BARCELONA, A CITY UNDERGROUND
If Ibiza and Formentera were destinations of the international counterculture from the first moment, and Seville gave birth to the first psychedelic music with that particular mix of flamenco and the rock sounds coming from the American military bases, it was Barcelona where the underground blossomed and reached its full potential.
Palau Robert, in Barcelona, hosts a comprehensive exhibition of this time, The Underground and the Counterculture in Catalonia in the 1970s: A Recognition. It contains over 700 items and provides an exhaustive and hitherto unseen perspective on the central figures and social and cultural movements of a crucial era. This exhibition remembers events which were very important but have been the focus of little study. It is also testimony by the people who took part and may help us to understand part of our time.
Since the mid 1960s, and especially during the 1970s, young people, lost their fear to be free. They did so individually, but also, and above all, collectively, sharing their personal concerns and establishing common goals. They opened up to the experience conveyed by young people from California, New York, London or Amsterdam, and found new ways of relating to each other and to the world. Life was not a party, but they fought to make it one through music, theater, poetry, comics, magazines, radio, university, free love, ecology, experimentation with psychedelics, spirituality, and the revival of popular traditions.
A new type of youth emerged in American society in the 1960s, whose influence was felt in the rest of the world. These young people had an acute critical awareness and experienced a revolution in values that was known as the counterculture.
There was an urgent existential need to escape the clutches of authoritarianism at a time of rock and roll, counterculture, and the events of May 1968 in France. It wasn’t easy. Those involved paid a high price in terms of worry, fines, kidnappings, beatings, trials and arrests. However, imagination and enthusiasm succeeded in breaking down walls of all kinds.
The experiment with freedom encouraged physical encounters, associations, journeys, and shared spaces that may seem unlikely today. Popular music was renewed through folk, progressive rock, and the Laietana music scene; theater companies were established and revolutionized the scene by incorporating mime, mask, the grotesque, bodily expression, and wit. No matter how many times the path was blocked, art merged with life. That boldness and that complete break with social norms multiplied the poetic thirst and the need to share experiences. Underground comix emerged, acting like shrapnel against the oppressed brain. Spaces of freedom opened up, where people could meet, talk and listen to music.
Not only was there a struggle to normalize sexuality, feminism, and gay rights, alternative medicine, the environment, renewable energy, organic farming… In psychiatry, people fought to put an end to electric shock therapies and asylums. Many fled authoritarian families to share housing and set up communes. Ramblas, a promenade in Barcelona, became a public forum, where people could meet freely, with no need for telephones. Counterculture magazines with no grants or advertising were published, as well as a vast array of fanzines and poetry collections.
People explored other ways of life that made possible many of the attitudes and civil rights that we enjoy in our everyday lives today, without realizing that they have an origin and that nothing is like it was before 1968.
This exhibition is curated by Pepe Ribas, the co-founder of Ajoblanco one of the seminal magazines in the underground movement, in collaboration with Canti Casanovas, the man behind the blog La Web Sense Nom and a leading scholar on the counterculture in Barcelona.
The Underground and the Counterculture in Catalonia in the 1970s: A Recognition, will run until March 6th, 2022, at Palau Robert, Barcelona.