It is no news that I lived in Barcelona and that time proved life-changing in all the aspects from personal to professional. This blog itself was mostly abandoned during that time save for some personal notes here and there and the twist of content is palpable. It is no news either that, as with most people with life-changing experiences, there is music associated to it. As I grew up during those years, so did my knowledge and taste in music. My moving out of that city was somewhat abrupt and, as has been noted to me, it was followed by a thing called pandemic that prevented a full processing and closure of all the memories and experiences during that time. Thus I had been ruminating the idea of making a playlist of those four years of my life for a while. And earlier this week I said, what the hell have I been waiting for?
Thus, ‘I remember Barcelona’ was born.
Have you seen or heard that meme saying something like ‘my playlist randomly ranges from upbeat chiptunes to cringey pop from the 00s to life-sucking obscure doomer electronica’? I guess this playlist is the attempt to arrange that chaos and to understand where it comes from. In the beginning I thought of simply adding songs all together without any structure or to make a small, curated selection of let’s say one song per month (which still would be a very long playlist). In reality, that does not represent very well the songs and the types of music that I listened, and the impact they had on me. I started by throwing together all of the songs that I had in favourites ranging from my earliest spotify favs (~2018) up to late 2019. Although I tend to listen to ‘old’ and ‘new’ music the same, there were a lot of songs from 2015 to 2017 that were not in my favourites (at the time of writing this, I keep adding one or two songs a day). As I started adding songs, I realised I was looking for them the way I remembered them; that is, in a chronological order. Thus it was clear: I would make a playlist that ranges different times of my life. And as I arranged the playlist, I started noticing very interesting things. Not one but many narratives started to unfold.
Mid-2015 to end of summer 2016
It is very interesting to see my change of taste and my expansion towards other music genres. The first twenty or thirty songs date back to my first months when I arrived, which roughly match with the discovery of synthwave and vaporwave music (as if it was not clear enough that I am a late-to-the-party type of guy). I also watched Cowboy Bebop for the first time around that time. If memory serves well, I do think I had already discovered and embraced the music of Nujabes, explaining some of his songs are also around that time. Some vivid memories of specific things (a trip to Madrid by bus, chatting with my labmates in the office about music) have also some associated songs, including DWTD, In Flames, YellowCard and Mac DeMarco. And then I got one of the best news during that year as I was selected for a scholarship to do the PhD. That summer is full of upbeat songs, and it marks the end of a ‘time’.
But besides that there are a bunch of very depressing songs scattered around the playlist, including that summer of 2016, as I was basically low-key depressed and grieving and brooding all around when I wasn’t excited exploring the world and doing science. One could say that the songs by Foster The People lie in there, as well as the OST of Hyper Light Drifter and the more edgy songs of Hotline Miami. I also watched Ergo Proxy again (after perhaps six or seven years) during that time. There’s more synthwave, a bit sadder as I say, and we enter a short time of concentration music during my office hours in the PhD including Jan Jelinek and Monolake. Most of this I was listening it through YouTube and not spotify.
For some reason I reached another level of cynicism and darkening as I formally dove into the lore and fandom of Dark Souls in Autumn 2016. I think it has to do with the parallelism between the existentialism and complexity of those games, and the natural complexity of the adult world. That lingering feeling was accompanied also by immense cheerfulness singing in Oasis and Blur songs in bars, and talking about music with my colleagues. And with my own trials at making music myself. Those christmas were very nice; I had no idea what an incredible year was ahead of me. And I had even less idea of how utterly twisted the year after, 2018, would be.
Early 2017 to Summer 2017
We jump to the early months of 2017 and I keep making music and working very hard in my PhD. I wrote a very nice post about that, and the music around that time has a calm feel to it (together with some songs that I would listen and later sample). A bit later we hit a second level of ‘waking up call’ ala Dark Souls but I haven’t been able to find the corresponding music on Spotify. Except for one: I remember one night when a good friend of mine and I went clubbing and we stayed up until 8AM. Opus by Eric Prydz was playing that night. It was a ‘party hard, forget hard’ night. I started traveling, too. I went to the Basque Country, to Madrid on two more occasions, and to a number of countries. It really felt like I was learning constantly.
