100s of titles, one news app for just $10 a month.
Dive Deeper:
Eurovision Song Contest: Every winner ranked from worst to best
Sixty-eight songs have claimed the top prize since the competition began in 1956 - and some are a lot better than…
40 years ago, the Falkland-Malvinas War transformed Latin rock
When English-language music was banned in 1982, Spanish-language groups found an opportunity.
Eurovision Song Contest: Every winner ranked from worst to best
Sixty-eight songs have claimed the top prize since the competition began in 1956 - and some are a lot better than…
Mickey Gilley, musician whose club inspired the Travolta film 'Urban Cowboy,' dies at 86
Mickey Gilley, a musician who scored more than three dozen top-10 country hits and whose honky-tonk club inspired the 1980…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
‘Most music comes from really abject origins’: Jarvis Cocker interviewed by Olivia Laing
The pop pioneer talks to the author about his creative education via nightclubs and the dole, his teenage masterplan and…
Final polls roll in as campaign hits home stretch – as it happened
This blog is now closed
Get all your news in one place
Latest Entertainment news:
Margaret Pomeranz Reviewed Byron Baes & I Cannot Stop Watching Her Rip It To Shreds
"One could be forgiven for seeing these characters as soulless superficial rat humans."
Read news from The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more, with one subscription
Learn More
The Barker/Jenner Kids Gave Us Plebs A Peek Into Travis Kourt’s Third (!!!) Wedding
Watching along online is essentially the Pleb Invite to these things.
The Book That Said the Words I Couldn’t Say
As a teen, I didn’t always know how to express myself. A now-forgotten novel helped me find my voice.
Game On: NASA To Develop Virtual Mars Challenge
The space agency is collaborating with Epic Games to create a metaverse experience on the Red Planet. 
You need to watch Pierce Brosnan’s weirdest sci-fi thriller before it leaves HBO Max next week
In 1992, 'The Lawnmower Man' gained notoriety for its groundbreaking VR effects. But, the actual movie is better than just…
From analysis to good news, read the world’s best news in one place
MAFS Stars Visited Karen’s Diner It Resulted In Leaked DMs Cast Members Blocking Each Other
For Olivia, I'm sure visiting Karen's Diner is like the mothership calling her home.
Saturday Night Live: the 10 best sketches from the 47th season
A patchy season still managed some standout sketches including Cecily Strong’s memorable abortion skit and turns from Jason Sudeikis and…

Cod is a DJ! Bakalao, the extreme club scene that divided Spain

By Agnish Ray
Detail from a poster for a club night by the artist Daniel Torres.
Detail from a poster for a club night by the artist Daniel Torres. Photograph: Jose Javier Martinez/Daniel Torres

On carretera de El Saler, a highway leading through the Albufera natural park half an hour from Valencia, the road is flanked by paddy fields growing rice for paella. Tourists ride bikes, and horse-drawn carts plod around the land as I head towards an old barraca, an adobe farmhouse with sloping roofs, traditional in Valencian agriculture.

It is hard to believe that this was once one of Spain’s wildest nightclub scenes, home to bakalao, a relentless Eurodance sound that drew partygoers to Valencia from across the country and beyond. Also known as Ruta Destroy (destroy route), a hint at the scene’s extreme reputation for having it large, mention bakalao to Spaniards today and they are just as likely to go misty-eyed in reminiscence as grimace in disapproval: iconic for some, ill-famed for others, the movement would make but also mar Valencia.

The building I’m standing outside was where it all began, as the nightclub Barraca. At the start of the 80s – while other clubs in Spain played funk, disco and Latin pop – Barraca’s resident DJ Carlos Simó opted for Pink Floyd, Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin and new-wave icons like Ian Dury and Nina Hagen. Simó later tells me about his trips to London, where he would stock up on the latest local sounds; Barraca quickly became a gateway for international music unheard elsewhere in Spain.

Carlos Simó, resident DJ at Barraca in the 1980s
Carlos Simó, resident DJ at Barraca in the 1980s. Photograph: Courtesy of Carlos Simó

“English people would come and say, damn, there’s more English music being played here than in England!” recalls Simó. Come the end of the decade, British bands such as James, Inspiral Carpets, the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays would grace his stage. And it wasn’t just music: a night of revelry at Barraca also included performances by drag queens and experimental theatre groups like Tutú Droguería and Putreplastic. Other clubs opened nearby too, including Chocolate, famed for a more sinister sound; Espiral, which released Dunne, an anthem from the era; and Spook, still one of Valencia’s biggest techno venues.

