Secret Madrid takes center stage for summer arts and music festival

Explore the Spanish capital with Veranos de la Villa events set in alternative and surprising venues

The Almudena cemetery in Madrid, where Stile Antico will perform on July 22.
The Almudena cemetery in Madrid, where Stile Antico will perform on July 22.VERANOS DE LA VILLA

US band Giant Sand has been around for 20 years and their numerous world tours have taken them to pretty much every venue known to rock, but last summer the group’s frontman Howe Gelb was wowed by a discreet corner of the Madrid suburb of Moratalaz. “This is the most amazing place I've ever played!” he said.

What has been done to each venue has been minimal. They are incredible settings in themselves Architect Uriel Fogué

As Giant Sand took the stage in La Cuña Verde park, the sun was sliding behind the distant skyscrapers, turning the sky a supernatural green.

The small amphitheater was built five years ago, but it wasn’t until last year that it was recognized as the perfect spot for concerts by the organizers of Veranos de la Villa, the capital’s annual summer arts fest. Apart from prompting its use again this summer, the success of the venue has inspired Madrid City Hall to spread the festival’s 90 events – 80% of which are free – across all of its 21 main neighborhoods, picking out locations that are historical, architectural or natural gems, often overlooked by tourists and locals alike.

And while the venues for the 90 events billed for July and August this year – set in parks, squares and converted warehouses, as well as auditoriums – will add to the magic, the program also includes a broader variety of acts. These include concerts, dance performances, theater shows, circus acts, fiestas and even conferences on astronomy in Madrid’s Planetarium that coincide with the sighting of the Perseids – a meteor shower associated with the Comet Swift-Tuttle.

The Twisting the Balance political circus will perform at Madrid's Parque Forestal de Valdebernardo.
The Twisting the Balance political circus will perform at Madrid's Parque Forestal de Valdebernardo.Veranos de la villa

The Veranos de la Villa team have entrusted the preparation of each location to the architectural studio elii, working from the premise that the city’s inhabitants are to become urban explorers breaking through the confines of their own neighborhoods, according to elii associate Carlos Palacios.

One of the new venues is the Boetticher warehouse in Villaverde, a working class district to the southeast of the capital. An industrial complex designed in the 1940s, it has been transformed into a cutting edge space perfect for the neo-classical composer Max Richter,who will conduct his eight-hour work Sleep while bodies slumber on the floor around him.

The US post-punk singer-songwriter Bonnie Prince Billy will play on August 18 in the Quinta de Torre Arias, a park in the north of the city, rescued from being sold off by former mayor Anna Botella and instead cleaned up by locals.

The festival includes 90 incredibly diverse events over 66 days, with 80% of them being completely free

Other venues include the Quinta del Duque – the first time Spain’s heritage authorities have given permission for a corner of El Pardo, parkland to the north of the city, to be used for public events, and the Almudena cemetery gates where the Stile Antico early music vocal ensemble will perform.

“What has been done to each venue has been minimal,” says architect Uriel Fogué of elii. “They are incredible settings in themselves. All you need is a good lighting and sound system to bring that out. This is ephemeral architecture serving art.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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