Trip to the countercultural Barcelona of the seventies

In the seventies a plot was hatched from the margins of Barcelona. It was the plan of a generation to subvert late-Franco Spanish society. The more tolerance the regime showed, the more noise of change came from the hidden corners of the city. Young adventurers and libertarians, without fear of testing the limits of creation and thought, projected “an alternative vision in a grungy and carca society”, says the writer David Castillo in one of the most prominent catalogs of this 2021. It is about Underground and counterculture in the Catalonia of the 70 , a book that collects the artistic and intellectual material of the homonymous exhibition organized this year at the Palau Robert, in Barcelona.

Pepe Ribas, coordinator of the magazine Ajoblanco and curator of the exhibition, heads the list of protagonists of that moment who write and illustrate the Catalogue. It was a revolution that triumphed, Ribas explained in an interview last August in EL PAÍS, because many of the social transformations that have occurred in democracy were put into practice at that time. Feminism, environmentalism, a family that wants to break with violent patriarchy, diverse sexual identities …

Although the seed of all that could be found in the movement hippy , the counterculture of the seventies takes him to the trench, at the forefront of combat, the city, as the writer Julià Guillamon pointed out in the first pages of La ciutat interrompuda : “In the early seventies many of the protagonists of the pilgrimage to Formentera and Ibiza returned to Barcelona and left their past hippy . There they meet a new generation that has made the city their natural space. Between and 1975 the city becomes a center in which it is experienced in all fields of creation. ”

Portada de la revista 'Star' ideada por Montxo Algora.
Cover of the magazine ‘Star’ devised by Montxo Algora.

The catalog and the exhibition end with the emergence of punk in the eighties. This musical movement, Ribas summed up, is underground but it is not countercultural because it is “nihilistic”, it is a revolt of the self against a system that leaves suburban youth without opportunities: In punk there was no proposal for a social alternative.

EL PAÍS has selected eight icons that synthesize that subversion in the decade of transition between Francoism and democracy. “Did we lose?” Castillo wonders in the catalog; His answer is no: “The revolution was made, but privately. The customs changed extraordinarily, and so fast that nobody noticed it because the change was right in front of us. ”

‘ California Trip ‘

At first it was a book. Kairós, Salvador Pániker’s essay publisher, published in 1970 California Trip , by ´María José Ragué, “the bible of the Spanish counterculture”, said Ribas in 2019 to El Mundo on the occasion of the death of the author, a theater critic of the newspaper. California Trip is a selection of encounters by the writer with referents of cultural, social and political movements in the United States. Ragué and Luis Racionero, then her husband, settled for two years in San Francisco. From there Ragué obtained testimonies such as that of the poet Allen Ginsberg: “We are conditioned by a circle of money, machine, car, bank, television, family, office, plane that does not lets see the circle of existence.

The voices and reflections that California Trip transferred to Spain served as fuel for the transformation that had to take place. Ragué contributed echoes of the future, like these lines from the first chapter: “Unlike the revolutions of the past, the metamorphosis we are experiencing will have neither charismatic leaders nor strident doctrines, but its impact will be deeper and more subtle. The generators of these changes are the computers , and the new electronic means of communication that are altering the customs, social structure and values ​​of our culture. ”

The communes

The decade began with the push of several urban communes where referents of the countercultural vanguard coincided. They drank from this community life already consolidated in rural areas and, above all, in the Balearic Islands. But the choice of Barcelona as a space for underground combat meant that the experience had to gain relevance in the city. In 1969 highlighted the commune that they had founded on Tibidabo on musician Pau Riba and Mercè Pastor. The police closed it in 1970 and the couple moved to Formentera .

