'We Are Still a Basque Band!'
Listen Local Interview
Airu’s music was more associated with the UK, influenced by bands in the UK, and we first sang in English. Daniel saw them at the small, intimate KeyChange act in La Capsula on LineCheck, 2023, and had a conversation with the band before the release of their new EP. The conversation started around why an American or rather British-sounding Basque band is singing in Spanish.
“First, we sang in English because that’s the kind of music you’ve always been influenced by,” says Irune. Then moving back to Spain, surrounded by newer bands and influences, she started to feel more comfortable singing in Spanish. For Irune, the choice of language is partly a choice of feelings and context, and when she was living in the UK, words came more easily in English.
Where is your fan base, and would you like to find new audiences?
Erik: Our fan base is mainly located in Bilbao because this is the city we come from. We would like to find audiences on the whole Iberian Peninsula.
Irune: I don’t totally agree with Erik, because if I look at the Spotify streams, which mainly come from Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, and then Bilbao. Our audience is mainly in Madrid because it is a big indie-pop city. I had a conversation a few days ago with somebody, and we concluded that our genre of music is not that much appreciated in the Basque Country because here, rock music and music sung in Basque will almost automatically be popular. We are more on the pop side and sing in Spanish. If you sing in Basque, it is easier to get a gig in the Basque country; there are many more opportunities.
It is not that we would not like to play in the Basque country. It is just there is no established connection with the audience. The music in the Basque country is louder and heavier, and the audience is going for that, not softer sounds like ours.
Did you ever record in the Basque language?
Irune: No, but I am writing a song now in Basque! Initially, I felt uncomfortable singing in Basque because I speak standard Basque, as taught in schools, which differs from dialects. Often you feel prejudice against it, speakers of the dialects associate standard Basque as a scholarly language, and if you sang in that, they would make you feel that somehow it is not authentic, as you would be wearing a Basque mask. But by now, I feel, why not?
If you had fans who had never been to Bilbao, what would you recommend them to see, hear, or experience, to introduce them to your world?
Irune: Food, for sure. Pintxos, our mini sandwiches. I would like them to hear the Basque language and to learn about our language, which is not so much spoken here, in Bilbao, but if you go to the country, it has so many dialects. In the villages, almost everybody speaks in Basque, and you can experience Basque culture. Visit the old quarter in Bilbao, walk around, try out bars, and go to gigs. The old quarter is where there are most of the bars, and we have this Spanish bar culture where people socialize.
Is there anything that you bring into your music from the Basque country?
Erik, Patricia, and Irune agree that there is not much, only in superficial ways, in some lyrical references to places. Their musical influences mainly come from the United Kingdom and the United States.
Is there anything British about your band, the way you play?
Erik: Our main source of inspiration is British bands, like the Arctic Monkeys or King Krule.
Irune: When I was living in the UK, and I listened to a lot of King Krule, I caught myself almost imitating the way he sings, as if I put on a female King Krule identity. And then, I lived in Northern England, and I think I put on a bit of a Northern English accent; I did not want to sing in standard English. Some critics were amused, in a good way, by how I pronounced the lyrics.
What kind of playlist would you like to have Airu?
We would like to be on the big playlist in Spain that has indie pop songs. It is also important to me personally that it should be emotional because our songs are emotional; one of our songs was on a playlist of “sad indie something” or something like that.
Airu is a half-female, half-male band, and you were a Keychange band. Would a female-led playlist be appropriate for you? What would be appropriate for you in terms of gender identity?
Irune: I do not like to be on a female-led playlist; I think that it is already creating a division. Songs made by women should be on the playlist where the popular artists are. Some years ago, we made it to the finals of a talent competition. When they called us that we were in the finals, we were very happy, but it turned out that the finals had a “female” category with less than a third of the main prize. So it was not the same thing as the real prize; they placed the “female” prize way below the ”main prize.” This is a very stupid way of supporting female artists.
I understand that your position does not support the female playlist, but how can you create equal opportunities in playlisting or regional diversity?
Irune: Probably, a considerable amount of the people who select the music should be women or minorities. Maybe they are more sensitive to music with a shared identity. Playlists that have only men are probably curated by men.
Erik: One of the negative aspects of globalization is that it kills the little ones and makes the big bigger. The little cultures, like the Basque culture, are estranged from the omnipresence of the English language culture.
What sort of playlisting would be comfortable for you that is not imprisoning you in the Basque music scene, that is too loud and heavy for your music, or in a female-led box?
Irune: If you look at our Spotify profile, many of the artists related to us are local artists. The algorithm already knows that we are from the same place, and the people living in Bilbao also listen to music from Bilbao. Then maybe what could be done is create playlists out of these “similar artists” profiling so that you’ll get a good mixture of things happening in our city that’s not only limited to a specific genre.
Can you recommend us a few songs that you are us put on a Spotify public playlist, which has your music and related music, as a kind of self-curated Airu radio?
Here you go:
And where would you like to be played more, in restaurants, shops, radios, festivals visited by foreigners?
Irune: Our main problem is that people are less interested in the type of music we play here. It would help if local bars or shopping malls would play our music because there are these apps that identify the music, and there is a chance that somebody will accidentally like it, and that would help a lot.
Erik: Not only that, there are very few people who go to live performances. The big stages are hard to reach, and the small stages in bars prefer to offer gastronomical pleasures than live music because they make more money with that. What is a good label for music? And what sort of institutional support you need.
Irune, Erik, and Patricia agree that they were looking for a label to help book live performances and need help because Basque institutional help comes only from well-established bands. There seems to be some effort in the last couple of years to put everything Basque on the world stage that is not so much focused on language preservation, such as Basque Music.
New single out on 23 February 2023
Irune: Also, their biggest effort is put into preserving the language, and we agree with that. They could put 80% of the effort into that, but we’re still a Basque band; if we don’t sing in Basque, we are Basque! The only support we got institutionally was KeyChange from the European Union. It elevated us slightly, not in terms of numbers, because we were vetted and selected. But it did not make any waves here in Bilbao.
We had conversations with other European artists on similar topics: Innerglow | Vecera | OOPUS | Kurws | Bookie Baker | Jeremy Dunne | Katarzia | Twentees | Youniverse | Robin Kester | Marie de la Montagne | Damir Bašić aka Duka & with small companies and startups Tiny Rooms | LaPee | Flower of Sound | Hajde | From Rec to Play