Summer is approaching. I made some new friends, started simping around as I would do in an attempt to drown my depression, but it is not time for that. All in all, even if I had some lingering trauma, it would be a lie to say I didn’t have the most fun during that part of my time in Barcelona. I discovered a bunch of Deep House artists, went to my first music festival ever and watched Mogwai live. And, just like that, I made a quick-trip to Finland. And just like that, too, I got to visit Prague. And, just like that too, I got my visa cleared to travel to Japan later that year. That summer was bliss; and we enter now the second-most important time of those years.
I mean, what can I say. I already talked about Japan in another post and just as I said then, all I can say is it felt like a dream you don’t want to wake up from. This part of the playlist is full of songs that either were on my playlist at that time, or that I have always listened longing for an adventure such as Japan. And of course Nujabes is at the heart of it. Together with Washed Out, some Jpop and Vaporwave, Nujabes made for the main driver during the time there. There is something really moving about his music, the melancholy of his melodies, the amalgamation of inspirations in dozens of other genre and cultures, that hit the nostalgia and imagination from when I was younger just right. I have deep feelings and memories about those days and the places I visited, the people I knew and the things I did; and the best way to convey them is through that music. But Japan could not last forever, and the comeback felt strange. I had somewhat conflicting feelings about my life here, and the bliss of the time in Japan did nothing but help my lingering stuff to raise to the surface. I felt extremely nostalgic about those days in Japan. And I still do at the end of every summer. I think I forever will, one way or another. It always comes back. Just like Nujabes’ music.
I finished that year full of great memories, not knowing what lied ahead of me.
First half of 2018
Unwillingly, another playlist shaped the most part of that year that was starting. And that is the repertoire for Primavera Sound 2018. This explains the burst of new types of music and my continuous turning around hip hop, indie, pop, and electronic things. This forth and back between genres also shows how chaotic my decisions were turning; as in a coming-of-age story, this is the part where all goes to shit and I am at my lowest. Upbeat and cheerfulness from Ross From Friends and Ween is intertwined with heavy, dramatic electronica from Bicep and Carpenter Brut, and uttermost depression with Frank Ocean, Beach House, Dj Seinfeld —and Nils Frahm. I had (and made) a 180-turn around to my life that had me listening to ‘Swim Good’ over fifty times in three days, and this is also showcased by the aforementioned, heavy-melodic music. The ups-and-downs lasted for the totality of spring and summer, involving heartbreak, grief, loss, anger, apathy, addiction (in a way), cognitive dissonance, wanting to ‘feel alive’. I think some people call this depression.
Autumn 2018 to December 2019
At least I had one good idea at the end of summer, a last grasp to reason that proved to save me. In the playlist this is represented by Gut’s theme, the only song in the playlist that I had not discovered at the time, but I might have as well anyway. Because it is the only one capable of conveying what I felt at that time, of conveying that turning point. This time, for the better. Because at this moment, just by listening to the playlist you can tell something changed. Sufjan Stevens, the Indie Pop folkloric girls, Kate Bush, korean chill-pop… another expansion of my musical horizons, brought by new things and new people that arrived to stay. Because of how it ties to everything, I would argue this is the most important thing that ever happened to me in Barcelona. A healing process that began in autumn 2018 and still lasts, to this day. A number of things related to the end of the PhD can also be felt in the playlist –the monastery music to write papers, the upbeat during the summer of 2019 to power through the final writing, the relaxed reversions of previous songs from the playlist as a reprise to things that were left unfinished, and wounds left unhealed.
The end of my time in Barcelona was so contemplative. To the point that I have found no better way to close the playlist than with increasingly mellow and calm songs. And with a final guitar song that I discovered on a cloudless evening as I made my way back home from work by bike, by the sea.
When I finished making the playlist, I had the feeling that this was something I had pending to do. It felt like when you finished a chore that you had been neglecting for a long time. Something that had to be taken care of. Did I learn anything? I think so. I think it is important to sort your memories in order to indirectly process and bring closure to things that have had an impact on you. I also learned you can create a very good reconstruction of the thoughts, feelings, mood and state of mind of a person just by sorting that music. You can learn a lot of how things like new friendships, concerts, movies, videogames, heartbreaks and whatever you can think of, can (and surely will) have an impact in that person and in their musical taste. And watching that reconstruction, that depiction of a person slowly transform and evolve feels amazingly natural just by listening to those songs in order. I would really, really like to see the playlists of other people.
If you ever listen to it, I hope you enjoy it! Now it’s time to do the same with the pictures, I guess.