Interview with Diego A. Manrique

Diego Manrique, or rather, Diego A. Manrique is founder of the Efe Eme and Ruta 66 magazines, person in charge of the Radio 3 programme El Ambigú, scriptwriter for the TVE programme Caja de Ritmos, Ondas Award winner in 2001, Bob Dylan’s official translator in Spain … We could go well until you get bored. Now, apart from writing for the Rolling Stone magazine and for the El País newspaper, and continue with the spirit of El Ambigú in La Zona Salvaje on Radio Gladys Palmera, he has a new book, Jinetes en la tormenta (Espasa publisher), which is now in its fourth edition.

He sadly says that it might be the end of the music critic’s trade in Spain. Coinciding with his visit to the town of Baeza (Jaén, Spain) to serve as a speaker at two conferences framed in a course called “Music and Mass Media“, offered by the International University of Andalusia, we took advantage of the short time available he had in order to get some answers about some matters.


B.C. What is the reason why virtually there is no criticism of albums in the generalist press?

D.A.M. That’s a prejudice of the Spanish press that considered above all live performances, it’s like they’ve inherited concepts from the theatre world, the media have swallowed something that artists have sold to them, which is that live performances, the magic moment, unique, the central act of musical creation, and I don’t argue that, it may have magic moments, but 99% of concerts are a repetition of the previous one, then it has given priority to live performances due to this new idea, which is a little totemic of “Springsteen has come to here”, and well, he can gather crowds as much as if it were a capital city. Many times there are concert’s reviews about bands doing only three dates in Spain and with 900 people going to their concerts, those are whom “come out”. But nobody makes a review about an album that will be listening by three million people, the Alejandro Sanz album (e.g.), nobody talks about the Alejandro Sanz album because it’s not “cool”, that’s a basic problem.

B.C. Have music media any future in Spain?

D.A.M. We are in the eye of the hurricane; we are experiencing the same uncertainty as that of the rest of workers. Journalists we have more facilities, what is not published on paper normally is published on the internet, but at the same time a way of musical journalism understanding has finished, it’s one thing I treat in my book. It’s over that about going to the artist city for an interview and going on tour with the band for four days, all that doesn’t exists anymore. Usually all that was paid by the record company, very rarely the media, and not now. Now, you’re offered the “Phoner”, the phone interview which is something extremely cold and with pure communication problems because you are calling e.g. to America. And the most terrible thing, the interview over the internet, about what I’m sure that in a very high percentage is not the artist who really is answering you, there is a man who is a Community Manager, and you realize about it because he gives you some answers so utterly vulgar that you think: It’s not possible that this artist is so silly.

I think the quality of news coverage is been hurt, let’s go say that the “five star” journalism we made during an era is over and now nobody believes it. But I was sent by El País to Atlanta (Georgia) along with a photographer to interview Lou Reed, paid by El País, and when I found out how much cost the trip and we were already in Atlanta we said, “as we’re already here let’s go get something more,” and we went to the contagious diseases centre, the place where AIDS was detected and have samples of the most dangerous diseases in the world. We tried to get some performance on the trip.

Because Lou Reed’s interview was brutal, absolutely unfriendly… fantastic on the other hand (laughs); We were going to make a chronicle of what apparently was an Amnesty International tour named Conspiracy of Hope, and were playing U2, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, The Neville Brothers, an awesome thing… I don’t know if the trip cost a million or a million of pesetas each one, two million of pesetas, an atypical case of cockiness from El País of “we can afford it.” That kind of journalism that was made to interview the artist is becoming increasingly rare. Luckily with Low Cost travels if you want to interview an artist in England, you get the first plane leaving from Barajas at seven a.m. and you come back in the afternoon, and usually you don’t have time for eating, and of course, one is not very happy with that kind of interviews. We must get used to a much poorer journalism; and in the case of digital interview, it’s highly suspicious.

B.C. Is the “cronyism” threatening the real music criticism?

D.A.M. In the case of Spain, well, it happens everywhere, in certain types of music there is a sense of solidarity so great that blind totally, it happens in the case of Indi music, but it happens the same with… singer-songwriters: the critic feel as much a part of the movement that he doesn’t make the filter function but “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, this is our man. Good, good, good! We will win, we’re gonna thrash you.”
This is very noticeable for example in the radio; unfortunately the radio lacks negative criticism, harsh criticism. Sure, always it’s said “no, if I just have a little space, if I just have an hour, I’m not going to talk bad about artists who have done bad albums”. But yes, you have to play them at least a little to make the others shine well. Twenty have done it good but there are two that have done it very bad, that are what give you a perception of reality. The “everyone is good” in reviews is quite dangerous.

B.C. Where is the line between objectivity and subjectivity? Can a critic be objective with something he likes or something he does not like?

D.A.M. As time goes by, you outline your aesthetic criteria, i.e., for a time you may have been very militant and you have said this is a “sacred cow”, this artist is better than this one, that is, you set up a pyramid, but then you start becoming much more tolerant not only with artists but with the music. And at the end it’s not that what Duke Ellington used to say “there are two kinds of music, good music and bad music“, I think even not that, I think there is music that is useful for me and music that I’d never listening to not even if I was forced to. And I mean that the music that is useful for me may be a “pachanga”, because you need that, and music that doesn’t serve you may be a high level symphony but it turns you right off. While I recognize that there needs to be a canon, that I tell you this is the good, the essential, usually I say, I like this, or I don’t like this, and perhaps you share my opinion or not.

It much depends on the audience, if you’re writing for the El País newspaper you can’t put many signs, if you’re writing for a music magazine, yes, you can put lot of signs and complicities, but basically my message is: I like this or the opposite, now, I’ll give you the arguments, and you decide. I understand that moderately reasonable people follow some nonsense, as that one about trying to sell you the discovery of the century, the best band of the last decade; my head would never act like that, unless I’m drunk on wine (guffaw).

B.C. In rock’n’roll or pop music’s books, there’s a separation for explaining the music history (misguided in my point of view) that is by decades, we all know the 50’s or 60’s icons. When writing future books and talk about the 2000’s icons, about who they will talk in 20 or 30 years? Who will be in the pictures?

D.A.M. Hmm … I dont think it’ll be Lady Gaga, because it’s a much more exaggerated, eccentric version of Madonna, I don’t think it’ll be Beyoncé… because it’s as if Aretha Franklin had been reincarnated into a Marine sergeant (he makes wild gesticulations imitating Beyonce, as robot movements of a 50’s sci-fi movie) with those military movements, I don’t know… It may be some artists who don’t enjoy much popularity at this moment but then over time they see the light. Those like me who lived the 80’s, we loved Morrisey but we couldn’t imagine that Morrissey would be like an Oscar Wilde of his time, who continues its mission and still provokes who gives problems and maintains a large audience. It’s mysterious because we remember Morrisey from the 80’s but we don’t remember Boy George, who was a totally fascinating personage; the tilt of time is a mystery. Well, what we would put on the cover of the first decade of the century? (…) We wouldn’t put The Strokes, because they’ve done the same thing that it’s been done previously by twenty thousand bands. It might be The White Stripes, when they wore white and red clothes with matching instruments, those most susceptible to look as a historical figure, I’ll stick with The White Stripes.

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