Following the unpleasant Beast from the East and Salisbury Novichock Poisoning period which set a dark shadow over the start of Spring 2018, a few of us decided to head off to Barcelona for a spontaneous late April getaway. This would be, quite shockingly, my first visit to mainland Spain. A jewel on the edge of the Balearic Sea, Barcelona is the 12th most visited city in the world, with icon status reaching the same level as New York, Tokyo or Paris. We had booked ourselves four nights in a modern open-plan Airbnb right in the heart of the unpronounceable Eixample district. Famed for its grid-like octagonal blocks which you can see plastered all over any travel Instagram account, Eixample is at the centre of the city’s diverse shopping, restaurant and nightlife culture. You can spend hours getting lost exploring its leafy streets, stopping for a coffee or trying on outfits in one of its boutique clothes shops before walking down La Rambla to the sea. To me, Barcelona seemed like the perfect city – a liberal, cosmopolitan atmosphere, beautiful people, unique architecture, frequently sunny, an unending list of things to do, and of course a large white beach on which to lounge around.
Our relatively short time in the city was spent exploring its various parks and gardens, as well as trialling the raucous seafront nightlife. With a birthday to celebrate, three of us set to work obtaining decorations, a cake, balloons and a present – a real test of teamwork when being done abroad and on the DL. Celebrations in full swing, we headed for Shôko, a large nightclub in the Barceloneta neighbourhood attracting a mixed crowd of locals and tourists, playing mainly reggaeton as well as American, British and French hip-hop. As soon as our Uber pulled up outside we were whisked quickly into the club by a bouncer without even having to queue. Feeling like Kendall Jenner on one of her important working trips to Europe, we were ushered down a glossy transparent staircase into the vast open space which makes up the club. A long bar ran down one side with another circular one in the centre, while a large DJ booth took up most of the far wall on which featured an ever-changing projection. There was also a raised VIP area framed by two female dancers who gyrated away on platforms to the likes of J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Ozuna, while a line of handsome waiters ceremoniously delivered one uncomfortably large bottle of Grey Goose after another. The beach-facing side was completely open, so you could go and have a drunken cigarette looking out at the sea before heading back in for more debauchery. It was here, sitting on a sandy row of steps, that we got chatting to a group of bronzed British dancers, whose de facto leader was a glamorous Brummie named Sinead. They were doing a year at dance college here and living in Sitges, a place down the coast which Sinead described as “gay heaven”. Seeing their carefree attitudes and love for this city, and knowing that I would soon be back to working my stressful job in Leeds, I became quite envious. Vowing to do a longer stint here at some point, I finally realised why this stretch of the Spanish coast has become so popular with Brits. With its relaxed outlook and warm climate, as well as the relative proximity to home, it’s no wonder Spain holds more British immigrants than any other EU country, with an estimated 293,500 choosing to up sticks and escape the drizzle as of 2017 (click here to download a lovely pdf with more info). Whether they’re swigging 2 for 1 daiquiris in Benidorm or going on an architectural tour of Valencia, the Brits have a deep love affair with Spain, and I’m quickly realising that I’m no exception. The looming possibility of a no-deal Brexit has thrown many of these peoples’ livelihoods into uncertainty, and it will almost certainly become trickier for young people like Sinead to spend time studying abroad. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has assured that the rights of expats would remain the same post-Brexit, as long as this is reciprocated for Spaniards in the UK. What will happen to the British migrants if Catalonia declares independence remains to be seen… After an unexpected snog with one of Sinead’s dancer friends, I headed back onto the DF and carried on busting my usual slick moves to Luis Fonsi & Demi Lovato’s Spanglish summer banger Èchame La Culpa.
Since leaving university, I, like many people, have become a pretty infrequent clubber. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a wild night on the lash – of course I do – it’s more that the effort it takes to organise makes the whole thing quite off-putting. Not to mention the energy and logistics required for the actual night out, plus the inevitable brutal hangover the next morning. Back in my sprightlier years when I first started clubbing in 2011/2012, organisation was never an issue because you were guaranteed to run into several groups of school friends throughout the night. Nowadays the sight of someone from school usually involves a curt nod, with a strained conversation at best and in the worst cases, a hard pass. Wearing One Direction-inspired chinos and a hideous pair of grey suede desert boots, I would severely heat-damage my hair with a pair of straighteners and head out for a night in my hometown’s then place to be, a sticky hole called Moko. In those innocent times, we listened to David Guetta, Jason Derulo, Flo Rida, Loud-era Rihanna, and an array of seriously questionable house, but the track which stands out when I think back to clubbing in 2011 will always be Avicii’s Levels. I first became aware of Avicii (real name Tim Bergling) following his early 2011 version of iiO’s Rapture featuring Nadia Ali. His sudden passing aged 28 in Muscat, Oman happened a few days before our visit to Barcelona. The Swedish DJ left behind a great legacy, being hugely influential to the EDM scene during its heyday in the early 10s, and producing a plethora of immediately recognisable feel good power bops. His unexpected passing was on my mind for much of my time in Catalonia, with classics such as Hey Brother, Addicted to You and Silhouettes running through my head, as well as the more recent Lonely Together featuring Rita Ora. I know that many people can’t stand this type of music, branding it as bland, generic and crowd-pleasing computerised rubbish, and his bizarre fusing of EDM and country has long been criticised, but there’s no denying the electric effect these tunes have had on large groups of people at festivals and in clubs across the world over the last decade. Yes, obviously I can’t stand Wake Me Up and wouldn’t be caught listening to Levels anymore, but when the DJ in Shôko dropped Hey Brother and the words “Thank You Legend” appeared on the projection, the crowd went wild and I couldn’t help but get goosebumps. The lyrics have a typically Scandinavian sense of optimism and unification, while the bluegrass guitar, blaring horn sample and fast-paced EDM beat create a vaguely stoical anthem which sounds quite relevant alongside today’s political climate. As with other EDM producers such as Alesso, Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso, Avicii’s formula was to focus predominantly on the track and beat, then add in the lyrics afterwards to help it appeal to a wider audience, usually settling on some bellowing Nordic wisdom about what someone’s father once said. Yes, many of these tunes now sound dated, and Swedish EDM doesn’t have quite the same global appeal as it did in 2011 through 2013, but Avicii’s music will always remind me of those exciting first years of clubbing and new-found freedom and optimism, before the reality and pressures of adult life really kicked in. Avicii joins a long list of artists who have sadly passed away in their late 20s, clearly struggling to meet the demands and face the intense scrutiny put on him from an early age. With a posthumous album simply called Tim now released, and a rumoured 200 unknown tracks stored away, it’s clear his legacy and influence will live on long beyond his short time on earth.