The world also revolved in Casa Fullà, the building designed by young architects Óscar Tusquets and Lluís Clotet. Conceived as an experimental building for residents to socialize with each other, at Casa Fullà, in the Guinardó neighborhood, cultural names such as Pau Maragall, Joan Brossa, Marta Pessarrodona, Anna Briongos, Victòria Combalia or Víctor Jou passed. In Comerç street there was in 1974 the commune of El Rrollo enmascarado , a comic banned by the Francoist authorities. Its creators lived there, organized their saraos and worked in communion. There were Nazario, the Farriol brothers and Javier Mariscal as prominent names. They then briefly moved to a farmhouse rented by Mariscal in Ibiza. “With the record collection of the Farriol and Enric Segura brothers, while we were working we could listen to the most modern music at full blast,” recalls Nazario in the catalog: “The days and nights followed one another with the only meal times, the dances in the London Bar or in the Opera Café and then in Zeleste, where we got some rooms by devising sets for performances. ”

Pau Riba en el festival Canet Rock de 1975.
Pau Riba at the Canet festival Rock by 1975. Pep Rigol


In the commune of Casa Fullà, the future businessman Víctor Jou conceived the idea of ​​Zeleste. Jou and his colleagues wanted to reproduce London music venues where musicians played close to the public and interaction was facilitated. Quickly, the Sala Zeleste on Argenteria street, in the Born neighborhood, became the reference space for musical creation of the moment with Jaume Sisa, Pau Riba, the Companyia Elèctrica Dharma or Gato Pérez at the helm. It was El Gato who baptized the movement in Zeleste as “layetana music”, a collective trend with multiple styles: from jazz to new folk or psychedelia, from progressive rock to rumba.

Zeleste was also a record company with Edigsa, responsible for releasing emblematic albums such as the return of Sisa, Qualsevol nit pot sortir el sol , in 1975. The mythical album was presented in 1974 in Zeleste accompanied by the collective of cartoonists by El Rrollo, who illustrated the album with the comic Diploma d’Honor.


The Comic was one of the areas in which the most schemes were broken. The audacity in the content and in the line that emerged in the seventies was unheard of in Spain and also attracted international attention. The nuisance to Francoism and the change of regime had as flag bearers magazines such as Please or El Papus , but who were further were the underground and among them Nazario Luque was the paradigm. Perhaps his most iconic creation is the cover for Comix magazine by 1976 dedicated to Take on the wild side by Lou Reed. A man who looks like a cyborg and sucks on leather staring at you on a seedy street. The illustration was so powerful that Reed used it for album cover Live: Take no prisoners .

Underground and Counterculture Exhibition

Nazario pushed the system to the limit on many occasions, such as with the comic La Piraña Divina , kidnapped by justice, which brought the end of the Franco regime to the extremes of freedom of expression that the arrival of democracy required. It was the summer of 1975 and Nazario himself was in charge of selling self-published copies in the Canet Rock festival. In The Divine Piranha appears San Reprimonio, whose phallus is preserved by the Vatican in Rome, who miraculously ejaculates every Saturday night.

Nazario describes in the catalog of the Palau Robert exhibition the atmosphere from which those missiles came out against the “grimy and carca” society pointed out by Castillo, the one from the draftsmen’s commune on Comerç Street: “We lived practically at night , we drew super highs of marijuana, centimins, bustaids and minilips, which caused hysterics, races, hallucinations and crazy creations that disappeared the next day with a hangover. ”

From LSD to heroin

“Do you want to know when is that I see / between an almost spectral grayness / a vague light that turns on softly. / And a thousand clouds of colors / that can be touched with the hands / a thousand effects of water and light, a thousand soft tones, / as in a film from Hollywood? ”. Al matí a trenc d’alba was in 1969 the first Catalan psychedelic song, ensures Underground and counterculture . The author, Pau Riba, described a trip with LSD. Drugs were an inseparable part of the countercultural revolt, as it had been in the hippy movement. But the experimentation went further.

LSD was the psychedelic substance that transformed creation in the sixties and that opened the doors to the search for new substances in the seventies. In the catalog coordinated by Ribas, LSD is spoken of as “the sacrament” that allowed “what begins in the individual to be projected in everything that surrounds him”. The book presents a key figure in this trip, the artist and activist Damià Escuder: “For the culture of LSD and horse riding in Catalonia, Escuder’s contribution to the magazines Serra d’Or and Presència . Escuder was the guru of Pau Riba, Sisa and Pau Malvido. ”

The influence of drugs in the 1970s ended with the heroin shock. “It was not just another substance”, underlines Underground and counterculture in the Catalonia of the 70 : “Some saw it as a counterrevolutionary drug that represented nihilism. Others considered it an extreme and transgressive substance; Perhaps that is why they used it as a balm to alleviate anxiety about multiple disappointments, including the impossibility of creating a real alternative.


