Sonorama: preserving the essence of indie in wine country

Ribera del Duero festival's success runs parallel with that of many music stars

For the last 14 years, in the middle of August, Javier Ajenjo has been uncorking his own particular vintage of pop-rock. Sonorama, a music festival that last weekend attracted 40,000 visitors to Aranda de Duero, the capital of the Ribera del Duero wine region, functions as a kind of training ground through which dozens of Spanish groups passed before their names and songs were savored by the masses. "We are committed to Spanish music," Ajenjo explains. "We have become almost like goldsmiths, searching for the perfect balance to get the best festival. We don't need to make money - we just don't want Sonorama to lose its essence."

In the festival's communal dining room you can sample a little sip of that essence. Musician Nacho Vegas is trying to eat a paella as producer Paco Loco cracks jokes. Zaragozan group Tachenko waves hello and he works out the schedule so as not to miss Bigott and Los Campesinos!. "I think I have come to Sonorama seven times," the Asturian musician calculates. "I like it because I have grown with it and I have seen it evolve. What's more, it has something different; it is set up by some friends who like music and don't have that boring business approach of the others."

"We don't need to make money, we just don't want Sonorama to lose its essence"

Tachenko was the first of Vegas' buddies to take to the stage on Friday, playing new tracks such as No quiero sonar moderno (or, I don't want to sound modern). "This festival, even though we're a bit old now, reaffirms you," says the group's singer, Sergio Vinade. "Our first reference was Benicàssim, but it has lost all its identity. That's why it's now Sonorama, which has kept on supporting Spanish groups."

A few hours before, among the barrels signed by acts that have passed through, Nacho Vegas and the guys from Triángulo de Amor Bizarro had drunk to rock 'n' roll in the Neo wine bar, owned by Ajenjo. "We like playing here because of the place, the nature and the enthusiasm of the people," says Triángulo guitarist Rodrigo. The band had won over the crowd with songs from their second work Año santos on the first day of the festival on Thursday.

At the same time, in the center of Aranda, Fuel Fandango were filling the Plaza del Trigo. "This stage has become the most precious treasure among the bands," explains Ajenjo. Vetusta Morla and Russian Red played here before prevailing on the Spanish indie scene - a genre that, along with the festival, has gained visibility in recent years. "The plaza is amazing," says Sex Museum and Coronas guitarist Fernando Pardo. This year the groups Medelia, Dinero and Mucho are all fighting for a place on the launch pad.

As night falls, the public awaits a reunion with Mallorcan group Sexy Sadie. The 90s band broke up four years ago and on Friday evening got back together to play some of their greatest hits. One of their members, Javier García, creator of the project Sr. Nadie, is working on Amaral's latest album.

Los Campesinos!, from Wales, are the first international act to take to the stage and one of "the pearls" of the festival, according to Ajenjo. Of the 110 bands playing over the four days, only five were from outside of Spain. "We would never be able to enter into a money war for a group because we work logically and discerningly. We don't pay crazy amounts," Ajenjo explains.

The festival philosophy is very much about "lowcost" and its entrance fee - 50 euros going up to 70 euros the week before it starts - has not gone up since the beginning. That's why the event is not at risk from political changes - of its one-million-euro budget, only 60,000 euros comes from public funds, with the rest provided by private sponsors such as the Ribera del Duero Denomination of Origin wine-industry association. Another of the festival's qualities is that the schedules do not overlap, so none of the 10,000 people who pass through the main enclosure each day had a reason to miss Rinôçerôse on Saturday or Teenage Fanclub on Sunday.

That day, the closing day, however, was all about Amaral, who chose to head to Sonorama with their new album Hacia lo salvaje, which is out on September 27. It was band members Eva and Juan's first visit to the festival and they chose to arrive the day before they were due to perform, "to see a few friends play." And, who knows, maybe also catch some of the event's magical essence, the indie denomination of origin formula.

The crowd enjoying Sonorama sounds.
The crowd enjoying Sonorama sounds.CARLOS ROSILLO

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