictions meant a lot of underground and artistic places lost their licenses in the mid-2000s, but thankfully new hotspots have sprung up and there’s more than enough places spread around the city. As for what you might hear? There are concerts for all tastes, so whether you want to rock up to a klezmer fusion session, afrobeat jam, acid jazz jive or balkan beat bonanza a bit of research will reveal all (start by checking the websites of the venues we list below!).
Naturally musical purists are not left out in the cold/warm, as Barcelona boasts concert halls aplenty for classical performances, such as the Liceu Theatre, with its rich programme of opera and ballet, and L’Auditori where the Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra regale the crowds.
Live Music Venues (Classical)
Let’s aspire to intellectualism and kick off with the classical concert halls:
Opened in 1847, Barcelona’s Opera House on Las Ramblas still draws the crowds for a rich programme of opera and ballet. The 2,292-seat main auditorium is a sight to behold, and the Catalans like to get dressed up for these impressive performances.
La Rambla 51-59
Just round the corner from the Grand Theatre, this 400-seater basement auditorium plays host to classical and contemporary concerts, small-scale operas and jazz.
C/Nou de la Rambla 82-88
This modern glass palace, built in 1999 and designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, seats 2,200 of Barcelona’s most refined rumps in its main hall for performances by Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Domenech i Montaner’s stunning Modernista masterpiece is also a functioning music hall, where regular orchestral, operatic and other musical performances take place. They also host regular festivals and Spanish guitar concerts.
C/Sant Pere Mes Alt
Live Music Bars & Clubs
And for some more contemporary spaces…
This huge, ex-factory in Poblenou invites some of the biggest names in indie and pop to rock Barcelona, and you may well find some of your favourite bands turn up here if you spend much time in the city!
Similar to Razzmatazz – a big danceclub by night, but concert venue earlier in the evening. Artists at Sala Apolo are often a bit more leftfield with more dance and electro acts performing, alongside rock, punk and indie.
Nou de la Rambla 113
This stylish cocteleria is also a fantastic place to drop by for regular live performances. Bands play eclectic jams several times a month, from Spanish percussion to new jazz sounds (whilst at the weekends DJ continue spinning afterwards keeping the party alive). They recently launched a special website dedicated to just their programme of gigs, so check the link below – or follow them on Facebook to keep up-to-date.
A relatively new addition to the scene Soda keeps the Bohemian residents of the Gracia district entertained with gigs three or four nights a week. Sundays are always a great bet with one of the city’s most famous Brazilian music collectives, D’Dom, enjoying a weekly residence there. Prepare to swing your hips to samba, bossa nova, hip hop and funk. Entrance is free.
Bing Bang Bar
One of the city’s most famous music venues, Big Bang is situated on a rather uninviting back alley of the hip but sleazy Raval district. It opens at 10pm Tuesdays to Sundays with daily concerts usually starting at 11pm, in their intimate back room. Tickets are typically cheap, around €5 on average. Their website is muy basico so, as with so many other bars in BCN, you’re better off checking their Facebook page.
Irish & International Bars
Barcelona’s Irish pubs are reliable places to pop by for gigs during the weekends when the management tends to book fun-loving folk and cover bands.
One of the city’s most beloved Irish pubs invites acts from the genres of jazz, blues, bluegrass, motown, as well as traditional Irish music, to play under their rafters every Friday and Saturday from 9:30pm. Entrance is always free and the drinks are some of the best priced in town. If you’re looking for a casual gig to get the night started this is the place. Now on Sundays evenings they also offer a free live jam session kicking off a 7pm, and hosted by the Plowkings.
C/Marques de Barbera 11
Just off Las Ramblas you can sing along to your favourite Irish folk songs as well as modern pop and rock covers at this bawdy Irish boozer, every Thursday to Sunday night from 11pm. If you want to feel part of the concert this is a great place as the charismatic musicians, friendly atmosphere and opportunity to clap a long to familiar songs means there’s a real audience immersion, all fuelled by plenty of pints of Guinness of course.
C/Santa Monica 2
Some of the best bands in Barna rock the stage at Kennedys Irish bar every Thursday to Sunday, usually kicking off at midnight. Entry is free and, with drinks promos and a friendly international crowd, this is a good place to get the party started. If you fancy heading out after you’re in the right place… the Olympic Port is the city’s nightlife nexus and abounds in clubbing options.
Moll de Mestral 26
Live Flamenco Concerts
One of the most popular activities for travellers is a visit to a traditional flamenco tablao. And whilst this world-famous Spanish music originates from the south of the country, you might be surprised to hear that Barcelona has it’s own flamenco heritage (you can read about it here!). If you’d like to see a show we can recommend two popular activities
A fun and affordable night at an authentic tablao on Plaza Real proves a good chance to make friends with other travellers and cross off two legendary Spanish traditions in one night. The concert is just 30 mins long so a good introduction to the genre, without any fear of you getting too fidgety.
A slightly more formal option, this event takes place in an elegant theatre from the 1920s and guests are invited to dine during the performance, as some of the most renowned artists in Spain demonstrate the meaning of that all elusive duende.
OMG… don’t tell us we’ve omitted your favourite tambourine jam / body-beats artistic improv centre off the list? That won’t do! Just let us know in the comments of any more great places to hear music live in BCN… we’d love to hear your suggestions!
About the Author
Duncan established Barcelona Life in 2009, whilst freelancing for the likes of Conde Nast, The Guardian, Easyjet Magazine, CNN Traveller and many more. From interviews with Ferran Adria to revealing the secrets of the city’s poetry brothels, he knows the city inside out… and shares all his best tips right here.