The proliferation of ideas and experiences catalyzed a rich ecosystem of countercultural magazines . Of all, Ajoblanco was the one that achieved the highest quorum and intellectual influence. The number one of the magazine appeared in 1974 with a team formed by Pepe Ribas, Toni Puig, Ana Castellar, Quim Monzó, Luis Racionero, Albert Abril, Clau di Montañá and the designs of Cesc Serrat. “1. Because we don’t want a culture of jerks . 2. Because we are already fed up with divinities, priesthoods and industrial-culturalist elites. 3. Because we want to intervene, provoke, facilitate and use a creative culture. 4. Because we are still utopians ”. These were the first points of the founding manifesto of Ajoblanco .

That 1974 was born Star , the other major magazine of the time. Founded and directed by Juanjo Fernández until his disappearance in 1980, Star suffered multiple sanctions for its radical style and theme. In Star was published Nosotros los malditos , a series of articles by Pau Maragall —or Pau Malvido, his creative name— that they raised a kind of notarial act of the counterculture in Barcelona. “Now that magazines talk so much about youth movements, hippies , anarchists and community members, we, who already have more than 25 years and what we form part of the first Barcelona tribes of hippies and freaks , we want to explain some things to hesitate to locals and strangers ”. Thus began the first text of We the damned .

White garlic

The libertarian utopia

Barcelona, says the artist Juan Bufill, it was in 1977 “the world capital of the libertarian utopia” . Remember Bufill in the catalog that some 300. 000 people participated in July of that year in a CNT rally on the Montjuic mountain. “But the old anarchist guard is on another planet, in another era,” says Bufill. A few days later the Libertarian Days would be held, with the CNT forming part of the organization, but also other groups such as Ajoblanco. In the now defunct Salón Diana theater and Güell park, among other spaces, debates and artistic expressions took place for four days, in a revolutionized atmosphere of break with Francoism. Names such as Noam Chomsky and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Sisa and Fernando Fernán Gómez participated.

“The extreme liberation” of the libertarian days, in Bufill’s words, was the culmination of the recovery of the neighborhood libertarian athenaeums, “a culture that investigates reality to transform it, based on active and anti-authoritarian pedagogy and that tends to suppress the division between manual and intellectual work,” noted Javier Losilla in Ajoblanco. “The neighborhood associations distrust,” says the catalog, “because they lose control and see the communist hegemony in danger.”

Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas were the agora of the Barcelona counterculture, the artery where the pulse was made visible to the system. “Going to La Rambla became a ritual, everything came together there”, evokes one of the components of Ajoblanco , Fernando Mir: “It was the place to stay, meet, do plans, talk about projects that are often inordinate, establish contacts, get jobs, flirt ”. It was in Las Ramblas where Nazario, Ocaña and Guijarro were arrested and attacked by the police in 1978 for one of his famous street performances ; is where cartoonist Pepichek challenged censorship in 1974 in Pauperrimus comix ; It is also where disenchantment with the first steps towards democracy led to demonstrations and clashes with the security forces.

Ilustración de Las Ramblas según Pepichek, exhibida en el Palau Robert.
Illustration of Las Ramblas according to Pepichek, exhibited in Palau Robert. A.GARCIA (EFE)

The decade It ended with a few Ramblas that gave way to a criminal landscape and an atmosphere of mistrust. The libertarian experience, this is the conclusion of Underground and counterculture , ends precisely with the arrival of democracy and the triumph of the individual against the collective utopia. It was also on the outskirts of Las Ramblas where Pau Maragall died, in 1994, of a heroin overdose . Maragall was one of the engines, and at the same time the victim, of a movement that changed Spain; a country, as he wrote, in which, in the face of a dying dictatorship, society “was forced to somehow go through everything. To pass everything quietly, in any corner ”. Until the youngest of the Maragalls and his generation hit the gas.

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