Driving me along the remains of this epic club crawl, known as La Ruta, is DJ José Conca, who began as resident DJ at Chocolate in the mid-80s. Here, he mixed his favourites from British post-punk – Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees – with industrial rock bands such as Ministry and the electronic sounds of Nitzer Ebb, Renegade Soundwave and Underworld.

“We played everything: electronic music from Miami, industrial music from Chicago,” he recalls, as we approach the venue, a strikingly designed former rice warehouse, where he played for 16 years. “Guitars combined with the most avant garde techno of the time – that wasn’t common.” Before the arrival of Technics decks, it was an electrifying mix.

While Madrid had the La Movida Madrileña (the radical punk wave that birthed Pedro Almodóvar, Alaska and Ouka Leele), La Ruta was Valencia’s own movida. According to Joan Oleaque, author of the book In Ecstasy: Bakalao as Counterculture in Spain, one of this party trail’s triumphs was its social function, uniting disparate urban subcultures. “Punks, skinheads, mods, rockabillies, psychobillies, new romantics – they were all there,” he says.

This movida valenciana is now widely cherished as a time when avant garde artists, designers and musicians rejoiced in the liberty granted after the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975. “Artists could express themselves and be transgressive,” says Simó. “Lots of LGBT people would come here; I had gay and lesbian bar staff. While gay people in the 80s were being called maricón [faggot], we were opening the spectrum, so that all people would feel comfortable and united.” The wider cultural currency of the movement is clear from an exhibition at Valencia’s Institute of Modern Art (Ivam), which is displaying more than 130 posters produced to publicise the nightclubs: cutting-edge pieces of illustration and graphic design that testify to the artistry and creative vision of the community.

By the early 90s, with the proliferation of acid house, trance and new beat, Valencia’s sound was taking on a new flavour and the term bakalao emerged. Valencia’s homegrown musical production had also taken off – notably, Fran Lenaers and his trio Megabeat, whose EBM (electronic body music), synth pop and techno mix made them poster boys for the sound of Valencia – and new independent record labels opened to hawk local material. Among them was Contraseña Records, where Víctor Pérez – now 50 – worked when he entered the scene. He recalls the bonkers journeys between all the nightclubs. “Eight of us in a car, or three of us on a motorbike.” He chuckles incredulously at the days before breathalysers. “We were crazy!” Now, Pérez is organising a festival in honour of the route’s glory days, Homenaje a la Ruta (Homage to the Route), gathering some of its most memorable names.

Among them is Arturo Roger, once headliner at the venue ACTV. “We all had our own styles,” Roger tells me over paella, remembering how each unique flavour helped concoct a mixture that defied straightforward musical categorisation. “Each place had its magic.” At this summer’s festival, he will spin early 90s bangers from across Europe by the likes of U96, Format #1, Inner Planet and Space Master. “What we played here in Valencia wasn’t being played anywhere else, so buses from all over Spain would come here every weekend,” he says. “It was an explosion – I doubt there’ll be anything like it again.”

Promotional poster for the club Chocolate, 1988
Promotional poster for the club Chocolate, 1988. Photograph: Grupo DequeDéque

Foodies with a fondness for the Mediterranean may have spotted that bacalao is Spanish for cod – so how did this edgy party scene acquire its fishy nickname? Some attribute it to a venue with the same name, while others claim it’s because of the music from Britain, where cod is fished in greater abundance than in Valencia’s waters. Today, the term is nebulous, either referring to the high-tempo industrial electro-techno mix known as máquina (machine) that developed in the 90s, or, more generally, to the eclectic diversity of the scene in those golden years. Either way, qué buen bacalao! (“that’s great cod!”) became a common utterance for the distinctive sound of Valencia’s dancefloors.

But as dance music continued to evolve in the early 1990s, so did the scene. “The music became heavy, with fast, thumping beats,” says Simó. “Everything became more commercial.” The bpm sped up, and ecstasy became ubiquitous among the 25,000 people who reportedly arrived every weekend for 72 hours of madness.

Here, La Ruta became bumpy. A 1993 documentary by the broadcaster Canal+ painted a grim picture as it followed busloads of aggressively hyped up youngsters hitting club after club with dilated pupils and grinding teeth; promoters were shown dealing cash in hand and popping pills to stay alert through the weekend. Spain’s parents watched in horror.

