The night when Lady Gaga performed in a basement club in Madrid

It's been a decade since the American pop icon – who was virtually unknown at the time – gave a free concert in the Spanish capital in the tiny Ocho y Medio nightclub

Lady Gaga during her first concert in Spain in 2009.
Lady Gaga during her first concert in Spain in 2009.Tony Blanco
Javier A. Fernández

What did audience members feel during the Jackson 5’s first concert in 1969, or during Madonna’s debut in a New York club in 1982? Perhaps it was a similar feeling experienced by the lucky attendees of the first concert Lady Gaga gave in Spain, in a basement club just off Madrid’s Gran Vía. When Lady Gaga performed in the Spanish capital on February 27, 2009, she had not yet reached megastardom. But she had enough of a reputation to pack out the Ocho y Medio nightclub, at a free concert organized by record label Universal and the now-extinct website MySpace. So many fans were left outside the venue that she decided to repeat the concert for them.

“There were around 800 people waiting in line, many dressed up as her,” explains Borja Prieto, former content director of MySpace. “As they say now, it was a fantasy. It was when I realized the incredible power of the internet. Lady Gaga didn’t exist in the media, only online,” explains Prieto, who now runs Está Pasando, an advertising and marketing agency.

“One of the maintenance workers called us up because there had been a line outside since 8am,” explains Belén Chanes, member of the indie group L-Kan and promoter of Ocho y Medio, which has since moved to a different venue. By 1pm, the line was stretching all the way to nearby Plaza de Callao.

The huge crowds took the event’s organizers by surprise. “She had just released first album, and the singles Just Dance and Poker Face,” explains Angel Carrión, who is responsible for promoting the American artist in Spain. The nightclub where the artist performed wasn’t big enough to accommodate all of her fans, but there was a reason behind the choice for a smaller venue. “We wanted to hold a concert in a typical Madrid club like the New York venues in which she had come up,” Carrión explains.

The small stage, which was barely eight meters square, didn’t stop the artist from jumping up and down, dancing and sweating, accompanied by Space Cowboy, her DJ, and two backup dancers. “I couldn’t believe that she could do all the choreography on such a small stage,” Chanes recalls with awe. All of the attendees felt that despite the modest space, they were in the presence of a genuine star with incredible potential.

Standing on tables wearing a flesh-colored bodysuit, a black jacket, belt and high heeled boots, the artist belted out songs such as Beautiful Dirty Rich, Money Honey, Love Game and Fame. She also sang an a capella version of Quicksand, a song she composed for Britney Spears.

Lady Gaga during the concert.
Lady Gaga during the concert.TONY BLANCO

“I was surprised at how she connected, and the strength of her voice,” explains Blanco. “She had the crowd in the palm of her hand from the very first moment. She touched and greeted those in the front rows and they went crazy,” explains Víctor Hermida, who was also at the gig.

“Gaga asked us, ‘Are all these people here to see me?’” say Prieto and Carrión. When they told her that more were waiting outside because the venue wasn’t big enough to hold them all, Lady Gaga offered to do a second concert. “Gaga has always tried to ensure that her fans are treated as well as possible,” says Carrión.

Nearly two years after that mini-concert, Lady Gaga performed at Madrid’s Palacio de los Deportes arena at a sold out show where tickets cost more than €60. “When someone tells me they’re going to a Lady Gaga concert, I always tell them my story,” explains Hermida. Today the artist not only fills stadiums across the world, but has also won an Oscar for her work in the movie A Star is Born. “My mother always says that Lady Gaga is where she is now thanks to us,” jokes Chanes.

English version by Asia London Palomba.

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