As night turned to day, we found ourselves stumbling through Barcelona’s business district with the intention of catching the metro from Ciutadella Vila Olímpica. As it turns out, the station doesn’t open until around 5:30am, so we spent a miserable half hour sharing a kerb with prostitutes on the busy Carrer de Salvador Espriu as we tried fruitlessly to hail a cab, before eventually taking the metro anyway alongside early morning commuters. There is no doubt that I will be returning to Barcelona. With our short time there and wild party antics taking priority, there wasn’t nearly enough time to properly explore its main attractions such as Mount Tibidabo, Park Güell, or the towering Sagrada Família, which is even more impressive from the outside than I imagined. The trip followed a particularly intense month at work, and was to be a welcome break away from Leeds with my closest friends. What it became, though, was the trigger for a period of deep self-analysis which spanned for much of the rest of Summer 2018. My friends seemed carefree and spontaneous, while all I felt for much of the trip was uptight, anxious and detached. In the three years since graduation, how had I reached this point where I didn’t like the person I’d become?
A recent promotion had got me hurtling towards being some corporate wanker who can’t separate their mind from their work. I was dissatisfied, unfulfilled and mentally drained. Being on holiday as a millennial obviously involves numerous photoshoots for Instagram, but for some reason on this trip, these fuelled insecurities about my appearance and how I present myself online. When I look back on Barcelona, I see it as the point at which I realised things were not ok, and the beginning stages to actively bettering myself both mentally and physically. I realised how detrimental it can be to overthink, and how crucial it is to live in and enjoy the moment.
Depression can hit completely unexpectedly and is like being stuck in a maze at night with creeping vines slowly binding your feet (yes, like that scene in Harry Potter IV). What’s important is to try and mentally rise above this maze then look down on it to figure out where to turn next. Only by addressing and unpicking what is making you unhappy can you begin to resolve the issue and bring yourself back to contentment. The job situation was quite simple to resolve, the social media one slightly more complicated. Whether they like it or not, every single person I know under 70 has had some kind of brush with social media. From Instagram to Facebook, Snapchat to LinkedIn, we have all at some point made a decision about how we wish to present ourselves online. On our first full day in the city, the sun was beating down and I chose to wear a pale blue Oxford shirt paired with some very short shorts from Zara. This was a calculated decision which allowed me to obtain some sensible head shots for LinkedIn, as well as a more suggestive full-length number for Instagram. Why was I doing this? Recognition? Popularity? Sex appeal? There are those who believe that we as a generation spend way too much time worrying over our social platforms which is true to an extent, but for so many people this has now become our way of expressing ourselves to the world, of marking our individuality and as a tool to promote creative output. Is it so wrong for this to be one of our main concerns rather than, say, meeting some invented deadline at work? The biggest issue people rightly have with social media is the affect it has on our mental health, especially where FOMO is concerned. Some still hold the archaic belief that we should just cut it out altogether, but this in itself would instil a sense of isolation in anyone born after 1985, which in turn could fuel more depression. Taking a week out can certainly be hugely liberating, but it’s 2019, and social media takes up a huge part of our lives, period. What’s important is to be aware of exactly what you’re posting and why, rather than aimlessly documenting your life without a second thought whilst constantly scrolling and becoming envious of others. Be aware that everyone on Instagram is going through the same process of storying and posting and refreshing day-by-day, and think deeply about the message, persona or aesthetic you wish to convey. This will give you a sense of purpose rather than one of unease and self-doubt.
I had a wild time in Barcelona with my best friends, but the anxiety I felt for a lot of the trip is something I have since had to address and work to resolve. Early-20s are a tricky time for so many people as the pressures of being an adult are clashing with the desire to remain a child, not to mention financial insecurities and body confidence issues. For Avicii these pressures were paired with becoming suddenly very famous and constantly in demand, which sadly became impossible to content with. I shall return to Barcelona someday soon, but this time I’ll be walking down the Shôko staircase with a renewed feeling of self-confidence that I hope will only grow as I get older.