Alarmist reactions against club culture were widespread in the 90s and Spain was no exception, with bakalao coming under increasing scrutiny. Road accidents – some fatal – were linked to reckless driving after clubbing at La Ruta; it was feared that litter generated by partygoers in the area risked contaminating the surrounding waters and land.

The musicians of La Ruta, however, feel they were unfairly punished by the media and the political inquisition that ensued to tackle the threat of this out-of-control lifestyle. “They invented a story – one of drugs,” argues Conca. “The quality of the music didn’t interest them. Maybe it was partly out of envy, because Valencia had a movement that Madrid didn’t.”

Pérez agrees that his home town’s insurgence as a new nexus of party culture was a factor in its censure in the Spanish press, mostly run from the capital. “We didn’t have national media here,” he says. “If something happened in Madrid, it got all the coverage. The Movida Madrileña was cool, but we were the bad guys.”

Poster for the club Spook, with artwork by Lola Vázquez, circa 1988.
Poster for the club Spook, with artwork by Lola Vázquez, circa 1988. Photograph: Jose Javier Martinez/Lola Vázquez/Colección de Armando Silvestre y Elisa Ayala

Amid negative publicity in Spain, some were exporting bakalao abroad – including Carol McCloskey, one half of the Eurodance duo Double Vision, who moved to Valencia from Dublin aged 20, living La Ruta from its beginning. She and her collaborator Pedro Cerveró topped the charts in Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands in the mid-90s with tracks such as Knockin’ and All Right, spreading the word about what McCloskey describes as Valencia’s “cathedral of freedom”.

“It was revolutionary,” she says. “The pulse here was strong; everybody was buzzing – I think that was reflected in the music. We went all around Europe doing shows but we were carrying Valencia with us.”

With La Ruta’s car parks packed every weekend, many came with their own drinks and sound systems to keep the party alive outdoors in between the clubs – a custom known as parkineo. As authorities cracked down on road safety and outdoor raves, driving out here for wild weekends became increasingly unfeasible, which meant this scene’s days were numbered.

The Stone Roses at Barraca
The Stone Roses at Barraca. Photograph: Courtesy of Contra Ediciones/All rights reserved

But La Ruta is back on the agenda: as well as Ivam’s exhibition and the Homenaje a la Ruta festival, television producer Atresmedia is making a drama series based on life in these fabled nightclubs to air later this year, hopefully further vindicating the cultural merit of a much-vilified movement.

“There were no problems; there were no fights,” insists McCloskey. “Everyone was chucked in the soup; we were all mixed together and it was fabulous. It was all about music, art and freedom – we who lived it know how special it was.”

Ruta Gráfica: Designs for the Sound of Valencia is at Ivam until 12 June; Homenaje a la Ruta takes place on 18 June in Benidorm and 9 July in Valencia

What is inkl?
The world’s most important news, from 100+ trusted global sources, in one place.
Morning Edition
Your daily
news overview

Morning Edition ensures you start your day well informed.

No paywalls, no clickbait, no ads
Enjoy beautiful reading

Content is only half the story. The world's best news experience is free from distraction: ad-free, clickbait-free, and beautifully designed.

Expert Curation
The news you need to know

Stories are ranked by proprietary algorithms based on importance and curated by real news journalists to ensure that you receive the most important stories as they break.

Dive Deeper:
Eurovision Song Contest: Every winner ranked from worst to best
Sixty-eight songs have claimed the top prize since the competition began in 1956 - and some are a lot better than…
40 years ago, the Falkland-Malvinas War transformed Latin rock
When English-language music was banned in 1982, Spanish-language groups found an opportunity.
Eurovision Song Contest: Every winner ranked from worst to best
Sixty-eight songs have claimed the top prize since the competition began in 1956 - and some are a lot better than…
Mickey Gilley, musician whose club inspired the Travolta film 'Urban Cowboy,' dies at 86
Mickey Gilley, a musician who scored more than three dozen top-10 country hits and whose honky-tonk club inspired the 1980…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
‘Most music comes from really abject origins’: Jarvis Cocker interviewed by Olivia Laing
The pop pioneer talks to the author about his creative education via nightclubs and the dole, his teenage masterplan and…
Final polls roll in as campaign hits home stretch – as it happened
This blog is now closed
Get all your news in one place