Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

Illegal downloading and the Spanish live music scene

Por: | 22 de noviembre de 2011

Anna Calvi Red+gold 2 July 2011 credit Emma Nathan

It will probably come as no surprise that Spain has one of the worst performing music industries in the entire world. According to figures from international record label body the IFPI, the value of record sales in Spain fell 21% last year, the biggest drop in any of the world’s top 20 music markets.

It was a result that meant the Spanish music industry fell out of the global top ten for the first time ever, dropping to eleventh.

And yet outside of the shrunken Spanish music industry it is hard to find anyone in Spain who really cares: Spanish consumers seem OK with the idea of downloading everything from software to films from P2P sites and actually buying music has almost dropped off the radar.

It’s not hard to see why: the Spanish government has done little to try to crack down on piracy and most Spanish people I talk to think their actions have little impact on a music industry that is far away from their every-day lives.

But – without wanting to go into the moral whys and wherefores of copyright law - there is one important area where the impact of piracy is often forgotten in Spain: live music.

Away from the stadium-filling likes of Coldplay and U2, touring is an expensive business. It varies from band to band, of course, but I’d estimate that most bands don’t make money from touring until they hit venues of around 5,000 capacity.

So who’s going to pay for the others? Traditionally it was the record companies who would pay tour support, with the idea that they would make their money back from the added record sales a tour would bring.

But if an artist is unlikely to sell records in Spain – and it now only takes about 13,000 sales to top the charts here – why would a record company support their tour?

The answer is: they won’t. Record companies are hardly in the most vibrant of health and can ill afford to prop up a loss-making tour that won’t bring in any sales. And this will inevitably result in fewer new international bands coming to Spain.

This is not to say all is lost: Barcelona, where I live, has a vibrant live music scene. But much of it is either club-based – a DJ or electronic act travelling alone has far lower costs than a full live band – or sponsored by alcohol companies.

Anna Calvi’s excellent gig at the Sala KGB in September was part of the Heineken Music Selector initiative, for example, while Estrella Damm brought a number of Belgian acts to the Razzmatazz in August.

So what’s the problem?

Well, if you’re happy with local acts or only want to see up-and-coming live bands from around the world play once a year then there really isn’t one. Spain has excellent music festivals, with Sonar, Benicassim and Primavera Sound among Europe’s best, while local bands can often be found playing intriguingly dingy venues in most Spanish cities.

Equally, if you’re content to rely on beer companies to decide which new bands are best, then you have nothing to fear.

But I can’t help thinking that it’s a shame that in such a musical country as Spain – and in my experience you’re far more likely to find people who play instruments here than in the UK – punters will never be able to see some of the most interesting up-and-coming bands in a small, sweaty club when they are just on the cusp of success. A stadium or festival gig simply can’t compete.

What’s more, there can be something magical about the impact of a live band that are doing something really new and different, an experience that will often inspire members of the audience to form their own groups, setting off a wave of musical activity.

Think about the Sex Pistols’ legendary gig at Manchester's Lesser Free Trade Hall in June 1976, for example, which inspired Joy Division, The Fall and Morrissey to form their own bands. No gig, arguably no Smiths.

Then there is the simple matter of civic pride: Barcelona has a population of about 1.6 million – more than twice the size of Manchester. But Manchester’s live music scene would put Barcelona’s to shame. Even that of Norwich (population 125,000 – and where I grew up) would rival the Catalan capital for up-and-coming international bands.

And that can’t be right. Unless, of course, you want Spain to be known just for football, beaches and sun.

Merkel in La Moncloa

Por: | 04 de noviembre de 2011

Rubalcaba and Rajoy
Just under four years ago, nobody heard Zapatero promising cutbacks or austerity, and it is far from clear that Spain's Socialist leader knew what a country's risk premium was. Well, who did? Oh, yeah, those guys knew - you know, the ones who are running the show.
No, in March 2008 the impeccably third-way government in Madrid had done its homework, running a budget surplus and still being able to give away baby bonds and implement other more meaningful measures to augment Spain's patchy welfare state. There seemed to be a clear choice when the then-unfashionably austere televised debates (why can't a real TV journalist do it instead of the venerable president of the Television Academy?) took place between Zapatero and the Popular Party's Rajoy: market-based social democracy against unabashed neoliberalism. Zapatero won again and then we all woke up.
This time around, many Spaniards must feel a little foolish choosing between Zapatero's Socialist successor Rubalcaba or third-time-lucky Rajoy. Couldn't one just cut out the middle man and vote directly for Merkel, Murdoch or the CEO of Moody's? While Spain has so far avoided a bailout, this was only achieved by Zapatero's disturbingly dramatic conversion to market orthodoxy in May of last year, when his government's Keynesian knee-jerk was converted overnight into a sycophantic promise to square the state's sums by carving away at public employees' salaries, pensions and even the flagship Equality Ministry, binned to save a pittance. So what choice do voters have this time? No wonder the PP is way in the lead; in this environment, isn't it better to send someone who has always liked markets to go and do battle with the men in suits?
Earlier this year in Portugal, the center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) came to power... (wrong expression) ...won the right to administrate the IMF-dictated budget after a European Union-arranged bailout that the same party had helped to bring about. As opposition leader, Pedro Passos Coelho refused to back Socialist PM Sócrates' austerity package which was to shave 4.5 percent off GDP over three years. Sócrates resigned, there was a run on Portugal's downgraded sovereign debt, and before the election was held in early June a 78-billion-euro bailout package was agreed to by Lisbon, Brussels and Washington. Passos Coelho emerged as the "victor" with a glorious mandate to captain the wreck that is the Portuguese economy as it is towed along by the masters of international capital.
In last month's 2012 budget proposal, Passos Coelho's government announced that the imperative of meeting externally imposed deficit-reduction targets means that GDP will shrink by 2.8 percent next year. So what has the ousting of Sócrates amounted to for the electorate? If within this legislature the EU/IMF medicine actually starts to work for the Portuguese, rather than just in the interests of the euro-zone leaders, he can take credit for it. If not, Passos Coelho will no doubt blame the mess he inherited - except that he helped to engineer the crisis. 
As in Spain today, there was no real choice; the policy path had already been laid down. To be fair, Rajoy has not played so foully for the crown. True, he refused to vote in favor of a pension freeze and civil service pay cuts, measures which he would be perfectly sanguine about implementing in the same circumstances. But Zapatero relied on Catalan and Basque nationalists to force down such bitter pills in his stubborn rearguard fight against outside intervention. It is a battle no one could have expected ZP, the champion of gay marriage and ministerial gender equality, to wage with such determination; to his credit, it seems that Spain will reach November 20 without the need for an external rescue package. But it has ripped the heart out of the Socialists to the extent that not even the skillful hands of Rubalcaba will be able to beautify the party's electoral cadaver.
Outside the parliaments in Lisbon and Madrid, the words "não" and "no" are ringing in the ears of representatives that the protestors say no longer represent the people. Here, in the cooperative spirit of collectivized camp-outs and open debates, there is the germ of a new politic, far from Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington. What began in Madrid's Sol is now occupying Wall Street. How many more non-elections like the one in Spain this month will pass by before these new voices gain representation?   
Photographs by Uly Martín and Armando Franca (AP)

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