Cabo San Roque, Barcelona
There are only so many sounds you can get out of two guitars and a drum kit,which is why one band from Barcelona have taken to making their owninstruments - out of everything from old washing machines to paella pans.Featured October 09 Words by Duncan Rhodes
When Gabriel Lopez packed his worldly belongings into a crate and set sail from Montevideo to Barcelona in 1967, he could hardly have guessed the extraordinary fate of his very ordinary wooden trunk. After 34 years of taking up valuable wardrobe space, the dilapidated crate was cast out on the street for disposal, only to be saved from the gutter by a young musician called Roger Aixut, who saw something in the old trunk that its previous owner had not - namely its potential as a resonance box. A clumsily attached neck and some strings later and the retired suitcase was reborn as a double bass, and Roger's first homemade instrument.
"The technique I used to make it was quite rough. At the time I didn't even know how to hang a painting on my wall, let alone make a double bass. But it still sounds good because the size of the crate is perfect," says Roger of his initial experiment. Apart from providing a deep bass twang, by virtue of its shipping tag, the crate also furnished Roger with the name of his fledgling band: Cabo San Roque was the name of the steamer that carried Señor Lopez from Uruguay to Spain all those years ago.
The band first met in Roger's living room in Barcelona in 2001, when, partly through lack of funds and partly as a reaction against the technical virtuosity of their classical training, they started to play on whatever old and toy instruments they could find. Not long after, encouraged by the success of Roger's handiwork, they began to consider any object a potential instrument, so long as they could get a sound out of it. Soon they started to fill a rehearsal space with everything from rusty oil cans to paella pans, with the aim of recycling these undesirable objects into productive members of musical society.
"It was never an environmental question for us," explains Roger. "It's very practical. These are objects that we don't have to buy, because we find them on the street. People know we collect and they give us washing machines, old pianos, sewing machines… whatever!" These pieces of junk (having passed a rigorous selection process) are then taken to the Cabo San Roque workshop where the group painstakingly churn out an assembly line of bizarre and fantastic musical contraptions.
At the eighth annual Day of the Entrepreneur conference in May ("pure musical prostitution," Roger confesses), at least two dozen of these madcap inventions were transported with great difficulty from the band's rehearsal space to the Catalonia Palace of Congresses, where they were put to use in their show Little Music Box. As the group struck their first note, these unlikely looking machines jolted out of their lifeless stupor and noisily whirred into action. Electric cars whizzed around a small oval circuit, twanging the strings of tiny plastic guitars with plectrums fixed to their chassis; a Xylomatic children's toy, powered by an electric motor, plinked happily away on autopilot; and a deft flick of a switch caused two mechanical dogs to start yapping, their legs triggering memorised melodies on those miniature Casio keyboards everyone got for Christmas in the 80s. The resulting medley of sounds was both mechanical and organic and - true to the show's name - the audience was treated to a magical music box, straight from a children's story.
However, just like a nipper who's outgrown his tin soldiers and rocking horse (or Nintendo Wii as the case may be), Roger is keen that the band put away adolescent playthings and embrace a more muscular, industrial sound. Cabo San Roque's latest show, Music from Machine, has moved away from toy town and is based on the mechanical sequences generated by a washing machine powering piano hammers via a bicycle chain. It's an idea that still inspires Roger and, even as you're ordering your inflight baguette, you can be sure the frontman is busy slaving away on his latest contraption - a washing machine that will power a whole orchestra of wind and string instruments via recycled machinery from a defunct cookie factory. It will certainly be interesting to see the neighbours' faces when this particular heap of junk is being loaded into the Cabo San Roque van.
"Whenever we move our instruments from our rehearsal space into the truck, people on the street always ask: "Are you going to throw away that garbage?" And we always reply: "No, we are going to play it.'" www.cabosanroque.com
SAMPLE RECYCLED SOUNDS AROUND THE NETWORK
Małe Instrumenty KRAKOW
Polish for "small instruments", Małe Instrumenty have an impressive collection of pint-sized keyboards, children's drum kits, miniature guitars, flutes and rattles, which they use to create a unique sound. As well as classical and original pieces, the band are known to belt out the odd Red Hot Chili Peppers cover. www.maleinstrumenty.pl
Gemuse Orchestra VIENNA
Not many bands start their performances with a trip to the local fruit and veg market, but that's exactly how the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra prepare for their gigs. Leeks, carrots, celery and the like are drilled and sawed to create instruments, and then after the show, the produce is made into soup to serve to the audience. www.gemueseorchester.org
Resembling something between a circus act and bikers from Mad Max, the Rezikletas theatre troop drive around the streets dressed in oily goggles, helmets and cycling shorts. They ride mobile musical contraptions made entirely of recycled junk, beating bongos and tinkling homemade xylophones. www.myspace.com/rezikletas
WHERE TO STAY IN BARCA
This designer hostel in the heart of trendy but gritty El Raval is the crash-pad of choice for visiting musicians thanks to great rates and graffiti murals. From €49, book at www.hotels.easyJet.com
Sizzle in the sun beside the outdoor pool and then soak up the sounds at the hotel bar followed by the recommended tour of live music venues nearby. From €102, book at www.hotels.easyJet.com
Begin or end your evenings at this hip hotel's legendary nightclub, Omm Session, where groovy visuals complement DJs and live acts. From €189, book at www.hotels.easyJet.com